Thursday, November 17, 2016

Ecopoetry Experience: On the January 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine

I couldn't help myself.  I had to take a class.

I discovered a local writer's community called The Muse, took their class on ecopoetry, taught by Dr. Luisa Iglora, and couldn't help but notice that January 2016's issue from Poetry Magazine was devoted to the subgenre of language art.  

Here's what I learned in a month.

Ecopoetry seeks to dislodge control from humans, at least from poetry’s perspective.  The poem cannot assume the human perspective of control over the Earth.  Instead, nature’s in control but suffering in our hands, in our pollution, as we mine the minerals of her soul.  Ecopoetry too can celebrate conservation, probably the form’s only optimistic message.

Commonly explored by ecopoetry is the idea of nature vs. man; (and not the tired theme of man vs. nature, mind you).  Nature can speak in ecopoetry and often does as humankind's teacher.

Forrest Gander was one of the first on ecopoetry and is recommended for further reading.

Now, to the January issue of Poetry Magazine.

Commonly, ecopoetry is about loss.  “Wampum” by Honoree Fanonne Jeffers explores the loss and exploitation of culture in a unique style of lists.

Ecopoetry is about “The Outstretched Earth,” (poem by Jane Mead) which we continually take from.  And taking keeps taking keeps, well, you know.

“Epithalamia” by Joan Kane explores our automaticity as guilty of polluting the environment with “rote hands.”  Such behavior is trans-genealogical, as the following selection from “understory” suggests; Craig Santos Perez worries that nature won’t be left for his children.

“Saguaros” by Javiaer Zamora explores illegal entry to the USA and getting locked up by consequence, symbols of fruit bats and spiders hunting a meal introducing the poem.

Further symbolism in nature is found in “An eater, or swallowhole, is a reach of stream” by Jan Beatty.  In the “streambed,” the speaker is captured by the tumult of life as a single mother won’t tell her child who the father is, only to be devoured by nature herself.

Even so, “Dance, Dance, While the Hive Collapses” by Tiffany Higgins suggests we enjoy the short time we have on the planet before we destroy it.

Another apocalyptic vision is presented by Angelica Freitas in “microwave,” lowercase intentional; here, animal thought is flipped as the speaker asks if we can “explain civil unions / to an iguana,” satirizing our control over the environment.

Dystopian visions continue in Kathy Engel’s “Now I Pray” as the seemingly gentrified, modernist voice stumbles upon a man and boy hungry for “a church on this street / that serves free food.”  With no answer, the speaker ends by saying, “I will tell you I am praying,” with obvious implications for atheism and little hope for hunger ever leaving the hungry.

Evie Shockley’s work in “senzo” is rather demented.  Seeds of weeds are not valuable, which too may be demented in our own line of thought.

“Satao” by Stephen Derwent Partington eulogizes a poached elephant, the speaker with an outstretched “arm . . . like a trunk” to the carcass, to empathize with an elephant in mourning, as elephants are known the mourn their dead.

World renowned poet Yusef Komunyakaa has two poems in the issue.  “Crossing a City Highway” takes the reader into a Coyote’s life, trying to find a place to survive in area under construction, furthering ecopoetry’s inquiry into the nature vs. man theme-flip.  “Sperm Oil” is historical, plunging the reader into the side of a whale with a spear gun, so the precious oil might be harvested for lamplight, perhaps one of their earliest of our exploits of nature.

Tim Seibles, my favorite poet, personifies ants in “Magnifying Glass.”  You can tell where this is going, along the wheel of suffering and torturing of animal intelligences and bodies.

The perspective of animals is sustained by Naomi Shihab Nye in “300 Goats.”  Some tricky work is handled by a simple pronoun: “they.”  The reader can’t quite make sense of who “they” are. I believe we’re meant to interpret “they” as complacent or active environmental takers; when a speaker in the poem asks if we should be “worried about them,” another answers, “‘Not really, / they know what to do.  They’re goats,” the our own agency to affect climate change is evoked, along with the instincts of nature, which will persist beyond human experience.

Further lifting up the animal perspective is “Peril Sonnet” by David Baker.  Endangered bees have the wisdom over humans, if we only could only listen, which we don’t.

And to the place one might find God, Laren McClung witnesses the “Birth of the White Bison.”  The scene is surreal as “this cow . . . stands to open for the calf / that makes its way with a message,” as if spoken by a white angel.  “I am coming,” as if it’s Christ himself.  So is nature to be seen.

“Urban Warming” by Truth Thomas drives the reader into the middle of the city, among visions of soul food and the junky manifestations of urban culture and the health of living in “the cage,” as the final line puts it.

Elise Paschen keeps us in the city in “The Tree of Agreement.” It’s almost political, a grumpy republican wants to cut a tree down; the tree hugger refuses.  It’s a good poem, but contrived in this way.

Another us vs. them manifesto is delivered by Brenda Hillman.  “Describing Tattoos to a Cop” isn’t easy, especially in a police station after a protest roundup.  Hillman plays with multimodal composing unlike any contributor to this issue.

