Saturday, October 21, 2017

“Tiny People in Epic Spaces”: Poet Lore’s Cover Photographer Shares her Process

“Tiny People in Epic Spaces”: Poet Lore’s Cover Photographer Shares her Process

by Sarah Katz

Since 2002, executive editors Jody Bolz and E. Ethelbert Miller have curated the literary work of each book-length issue of Poet Lore, America’s oldest poetry journal. Once the poems, essays, and reviews are all in place, a critical facet of their work is finding the perfect cover image—a photograph that both suggests the discoveries that writers make between the journal’s covers and stands alone as a compelling piece of art: a photograph that asks its own questions and makes its own claims.

The breathtaking image on the cover of the journal’s latest issue (Fall/Winter 2017) was taken by photographer Ariel Body in an iconic location called “The Wave” in Coyote Buttes, Arizona. Each wave of canyonland is as uncanny and vivid as something painted by Salvador Dali’s hand. The photograph is a sublime portrayal of a desert setting—one that, on the one hand, humbles and energizes, and on the other hand, intimidates and threatens. As a point of entry to the new issue’s poems, it resonates with themes of place and displacement: border crossings both literal and figurative.

Curious to learn about the image’s back story, I asked Body to share her path through photography. Body, who is a climber and a self-described “adventurer” herself, said she has long been enthralled by the concept of “tiny people in epic spaces.” Photography, for her, serves “as an avenue to travel”—to “expose viewers to places and ideas they may have otherwise missed.”

“Working as a self-employed visual communicator over the past decade,” she said in an email interview, “I have had the flexibility to work and shoot in over a dozen countries and experience some truly unique places (including shooting a sled-dog race in back-country Alaska, an adventure project in Chile, a real-estate project in Mongolia, a sports project in Australia, and recently, an adventure travel project in Kenya.”

The cover photo on Poet Lore’s latest issue is one of her earliest works, taken when she had just obtained her first professional camera and was seeking a highly coveted permit to hike in The Wave. (She has been unable to obtain a permit since her visit a decade ago.)

Body took the above photos during the same trip to The Wave as part of her study.

“This particular photo was part of a photographic study emphasizing place.... [T]he goal was to create a set of images that fully encompass the space.”

Asked why the theme is important to her, Body said: “I think a lot of times places aren't as spectacular in photos as they are in real life, so I'm totally drawn to this method as a way to show that juxtaposition and really emphasis the relationship of people in these spaces.”

To see more of Ariel Body’s work, visit her website.

Ariel Body is a desert-dwelling photographer, graphic designer, and coffee drinker. With a goal of working, climbing, and skiing on every continent, she continues to design and shoot projects around the world. She is currently self-employed as a freelance visual communicator, exploring innovative ways of visual storytelling. Her photos have been featured in print magazines and online.  

Friday, October 20, 2017

Q&A: “Sortilege in Strawberry Fields” by Mihaela Moscaliuc

Q&A: “Sortilege in Strawberry Fields” by Mihaela Moscaliuc

To celebrate the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Poet Lore, available to order from The Writer’s Center e-store, the Poet Lore editorial staff is spotlighting the work of contributors. This installment is one in a series of Q&As with contributors, conducted by Managing Editor Sarah Katz.

by Mihaela Moscaliuc

(Watching Tess in Romania, 1986)
The close-up hints lips will unseal.
Will it drift toward or will she?
Her neck inches forward
as if nudged by breeze. Lips part,
the quiver so intense the camera misses it.
Eyes follow Polanski’s long shot
but I cling to the strawberry
suspended a wisp away from Kinski’s lips.
Quick as a striking match, Alec’s fingers snip
the stem, lob the raw red forth.
She tears flesh apart, the fragrance amped,
perhaps, by the flame of her own tongue.
I trap the heat between my ribs,
harness it to daydreams. I char
the secret files that chart our most intimate
routines, singe the tongue of the headmistress
who shames me for red-staining my lips.
When classmates start diving off top-floor balconies,
I cleave to the colossal strawberry,
force its seeds into narratives.
Pregnant through the open market, she wanted to bury her face in the fragrant mounds. Women would hiss and whisk her away. Thank God for quick fingers. On the way home, she’d fish them out of the bag bloated with dill and parsley, stuff them in her mouth whole, ecstatic. You liked them too. I could tell by the kicks. If only strawberry seeds were all one needed to grow prescient or promiscuous. Wives’ tales.
Still, she fears my strawberry birthmark,
sin she transposed onto my skin
as I rubbed my way out.

