The hush of cold greets us in the opening circus of Hibernaculum. A family in winter navigates through the chatter of its children, young adults, and older adults. Firm boundaries between each age-restricted grouping of relatives provides our speaker a way into understanding her changing role as a woman in the culture of her family. Our attention begins to narrow onto our speaker who fights to come into her own and be her own type of girl through the re-imagining of yonder tales. Poet Sarah E. Colona, dissects story and fable like an animal in her first full-length collection from Gold Wake Press (2013).
Divided into three sections, Hibernaculum is not a resting place for the animal or storyteller in us all. The first section is full of familial musings, some written at a slant digging into a deeper pain as in “Custody of Ghosts,” and some beautifully tender as in “Visiting John, 1990.” In this piece our speaker visits her brother in the hospital along with her parents. Too ill the boy cannot be touched, and the gift they bring for him as a guarantee he will be leaving those sterile conditions cannot be left with him. Soon our speaker begins to see herself as a twin in those around her. As a reflection in a mirror, in statues, in a dead girl, our speaker whispers to be noticed feeling a futility in her efforts as well. Here we begin to uncover what slinks into our rooms after all the lights are turned out, and enter a ramping toward the surreal.
Section Two goes Grimm, goes ancient Greek, and fills us with the dark fables we learned young. As adults we re-experience these stories with acute awareness of our growing skepticism of fantasy in the shadows penetrating our daily lives, and yet the soft animal inside is still quivering.
Colona has an intriguing ability to move between disparate periods of storytelling, placing a poem inspired by Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast next to a piece on Psyche. She doesn’t conflate the two but connects them through a female voice that seems to transcend time. Through an empowered female voice, the characters Colona embodies provide an alternative context to the story surrounding them and the unflinching myth they’ve been transformed into.
I found “Cruelty,” the last poem in the section, to be a kind of Ars Poetica for Hibernaculum.
make no mistake
stories are predators not pets
But we long for company
Here Colona conflates the mythic with the contemporary. She moves in and out of danger constantly confronted in stories; not only in fictional tales we read, but through the news we hear on television. This poem confronts the temptation, danger, and hatred reflected in stories mirroring our lived experiences. Our speaker, by the end, tames the beast, Story laid its head in my lap/ and purred encouraging an effort to remember there is still decency in the world.
The third and final section brings us back home. We return to the present day engulfed by scenery, this time haunted, not by myth or fable, but by anger and regret. And this section comes out swinging, carrying some heavy fist-pumping anthems. Here we navigate perception and Colona opposes the categorization of women specifically based on gender. She calls out that hypocrisy in poems like “Another Round with Loneliness,” “Have At,” and “The Little Engine that Did” forthrightly. But also examines closely one’s inherent hypocrisy as in “That Girl We Killed” and “Bitch.” We end in the stories we create of ourselves, not to become mythologized stone, but to lean toward an empathetic understanding of what is around us and how we’ve framed our love.
Sarah Colona is currently at work on a new collection poetry, That Sister, and a novella based on Burlington New Jersey (her hometown) folklore and history. Hibernaculum is available on Amazon.
Sheila McMullin runs the feminist and artist resource website, MoonSpit Poetry, where a list of her publications can also be found. She is the Website Assistant for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and Contributing Editor of poetry and the blog for ROAR Magazine. Her chapbook, Like Water, was a finalist for the Ahsahta Press and New Delta Review chapbook competitions, as well as a semifinalist in the Black Lawrence Press chapbook competition. She works as an after-school creative writing and college prep instructor, and volunteers at her local animal rescue. She holds her M.F.A. from George Mason University. Follow her @smcmulli
In my family, we tell stories to tell stories. It’s the way of things. We joke that it’s a cultural norm in our slice of Appalachia. How else is your listener going to know you have something to say? You must cue them in with the opener before you usher in the main act.
Mother’s voice in my ear redirects my attention. “Listen. Gabbow’s tellin’ now.”
“So, I says to the boy, “Youns think youns are gonna fly with that flying thing? Bah! Only birds and brothers fly. And that’s how your Uncle Babe got away from the Klan when they was a-chasin’ him with their white sheets. He flew down that road so fast that they couldn’t see him no more. They didn’t like Hunkies and Catholics like us.”
At five, I learned to hug the midline between my Irish and Slavic halves. It’s not easy to weave together tales punctuated by old language hooks when your small teeth are still cutting your native tongue. Don’t know what the words mean? Follow an immigrant’s path: Make up as you go. Give voice to what breathes around you. Remember that your audience is always listening.
“Tell me something I don’t know.”
“Where did Sam get that green eggs and ham?”
“What was Tito planning to do with those jars full of eye balls?”
It takes time to wag a tongue in the expected cultural rhythm. You have to know when to pause for effect. When to grow a voice big. When to take a bite of cold meringue whipped pie and sip your pop for effect. And, most importantly, when to take the hand of a grandmother who makes room for you at the table and says,
“Youns! Kelly has something to say and youns are a-gonna listen.
