Minneapolis Convention Center | April 10, 2015

Episode 87: The Poem as a Bodily Thing

(Jan Beatty, Todd Davis, Ross Gay, Aimee Nezhukamatathil) Poets write bodies into being in myriad manifestations: sick, sexual, growing, even dying bodies. And all of this is done while the artist herself resides within a body that leaves an indelible mark upon the work of making poems. How does the fact that hearts beat, lungs expand, fingers feel, and tongues taste, affect our practices of this ancient, sensual art? This panel will discuss the role bodies play in composing their own poems, as well as in reading the work of other poets.

Published Date: July 22, 2015


Speaker 1 (00:00:04):

Welcome to the A W P podcast series. This event was recorded at the 2015 A W P conference in Minneapolis. The recording features Jan Beatty, Todd Davis, Ross Gay, and Amy Neada Hill. You will now hear Todd Davis provide introductions.

Speaker 2 (00:00:34):

So good afternoon. It's good to see lots of bodies here. This is the poem is a bodily thing. I've got four bodies up here, actually five because that man's doing hard work. We've got Jan Beatty. Yes. Alright. I guess I don't even have to say author of Red Sugar and Switching Yard, right? And I've got Amy Nezu, Tata Hill here. Yeah. And her beautiful poems about all the creatures in the world. And we got Ross Gaye down here. And Ross is poems of joy as well as some of the deepest grief in some of the most abrupt violence I can imagine. And coming back around to Joy. And I'm Todd Davis,

Speaker 2 (00:01:27):

As I mentioned over there. I'm the son, a veterinarian in the grandson of farmers. So maybe I'm the most pragmatic of the speakers up here. And I also used to be a basketball coach. I put my stopwatch on. I won't make you run poetry, wind sprints all afternoon. So you're sitting in your seat and I'm going to read you a poem by David Bud. Bill, do something with your body. Yak, yak, yak. All these intellectuals ever want to do his talk. They think words will get them somewhere. Why don't they take a hike or catch a fish or cook a meal or cut and split some wood or make love or dance? Why don't they do something with their bodies? Maybe then they'd begin to know what to talk about. The poet said as he sat there talking to his paper, yak, yak yak. So I don't know if you know David's work.

Speaker 2 (00:02:21):

He publishes with Copper Canyon. He's homesteaded up in the northeast kingdom of Vermont since the early 1970s. He's heavily influenced by Zen Buddhism. And I just got a note from David about two, three weeks ago. He's now in his mid seventies and he's had a lot of trouble with his feet over these years. And he has a collection while we still have feet. And the whole idea of wow, we still have feet. Go dance, go dance, go dance. And he's having to leave his a hundred acres that he and his wife, the artist, Lois Eby, have homesteaded for all those years to move Montpelier because his body's failing him. Many of us have grown up with the influence of dualism, right? Body, soul, flesh, spirit. And thanks to Renee Decart, or we can go back farther than that, maybe gnostic Christians, we could go back farther than that.

Speaker 2 (00:03:20):

We end up celebrating one and denigrating the other quite often. Thankfully, I didn't grow up in a house like that. As I mentioned, I'm the grandson of farmers. I'm the son of a veterinarian. My mom was United Methodist lay minister. And so I grew up thinking the body was a sacred thing, but I also grew up thinking it was what I am. I am a body. I don't have a body. I am a body because if I have a body, I can go buy a new one, I can turn it in. And we're an ultra consumeristic culture and we often treat our bodies like that. I also believe the body and the brain are all of one piece. And so what goes into our body in terms of nutrition, exercise, maybe what happened at our conception, maybe if our mother's breasted us, right? We all know our brains really grow well on breast milk.

Speaker 2 (00:04:11):

All that shapes who we are up here, but that's shaped with the whole body and it allows us to write a certain kind of poem. So I love Sharon Old's poem, the Pope's Penis. And I hope many of you know it because of her attack on that division of sacred and profane. So the pope's penis, it hangs deep in his robes, a delicate clapper at the center of a bell. It moves when he moves a ghostly fish in a halo of silver, seaweed, the hair swaying in the dark and the heat. And at night while his eyes sleep, it stands up in praise of God.

Speaker 2 (00:04:53):

And I say, amen. That's what it does. And to deny that, I don't know how many of you know Galway canal's, wonderful poem, holy shit. It's in his book, imperfect Thirst. And of course he begins with all of these epigraphs throughout history in which Christ's divinity suddenly becomes divorced from humanity. And we get these absurd declarations that Christ did not defecate or urinate. And so I like the Pope's penis, that that's more like the real biology of who we are. And so as I said, my mother was a united Methodist lay minister and this poem comes out of her Teach me the body was a sacred thing. It's called the blessing of the body, which is the house of prayer. Look at the way we bow, the way we kneel to find dark fruit between leaves. Love lies among the leaves of the body, dark fruit as well.

