“In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” by Chelsea Dingham

May 14th, 2018

Clearly, I am a horrible blogger.

But a lovely thing happened to me today, which is that Lisa Mecham stumbled on this old post of mine about her poem “Revising It Into Something I Can Bear,” and she expressed gratitude, and it reminded me that I used to write these little meditations on poems that strike me and I remembered that I meant to make a habit of it. There are so many wonderful poems, so many poets I admire, there is no shortage of poems to examine and learn from. I’m so lucky to be writing now among these fellow poets; I’m so lucky that online journals have evolved as they have, allowing me to be part of the conversation from Switzerland. I subscribe to print journals every year, but without the online journals I would have access to 1/50th of the contemporary poetry that I can access online. I can’t go to the library or engage in journal swaps with friend or buy one-offs at my local bookstore when the table of contents knocks my socks off.

So thank you, internet! Thank you online journals! Thank you print journals that have expanded your online presence! Thank you journals that offer PDF subscriptions! Thank you organizations emailing me a poem every morning!

Which brings me to Chelsea Dingham’s poem “In the Alcoholic’s Apartment, A Time Machine” which was originally published in Diagram and which Verse Daily shared today. There’s such an interesting control of language in this poem, which controls the play and release of emotions. The poem  begins with a straight-forward declarative sentence: “Your mother is dying for real this time.” The declarative sentence, the use of the second person, the beginning in medias res are  powerful techniques borrowed from the best of creative non-fiction; this could be the beginning of a memoir. (I have long believed that memoir and poetry are closer cousins that memoir and fiction, but that is a thought for another post.) But the next sentence, which bridges two lines, moves us into metaphor and resonant sound – the currency of poetry: “You say / coming home is like breaking the bottle in her hands // & swallowing the shatter.”

In the next sentence the speaker enters the poem “I sweep up the glass.” This short sentence makes it clear that the “you” in this poem is not that you that sometimes stands in for an I but a person in relation to the speaker; a lover, spouse, a close friend perhaps. The morning is “cool & calm” and the language and pacing of the poem is calm here, too, quiet like a light rain.

In the third and fourth couplets the poem explodes into rhyme and repeated sound: grey, stay, name, names, grace, favourite, chardonay, exhale, late. Nine repetitions of the long open a in four lines. The repeated rhymes send the poem galloping forward, the pace accelerates as the poem reveals its truth, threatening to slip out of control the way emotions threaten to slip out of control. But then Dingman regains control of the poem by shifting perspective – the I speaker asks a question “Is this escape for you?” – and by returning again to the controlled syntax of a shorter sentence and by a reducing of the repetition of that aching long a. Whereas in the center of the poem we heard that sound nine times in four lines, in the final nine lines of the poem we hear it six times: escape, blame, plated, frame, ashtray, ache. Like the sound of breath slowing down after a period of excitement, like somebody who had been crying uncontrollably regaining composure. The poem ends with two sentences that are grammatically questions but which function as statements, as a move towards acceptance: “In any homecoming, what can we do but echo & ache? / To leave ourselves as one thing & return as another?”

So much of the power in this short poem in conveyed through that control of language, the deployment of sound, rhyme and rhythm. Speaking this poem aloud affects my body, my breathing and pulse accelerate when the language accelerates. The poem enacts the emotion, brings sound into body.



Friday link roundup

March 9th, 2018

The poet Lucie Brock-Broido died this week. Every loss is a loss, the students she won’t teach, the poems she won’t write. I came to her poetry late, starting with Stay, Illusion when it was announced as  National Book Award finalist and working backwards from there. She had a singular voice. I have heard she was an extraordinary teacher and mentor. Stephanie Burt has an appreciation here and the Poetry Foundation blog Harriet posted a remembrance here. From Stay, Illusion, her poem “A Girl Ago.” You can find several of her poems here, courtesy of Boston Review, and ten more from JSTOR here .

I started blogging again because of the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, but so far I’ve only managed these round-ups. I keep thinking I’ll write more here, and I keep hoping I will, but in the meantime there are a lot of poet bloggers out there getting it done. If you can’t keep up with them, Dave Bonta is keeping a weekly roundup here.