Now, child, go on now. Tell us.”
She picks up her fork to snatch the last sliver of almond in the tin pie plate.
“Well, um, there was this tree and a blue dog…”
[Adults smirk and smile. The Child notices. Eyes shift. The Child’s right leg jiggles nervously when she opens her voice again.]
“And the moon came down to take the dog for a walk and the tree came along ‘cuz it was bored.”
[Adults laugh. Child feels encouraged but is still shy.]
My people love a good story. I bet yours do too. If your people are like my people, then you have to sell it. Make it come alive for them. Pull the right bait out from your tackle box of words. Toss out a few lines. See what bites.
“Quiet, youns! She’s a-telling us something.
Why was this tree bored?”
[Adults lean in. Eyes blink with interest. The generational veil drops and all are children again.]
“The moon and tree are teaching the blue dog how to sing better. The tree knows someone who knows someone, so they’re all gonna go find him. The tree says to follow the noisy winds. They know they way. And, they sing them all to the man who lives behind the bridge that’s lit with fireflies. He knows how to howl and he teaches the dog a new song with a whistle in it, which made the moon so happy that she shone brighter than the sun. And they all lived happily ever after, especially the dog and moon who learned new tricks.”
[Adults are quiet now. Child’s eyes shine with light.]
When spinning magic with magic words, you can’t croak. You can’t let the frog in your throat stop you. You gotta sing, even if your voice competes against others’ songs. Even if it gets drowned out by the competition. Even if it’s rejected. Even if….
“Good girl! Now, youns, wasn’t that a good story? “Noisy winds?” Clever and true.”
[Adults nod seriously. Child feels satisfied. Glows on the inside.]
“Now, what was it youns was a-gonna tell us?”
The Frog Prince [Title]
I sit in my bed,
an amphibious sprite,
Wet from the bath,
Wetter still from the thick humidity
Captured by my spider-grass body.
It feels so real that I wonder
If this human body is just a dream.
Maybe I really sit on a lily pad
In the darkness
And croon with the crickets.
I’m singing my heart out
against the competition,
tangling up in discordant chords
I observe a tower from my squat
And wonder when its lady
Will get curious enough
To come down for a kiss.
When she does, I plan
To smack her with my lips
And pull her in
Just like any other
In her gasped surprise,
I will allow the best parts of her
To slither down my throat
And into the blue fire of my belly,
Even though she’ll probably
Recoil and wipe the luscious slime
Off her pretty, pouty mouth.
Kelly McGannon is a professional writer and shamanic healer living in the Washington D.C. metro area. A graduate of Yale and Princeton Universities, her creative writing has appeared in DreamTime magazine and is forthcoming in Outside In.
Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Post by: Sheryl R, Uncategorized
For those of you in Seattle for the AWP conference, don’t forget the So to Speak reading today, Saturday, March 1, from 3 PM to 5 PM! Our reading features poetry by Laura-Gray Street, fiction by Jessica Barksdale, and nonfiction by Tim Denevi and takes place at the Pine Box, a restaurant and bar located only a half-mile from the Washington State Convention Center at 1600 Melrose Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98122. We’d love to celebrate great feminist writing and have a drink with you! Most importantly, you’re not going to want to miss the line-up!
Filed under: Announcements, Nonfiction, Opinion, Poetry, Politics, Post by: Sheila M, Uncategorized
Former So to Speak Poetry and Blog Editor Sheila McMullin on the history of the StS blog and using online platforms to advocate for social change:
On March 8, 2011 I launched So to Speak’s blog with a simple one line post. No in-depth journal and provocative claim, just a quick message with the beginning word “Celebrating.” With this word began So to Speak’s interaction as an online open forum for discussing feminist issues as they pertain to art and artist communities. In those early days our editorial circle saw the blog as a supplement to the print journal, providing a space for our contributors to speak in broader terms on their creative process and artistic and feminist intentions in relation to their printed pieces. The blog was an opportunity for the community at large to engage with our activist-driven organization and find in us a community of peers who understand the importance of celebrating feminist dialogue, a safe space to explore identity relations, questions, and build new relations. It was a space for those curious to learn. A place for those skeptical to debate. It is no secret that women and those who don’t identify as cisgender are unproportionally harassed and denigrated on the internet. In launching a blog dedicated to feminism in the arts, I with Blog Co-editor Alyse Knorr were fulfilling a lack we saw in So to Speak’s organizational structure, and stepping up to fight against the notion that women aren’t allowed to play. Of course feminists and budding feminists waiting for a call to action were on the internet. And So to Speak needed to find them and bring them together. We believed that to meet the needs of our feminist allies we had a firm obligation to participate in the online community.
Today StS is still all these things under the care of the current editorial circle, and better, more expansive, more in-depth, more provocative. I am eternally grateful to Blog Editor Sheryl Rivett and her Assistant Blog Editor Paula Beltran for continuing and fostering StS’s online presence. One thing many people don’t really yet understand about encouraging online communities through dedicated and consistent blogging is that it takes a whole lot of energy and a s**t-ton of time. With open minds embracing online opportunities So to Speak has been able to be more of an engaged feminist advocacy group expanding its reach to promote gender parity in the arts and in our communities at large.
