Recently I received a rejection from the team at t’ART, together with an offer to appear in the magazine’s online summer showcase, which I immediately accepted. I am excited that my poem, “Reflection,” will appear in the showcase both because t’ART has a sophisticated, contemporary feel in its themes and approaches, and because I am particularly fond of this poem. I wrote this in response to Mark Solms’ The Hidden Spring, whose argument, in a massively oversimplifying nutshell, is that consciousness resides in the midbrain, not the cortex. I found it a fascinating read if you are into neuroscience and want to know what makes you tick, which I am and do.
I was especially drawn to Solms’ description of the periaqueductal gray (or PAG) area around the cerebral aqueduct, “the central canal of the midbrain” (134), which is also known as “the aqueduct of Sylvius,” after the early Dutch doctor and scientist, Franciscus Sylvius, “who first described it” (Solms, 137). The PAG “divides into two groups of functional columns,” where neural circuits classified by Jaak Panksepp (102) that conduct our “basic emotions” (105) “terminate” (137). Our decision-making, Solms argues (137-38), is rooted not in our prized center of higher thought, the cortex, but in this area of the midbrain.
I found the names “periaqueductal gray” and “aqueduct of Sylvius” musical, and the imagery of gray matter, canals, and columns conjured up Venice in my mind. So I wrote a poem in which an allegorical doge (conscious subjectivity), explores the depths of his realm to come to terms with old age. I’m grateful to the t’ART team for finding it worthy of the online summer showcase, and look forward to its appearance. Meanwhile, I will familiarize myself further with the poetry and fascinating art in earlier online presentations.
Many thanks to David L O’Nan, Editor of Fevers of the Mind, for publishing my ekphrastic take on the above piece by my late friend, Rena Williams. The poem is my last Wolfpack contribution, which makes me a little sad, but a little relieved, also. I often go weeks between poems and months between the ones I consider to be exceptionally good, so choosing what to submit every month for my contribution was a little difficult. On the whole, though, I am proud of the variety and quality of the pieces I sent in during my membership in the pack. One reader already wrote to thank me for “For R.,” and Rena’s daughter loved it, which makes me feel particularly good about it.
In this poem, I tried to imagine the circumstances in which Rena might have worked–she usually worked while listening to music, often Baroque or early Mozart operas–and the way the forms in the painting evoke her experience of losing her son. Of course I can’t really know these things; I can only associate the forms with what occurs to me as likely to have been going through Rena’s head and heart while she worked on them. I tried to evoke the rich life in the artwork and what I see as its hopeful spirituality, with a delicacy that honors Rena and her son, rather than obtruding my own reactions.
I would be honored if you took a look at this poem. And while you are there, take a look around at some of the many other offerings from the indefatigable editor. You’re sure to find something enriching, and goodness knows, we all need that, especially in these troubled times.
I was delighted yesterday to get the news that Door Is A Jar has accepted two of my poems for their December issue! The first one I wrote, “The Hand That Sank Lower Than a Foot,” is based on my experience after breaking my wrist. Those high-tech casts are no doubt an improvement, and my wrist healed in only four weeks, but the sock under mine got wet a lot, causing my hand to become smelly and fungal, much like a foot. So an allegory about privilege was born.
The second poem the editors of Door Is A Jar accepted, “Fruits of Prohibition,” came out of my musings on the recent Supreme Kangaroo Court ruling that it is OK for the government to tell people with uteruses what to do with their bodies. My father’s anecdote about getting “throat tonic” before football games when he was in college in the early 30s occurred to me. The pharmacist apparently also provided abortions.
One of the poem’s implications, clearly, is that just as Prohibition failed to keep people from drinking, abortion bans will not stop them from having sex or getting abortions. At the same time, I found that the imagery of jarred fetuses in conjunction with drinking raised uncomfortable questions about personhood and responsible behavior. None of these questions should be construed as supportive of forced-birtherism. I view the fact that fetuses, if not arrested in their development, would become people as an argument for more and better family planning, not less. Nonetheless, it is a fact, and a disturbing one I thought should be confronted. So I left it in the poem.
Many thanks for the Door = Jar team for finding merit in these pieces. I also discovered today that my colleague, Matt Duggan, whose latest book is really good, and you should be reading it instead of this right now, will be appearing in the issue with me, which makes me look forward to it even more. While waiting, I will, as usual, enjoy reading more of the publication.
This all came as a total surprise to me, and aside from reading at The Dumping Grounds open mic, I didn’t really have anything to do with these lovely productions of my poems. But I am especially pleased that they met with so much acceptance at Dumping Grounds because it is a wonderful project that offers the opportunity to share one’s pain by creating beautiful art, and to be welcomed into an amazingly supportive, diverse community. Cynic that I am, if someone told me about this project I would be skeptical about the quality of the poetry, but in my experience, everyone there has an ear for the music of language and a refreshing and powerful honesty of expression.
The supportiveness of the other poets helped me feel at home, even though I was the only white poet the nights I participated, which made me feel even more self-conscious than usual about my degree of privilege. I fear I may have had too happy a life to write enough of the correct sort of poetry to continue participating in this group. Then again, one of my problems is that it was always important for me to “be all right,” and more than all right, in order to support my mother and reassure her that she was OK (she wasn’t OK). And the state of the world certainly supplies ample grief to every sensitive person. I will try to continue contributing. If nothing else, attendees are always welcome to just listen.
If you feel in need of a supportive, creative outlet, I can’t recommend The Dumping Grounds enough. Just use the link to their site at the beginning of this post and drop by. Supportive folks are always welcome.