Speaker 2 (00:05:55):

In the long light of summer, we sphagnum to bind our wounds and tannin stains our body for months before wearing away like the sun bears tongue darts among leaf shade pink tasting the warmth of body's blush. As we enter the house of prayer, let us remember, love is guileless and surrenders all its labors righteous fruit. Before peeling strength of muscle, which remembers the beloveds embrace claws thrust into the ribs cave sweet honey rippled by sun brought forth to the lips of the one who sustains us. And that notion of the one who sustains us, I come from a tradition in which the divinity is in the body and the body is sustaining us. And so that's very important to me. I remember the first time I encountered Yates' poem, crazy. Jane talks with the bishop and I said, oh, thank you again. Another attack on that division.

Speaker 2 (00:06:58):

And so crazy. Jane talks with the bishop. I met the bishop on the road and much said he and I, those breasts are flat and fallen. Now those veins must soon be dry, live in a heavenly mansion, not in some foul. Sty fair and foul are near of kin and fair needs foul. I cried, my friends are gone. But that's a truth nor grave nor bed denied. Learned in bodily lowliness and in the heart's pride. A woman can be proud and stiff when on love intent, but love has pitched his mansion in the place of excrement. For nothing can be soul or whole that has not been rent. And excrement plays a large role in my life and in my poems it does. The poem that allowed me to actually become a poet was Maxine Cumins, the excrement poem, son of a veterinarian, grandson of farmers.

Speaker 2 (00:08:00):

I have mucked so many stalls, cleaned so many kennels, cleaned up the most pungent oval of the sickest dogs you can imagine. And when I mentioned this to students in my classes, so I teach environmental studies at Penn State, their faces scrunch up and oh, we don't talk about scat. Do you have a fixation on things? Scatological Todd? And it's no, no, it's a miracle. Our bodies take in food. It leeches out the nutrients. We get rid of what it doesn't need. And if we deal with it effectively, right, it even leads to what will grow for us to eat again. I also spend a lot of time thinking about the bodies around me, not just human but animal bodies and my dependence on those bodies. Obviously the body of the earth sustains us. And that dualism I talked about earlier. Clearly we live as if don't depend upon the body of the earth.

Speaker 2 (00:08:58):

Often we abuse our own bodies and live as if we don't depend upon our own bodies. And so I got to thinking and this'll be in my next book called Winter Kill. How many bodies have I consumed and what will I do with my own body when I die? So it's called carnivore and the epigraph comes from the gospel of Luke. This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. I slept and in my sleeping became the things I loved and killed more than 20 deer, nearly 50 cows, 85 hogs and 31 lambs. Countless rabbits longing to mate in their dens. And 93 squirrels searching the treetops for leafy nests. 66 of the best tasting ducks, teal and ring neck divers presented at the feet by a good dog's jaws by a canine persistence. I'm still learning to obey.

Speaker 2 (00:10:03):

I slather at the sound of geese flying over the tops of sycamore in the floodplain. I'm a slave to the memory of each one. I've plucked and gutted the many animals I've butchered and eaten. So when I rise from the pool of blood, my dreams float in. The fire sparks with dripping fat with the smell of my own burning flesh consumed in the body's oven. And I don't know if you've ever thought about the fact that if you go on a fast, let's say you start to fast and you reach four or five days, your body literally is starting to consume itself a carnivore in and of itself.

Speaker 2 (00:10:47):

I mentioned Maxine Kuman and so I'll read you a poem that I think is of great beauty. I love to go out and spend time in horse pastures. And I had an odd upbringing, right? My father always said, you have tomate. My guess is you didn't grow up. You probably had a dad who said, or mom, do you have to go pee pee or wee wee? I was asked if I needed to ate. I was also talked very early. That urine has wonderful nitrogen, but you shouldn't pee in the same place because you'll burn a hole in the sod because all that heavy nitrogen, just like if you over fertilize. And so cummin at the end talks about that nitrogen and how things grow out of that fertility. It's called the grace of geldings in right pastures, glutted half asleep browsing. In Timothy groan so tall I see them as through a pale green stage scrim.

Speaker 2 (00:11:41):

They circle nose to rump, a trio of trained elephants. It begins to rain as promised bit by bit. They soak up drops like laundry dampened to be ironed. Rens bed deck them. Their sides dri like the ribs of very broad umbrellas and still they graze and grazing one by one let down their immense indolent penises to drench the everlasting grass with the rich nitrogen that repeats them. And of course we lost Maxine here fairly recently. I was very lucky to meet her at a w p in Vancouver many years ago and thank her for showing me a way forward with poems. My wife's body shows up in poems along with animal bodies. And I hope you all know the rutt or estrus. If you have a dog that hasn't been spayed, you know the diapers they have to wear. Well, we have estrus running through this, including my wife with her mensies.

Speaker 2 (00:12:49):

And sometimes people are quiet during this poem. My wife and I laugh about it all the time, so don't feel like you have to be quiet because it really happened. Craving in the dust of a February snow, the coyotes track follows the deer's track He sees in the hoof dragged line of her stride, a weariness that lengthens with winters spiteful width, a labor he longs to release with the clean tear of canine easy flow of artery along the banks. The river runs faster, snow melt and the quickening of time as sun throws down more light each day, a mink scores its trail, countering the river's chorus and every 20 yards a pool of piss sugared with blood. With estro craving, we're always giving ourselves away smallest parts of our bodies flying through space, neutrinos, hauling the blood and dust and piss of our existence. How surprised the buck was when he approached my wife, her menes thick in his nostrils and even when he realized her bottom was clothed, no doze, red vulva, beckoning, he could not turn away. The coyote must be fed the mink joined to her mate. My wife ran the dirt trail back to our house, collapsed and later laughed at her own allure alone wind coming up from the river. The buck must have raised his head, barely aware of the heart's, insistent thump as he tried once again to catch the stinging scent that spurs us on. He had very good taste. I agree. She is what spurs me on the firm owns work.