Did it drift toward or did I ?
Tess: I would rather take it in my own hand.
Alec: Nonsense.
Why spill the juice, leave fingerprints?

His wife leads me to a patch she’s known since childhood
on a steep incline below the woodlands.
We’ve come here barefoot, barehanded,
left pans of morels simmering in the house we rent in the village.
Our bodies nestled in wild grass, she teaches me
to eat the ripest off the stem, without touching—
says this way you become one with them,
says this way you’ll recognize the truly sweet,
says he cares deeply for you, my husband.
In Dürer’s Mary and the many animals, the infant inspects the strawberry plant that landed in his hands, possibly a gift with moral lesson, or just pure distraction. Eve’s son more than Christ child, he doesn’t see five petal wounds, triptych leaf, globule of unadulterated blood.
He’ll pull at the red bell, try to bring it to his mouth. Thick volume on her lap, Mary’s content something keeps him occupied. These days she rarely finds time for her favorite books.
No harvesting of strawberries, Virgil warns children. The cold, evil serpent hides nearby
I thought I was practicing vigilance, learned songs that kept snakes away. Still, he came to breakfast, slathered his toast with strawberry jam, drank mother’s milk. He taught me secret languages, how to slither through cracks, how to feign stillness.
~sase ~
When I wouldn’t bleed and wouldn’t bleed
I feared a life of weighing strawberry flats in the communist co-op. Grandmother’s divination undammed the menstruum.
Lucky this one time, she warned.
~sapte ~

Ovid sings its virtue as nourishment that needs no cultivation. Nonsense. To protect the beds from pill bugs, I half-bury popped cans of Bud.
The strawberry of The Hungry Bear, hyperbolic as Bosch’s in The Garden of Earthly Delights, enchants my five-year-old every night. The little mouse, afraid the hungry bear will steal his giant red ripe strawberry, cakes it with dirt so it resembles a hill, chains and padlocks it, adds glasses and moustache for disguise. He sweats, he agonizes. Nothing to do, the narrator suggests. Eat what you can and give away the rest.
My son feels for the mouse. He thinks up other ways of concealing the strawberry from the hungry bear. I tell him the bear too is hungry. He doesn’t know enough about the bear’s hunger to care. He wants the mouse to never let go. He can get more from Costco, he reassures himself as the story ends.
He can’t, I insist. The Costco ones they taste nothing like the strawberry the mouse wants all for himself.
My son cries inconsolably. I cry too, but I don’t take it back.

~nou ~
Romania, 2011
About a third of Romania’s workers have migrated west for work, leaving children in the care of relatives, neighbors, or older siblings. Regardless of whether they work as aides for the elderly and infirm, in construction and on docks, they are known as “strawberryists” since most resort first to— or fall back into—strawberry-picking as means to support themselves and their families back home.
They found him dangling from the horsewhip,
strange fruit with note pinned
to the stem of his body: I’m sorry
we’re parting upset, Mama.
Strawberries snatched you away,
you said, for the love of us, to end the wanting,
and their ripeness must have sweetened your days.
Here they’ve stretched and stretched,
so I’m bringing you back.
Tuck me in the earth as you did in bed
and make this an excuse to stay.
I left Ana my sword. It works only
on dragons visible to strawberry orphans.
I got stronger, as you foretold,
but sadness crowded me this way,
that way. I leave you a nice selfie
in my phone. Please return the horsewhip
to the Gypsy boy at the end of the street.
He let me borrow it for nothing.
Sarah Katz: In her introduction to a portfolio of your poetry in the new issue of Poet Lore, Kimiko Hahn describes your work as "an apt response to what the French feminists challenged us women to do decades ago: Write the body." This approach is evident to me in your six-page poem, "Sortilege in Strawberry Fields," in which you begin with the opening of the 1979 film, Tess. The main character, Tess, (played by Nastassja Kinski) and the strawberry suspended in front of her mouth by Alec d'Urberville (played by Leigh Lawson), is the object of the speaker's attention. The first section ends on an ominous notestrawberries are at once an object of lust and as a tool and/or medium for violence:

She tears flesh apart, the fragrance amped,
perhaps, by the flame of her own tongue.

trap the heat between my ribs,
harness it to daydreams. I char

The secret files that chart our most intimate
routines, singe the tongue of the headmistress

who shames me for red-staining my lips.
When classmates start diving off top-floor balconies,

cleave to the colossal strawberry,
force its seeds into narratives.

