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A poem consisting of many voices
This poem is a cento, consisting entirely of lines from other poems, compiled here in chorus. Some punctuation and tenses have been changed. I’m grateful to these poets for their lines, each attributed at the bottom of the page.
Fiction faculty member Kevin McIlvoy was recently featured in The Rupture. Read an excerpt of “Blue Squill” below:
Grateful for his body’s productiveness, Mr. Jordan Jabbok took three satisfying morning walks in order to piss a circle around his newly planted blue squill bulbs encircling last season’s blue squill plants orbiting his weeping cherry tree sending its large but tender roots under a ring of curved red bricks red-golden now and fringed by high blue larkspur rising from within a circle of squill planted in other seasons, and smelling like strong rat poison when they are in bloom.
The long masterful piss on a daily basis was the expressive performance of the retired ballroom dance instructor.
“This is how you begin?” my restless sister asks. Adept at mocking biblical jargon, she says life permits two choices: “You can ask, ‘Why is it so?’ or you can say, ‘It is so.'”
Certain tales answer the former question.
Certain tales, much smaller, embody the latter. This one is of that kind.
Read the rest of this story here: https://www.therupturemag.com/rupture/blue-squill
Fiction faculty member Debra Spark was recently featured in Barnard Magazine. Read an excerpt of Spark’s essay about Alicia Jo Rabins (Poetry ’09) below:
Her Many Muses
Not long after the Bernie Madoff scandal broke, Alicia Jo Rabins ’98 started a yearlong artist residency on an empty floor of a Wall Street high-rise. At first, Rabins — a poet, musician, and Jewish educator — wasn’t sure what she’d produce. This was a time to be creative, but her mind kept turning to the disgraced financier who defrauded thousands of people. Here she was in the heart of the financial district — in his environs. How to understand the man who once operated the largest Ponzi scheme in history? And what about the individuals and families he impacted? Why was she even so curious?
When Rabins is interested in something, she has a tendency to dive in deep. In 1994, she arrived at Barnard, an accomplished violinist who wanted to be a poet. She left as a Phi Beta Kappa whose friendship (and subsequent study) with a Modern Orthodox classmate spurred a desire to immerse herself in Judaism. Previously a more-or-less-secular Jew, she moved to Jerusalem for a year of study but wanted more, so she stayed for a second year, then returned to New York and eventually earned a master’s in Jewish women’s studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary.
In 2008, she was still in the habit of immersing herself in all-consuming subjects, only now that was Madoff. In the end, she says of her obsession, “I did what any artist does when something drives them crazy — I made it into art.”
Read the rest of this essay here: https://barnard.edu/magazine/spring-2022/her-many-muses
Poetry faculty member C. Dale Young was recently featured in The Rupture. Read an excerpt of “Henceforth” below:
after Jaime Gil de Biedma
All of my life, I could barely remember it. As after a dream,
I stared at the clouds floating above the sea and thought
of rain, and it rained. Later, when I learned the word Desistare
and used it with intent, I found I could stop the rain.
“All of my life.” It sounds so odd to say that out loud.
But strange thing after strange thing transpired. Imagine.
The day ends in a flash of color and wonder, and the sea
slowly becomes the night sky. You may or may not
have feelings when this happens. I cannot speak for you.
Read this poem in its entirety here: https://www.therupturemag.com/rupture/henceforth
Poetry faculty member Jason Schneiderman was recently featured on the podcast The Slowdown. Read an excerpt of “In the End You Get Everything Back (Liza Minnelli)” below:
In the End You Get Everything Back (Liza Minnelli)
The afterlife is an infinity of custom shelving, where everything
you have ever loved has a perfect place, including things
that don’t fit on shelves, like the weeping willow from
your parents’ backyard, or an old boyfriend, exactly as he was
in your second year of college, or an aria you love, but without
the rest of the opera you don’t particularly care for.
My favorite joke: Q: You know who dies? A: Everyone!
Because it’s true. But ask any doctor and they’ll say that
prolonging a life is saving a life. Ask anyone who survives
their surgeries, and they’ll say yes, to keep living is to be saved.
Read (and hear) this entire poem here: https://www.slowdownshow.org/episode/2022/04/15/654-in-the-end-you-get-everything-back-liza-minnelli
Poetry alum and faculty member Daniel Tobin was recently featured in On the Seawall. Read an excerpt of “Hand,” a translation of Rilke, below:
Look at the little mouse
baffled and afraid
in the room, lying
for twenty heartbeats
in a hand, a person’s hand, one
held out freely, firmly,
to keep it safe.