Speaker 2 (00:14:40):

And I'll close with a couple of poems that'll be in this next book. My father was a very vital man. He felt very thankful that he had good health his entire life. His parents who were born in nineteen hundred and nineteen oh two who had a first and fourth grade education, they lived to be 88. So if he hadn't been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he likely would've lived much longer. But at 81 we were at 12,000 feet above sea level skiing, double black diamond runs in Colorado together. But he had some abdominal pain and went home early that ski season in April, he usually would ski right through May and got the diagnosis. I was blessed to be able to spend the last three months of his life with him and he was a practical farm kid. He would get on the tractor in severe pain, he would ride the tractor into the meadow and he would have me repair stone walls, get the barn ready.

Speaker 2 (00:15:35):

He wanted to make sure everything was set for mom. This poem, final complaint comes from one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do physically with a body, especially a body I loved and adored like my father's. So final complaint in the last weeks when the drugs and the endless days of sitting made it nearly impossible to shit, my father asked me to give him an enema, makeshift warm water mixed with salt in a red bucket as he taught me when I was 13 at the animal clinic. The same solution we used for dogs as sick as he was now, the oppression of the tumor's growth, crowding intestines. I offered to drive to the drugstore, but he refused, frugal as his farmer father saying this would do, telling me to draw the water into the plastic tube, instructing me to insert its end between his withered flanks, I squeezed through the groans, the mumbled dams, the absurd picture of a Turkey based or crammed up my father's ass. After three shots of this, he said enough and reached his hand to loosen the stool, to pry it from its nesting like a fouled egg with ridiculous plops, the dark pebbles fell into the toilet's. Rusty water tarnished coins at the bottom of a wishing well.

Speaker 2 (00:17:05):

And I'll close with another poem from my father's death. My mother, they'd been married 54 years and my mother, they were so loving and continued to be sexual in many demonstrative ways, hugging and kissing. And my father always patting my mom on her rump and saying, this isn't at 81. Your mom has a beautiful body, doesn't she? I just love her. And he literally said to me, I guess it was three weeks before he died, before he went into hospice, he said, I'm so happy I will never make love to another woman. My father came from a background where he literally slept with one woman in his whole life. It was my mother. And he had said, he said, I was so worried because my mother had adult senile onset diabetes type two diabetes and had a family history of heart disease. And so he was afraid he was going to lose his wife before and he just kept thinking, I don't want to be with another woman.

Speaker 2 (00:18:03):

So he said that to me. So the last time my mother lay down with my father, how did he touch my mother's body once he knew he was dying? Woods white with June berry and the question of how to kiss the perishing world, where to place his arms and accept the gentle washing of the flesh with her breast in hand. Did he forgive with some semblance of joy? The final bit of fragrance in the passing hour, the overwhelming sweetness of Malta flora rose and the press of her skin against his, the body's cartography is what were given flesh sloughing into lines and folds the contours of its map making. When at last he died summer's heat banking against the windows. She'd been singing to him, her face near to his, and because none of us wanted it to end, we helped her climb into bed next to him where she lifted his hand to her chest and closed her eyes. Thanks.

Speaker 3 (00:19:27):

Hi everybody. Wow. Thanks to Todd Davis for asking me to be part of this and always happy to be with Amy and Ross. So writing the body has always been the idea for me. I mean always the thing I was striving for. Otherwise there really wouldn't have been a purpose for me as a writer. And as with Todd, I have some personal memories of the body and I was always looking for blood. I was born in a place called Rosalia Asylum and Maternity Hospital in Pittsburgh, which was a home for unwed mothers. And I just last year found out that it was called Rosalia Asylum. And of course my friend said, that makes sense, you were born in an asylum. But I was there the first year of my life, which I didn't know that either. Found out my real name when I was in my late thirties.

Speaker 3 (00:20:39):

So there wasn't a real mother's body there, there was just not a body. And I was always looking for her body psychically, but also in real terms, physical terms. So I think looking back on it now, I was always making bodies in my dreams, in my poems, in search of the body on the page, which the page for me became a home. I was adopted after a year. And this is very strange. A lot of this is in retrospect, and I think that's sort of what we're talking about here, that things come from our bodies that we don't know about. For example, the titles of my books reflect this, and I swear I didn't realize this when I was naming my books or even after they were written, my first book, mad River, which now I realize is the River of Blood Rushing through the body Bone shaker, which was the disintegration of the body, red sugar, which is all about blood.