At this point, the poem has shifted its energies from focusing on the actress's actions to the "I" that is engaging with the actress on the screen: "I trap... harness," "I char... singe the tongue," "I cleave…." To me, this shift signals that the speaker, as Hahn has suggested, is using the body of the actress to relate her own physical experiences as a woman who craves ownership over her bodyif these are the right words. And as that last line promises (“I cleave the colossal strawberry, / force its seeds into narratives”), strawberries become multidimensional over the course of the poem: first as a symbol of empowerment; then as a trap for women and economic trap for Romanian workers; then as a forbidden fruit, as an unfairly stolen fruit, as a dead, lynched body. It is an urgent and cogent undoing, I would say, of strawberries, which are typically thought of as fruits of romance and desire.

So, finally, my question: What is it about the form of the long poem that supports your effort to "write the [woman's] body"?

Mihaela Moscaliuc Thank you for this insightful and beautifully articulated question.
Although I was not consciously responding to feminists’ challenge that we “Write the body” or trying to produce or engage with l'écriture feminine, I see now how that must have been part of what I was doing in “Sortilege in Strawberry Fields.” It feels so gratifying to have readers and critics who understand your work in ways you don’tor didn’t without their aid. Perhaps Julia Kristeva, Hé1ène Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Judith Butler, in whose writings I immersed myself for a while, were prodding me on as I kept writing myself in and out of that ‘original’ strawberry you mention.
The Tess D’Urberville scene referenced in the opening section of the poem recalls one the most disturbingly pleasurable memories of my adolescence. In retrospect, I see it as a first encounter with/experience of jouissance, though I wouldn’t be able to explain why or how. Perhaps that’s why the poem emerged—out of this inability to make sense of the experience, as an attempt to recreate it rather than explain or theorize it. Your comments on the use of diction that juxtaposes pleasure and violence is right on. I remember staring at the strawberry suspended between Tess’s slight open lips and Alec’s fingers and wanting that big old communist cinema screen to freeze. It was my first encounter with the erotic, but what I was experiencing was complicated and confusing, fraught with intimations of aggression, violence. I fed on that tension and turned that erotic charge into a tool-weapon that helped me navigate various personal and social situations. In communist Romania, this was a time of escalating deprivation, oppression, and censorship. Women’s bodies were surveilled and policed.
As you so aptly point out in your question, in this poem the strawberry becomes an extended metaphor that shifts and changes meaning as it attaches itself to other memories, ideas, images. I’m reminded of Cixous’s statement, somewhere in "The Laugh of the Medusa" (1975) that a woman’s “libido is cosmic, just as her unconscious is worldwide.”
I hadn’t planned to write a long poem, but as I finished the first section, I realized that I was not done—that every strawberry I’d seen, tasted, or fantasized about carried the traces of that “original” one, and that my subsequent experiences with eroticism and violence might have been shaped, whether I'd known it or not, by that first encounter. Perhaps in some ways this is a poem about untranslatability as well. So much of what I see in a strawberry is bound to my particular experiences with particular contexts (including life in communist and post-communist Romania).  
I am grateful to Kimiko Hahn for inspiring me, through her own work (and her use of the zuihitsu and the haibun) to experiment with longer, unruly cross-genre forms.   