Read the rest of this translation, and three others, here: https://www.ronslate.com/full-throttle-hand-we-when/
Poetry faculty member Dana Levin was recently featured in Guesthouse. Read an excerpt of “The Birth and Death Corn” below:
The Birth and Death Corn
Yesterday I went to see Jensen and while I was on the table, he told me the story of the Birth and Death corn. While he held the back of my head, probing my fucked-up neck with his fingers. While I was coming off S.’s grief because J. left her, D.’s grief because R. left him, because D.’s father died and grief spun out reactive until he stood in tears at the bottom of my stairs. I’d had a laundry basket in one arm and D. in the other, he was about to vanish into a cell in Christ in the Desert, my Jewish Buddhist friend. And I was feeling so scared of walking into the future – when the present felt so dark and changed —
Read this poem in its entirety, as well as another, here: https://www.guesthouselit.com/i9-levin-dana-poetry
Program director and poetry faculty member Debra Allbery was recently featured in the Fiction Writers’ Review. Read an excerpt from Allbery’s essay about Sherwood Anderson below:
A Story Teller’s Story, A Poet’s Beginnings
Somewhere in my files is an abandoned poem called “The Three Stories My Mother Told Me about Herself.” My mother not being a storyteller by nature, nor one given to confidences, these were cautionary tales—lessons learned, now presented for my benefit. The first, on the wisdom of doing what you are told, was about the time she was supposed to wait after the picture show for her father to come walk her the three or four miles back to their rural southern Ohio home, because there were gypsies camped in the woods. But my mother, displaying a disobedience, or, at the very least, a daring I never witnessed in her as an adult, struck out boldly on her own. Her father, on his way to meet her, saw his daughter coming, hid in the trees and then jumped out to frighten her—to startle her, she said, back into her good common sense.
The second story, on being grateful for what you have, concerned the December in the late 1930s when my mother and her six siblings got off the school bus to find that their farmhouse had burned to the ground. My grandmother stood there by the smoldering foundation holding the only things she managed to grab as she ran out—the family Bible and two dresses on hangers. Everything else was lost, including their savings; in those early post-Depression years, my grandfather did not believe in banks. The neighboring families took them in by twos and threes that winter and (she always presented this as a fitting conclusion) gave them gifts of new Christmas ornaments.
The third wasn’t really a story but, rather, ingredients toward one, which I combined and recombined—a collection of mementos from my mother’s high school years. Her senior yearbook, with its twenty graduates—all those smooth, expectant faces gazing out and up toward a future that even in my childhood, of course, had long since settled into circumscribed lives centered around coal mines and factories. My mother’s radiant photograph captioned in iambic tetrameter: “She leaves a string of broken hearts.” And all the little mementos and keepsakes she kept in a small cedar jewelry box, its neat brass clasp opening with a whiff of past-preserved: twin black Scottie magnets which seemed ever to repel each other, a broken gold watch whose pinching wristband seemed itself a reproach to my encroachment.
What I was drawn to in these stories were all the wrong things. The dark pressured suspense of gypsies in the woods, molten mounds of gold and silver in the snow and charred timbers. The perplexing symbols of those two dresses or Christmas ornaments decorating loss (for years I rehearsed what I’d rescue if our house caught on fire). Souvenirs as synecdoche. Behind it all, the reminder of the utter unknowability of someone I was with every day, the vastness of the absences in a family’s past. The primary lesson, I suppose, was what reticence can teach, or at least coax forth—how we construct another’s life to the extent we can from remnants and fragments, much as I used to try to piece into a whole understanding my mother’s countless letter drafts to her own mother from the scraps in her wastebasket, revised until she’d written out anything that might cause any worry, revised until they said almost nothing at all. Torn in half, torn in half again. We are all fine here, she’d write in her tidy run-ons, the weather is unusually warm. Or sometimes just her full name, written over and over down the page. If, as Eudora Welty learned in her own childhood, one secret is often offered up in place of another, in my own family—which was loving and secure but also securely contained, each of us keeping our own counsel—I was another degree removed from those secrets, trying to assemble a story from whatever images and objects were offered or found or forgotten.
Read this essay in its entirety here: https://fictionwritersreview.com/essay/a-story-tellers-story-a-poets-beginnings/
Poetry faculty member C. Dale Young was recently featured in The Nation. Read an excerpt of “The Falling Man” below:
The Falling Man
The story is missing, so I fill it in—
it’s what a thinking person does to cope.
Without the details, only Death can win.
And so, the panic invariably set in,
the fires on lower floors extinguishing hope.
The story is missing, so I fill it in.
Standing on a desk, he chose the lesser sin.
The floor, too hot to stand on, began to slope.
Without the details, only Death can win.
The shattered glass, the beams then caving in,
could anyone sane maintain a shred of hope?
The story is missing, so I fill it in.
Read the rest of this poem here: https://www.thenation.com/article/culture/the-falling-man/