Speaker 3 (00:21:50):

And my newest book, the Switching Yard, I did know about that when I was writing it. I did know that that was about finding the bodies of my birth mother and birth father, but they came in psychic ways. I remember I was driving across this bridge in Ohio and I saw this sign, mad River, and I said, oh, that's the name of my book. But that was before I had written the poem and how do you know that stuff? And Bone Shaker I saw was the name of this broken down boarded up bar. And I said, that's my second book. And I don't know, again, before I wrote the poems, very strange and Red sugar I stole from someone. I was interviewing this poet. Her name was Sandy Yone and I give her credit in the back of the book, but I was interviewing her on my radio show in Pittsburgh and it's called Prosody. You can podcast it. But she said, I'm like, oh, tell me more. And she said, red Sugar. I'm like, I'm writing, I'm stealing that title from my book. And I was interviewing her. So it's a very strange thing what the body does. And Adrian Rich has this quote that in poems we write what we don't know we know. And I always thought that was right.

Speaker 3 (00:23:11):

I thought I would read a poem. This is a title poem from my latest book and then say a few things about the body here. I found out that my birth father was a Canadian hockey player and he won three Stanley cups, played for the Pittsburgh Hornets, the New York Rangers, the Toronto Maple Leaf. And so I went looking for him. I met him once, but then after that I was still looking for him. You know what I mean? I was trying to write poems about him and I couldn't because I didn't know him. And so I started riding these trains all across Canada. He was born in Winnipeg, so I just kept riding across Canada, trying to feel him. I mean that's what I was doing. He was born in Winnipeg. So this is part of that train trip. It's called the switching yard. Couple pages, the switching yard, two giant sleeping cranes, nothing as lonely as a crane, not working.

Speaker 3 (00:24:22):

Relic with its head bowed in the brokenness of a highway dream crossbar signal arm over the road with red light eyes. Were coming, rolling out of Toronto with a derailment in Caprio. 14 cars off the track, but were headed into it. I'm riding the dirt line to Winnipeg where my birth father is deeper than the asan and wider than the Red River Valley. He's the whole province of Manitoba lines of indigenous pines, other worldly. Now because this is my country, I'm the indigenous one ghost explorer of returning, looking for blood, moving again just across the highway outside of Ogo. 11:30 PM in the skies, blue dark with the trees going back to their night souls. Is anyone else on this train tonight looking for ghosts? From this three by four window I see underpass, underpass, deserted road. So close to hillsides. We are inside the land industrial construction yard lines and lines of tracks, the via rail steward, if you look here, you'll find the train number.

Speaker 3 (00:25:41):

Here's the name of each car. Mine is one 11 bliss riding north of Thunder Bay to Winnipeg past the green green of Saskatchewan to the prairies of Manitoba, nothing but fields of dirt, grass for miles. My father's father was here. And in some piece of dirt, some line of crossing the wind will whip up into the Manitoba field. Long clouds where the red river meets the union hall where miners and machinists said here, here where a switch can be made out of a willow, where a switch can rise from dirt. If I can stand in the crosscut of bodies that made my father, that grew him hard into a cross-checking fighter, I will have found blood. There is no peace like the road at night until the whistle spills its fat. Long blare must be coming up on a town tree branches hit the side of the train a hand, a band of light coats the trees in the distance.

Speaker 3 (00:26:48):

In the secret life of K quo hut all this industry and dreaming people's lives on these dark patches of land, are they up late worrying about losing their job, their minds, their families? We are also separate with the same lives. The train shaking me home to no father I know right wing for the hornets, maple leafs rangers his steps, my steps. I can't see him, hear him touch him, but I can walk the ground. Step hard. Was there a white frame house? A woman, your mother washing clothes by the Red River. Are these the overalls touched by your skin, the ground you walked Then two bodies slammed together. One night in Pittsburgh and I was made and in the making the blood ran. Who made your green piercing eyes? That bore through me with aliveness. In this ghost land lights show up in trees, a band of light in the sky, a different look every 20 yards.

Speaker 3 (00:27:58):

The change of it all house on the hill with five lights on the kind of house that always has porch lights burning. There's a steadiness out here that I love, a regularity, I don't know. Sudden rise of land and a highway. Tunnel sign megawatts 160 feet deep and city lampposts sprout like alien antenna the train. Stopping now three cars, unhitched left in the yard for pickup. Where is that one sweep of wind where I'll find the switching yard, this train and that those who made you and in that distant but bloody kingdom way me. So I can stand and say here, here where Ukrainian immigrants set their stake, where the prairie met the working stiff and you were born shut up in this compartment. I am the small ghost. Light shines in the window from a signal shooting the whole train car bloody red. Tomorrow in the open I will be legion. You'll see me bleeding from every pore. A woman in the switching yard.

Speaker 3 (00:29:21):

Thank you. So this is the body becoming visible to me. The body of the palm also becoming visible, but with emotion rising as real. And I just went to a great panel on poverty and writing with Rachel McKibbon was on and it was great because it was real. And talking about working class writing. So often the body is left out of poetry as you know. And I don't know why that is, but I have some ideas. I think it's hard to get to the body in our lives. I mean everyone's, not everyone, A lot of people are walking around not connected to their bodies and really truly, I mean I love bodies, I love touch, but on certain days I don't want to be touched on certain days. I'm afraid of touch. It's hard to be in your body all the time. I leave it on a regular basis. But so how do you get that body on the page trying to create a breathing poem that has an urgency that can't be turned away from? And that's always what I'm trying to do. I want something that's going to make you change your mind about something that you're going to read it and you're going to say, oh fuck, I think I felt something.