MIHAELA MOSCALIUC was born and raised in Romania. She is the author of Immigrant Model (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2015) and Father Dirt (Alice James Books, 2010), translator of Carmelia Leonte’s The Hiss of the Viper, and editor of Insane Devotion: On the Writing of Gerald Stern. She teaches at Monmouth University in New Jersey.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Q&A: “Seafarers” by ’Gbenga Adeoba

Q&A: “Seafarers” by ’Gbenga Adeoba

To celebrate the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Poet Lore, available to order from The Writer’s Center e-store, the Poet Lore editorial staff is spotlighting the work of contributors. This installment is one in a series of Q&As with contributors, conducted by Managing Editor Sarah Katz.

by ’Gbenga Adeoba
The sea is History.
Derek Walcott
The refrain of this water says something
is imminent, says loss is upon us.
Bordered by kelp—brown murals supple as wool—
and a cloud of winged witnesses,
our boat is somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean,
miles from the coast near Tobruk
in Libya, where we camped til the smugglers
and the sea spoke of fidelity.
It was a soft, fluid tune:
the tender draw of water, a rare liquid craft—
the sea keen, humming its promise of calm,
urging us to draw closer, to unlearn
all we thought we knew about the posture of water.
There are dismembered boat parts, whole dinghies too,
shooting out from somewhere beneath this expanse, yielding us
to catalogues of told and untold mishaps,
the seas unfulfilled promises to those who had knocked
on its door, those who sought to know its ways:
the Nigerian boy, wan as the fruit of wilt, comforting his sister
after they lost their mother miles away from Sabratha,
and those with whom wed camped on the coast,
the ones who drowned overnight
some hundred miles south of the island of Lampedusa.
What binds us now is a known fear,
a kinship of likely loss, the understanding that we, too,
could become a band of unnamed migrants
found floating on the face of the sea
or spit ashore by wave upon wave
on a beach west of Tripoli.
Sarah Katz: “Seafarers,” a poem of seven stanzas—each between two to seven lines—tells the story of a deadly sea from the perspective of unnamed “seafarers.”

The opening stanza, made up of just two lines, reads, “The refrain of the water says something / is imminent, says loss is upon us,” which sets the tone for the poem as one about loss, “urging us to draw closer, to unlearn / all we thought we knew about the posture of water.” By the poem’s end, a few of the sea’s many “told and untold mishaps” are revealed—including the story of “the Nigerian boy” and “his sister,” grieving the loss of their mother to the sea “miles away from Sabratha,” and “those with whom we’d camped on the coast, / the ones who drowned overnight / some hundred miles south of the island of Lampedusa.”

As I read this poem, I couldn’t help noticing a movement between telling the specific story of the speaker (“Our boat is somewhere in the middle of the Mediterranean”) and a more generalized story of the sea (“There are dismembered boat parts, whole dinghies too, / shooting out from somewhere beneath this expanse”). The poem then ends on a note that could be generalized to include not only the “known fear” of the Nigerian boy and his sister, but also everyone and anyone ("What binds us now is a known fear..."). On the other hand—and this is an aside—those final lines (“or spit ashore by wave upon wave / on a beach west of Tripoli”) deeply resonate with me in light of recent events—they remind me of that devastating image of the three-year-old Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in September 2015.

Because of this movement between the specific stories of loss and the sea as a universal symbol of danger, I have the impression that your intention is to have readers to think of themselves, too, as seafarers vulnerable to the whims of the sea. Was this a conscious choice? If so, why did you decide to write the poem in this way?

Gbenga Adeoba: Thank you, Sarah.

Intimating an introspection was not a conscious choice, neither did I set out to be preachy. Although I am not/wasn’t unaware of the power and light of poetry, its capacity to give shape to our shared humanity, and its ability to go into spaces where quotidian discourse cannot. In retrospect, writing the poem the way I did, ending it with those lines too, was inevitable.

I had intended the poem to be a meditation on loss and the liminal weight of leaving, but that quest was short-lived. I failed. I soon became aware of my presence at the boundaries of something elusive. I knew I lacked the precision of language and experience required to move over. It was like being asked to collect songs from a dark century.

All I could afford was empathy. To occupy that position of a witness, albeit through the eyes of the media, with utmost faithfulness. To record my observations as effectively and as accurately as possible. I can only hope I tried, knowing that the unity of reality, perception, and what gets to be written is almost unachievable.

Adopting the narrative voice, simulating a real life by putting myself on a boat, was the closest I could get to unpacking the angst of those seafarers. The Mediterranean is a territory of grief.

’GBENGA ADEOBA’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Notre Dame Review, Harpur Palate, Pleiades, Hotel Amerika, Salamander Magazine, and elsewhere. He was short-listed for the 2016 Erbacce Prize for Poetry (UK), and has received recognition and support from Callaloo and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop. He lives in Ilorin, Nigeria.