“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 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

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.


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.

Reading Jane Kenyon

April 8th, 2017

I’ve been reading Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems lately; I have something to learn from her, from how she wrote out of her quiet life poems that spoke to and beyond that life. For example, “Afternoon in the House” with its final stanza –

“The house settles down on its haunches
for a doze.
I know you are with me, plants,
and cats – and even so, I’m frightened,
sitting in the middle of perfect

The house is quiet, the cats and plants too, and so is the speaker. She turns on a radio but then turns it off again, wanting no noise but that of “the sound of a voice reading a poem.” Kenyon is attentive to the position of the cats, the tilt of a flower, the quality of sound or silence in the room. She’s not afraid to write a poem that stays in that room, that seems small – but isn’t, of course, because it extends out into that final moment of “perfect / possibility.” It’s frightening, the possibility, the going out of the quiet room, but Kenyon lets the poem open to the possibility. The quiet certainly of the room rubbing up against the expansiveness of possibility charges the poem. Kenyon’s quiet is deceptive, the way the stillness of a woman, in writing or in life, is often deceptive. I’m trying to take apart her poems and see how she performs that balancing act.