Danez Smith flies out of the city in the excerpt from “summer, somewhere.” Only, its violence against African-American boys that sends them to heaven.

But ecopoetry doesn’t completely cast the city into the pollution of dystopia.  “When the sun returns” by Sarah Browning is a simple union of God and nature, even if in the city.

Before leaving locales completely, we have “Lullaby in Fracktown” by Lilace Mellin Guignard, a cirque de cynical lullaby in the villanelle form, elucidating the grin side of capitalism, again, nature vs. man.

“Blackbody Curve” by Samiya Bashir is a reinvention of poetic form: the final word in each line is the first word in the following line. “Always: a lie; an argument. / Argument: two buck hunters circle a meadow’s edge. / Edge . . .”  The speaker is sympathetic to the hunted animals; something else is going on in the poem though.  An unnamed “lie” is repeated, perhaps our very existence is under scrutiny here.

Ailish Hopper is a protege of Allen Ginsberg in “Did it Ever Occur to You That Maybe You’re Falling in Love?”  In Ginsberg fashion, Hopper reminds us of the ranting, repetitious, lucid, and stoned lines “I’m with you in Rockland!”  Hopper’s work too is trying to dig up this unnamed problem.

“Ars Poetica” is an ambitious title for a contemporary poem.  Loosely translated as “The Art of Poetry,” and originally written by Horace, Eleanore Wilner writes some sort of historical fantasy.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t connect.

Some optimism emerges from Leconte Dill’s “We Who Weave,” as the nomadic life of a migrant worker alludes to a coming fabric in which mainstream and migrant culture are woven together, even if how it’s an ecopoem is a bit unclear.

Jamaal May gives us a lovely perspective on his diaphragm and body as he “softly . . . steps” about his locale, perhaps Miami, where a “Water Devil” shows up, presumably a hurricane.

Another lovely string of imagery is woven by Mary Morris in “Yellowtail,” even if clear meaning doesn’t emerge.

Fady Joudah explores the nature of sex in “The Floor is Yours” but perhaps my favorite poem from the issue is “Umpaowastewin” by Margaret Noodin.  It’s bilingual and runs the gamut from anthropology to cuisine, coming of age with sex wide open and strawberries.  This poem shouldn’t be missed.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Defining A Research Focus

Defining A Research Focus

When I started grad school, I was after a job.  When I got the degree and job, I was after money to pay back debts.  While I paid off my student loans through semesters and semesters paychecks, I too improved my pedagogy with years of experience.  Now, with degree, job, no debt, some money, and refined semesters of teaching, what’s next?

This is a question I’ve begun to answer this fall 2016 semester.  

It’s hard to leave the classroom, to graduate, and continue productivity.  Deadlines, reading lists, assignments, these are the motivators of ideas as a student, but what motivates independent thinking?

None of us (mostly) know what we want to do when starting college.  My background is in linguistics, but as a linguistics student, the more semesters that passed, the more I realized this wasn’t exactly the field for me.  Sure, my degree led to employment, crucial employment mind you, but money isn’t the ends, which is a contradiction of terms, I know.  Some people view ‘gettin’ ends’ as their ultimate life goal.  Yikes!
I don’t understand how a teacher could teach the same thing for years on end.  The same lessons, content, lectures that pair with typical course content, this approach is, well, boring and fails to impact students and the community, a tall order indeed.

In a (sort of) second stage in my career, I’m interested in making a difference, in impacting the community and students, to connect students with their community, to get out of the classroom for real world learning experiences.  I now work less (from four jobs to two) and volunteer more.  I tutor a 5 year old at Jacox elementary and will teach in Norfolk City Jail in the spring.  Less money, more impact.

I’m redesigning my courses to include social justice, open access, and service learning perspectives.  My students too will experience, learn about, and serve community causes.

In these choices, I hope that I’m too defining a life-long research focus.  As a student of linguistics, laboring over phonetics and syntax, language acquisition theory and research methods, I never thought beyond that first job, that first paycheck.  Now I’m thinking about who I am and what I want to accomplish as an educator, as a public servant.

I feel very lucky to be employed by Old Dominion University, a place where I can define the course of my work.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Turn Up the Composition Class (Or Not)

“Turn up!” It’s an expression that has taken on a new meaning for millennials and listeners of hip-hop music.

Google ngrams, an open source which searches for word entries from Google’s archive of books spanning over 200 years, shows “turn up” first entering the lexicon in the 1892-93 edition
Of the United States Congressional Serial Set in an explanation of a dice game.  Whichever side is facing up is the side that has turned up.

The next semantic shift which intuition realizes is the advent of sound via electricity once people could turn up the volume of a radio or television.

Today, turn up may still be paired with volume, but not necessarily; today, turn up is a behavior.  If millennials say they’re going to turn up tonight, there’s a party.

So linguists would say in addition to semantic shift, there’s a shift in the agency of the verb. Originally, it was a transitive verb, as one could only turn up a direct object; now, it’s intransitive as the verb is self imposed.