Speaker 3 (00:30:52):

This is my opinion. Of course this, there's a great bias against the body in poetry as if it wasn't enough, as if it's not studied or intellectual enough. And I'm sorry, that's bullshit. But this became very clear when women writers began to publish and were labeled as confessional and as if stories or bodies could only appear as secrets told in the black box of confession. The implication with this term has always been these confessional poems do not measure up to the real poems of the academy, which was code for poems written by white man. Right?

Speaker 3 (00:31:36):

Boy, am I tired of that? And I mean, meanwhile, you had Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath writing fierce and visceral poems of the body and white men at that time labeling them as confessional. And don't let anyone call your poems confessional. That's ridiculous. So anyway, later in my book, there are poems about switching bodies and I'm going to end with a very short poem. I'm always looking for change and the fluidity of the body and gender. It's called switching. She's the designated hitter, switched at birth. She put Christ's nails in her hands. She dropped the baby when there was no birth father. She bought shoes with steel toes and a big belt buckle. She saved the baby and became Christ our savior. She bought the gun, she wore it like a man, wore it like a woman. She said, suck my dick. And she sucked Dick. She held herself close, tangled in her own wires and switches father of sky dreams and night. She was a slave to it until she called herself free became her own man. In the steel wheels of her leaving, she became her own father. Thanks.

Speaker 4 (00:33:24):

Hi everyone.

Speaker 4 (00:33:27):

Good to see you all. I'm so glad you went there at the end. That's one of the issues. It's the academy. Then some of the questions that I have about writing about the body or thinking about the body is something that I want to guard against in myself because I teach in a college and there are kind of structural things about universities that seems to me belief structures. And among those belief structures, among those beliefs is that dead things value more than living things. I think that's the case. It's like, and there's a great suspicion, there's a great suspicion that I see over and over again of the body as a fact in time and space. So I'm just going to tell you something. Like I was just at a reading, pat Al was reading over there and my body got all fucked up from the reading.

Speaker 4 (00:34:29):

My body did it, my head's in my body, they're all the same thing like Todd said. But my body started to change from the reading and it was half of my body. So I was having this sort of hemispheric situation and it was like a tingling and a numbness and it was something deep. And my breathing changed in fact from listening to a poem. And that to me is actually sort of what I hope for. And that is also something that my own experience of being a reader of poems and being in conversation with other folks who maybe are not in the same sort of communities as me, that folks are suspicious of that or folks are suspicious of my own desire to actually move bodies with poems or the fact that bodies being moved by poems. So the kinds of things that I worry about is when I hear folks say things like I knew too much about the poet to actually know if the poems were any good.

Speaker 4 (00:35:32):

I don't know exactly why that makes me nervous, but there's something about the fact that academics may train to not care about people, but to care about two dimensional surfaces. I fucking love books. I love books. I don't love books. I love people. I'm not going to and I really love books. I really love them. I'm not going to love books. I love people and I'm not going to love libraries. I'm going to love gatherings. So that's one of the things that I'm sort of, when I'm thinking about the poem as a bodily fact, I'm also thinking about the fact that the poem itself is a sort of vessel of breath. That the line break indicates something about our body, the poem on the page. It indicates something about not only our body but the fact that what I think is this beautiful primary fact of our lives, which is that we are dying.

Speaker 4 (00:36:31):

Anything that has breath in it means it indicates our death, it suggests our death. And that is incredibly dramatic and moving. And to not consider that is like it's to cut off so much of what's meaningful about a poem. These bodies, poems are bodies. So that's something that I think about a lot in my work. And for those of us who do exist in the academy in certain ways, I do hope that we just, we need to pay very close attention to what's valued. Because there's also other veneers. There's veneers of gender and veneers of sex and veneers of race on these assessments, on what is valued and what is not. When you read a poem really good, when you read it really good and someone says something to you, you don't have to read your poems like that. It's good on the page. No, people say that. Yeah, people say these things. I hope that we do like that.

Speaker 4 (00:37:41):

I do like that. To not think of our bodies is a strange, not only a blindness, it's a strange privilege. A lot of us walk through on the planet, walk wherever we walk, and we're thinking often about our bodies for whatever reason, to not be thinking about our bodies. It's a blindness, but it's also a weird assumption or something. If anyone tells me that I'm talking too much about my body, I'm often like that's suspicious to me. There are assumptions that somebodies are universal and somebodies are not. And I want to challenge that too. And I hope that we challenge that. I'm going to read you, sorry, I have to do this. I'm going to read you a poem by S Miah real quick. Yeah. And it's called Consider the Hands that Write this letter. Is that the right one? Good. It's after Marina Wilson.