This interview with Tarfia Faizullah, author of Seam (amazing, amazing, amazing) and Registers of Illuminated Villages (in the mail, I hope, because I can’t wait to get my hands on this book – I love Tarfia Faizullah’s work so much), on the VS podcast from the Poetry Foundation. I recommend all the back episodes as well.

Because I am creeping up on I-need-to-turn-all-these-individual-poems-into-a-collection time, I especially appreciated this interview with the poet Ángel García at the Prairie Schooner blog about constructing his first manuscript, book contests, and publishing his first book.

Entropy’s Where To Submit list. If you don’t know about this, you need to be checking it out regularly.

The 2017 Best of the Net Anthology from Sundress Publications went live this week. Among the included poets are Hanif Abdurraqib, Valzyna Mort, Meghan Privitello and more. Be sure to read the delicious fiction and nonfiction too.

Friday link roundup

March 2nd, 2018

We’re back from Canada. My son’s team got knocked out in the third round, partly because illness swept through the team, but including exhibition matches they ended up playing nine games on North American ice against some high quality teams and in spite of the early out, a good time was had by all. Even by the kids who got sick. And by the parents who got sick. And by the coach who got sick. Like I said, illness swept, it swept like a gold medalist curler. I ended up with mild pneumonia but am back on my feet now (mostly). Here’s some of what I’ve been inspired by, when I haven’t been coughing up a lung and sweating through my sheets:

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey.

Bettering American Poetry vol 2 arrived while I was away and all I can say is, wow. Wow, there are some powerfully good poems here.

The poem “Mostly I’d like to be a spider web” by CT Salazar up at Cotton Xenomorph. Many of the poems up at Cotton Xenomorph, actually.

Fifteen poets on revision, from The Millions.

At Literary Hub, new poetry by indigenous women, a new series curated by Natalie Diaz.

This list of literary podcasts from Electric Literature. Some, like Between the Covers and fiction/non/fiction, I was already familiar with but I’m excited about so many new-to-me options like Lit Up, AAWW Radio by Asian American Writers’ Workshop, and Overdue.

And unrelated to writing at all, this bird’s-eye view of Nashville Predators goaltender Pekke Rinne is my new go-to talk to the hand video for people who think goalies “just stand there.”

Friday link roundup

February 16th, 2018

I’ve been in Montreal and Quebec with my son and his teammates as they play in the Québec International PeeWee Hockey Tournament on the Swiss Eastern Selects, so I’ve been getting very little reading or writing done. The team did a great job adapting to the smaller North American ice and faster Canadian style of play, and it’s been fascinating to watch them learn and adapt in the middle of a match, but unfortunately they were eliminated from the tournament last night. Between the hockey and the travel and the social outings, I don’t have a lot for you this week but I can recommend:

Amorak Huey’s new Tiny Letter One Poem at a Time.

Pretty much everything in the February issue of Glass: A Journal of Poetry.

This interview with Vievee Francis in the Los Angeles Review of Books. In my view, Vievee Francis is without a doubt one of the absolute best poets out there, and everything she says or writes is worth reading.

For anybody who hasn’t read it, and everybody who has, and for all of us who need it now, and for the sorrow of it all,  “Collective Nouns for Humans in the Wild” by Kathy Fish, which first appeared in Jellyfish Review.

I’ve been re-reading The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker and thinking about rhyme and sound and how the music of a poem, the way the sounds of the words resonate with each other, transmits as much emotion and depth as the meanings of the words.

Friday link roundup

February 2nd, 2018

Some of what’s caught my eye this week:

The poem “Firing Squad” by Ilya Kaminsky. I cannot wait for his forthcoming Deaf Republic.

Speaking for forthcoming collections, check out this 2018 poetry preview from Craig Morgan Teicher at NPR. Li-Young Lee! Tarfia Faizullah! Ada Limón! So! Many! More!

This list of journals that pay for poems, from Jessica Piazza.

This essay on writing (and reading) book reviews, by Elisa Gabbert at Electric Lit.