I even see “turn up,” as a sub-genre of music, synonymous with party music.  Just search YouTube for “turn up music.”  So too the verb has become an adjective.

But who cares?  Why should an English teacher care about slang?  (That’s more of a rhetorical question, as any language instructor should be interested in the evolving language, but we’ll leave language ideology aside).

Using the language of your class establishes a connection with students.  If the instructor uses the language of the students, not only is the student experience validated, students are entertained and more likely to listen and engage.

If I want to teach students about diction and display Shakespeare, students yawn aloud, but if I play a Youtube video of Kendrick Lamar, students jump out of their chairs, asking “This is academic?”  The answer to that question will vary depending on which teacher you ask, but we’ll leave cultural ideology aside too.

Case in point: I’ve created a literature analysis assignment sequence in which students begin applying literary terminology (e.g. symbolism, plot, theme) to a song they already know.  Benefits abound: students don’t mind engaging with the content, they already have an idea of the song’s meaning, and coming to class with this background knowledge, they’re only challenged with understanding new terminology, rather than being additionally burdened with a Petrarchan sonnet or any other classic (but dated) poetic form.  I’m surprised every semester but how well students can suddenly understand English jargon when applying it to something they already love.

But there is one stipulation about the assignment; students can’t choose just any song.  Namely, students may not choose any “turn up” music for their analysis.  I’m not naive; most music from pop culture is about nothing more than sex, drugs, and parties.  Students think it’s hilarious when I tell them, “No turn up music is allowed for this assignment.  There is a time and place for party music, but it’s not this assignment.”  These two sentences are two separate language choices.  First, misogynist, drug-centric themes are artistically flat and lack the depth needed for the academy a 750 word analysis.  Second, I don’t want to offend students, so I offer the concession as it relates to different rhetorical situations; there is a time and place for most any communicative act.

This is not to discount Shakespeare or any other artist of the English language; this is an argument for where an instructor should start his/her lessons.  Start from where the students are; then, when they’ve proven to themselves they’re capable, introduce any bard of choice and witness the student thrive.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Visual Rhetoric and Language Choices

Visual Rhetoric and Language Choices
As in introduction to visual rhetoric, I show my students images from Pawel Kuczynski. His illustrations satirize mainstream issues from war to social media, from animal rights to poverty. Here’s his website:

The artist’s work is so persuasive and the message of each illustration obvious.  “Islands” shows people in isolation and stranded on their sandy smartphone beaches, harkening back to Donne’s “No (wo)man is an island.”  “Book” startles the viewer into questioning the abuse of rigorous academic studies.  

I showed my students “Monument,” an image of wartime men with guns drawn mounted atop a concrete pedestal with a woman and child huddled on the ground below.  The illustration speaks to those unsung heroes and victims of war, the women who care for children alone and the children who may feel abandoned by consequence of daddy’s call of duty.

I’ve shown this image for many semesters, and students immediately get it, pleased with their ability to interpret visual rhetoric, a fancy term for a skill Kuczynski elicits seamlessly.

But this semester (fall 2016), I was struck by a personal bias I (and perhaps Kuczynski too) had missed.  I arrived to class as normal, lesson plan and images prepared, and noticed a young woman, one of my students, donning her navy khaki uniform.  As the class and I sifted through Kuczynski’s illustrations, we came to “Monument,” and I immediately became conscious of my language choices.  As with the other images, I asked the class, “What does this image mean?”

After a few seconds, they replied “Women and children aren’t celebrated in war monuments.”

“Yes!” I replied.  “Only the men, and women,” I said for the first time in explaining the image, “who face combat are memorialized, while those who make sacrifices back home are not.”

After class, I remembered my experience as a student of Dr. Janet Bing, linguist and feminist, in her class Language, Gender, and Power.  I remembered how we learned that the idioms and common-speak of people actually reflect cultural attitudes and norms, think "Look out for number one" as evidence for American individualism.  

The Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA) renders interesting contrast in the usages of “men in uniform” vs. “men and women in uniform” through time.  In a quick perusal of the former, nearly half of the entries were spoken before 2000, (44 of 100); by contrast, 72 of the 100 utterances of the were recorded after 2000.  A more comprehensive analysis of all entries in COCA is needed to be certain, but a cursory look illustrates a shift in the popular language away from the arguably sexist omission of women in uniform.

The point being, popular language may be in the process of redeeming itself alongside my language choices in the classroom.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

After a week in Manhattan and two days of the New York Poetry festival, I can't help but consider the New York School, namely John Ashbery and Frank O'Hara.

Poetry Magazine features four poems, published in their 1955 issue.

Important points from Poetry Foundation on the author explore a stream of consciousness sort of writing that Ashbery may have made popular but found early examples in James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust, according to Google.  Quotes from Poetry Foundation include: 

"Ashbery’s first book, Some Trees (1956) won the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The competition was judged by W.H. Auden, who famously confessed later that he hadn’t understood a word of the winning manuscript."