Speaker 4 (00:38:51):

Consider the hands that write this letter left palm pressed flat against paper as we have done before over my heart in peace or reverence to the sea. Some beautiful thing I saw once, felt once snow falling like rice flung from the giant's wedding or strangest of strange birds. And consider then the right hand and how it is a fist within which a sharpened utensil, similar to the way I've held a spade, the horse's reigns loping the very fists I've seen from roads through Lee May and Esli for years. I have come to sit this way. One hand open, one hand closed like a farmer who puts down seeds and gathers up food will come from that farming or yes, it is the way I've danced with my left hand or around his shoulder, my right hand closed inside of another hand. And how I pray, I pray for this to be my way. Sweet work alluded to in the body's position to its paper, left hand, right hand, like an open eye, an eye closed, one hand flat against the trap door the other hand knocking. Knocking.

Speaker 4 (00:40:19):

And I'm going to read you two more poems. I think So I don't know at all how to talk about this, about the murder in South Carolina. I just dunno how to talk about it. And I'm going to read this poem and it's not about that, but it's about that. It's called a small needful fact. I don't know. I think I'm trying to think about, I don't know, is that Eric Garner worked for some time for the Parks and Rec horticultural department, which means perhaps with his very large hands, perhaps in all likelihood he put gently into the earth some plants, which most likely some of them and all likelihood continue to grow, continue to do what such plants do, like hows and feed small and necessary creatures like being pleasant to touch and smell, converting sunlight into food, like making it easier for us to breathe. I wasn't planning on reading that poem. There's something else to say, but I don't know what to say. I'm going to read this poem. Burial And for My Father and something that is, I want to talk about the garden. I'm just thinking about this book. And one of the sort of arguments of this book is the conversion, the need for conversion and compost. And exactly what Todd was saying, that gardening and farming and being with the earth is like this place for that to happen.

Speaker 4 (00:42:18):

And I say that and I also am like, how do we actually convert these things? But this is a poem called Burial and I'll just, has anyone used a placenta for anything? Has anyone used a placenta before in this room? Yeah. What for

Speaker 5 (00:42:38):

Used? Use it for air

Speaker 4 (00:42:39):

Conditioner. Okay. Okay, you two

Speaker 4 (00:42:45):

Binging. Thank you. Thank you. You're right, you're right. The fertilizer is good. It wasn't A gang of dullards came up with chucking a fish in the planting hole or some midwife got lucky with the placenta. Oh, I'll plant a tree here and a sudden flush of quince and jam. Enough for months. Yes, the magic dust, our bodies become cast spells on the roots about which someone else could tell you the chemical processes, but it's just magic to me, which is why a couple springs ago when first putting in my two bare root plums out back, I took the jar, which has become my father's house and lonely for him and hoping to coax him back from my mother as much as me poured some of him in the planting holes and he dove in. Glad for the robust air saddling in a slight gust into my nose and mouth, chuckling as I coughed.

Speaker 4 (00:43:42):

But mostly he disappeared into the minor yawns in the earth into which I placed the trees splain wide their roots, casting the great dust of my old man evenly throughout the whole, replacing then the clouds of dense Indiana soil into the roots and my father were buried, watering it all in with one hand while holding the tree with the other straight as the flag to the nation of simple joy, of which my father is now a naturalized citizen, waving the flag from his subterranean lair. The roots curdled around him like shawls or jungle gyms like hookah or the arms of ancestors before breast stroking into the xylem, riding the elevator up through the cambium and into the leaves where when you put your ear close enough you can hear him whisper. Good morning where if you close your eyes and push your face, you can feel his stubbly, jowls. And good Lord this year he was giddy at the first real fruit set and nestled into the 30 or 40 plums in the two trees, peering out from the sweet meat with his hands pressed against the purple skin like cathedral glass and imagine his joy as the SunEd forth those abundant sugars. And I plotted barefoot and prayerful at the first ripe plumb swell and blush, almost weepy conjuring some surely ponderous verse to convey this bottomless grace. Oh father, oh father kind of stuff.

Speaker 4 (00:45:22):

Hundreds of hot air balloons filling the sky in my chest, replacing his intubated body, listing like a boat keel side up, replacing the steady stream of water from the one eye, which his brother wiped before removing the tube, keeping his hand on the forehead until the last wind in his body wandered off while my brother wailed like an animal. And my mother said, weeping. It's okay, it's okay. You can go honey at all. Of which my father gefa by kicking from the first bite buckets of juice down my chin, staining one of my two button down shirts, the salmon colored silk one hollering, there's more of that. Almost dancing now in the plum in the tree the way he did as a person. Bent over and biting his lip and chucking the one hip out then the other with his elbows, cocked and fists loosely made and eyes closed and mouth made trumpet when he knew he could make you happy just by being a little silly and sweet. Thank you.

Speaker 6 (00:46:54):

Dang, y'all, that was so, so beautiful. I'm going to bring us on home with a poem from one of my favorite dear living poets, Dorian Locks. This is a poem about, the title is called The Ship Fitter's Wife. And what I love about this is that there's an adoration and a reverence for the kind of the dirty body, the not so perfect body. The ship fitter's wife, I loved him most when he came home from work. His fingers still curled from fitting pipe, his denim shirt ringed with sweat and smelling of salt, the drying weeds of the ocean. I go to where he sat on the edge of the bed, his forehead anointed with grease, his cracked hands jammed between his thighs and I'd unlaced the steel toed boots, stroke his ankles and calves, the pads and bones of his feet. Then I'd open his clothes and take the whole day inside of me. The ship's gray sides, the miles of copper pipe, the voice of the foreman clanging off the holes, silver ribs, spark of lead, kissing metal, the clamp, the winch, the white fire of the torch, the whistle and the long drive home.