Friday link roundup

January 26th, 2018

Some of what’s inspiring me this week:

Dangerous for Girls” by Connie Voisine at poets.org.

This interview from Between the Covers with Ursula K. Le Guin, who died this week. I found Ursula K. Le Guin a bit later, I think, than a lot of people – the first book of hers I read was The Left Hand of Darkness in my freshman year in college and it was only after graduation that I went on to read more of her work.

Rocket Fantastic by Gabrielle Calvocoressi and this interview with her on Commonplace Podcast.

Pretty much everything in the most recent issue of Adroit.

The poem “Hoodie” by January Gill O’Neil in Green Mountain Review, shared by Kelli Russell Agodon (@KelliAgodon) shared on Twitter.


Friday link roundup

January 19th, 2018

Some of what’s inspiring me this week:

I can’t remember the first poems that made me aware of Chelsea Dingman’s work, but I do remember reading them and immediately adding her name to a running list of “poets to keep an eye on” I have. My heart does a little leap each time I find a new poem by Chelsea, and this week’s find is this stunner, “Notes on Inheritance,” in Guernica.

If you want more poetry than I can possibly throw at you, follow Kaveh Akbar on Twitter (@KavehAkbar) (if you’re a Twitter user. If you’re not, it might be worth setting up an account just to follow him, it’s that good.)

Only Bread, Only Light by Stephen Kuusisto.

Love Poem Without a Drop of Hyperbole in It” by Traci Brimhall in The New Yorker – the link goes to directly to The New Yorker so if you’re not a subscriber it will use up one of your free allowed monthly articles, but I say it’s worth it. But I wanted to give everybody a fair head’s up.

The poem “Stings” by Sylvia Plath.

This interview with Jericho Brown at New Letters On The Air. His generous spirit comes right through my speakers, I think I’d be blown over flat if I ever got to be in the same room as him. (GOALS!)

Even Pines Have Crowns” by Hannah Vanderhart in Cotton Xenomorph.

I’d very much like to attend a writers’ residency this year, so this article at Brevity on how to prepare for a future residency is very helpful right now. You should read the whole thing (and follow their fantastic links to more advice) but some big take-aways are: even if you don’t have anyplace in mind yet, get your CV and list of publications up to date and start formulating an artist’s statement. That way if you suddenly find a great residency with an application deadline rapidly approaching, you’ll have the solid basics of an application in decent shape already.


My post-MFA-graduation year

January 18th, 2018

I graduated from my low-residency MFA program at Pacific University a year ago. (Shameless plug from a happy graduate: if you are considering low-residency programs you have to look into Pacific. You have to at least research it. Especially for poets, the faculty is drop-dead fantastic.) I officially completed the program and received my MFA in January of ’17, but returned for the June ’17 residency to participate in the official graduation ceremony. (I’m so glad I made that choice, but that’s another post.) And now it’s been a year, and our private Facebook group is full of students posting pictures of their stacks of books to read for the coming semester and full of the excitement-bewilderment-joy-fear of students entering thesis semester and full of pictures of graduating students standing at the lectern delivering their graduate presentations. And though there are many things I miss about Residency, and above all I miss the dear friends I’ve made along the way, I also feel ready to be on this side of things, the post-program side.

I won’t pretend I didn’t have a rough landing in June when teary-eyed and maybe a little hung-over I boarded my Portland-Amsterdam-Zürich flight for the last time. I won’t pretend I didn’t land here in this non-English speaking country wondering how in the hell I was going to maintain my writing life. Would I continue to read as widely and as critically? Would I keep up my creative output? Now that nobody was watching, how hard would I keep working?