"Ashbery’s poetry—and its influence on younger poets—remains controversial because of just this split in critical opinion: some critics laud Ashbery’s “ability to undermine our certainties, to articulate so fully the ambiguous zones of our consciousness,” while others deplore his obscurantism and insist that his poems, made up of anything and everything, can mean anything and everything. Reflecting upon the critical response to his poem, "Litany," Ashbery once told Contemporary Authors, "I'm quite puzzled by my work too, along with a lot of other people. I was always intrigued by it, but at the same time a little apprehensive and sort of embarrassed about annoying the same critics who are always annoyed by my work. I'm kind of sorry that I cause so much grief."

"Ashbery attempts to mirror the stream of perceptions of which human consciousness is composed. His poetry is open-ended and multi-various because life itself is, he told Bryan Appleyard in the London Times: "I don't find any direct statements in life. My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awareness come to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I don't think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation. My poetry is disjunct, but then so is life." 

"In more recent Ashbery works, such as Girls on the Run (1999), Chinese Whispers(2002), Where Shall I Wander? (2005), A Worldly Country (2007), Quick Question (2012), and Breezeway (2015), critics have noted an infusion of elegy as the poet contemplates aging and death."

So the poet has a long arc through the 20th century and continues to publish a book every few years.

In the December 1955 edition of Poetry Magazine, Ashbery published four poems. .

The first entry "And  You Know" traces the life of a school teacher and the fleeting students who come and go.  The lines are long and open with a quick image of "girls" in a "schoolhouse" but immediately zooms out into the heavens with comets, stars, and planets, which to my reading illustrates the contrast between just one moment in time and the countless moments of time itself which reaches beyond any memory.

The poem then shifts into a rhyming monologue of the teacher, declaring "I was a child under the star spangled sun once. / Now I do what must be done."  This line does smart work at contrasting the celestial hopes of childhood with the reality of making ends meet.  The schoolmaster and children become symbols for the conscious of children vs. adults.  And I love how the sudden switch to rhyme seems to satirize the seriousness of adulthood.

As the children grow older and the leave the school to experience the world they've only learned about in books, the teacher is left behind to cry, although he seems to have picked up a girlfriend (a former student in black and yellow "flouces") as a consolation to his work.

Ultimately, the children are cast out into the real world.  "They never cared for school anyway / And they have left us with the things pinned on the bulletin board / And the night, the endless, muggy night that is invading our school.

Interminable afternoons and endless nights open and close this poem, further stating contrast between the length of time vs. the length of a life, as day and night surround reader.

One challenge of the poem is the use of pronouns, set off first by the 'you' in the title.  "As You Know" seems to first speak to the reader, as one knows how life begins and ends. Then the girls are introduced in third person, followed by the schoolmaster speaking about himself in first person.  No trouble here, but then the schoolmaster is treated in third person, followed by an unclear 3rd person plural, "we" which I infer is to be the speaker, reader, and all of humanity, as "We ought to imitate him in our lives / For as a man lives he dies."

The 'we' continues, as 'we are pointing out . . . (places) we will visit" presumably on a map, speaking to the longing to grow up and experience the world for ourselves. But the 3rd person shifts in the final stanza as "they have left us feeling cross and tired."  So as the poem moves, we leave the teacher, then we are left by the students.

This captures an seemingly endless succession of leading our elders behind, as they were left behind, as we will be left behind by our own children, as you know.

Monday, July 25, 2016

On Haiku: What is It Anyways?

To keep up my literary chops, I frequent online poetry forums and recently found a few threads on haiku.  One poet was offering another criticism on a haiku.  "But your suggestions break the 5-7-5 rule of haiku," the writer protested.  "That rule is outdated," the other wrote, offering a link to Frogpond, a publisher of English haiku:

I couldn't help but read dozens of them.  Maybe it's their mystery, images of nature, or my short attention span, but I'm at least for now hooked on haiku.

Japanese culture is high context, meaning a lot is left unsaid but goes understood, and haiku seems to capture this.  I mean, just take this example from Basho, furnished by

An old pond!
A frog jumps in--
the sound of water.

Really? What might that mean? On the surface, (pun excused) a frog splashes into a pond. So what? Well, it's an old pond, an old pond that makes the sound of water, and this can be said long before frogs existed or will exist, so I can pull from Basho that the transience of nature has many time spans, most of which we don't see.  All that, from a frog splash.

Note: another translation of Basho's poem replaces "the sound of water" with "kerplop," speaking to the difficulty of properly translating centuries old Japanese.

What I'm starting to see is the idea of compression.  I could write a books about lifespans in nature, the history of elements and water, but would they capture the meaning of nature as well?  Probably not.

Haiku contains specific kinds of words: kigo or season word, Kireji, or cutting word.  These terms seem important to understanding Haiku but don't feel translatable.  Japanese is a pitch accent language and contains words which don't have equivalents in English.  So truly understanding haiku seems to require multilingual knowledge and much as multicultural knowledge.

So for my first haiku:

American autumn.
Cities, beaches, mountains, cornfields--
melting pot.