Speaker 6 (00:48:18):

What I love about this poem is that, well many things but have a poems triumph, is that it's a poem that engages us deeply and for me, seemingly permanently by creating this kind of physical mortal impact, I'm thinking of when Robert Frost said the right reader. And he put this all in male point of view, so I'm changing it to female. Robert Frost says the right reader of a poem can tell the moment it strikes her that she has taken a mortal wound that she will never ever get over it. That is to say permanence and poetry as in love is perceived instantly. I love the transformation that occurs in the male body, that the male body turns into a ship that itself, the clamp, the winch, et cetera. And I love that the desire and consummation of the male body turns into a mode of transportation for the speaker as well as for the whole poem to kind of lift off from.

Speaker 6 (00:49:19):

I'm thinking of this too, as something to take away from the session as well. I was trying to think of poetry prompts for you all as well. And so I was thinking of something like if you wanted to write, this is something that I do as well, to write a persona poem from the point of view of an unusual occupation that is to say, to write the body, how do you describe the body via occupation? How do you rate desire through occupation? So again, I'm thinking of maybe some not so common occupations like a taxidermist. How do you rate the body? How do you rate desire of a body that spends its day recreating lifelike shapes out of a squirrel or a, I dunno, you've seen these, right? The bad kind of taxidermy, but the good taxidermy is really kind of strong looking animals, foreboding animals.

Speaker 6 (00:50:12):

How do you write desire through that? How do you take on the occupation of someone who spends his or her day sculpting these magnificent structures out of chocolate? What kinds of words and diction would you use to describe that kind of body? And yeah, and see what happens. See what kind of magic happens from there. I wanted to read a second poem. The next two are going to be from collections that I have. I'm a child of the eighties, so my high school or not high school. Yeah, just my crushes kind of are going to date me here, but they were not my friends. Were all kind of liking Ricky Schroeder, Kirk Cameron, who's I think completely nuts. So now I think, right, sorry if you're a Kirk Cameron Fran here. Anyway, mine was Bill Bixby from The Incredible Hulk. Do you guys know this?

Speaker 6 (00:51:11):

Okay, so when I mentioned the incredible Hulk, a lot of times people think it's the C g i the cartoon, but I know younger students, they have a hard time believing that there was actual TV drama called The Incredible Hulk. Yes, it won Emmy's and that would never fly today. I don't think that there could be a TV show based on superheroes. But if you don't know what I'm talking about, I just wanted to play this one little bit. This is the saddest theme song ever. The male body would just be walking onto the horizon. Let me see here, come on, don't fail me now it just makes me swoon.

Speaker 7 (00:52:03):


Speaker 6 (00:52:03):

Have to take a moment. Okay,

Speaker 6 (00:52:11):

So talk about leaving my body for a moment here. I just takes me back. So that's the incredible Hulk. I want you to think of the Bill Bixby version. And this poem that I'm going to read is called What I Learned From The Incredible Hulk. When it comes to clothes, make an allowance for the unexpected. Be sure the spare, the trunk of your station wagon with wood paneling is not in need of repair. A simple jean jacket says, Hey, if you're not trying to smuggle rare ink coins through this peaceful little town and kidnap the local orphan, I can be one heck of a mellow kind of guy. I learned that no matter how angry a man gets a smile and a soft stroke on his bicep can work wonders, I learned that male chests also have nipples warm and established. And I learned that green does not always mean envy. It's the meadows full of clover and chicory that the Hulk seeks for rest, a return to normal. And sometimes, sometimes a woman gets to go with him. Her tiny hands will correct his rumpled hair. The cuts in his hand. I learned that green is the space between water and sun. It's the cover for a quiet man. Each of his ribs shuttling drops of liquid light.

Speaker 6 (00:53:46):

And the last one I'm going to read today is, again, I'm thinking kind of poetry prompts. But I think that you could also, if you write prose, you could do this for kind of micro fiction, kind of the short fiction is to write a carina fi guata, a word picture, a poem of the body kind of. And so what I did for this one, I chose ribs for two reason. I love spare of ribs to eat, but also just in thinking about the space between human ribs and what that means for desire, what that means as kind of the framework of which to breathe. So Carmina Fiza piece of writing is a poem that's in the shape of what you're writing about. So I'm thinking like a carmina fi poem of a body part, an organ. I haven't seen any carina fis of, I dunno, kidneys, stomach shapes, things like that.

Speaker 6 (00:54:41):

I chose ribs. So here's the two lines of spare ribs here. So in writing a Carmina Fi poem, you let the shape of the body part in this case or an organ, let the shape dictate the form, as well as content, word choice, things like that when you know, have to have that quick short break for me anyway, for the short lines or what it means to have that long line. If you're writing a poem of the long intestine or whatever, or short intestine, whatever. And this is called the final one. I'll read today and then I think we'll open it up to question and answers if we have time. This is called Why I crave ribs tonight.