The best thing I did, and something I urge everybody who’s closing in on graduation – whether from a full-time or low-residency program; whether you live down the block from three writers or an ocean away from everybody; whether you write prose or poetry – was to become part of a small group of writers who continued to exchange work after graduation. This is my number one piece of advice for the post-graduation year, perhaps the only useful piece of advice I have. Before you leave your final residency, sit down with a small (altogether I’d say any larger than 5 is going to be hard to manage – my group consists of 4 poets) group of writers who you connected with during the program and make a formal arrangement about exchanging work. Seriously, no casual oh we should keep sending work business in the hallways. Have a meeting, get out your calendars, and set your first deadline. Make a plan. Agree among yourselves in advance what kind of feedback you want (this can always be re-negotiated); what date of the month you’re going to send your work; set an expectation about how much work to send (poets, set a number of poems; prose writers think about a page- or word-count); decide in advance if you want to share writing prompts each month or give each other reading assignments. Basically, set out the kind of arrangement those of you in low-residency programs are already used to with expectations for what will be sent in each “packet” and when they’ll be due.

This plan was a life-saver for me in many ways. It keeps me in touch with the people who have become my most important first readers and colleagues and conversation mates. I get to keep reading their poetry. It holds me accountable to continue creating new work. I’m not alone. I keep learning as my friends mention books they’re reading or poems that inspired them or add epigraphs to their poems that make me think, “oh, I should read that.”

I’ve found my post-graduation writing a bit riskier, a bit bolder. Some of it has to do with current events and the stories I’m reacting to, the things I can’t stop thinking about. Some of it has to do with knowing My Advisor is not going to read this. I never had anything other than positive, encouraging interactions with my advisors. Critique was delivered fairly, with the intention of improving my work, calling my attention to writing habits I rely on that I may not be able to see myself, and encouraging me to move more deeply into the work. I never felt shut-down or disrespected. If an advisor and I disagreed about a series of poems I wrote – and one did – this disagreement happened openly and above board and in the spirit of pushing me outside of my comfort zone. I felt safe in my program, I really did. (Since this is the internet and you can’t see me, I need to say I’m an upper-class conventionally attractive white woman so take my experience of feeling safe in the workshop space and in the packet exchanges with that fairly large grain of salt in mind.) And yet. There were things I couldn’t write, knowing it would go in the packet to my advisor. That’s on me, not my advisors, but it’s a thing that I’m only aware I was doing now that I’ve been writing for a year post-graduation. But the writing group we formed feels wildly safe in a whole different way, and that’s sent my writing in interesting (to me, anyway) directions.

The other post-graduation decision I made was to be The Person Who Shares Stuff. I post calls for submissions, fellowship opportunities, contests, you name it, to our program’s Facebook group. I email friends about opportunities that I think are particularly well-suited for them. I say, Hey! I don’t live in Portland but you do so apply for this! I retweet calls on Twitter. My experience at Pacific was of a very supportive and non-competitive student body (again, other people might have had other experiences but I found us to be a supportive bunch within and across genres and cohorts) and I want to hold on to that spirit of community as I move out into the larger poetry world which is – um, sometimes not that. This decision keeps me connected to the larger writing community in a spirit of generosity.

I’ve kept writing. I wrote a lot in the year since graduation, especially in the sixth months following the June ceremony. Leaving a structured program can be scary, but leaving with a plan can ease the transition and turn it into an opportunity to experiment and explore.



Friday link roundup

January 12th, 2018

Here’s some of what’s been inspiring me this week:

This poem by John Sibley Williams in Thrush.

This interview with Matthrew Zapruder on Commonplace Podcast.

These pictures of what it would look like if birds left tracks in the sky, in National Geographic, via Paul Lisicky’s Twitter (@Paul_Lisicky).

This interview, “Against Explanation,” with Tarfia Faizullah at The Poetry Foundation.

Friday link roundup

January 5th, 2018

Just some of what I’ve been reading, listening to, or thinking about this week:

The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson.

Via Kelli Russesl Agodon’s Twitter (@KelliAgodon), this blog post by Marilyn McCabe on putting together a poetry manuscript.

Of Those Who Can’t Afford To Be Gentle” by Chelsea Dingman at wildness.

This great big list of poets who are getting back into blogging in 2018, inspired by Donna Vorreyer and Kelli Russell Agodon, generously put together by Donna Vorreyer.

Paying to Play: On Submission Fees in Poetry Publishing” by Rachel Mennies at The Millions.

Micro-reviews of poetry over at One Great Things.