-Kole Allan M.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Audible Aussies: Summations and Reflections on Poetry Magazine's May issue

Devin Johnston opens the May issue in prose.  Another Ph.D. and award wielding poet whose stilted biography doesn’t blur the earthy history of 20th century poets he writes in the Magazine’s Australian issue.  Images of Ginsberg as a western Sikh, chanting mantras and William Blake, flow into the life of Robert Adamson, Australia’s champion poet and ambassador to American poetics.  Adamson’s biography, by contrast, begins with details of juvenile delinquency; that’s an author bio!

Johnston points to the current of poets through time, the flow between Australia and the States as navigated by Adamson, first as a collector then leader of Australian poets.  He is now Poetry Magazine’s guide to Outback writers.

As a whole, the issue is an Australian epic.  The continent's modern history, landscape, and religious visions converge in images and rhythms of desert colors, ghosts, and wildlife.

“Axe Derby” by Bonny Cassidy is a blur of syntax and line breaks, a popular style of today’s poetry.  A line, though punctuated, never fully stops the flow of meaning across sentences.  At first this frustrates me as a reader.  Why not package sentences in traditional punctuation, the way we learned in school?  Unwrapped, meaning is confused.

But Cassidy unwraps her sentences to blend meanings.  We read of “knuckle-men” and a “blonde” only to be slapped in the middle of an unpunctuated sentence with “we.”  The smokey men and laboring women become criminals of a “poisoned planet.”  As sentences punctuated correctly, such a blend is disjoined.

From this place, our universal guilt for polluting the plant, Cassidy’s poem turns the timeline forward, making a generational comment, “descending the spirit heap . . . (in which) children are returning to pick up the butts.”  Cassidy seems to suggest we break this cycle, even if these crimes makes the individual rich.

In the poems success, beware of Australian slang.  What’s a “pinkie?”  A “rousie?” Online slang dictionaries will get you through.

Also, how can a “splinter . . . flip like a car?”  I’m not sure.  Perhaps this mix of metaphors is clearer to an Outback thinker.

Jaya Savige captures the lights and land of the Outback in "Magnifera," long hand for mango, stuffed with enough botany jargon to please a science journal.  The challenge is chewing through it all, like eating a mango barehanded without making a mess.  The sounds Savige writes, "plunk oblong pits / belonging in a goblin's pot," gobble the reader, as "summer lightning . . . electric(ifies)" the Australian sky.  In "Carousel" Savige slips into the surreal but maintains his visceral, wild tone upon a "luminous canoe . . .(of a) lunar ocean" which transform into "spinning sonic coins. / A slideshow of old wishes."  Here, Savige loses me, but I'm not sure such ethereal language is ever meant to be fully understood.

Fiona Hile breaks the momentum of the wild desert speak which introduces this month's issue.  Her style is more strict and critical of such musings, as the title "Forget the Stars" bluntly suggests.  Her colliding lines bring abstractions to life in "taxidermied light" crying out against disillusionment.  "The hold of the tender new."  "Ghosting motions of the incomplete."  "The dissociated fanfare of motivated loss."  Equally disturbing images align with Hile's bleak tone.  "Britches, seeping glib intent."  "The halo of the nation is the caul-throated / blood of hench."  In other words, "the halo of the nation is the" amniotic membrane enclosing a fetus (or hairnet depending on Hile's intent) of a muscular man.  I can't help but read sexual violence.  Even rape. "There is no mother in" this movement and some ghostly aggressive brute--"Your teeth the grinder"--gnashes his teeth like Satan at the gates of Hell in Hile's "fall of romance."  Only one line of Hile's disillusionment follows a patterned rhythm and seems to comment on the experience with awareness: "Either will the aching swells, apart from bliss."  As "aching swells" are willed "apart from bliss," the rape victim equates rape to a descent to Hell.  Perhaps Hile's use of rhythm in only one like captures the absence of rhythm in sexual assault.  The poem is dark, the rhythms harsh and sporadic, casting a shadow over an unnamed speaker in a place of abandoned wishes and forgotten stars.

I'd love to know where Gig Ryan was when the insights for "Civil Twilight" were revealed.  The poem shares a loss of local town culture, as "estate agents . . . conquest . . . the footpath's velvet edges,” and the familiar softness of the land is suddenly "ajar with fridges" among other signs of modernity.  "It was no use" for the little local to sob over the change, nor is there ever a capital gain that regrets an extinguished culture.  Ryan's poem returns us to the wild Outback as lorikeets, the famous rainbow birds of Australia, "flit the race" of industrialization and are replaced by trash eating pigeons.  Her tone and protest continue in a second poem, "Nautical Twilight," which echoes Savige but is anything but surreal.  Instead Ryan composes the colloquial of "local trots," (nearby strolls?) and  an aborigine "stumped up," (tenacity?).  The poem is another jab at westernization, now focused on the individual within Australia's lost culture whose cultural "mores" are crushed by "coin."  Again, nature flees the invasion of westernization, this time "in a trapdoor."