Speaker 6 (00:55:21):

Baby don't even come near me with that napkin. Just let me add each bone slick and sweet with smoky sugar sauce. See all the steam that I nudge off the meat, see all the steam that I nudge off all the meat with my tongue. It's the only kind of cloud we see this lemonade day in June, all this driving. And I need to feel food in my hands, no knife or fork tonight. I want to burn my lips just enough, but not too much. It hurts to kiss. And that reminds me of the glowing heart inside of me. How each rib curves around, locks tight and neat, snaps along the back. Make your hand like that around my small wrist and lead me into the bathroom. Stand with me in the shower and feel the tender spot just underneath my ribs. Lift my hands above my head and trace the space bone, space bone, space bone down my sides with a blue bar of soap. Let this be the only way I will ever come clean.

Speaker 5 (00:56:23):

Thank you.

Speaker 2 (00:56:40):

So thanks to Amy Ross and Jan, just beautiful stuff. Do you have any questions and comments? Of course, too.

Speaker 5 (00:56:48):

Signing books

Speaker 2 (00:56:51):

Not here, but not right here. You could drag us to our tables in the book fair, I'm sure. Or if you have the book, of course. Other questions, thoughts about, yeah,

Speaker 5 (00:57:05):

So there's a difference

Speaker 8 (00:57:06):

Between writing a poem about the mind and writing a poem in

Speaker 5 (00:57:10):

Or from

Speaker 8 (00:57:12):

How do you teach that?

Speaker 5 (00:57:18):

Could you repeat it? Could

Speaker 2 (00:57:19):

You? Yeah. So he was asking about, or he made the statement that there's a difference writing a poem about the body. And certainly we heard poems about the body there, but how do you write a poem from the body? How in the creative act itself is the body in the practice?

Speaker 2 (00:57:40):

I'll just say a couple of things I do with my classes. First off, I have a singing bowl and we start every class with the singing bowl. I want them to understand that poetry is an oral art right out of the mouth, O R A L and oral art, A u r A l into the ear. We always have to read poems out loud. And I say that singing bowl, you're a singing bowl. And so as I strike it, I ask them to meditate on something to get themselves centered for what we're going to go into. And then we do a lot of breathing exercises. I want them to realize Ross had said, this is an epigraph in one of my books. Only on our dying breath can we speak. And I say to him, what's cool though is you speak on your dying breath and then you have to silence yourself and listen to the world before you can speak again. And so we do a lot of breathing exercises with that as well. And a lot of stuff just with our mouths. I'm a child who had a speech impediment, did a lot of speech therapy all through elementary school. And so I love what happens in my mouth to form words and I try to get my students to do that as well.

Speaker 3 (00:58:51):

I didn't realize how dirty these poets were, but yeah, don't I think there's something that has to happen between you and you when this happens. I mean, I asked my students to use a mic and to go to readings, but mostly I think it's all about reading other people's work and feeling it and standing up and reading it and feeling the line breaks. But I mean, when you're talking about being inside your body, your own body and getting it on the page, I think that's something that only comes over time and that person has to want it, has to want to get there. And so I don't know, I, I feel like I offer a lot of tools and after a while you're on your own. I mean, that's how I feel.

Speaker 2 (00:59:46):


Speaker 9 (00:59:52):

Any thoughts on ways in which,

Speaker 2 (01:00:00):

So the question had to do with technology and the screen world, and if that separates us even more from our bodies, I'll just tell you, I've never had a cell phone in my life and still don't have a smartphone. I live very consciously trying to make sure that my body is always, I'm present in my body and my body's always in contact with the earth. That's a very hard thing to do. I think our culture absolutely tries to separate us all the time. And maybe I'm just absolutely paranoid, but I feel like we have this whole matrix

Speaker 10 (01:00:34):

Trilogy and now everybody's totally plugged in and I'm like, wait, I saw this movie and I know I'm not neo, but something's screwed up

Speaker 2 (01:00:42):


Speaker 4 (01:00:46):

Yeah, I think that's so important. I didn't hear everything you said, but the idea that technology itself, it's one of the things that sort of keeps us out of our body. I think that's totally true. And I think it's also, there are all of these ways that we're not only kept out of our bodies, but we're kept isolated from other bodies, from other people. And I feel like that is, I've been reading Fred Moton and trying to understand, and Fred Moton and Stefano Harvey, the Under Commons and trying to understand some of the things that they're talking about, but they talk about among other things, this idea of professionalization and being a kind of ability to isolate, ability to do for yourself. And I was just thinking, I have a neighbor who shares a truck with two or three other people and I was thinking, oh right. So if you want to drive somewhere, you actually have to have a conversation and talk and negotiate and share and be disappointed and be pissed off and then reconcile and hug. So that's something that, and I think technology is a big, obviously, obviously way that we get driven out of our own bodies. And we can see it all the time. I mean, if we're doing things right next to each other, not with each other. So I could go on and on about that. But yeah, thank you for that question.

Speaker 6 (01:02:07):

Actually, one thing I'll add to that, I think Russ is exactly right and I do, I have a smartphone and stuff like t

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