Claire Potter is the first poet of the issue to leave Australia for "a northern winter" in her poem "The Art of Sideways."  But even in a Australian poet’s exodus is a call to nature found.  Here snakes, sidewinders native to our western deserts perhaps, become symbols for time and space as scaly and "polished skin (is) a simple clock" with "the distance between north and south . . . mapped / with the shape and angle of his eyes," like a compass or sundial.  Curiously, Potter's spoken style connects snakes and weather: "Just as rain can fall sideways and eyes look aslant / might a northern winter not widen the light in the same way / a snake exceeds its skin?"  Snakes can exceed their skin; that's how they grow.  Winter light might exceed light itself; what might this mean?  A light beyond light?  Is this what Potter sees in the States?

Two short stories close the poem. One, told in past tense of seeing a snake in the desert, which might have been a "hairnet" or fabric for a wedding gown or net for catching fish, captures Potter's civilized lenses for the world, as the snake fools her vision; the other is told in present tense and features a tree, again a snake’s camouflage.  Here perhaps the snake becomes the poem itself, casting meaning "in all directions."

Amanda Joy deepens the Australian awareness of snakes in "Sea Krait, Broome."   In this sketch of seeking, we find Joy on the road, fleeing the "city's cool centrifuge . . . (and) fray."  For three days Joy is on a ride of poetry and travel, chasing a ghost similar to those of her contemporaries published in the Australian edition.  Snakes are epiphanies of imagery here too: "An olive python curled under a van" with a belly full of neglected kittens.  In a frenzy of travel and writing, Joy parks and "lunge(s) from the car" to dive into the ocean ahead, only to be met by two venomous Krait, upon which she panics and falls.  Again we find the passionate Australian wild in a wild environment.

Joy's second contribution, "The Long Dry," conjures more images of Outback and desert, but the poem is a drought of soul, not land.  The suicidal urban landscape is juxtaposed to more remote images of land, plants, and you guessed it, snakes.  Joy places herself between these extremes and becomes them both.  "Dumbbell of yield and sequence / Through years of discipline I learned containment."  Her wild instincts are forced to coexist with urban life.   The space torn between elevates religiously.  "Sentences in the Bible begin with And God / As if starting was difficult."  Starting what?  This poem or the weight of the hands of ancient scribes lifted by God as agent of the details?  What is Joy starting?  The next line of poetry?  Immediately following this stanza of meditation are "the roof rats."  Joy lets nature lift her weight.

Sarah Holland-Batt too is a body divided in "Thalassography," a poem about bodies of water. Instead of finding epiphany and divinity in nature, Batt finds herself. The voice of the poem is wise and somehow immune to the awe other poets feel toward nature in this issue. She speaks mostly in the present-perfect verb tense, sharing all that she has "known . . . skimmed . . . (and) tackled" in the Australian waters and the Pacific Ocean. Batt occupies a space "where the movement of water / is the movement of (her) mind." The Pacific Ocean becomes the space between her Australian and American worldviews,"vast enough to divide a life," as she too embraced Colorado as homeland when young.

A beautiful villanelle wafts between the volatility of many poets in this issue. In "My Darling Turns to Poetry at Night" images of words and punctuation flutter around the late night writer whose beating heart is "a late bloom of red flowers that refuse to fade." Lawrence frees the one he loves to write his/her way out of fear. This is how I hope my wife comtemplates my own late nights of writing; take these lines as examples which have her in bed alone.   But Lawrence is more than a voyeur, his "Darling" must be poetry herself.

Cassie Lewis darkens the tone of the issue with "In a Dark Room." It's hard to see the speaker in the shadows, but the imagery of the surrounding world is alive, and apart. "Rock quartz next to a fence . . . a falcon glides into view . . . (the) sky of streaming blue," all these vivid images move with detail, separate from a depressed speaker, who laments an unidentified "you," while sitting alone in a dark room. But depression and longing pass, and when they do, the surrounding world changes; the same thing happens when wrapped in poetry for hours. When "the room reassembles . . . it's different." "Curtains / are no longer red, now they're dusty," and old ways of thinking, or feeling depressed, become "outdated." Lewis takes us from the dark room, to a memory of a past love fogging up the drive-in, to the first light of healing.

Robbie Coburn shares a narrative poem in "Shock Lessons, a Paddock Scripture." Coburn recounts a memory of exploring his family's farm, unsupervised and curious to explore "how far the landscape stretched." At the end of the property line, Coburn mistakenly touches the "copper threads" of an electric fence, "struck by that first surge through the body, electricity / running like a vein of blood beneath the skin." Thus shocked, and "no longer wishing to know more, to understand . . . all I could do then was give up." This is how Coburn ends, giving up. The narrative sequence captures the curiosity of childhood and any of those shocking, abusive moments where our curiosity was electrocuted out of us, leaving us to give up and accept our place, fenced in and away from untamed thoughts and landscapes.

Elizabeth Campbell fascinates her poems with mythology.  "Cloaca Maxima," named after an early Roman sewer, equates the organics of the term with our treatment of others; we treat each other like crap. A wonderful image of people filling their minds with the passions of their hearts is captured via deer drinking from rivers, but remember, we're talking about a flow of feces in this poem. A likely homeless woman speaks to Campbell as the poem shifts to "Venus of the Drains." The contrast of these nouns is brilliant. Campbell, in part, blames herself for the state of the downtrodden as she asks, "Do I make it happen / to her by having / face and chest that wash with red?" I love the ambiguity of "having" in the last lines, as our selfishness and possession is kept from people who need it most.

From a goddess of the sewers to an excerpt from "'Semele," Campbell's interest in old tales persists. Simele, human lover of Zeus, was burned alive by one of Zeus' lightning bolts, but "it didn't feel like a myth or a metaphor to her / as she burned up with the brightness she saw." Semele burned alive because she demanded Zeus prove his divinity, which in turn killed her because no human could look upon a god. The metaphor is clear: Don't ask for too much. The myth of sex with a god is clear enough too. So what does Campbell mean then? If "it didn't feel like a myth or metaphor," what did it feel like? Burning alive? Like burning at the stake? Is Campbell's poem a critique of violence towards women? I'm not sure; if this is the case, the violence is "brightness," and I'm not sure that comparison fits.

I was most affected by Petra White's interpretation of events in the Old Testament Book of Ezekiel. In a passage from "The Wife, Ezekiel & God," White comically opens with "the wife," like some lamenting sitcom voice might say, "How's the wife?" The wife is not doing well in Ezekiel; God kills her, echoing the tough luck of the previous poem. But White gives the wife the last say, as she subverts God himself and "gleams through him like heaven through a needle," beyond the angles "encased in power." In death, whatever is less surely transcends any idea we protect on Earth.

Language and gender is power, White is well aware. The second half of the poem, indeed the first half is devoted to "the wife" history forgot, glosses over the ritualistic references found in the Old Testament as a modern reader of the Bible would, then turns to the Babylonian siege, "their deaths now a hold they can walk through," as God turns his back on the slaughter with Ezekiel close behind. White is critical of the sexism and brutality of a text so many call sacred.

"Lake Mungo" is opaque without some historical context, perhaps common knowledge to an Australian. Lake Mungo is where the oldest remains of a cremated human are known to exist, Mungo lady, she's called. She was exhumed mostly burned, the remains of her bones then crushed before burial. Susan Fealy introduces us to an unnamed "he," likely the one responsible for burying Mungo Lady and preserving her memory for the ages. We get imagery of giant animals, now extinct, which once roamed Australia, and, naturally, the desert. "He wants to walk with her / along a curve of shattered moon," likely referring to her shattered bones, "where human memory / unmade her long ago," likely referring to her cremation and burial. "where there is nothing / but the terror of his faith," likely referring to any ritual for the dead, kept for the living.

Ali Cobby Eckermann's story reaches into the heart of Australia's past of xenophobia and ethnic cleansing. Her poem is a character piece, spoken by the ghostly "I" of a "Deaths In Custody inspector" at an Australian prison, likely set in the distant past, but easily applicable to any state of incarceration. How sick to imagine someone is employed to account for the pile up of death; how sick to know the past. Eckermann first comments on the spotless spaces and unchanging faces which are the object of inspection. But the voice shifts in the second stanza. It's no longer a death inspector of sterile purpose, but a slip into darkness and filth. Although the "I" remains consistent, in terms of grammatical case, the "I" can't be the same across the two stanza poem; the second "I" must be Eckermann herself, musing over her conscious as a researcher of lost aboriginal history, how her growing knowledge of suffering ancestors has changed her life purpose "from a proud strength of duty to fear." Brilliant contrast sets the following lines; "all the stories I have ever heard / stand silent in the space beside me." I am haunted. But what is this "coil of rope (that) is being pushed / under the door of this cell?" A reference to how prisoners secretly pass messages? Is it a lifeline to the past? To her future? The poem speaks to Australia's history as a penal nation.

Eckermann's spirit of protest and disassociation from the arc of history continues in "Thunder raining poison," a response to a glass art installation by Yhonnie Scarce which captures the radiation rain Australian lands suffered at the hands of British experiments with the atomic bomb. Scarce's installation resembles a giant chandelier, though the crystal shapes more closely resemble rain drops than geometric patterns.

Eckermann takes Scarce's protest of a 20 year period and extends the criticism to the previous century of oppressive British rule, echoing her previous poem, but this time with a forceful "you" which points a finger directly at the perpetrator. "Two thousand" suffering voices are captured in Eckermann's lines, all of which she loves, "poisoned and all."

Michael Brennan returns us to nature's meditations in his prose poem, "There and Then." But Brennan isn't searching for epiphanies in nature, like the rest of the nature driven poems in this issue; instead, Brennan uses nature as a device to capture passing time. Nature becomes the time fleeting before him yet remains consistent and beyond him in time. Brennan can't keep up with time, which shifts from summer to autumn to spring, "the one gone or the one up ahead," whichever one makes no difference, as their seeming permanence washes over his dreamy transience without regard for his personal affairs of friends, towns, or memories.

Luke Davies wrote "Antiphons of the Known World" for Daniel Morden, a children's writer who adapts Greek mythology for young readers. The poem's speaker is approached by Athena who spins the speaker's dialogue from a disarray of young arrogance, greed, and misogyny to a shift of hindsight on such actions and eventual surrender. I picture Davies with a number of Morden's colorful books, writing a line or two as he peruses the pages.

"Heisenberg Saying Goodbye to Mum at Lilyfield" is equally ambitious in its examination of life's turning points yet wordy and abstract in sections. The poem has its movement; "my mother hugged me good-bye at seventy-three, / knowing, just then, her strength may outlive mine," capturing beautifully a mother's ache for burying a child.

Michael Farrell pelts the reader with random imagery and obscure Australian political references in “Sheep, Golden Syrup, Elizabeth Bishop. I’m not sure any readers of poetry critique need a description of Bishop, former laureate, but be on the lookout for sheep and Syrup.

Farrell’s prose poem occupies Bishop’s conscience, with some liberties in characterizing the sheep, the masses, the golden syrup, the spoiling dollars of excess, and Bishop, the one above it all.

Farrell too took the liberty of typing a keyboard picture of an Australian politician like a peeping tom in the window spying on Bishop, an interesting move in our digital age of writing.

Well, the politician’s wife throws a fit, so the politician ignores Bishop; the tension builds before this moment and dies afterwards, leaving this reader disappointed in the strength of the narrative arc.  But ending with seemingly trivial content seems to also critique the trivialities of rich leaders, which Farrell illustrates from the perspective of Bishop, who might symbolize how outsiders view the outback for its difference.  Perhaps Farrell's poem is a response to Bishop and this stereotypical view of Aussies.

Lisa Gorton detaches the reader from the clinging images of everyday life in the passage from "Empirical: IV." I love when poets comment on the devices they employ. It demonstrates an awareness of form and guides the reader. Gorton takes us "where I step into the background of my imagery," then delivers image after image which feel permanent but are fleeting to the timeline beyond human imagination. "Napkins / in their rings. long-stemmed glasses under a hanging lamp" shift to images of nature ready to make dust of everything we humans make; "grapes of wire and jade colored glass, their bloom of dust--soon will sit and eat." What a brilliant contrast of imagery, setting a table for the unending mouths of time to devour. Gorton takes us to reality by exposing the "unreality . . . (where) "one by one they (all people, all  times) have vanished into that blank / behind their names."

I was relieved to find the closing poets for this issue are aboriginal. Even with the visceral nature that dominates what these writers have produced, excluding native voices would contrive these poetic voices to hearsay. I'm glad Poetry Magazine chose to represent the source, although somewhat buried at the bottom of this issue's pages.

Lionel G. Fogarty is tough to crack in "Head Keeper Futures Corridor's Bay." Aside from the grammatical blending of verbs which become nouns as the lines read on, aboriginal language too must be what I'm reading in these lines. "Conzinerices atturies" is not in the dictionary nor does a Google search decipher these words. Great wordplay too is found in the poem as "overseers" come from "oversea" then "shook weekage house living, stay by a dead cold rotten lie." The lines are surreal in how their content moves beyond their words. "Every sand rushes the beaches are first people's / museum ample by laughter original" makes no tangible sense whatsoever; but if the reader digs deeper, this disarray of language captures the disarray of history that is of the Australian aboriginal. This is a poem to be heard, rather than read, and appropriately so; much of the poem muses over the renaming of Australian sites by westerners, as Fogarty, "Dromana man reclaim names first foremost."

Samuel Wagan Watson delivers a culmination of the entire issue in "Booranga Wire Songs." Watson doesn't overdo his desire for knowledge like some in this issue; he doesn't fetishize nature to the point of triviality like others in this issue; ghosts aren't a spooky symbol for depression like still others insist in this issue. Instead, Watson lets poetry do the talking, rather than his desire for poetic moments to control the voice of his writing. Awakening images begin the poem in prose fashion as "ghosts play along" with the sounds and movement of the night. Then the poem breaks into verse and song as a circular desert plant "spin(s) / down from a spirit circle; / the writers cottage / (A pact made above the cottage by local artisans ... winds rest for the / time being." Watson is effortless in what others try so hard for. The third part of the poem shifts back to prose, and we are reminded of the head ache of wanting to be alone which we discover in "consumer discount" environments; but really we want "to sing aloud and be heard in the ides of a full moon over pine trees," striking the reader with the communal sense which nature engenders.

I can't say enough about Watson.

Watson's mix of prose and verse again greets us in "A one ended boomerang." I'm not sure there's a better symbol for an Aussie out of place than what this poem's title captures. An epigraph from de Vinci, declaring that in flight, a person will never walk the same, contrasts beautifully with Watson's symbolism of a displaced native. He's upset with time that passes unnecessarily in running from place to place. His body becomes an hourglass, the sand of which noisily slips down his body and away into oblivion. "I am a pencil that cannot sharpen, / ink that slides off paper, / outside of our time, I am lost / a one ended boomerang." These are the strongest, most moving lines of the issue, and they are the final lines of the issue.