That beginning celebratory word on StS’s fresh blog, jumpstarted my personal endeavors of becoming more involved in utilizing web presences for social causes within organizations dedicated to advancing gender parity. I want to celebrate creative bravery. These days many of us engage in online communities through various social media sites that encourage surface level and sensationalist interactions. With sites like Facebook the tendency becomes to showcase only the most thrilling, titillating side of ourselves. These kinds of interactions can at times be a reprieve or fun, but if taken too seriously can interrupt crucial opportunities for empathetic human interaction. Similarly to how hyper-sexualized advertisements and media affect our collective conscious on definitions of “natural” and “beauty,” our most popular social media sites can actually make us feel more lonely, more isolated. Through these sites we have been trained to compare our behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel, a well-worn yet accurate phrase. I don’t deny that sites like Facebook and Twitter play huge roles in providing low-budget socially-conscious groups opportunities to advertise, promote, and connect. These are often the hubs individuals go to see what’s the latest and check updates on news and events. But sites like these can also encourage an ego that denies the validity of another’s identity because of the lack of an ultimate goal of interacting in offline spheres. We forget the avatar on our screens represents a beating human heart, with just as many complex emotions and needs as we have.
I like using the internet very much. It is fun, serves a knowledge-based purpose, and connects me to like-minded folks and family and friends all over the globe. And while the internet allows me to stay in touch with people I love and explore the world without necessarily leaving home, it is still incredibly important to remember that the surface level of interaction while on the internet is through an inanimate object.
As I have become more involved in online communities I understand more the complete necessity for my online presence to directly influence my offline actions. The internet is a tool to make my material and physical life more fulfilling, more understanding, more substantial. So, for AWP 2014 I wanted to bring together creative literary thinkers who actively engage online in platforms they either built themselves because they saw a lack and wanted to fill that space with positive community-focused interaction or significantly monitor and update a unique platform with a socially conscious action-orientated mission for creative thinkers who want to learn to engage online in meaningful, nourishing ways and to talk about how to do so in productively.
On Saturday, March 1, the panelists and I will discuss building unique online platforms, or participating in already existing platforms to shape a cyber presence that provokes actual social change and propagates dissemination of educational materials in the physical world. We’ll discuss and explore opportunities for using our online platforms to evolve typical trite conversations, to change language, to vocalize inclusivity, reform out-of-date sexist traditions, and push out of comfort zones to empower individuals. Through our conversation, I hope we can come together to celebrate our unique visions and encourage users to create an internet that moves away from trolling, harassment, anxiety-provoking sites and moves toward representing the diverse cultures we participate in and the diverse human beings we are.
For you, in the cybersphere, who are ready to start using your online platform to advocate for social change consider what it means to blog with integrity, and focus on opportunities for offline activism by providing links at the end of your posts to others’ organizations or groups who argue for similar productivity you do and could benefit from a charitable donation or some type of volunteer action.
Now go write and share!
Headed to AWP? Be sure to check out the panel that Sheila is moderating!
So You Want to Build a Platform: But What is It & Why Do You Need One? Women Writers & Editors Speak Out (Sheila McMullin, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Molly Gaudry, Sheryl Rivett, Arisa White)
Room 608, Washington State Convention Center, Level 6
Saturday, March 1, 2014
10:30 am to 11:45 am
While women’s voices are underrepresented in print publishing, online activism can balance the scales. Cultivating an online presence is not as easy as DIY and shameless self-promotion tales make it look. Creative thinkers, to highlight minority and emerging voices, develop unique online resources to build ever-expanding communities and celebrate accomplishments. Panelists explore empowerment, utility of web-based writing, maintaining professionalism, and ways to keep viewers returning and sharing.
Filed under: Announcements, Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Post by: Sheryl R, Uncategorized
The staff of So to Speak would like to invite you to our offsite reading at the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle, Washington!
Our multi-genre reading will be held on Saturday, March 1 (the last day of the conference) from 3 PM to 5 PM and will feature poetry by Laura-Gray Street, fiction by Jessica Barksdale, and nonfiction by Tim Denevi. The reading will take place at the Pine Box, a restaurant and bar located only a half-mile from the Washington State Convention Center at 1600 Melrose Avenue, Seattle, Washington 98122. We’d love to celebrate great feminist writing and have a drink with you! Most importantly, you’re not going to want to miss this line-up:
Laura-Gray Street’s work has appeared in Many Mountains Moving, The Human Genre Project, Isotope, Gargoyle, From the Fishouse, ISLE, Shenandoah, Meridian, Blackbird, Poetry Daily, The Notre Dame Review, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere; selected by George Garrett for Best New Poets 2005; commissioned by the New York Festival of Song; and included in Pivot Points, an exhibition of poets and painters that traveled internationally. Street has received a Poetry Fellowship from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, the Editors’ Prize in Poetry fromIsotope, the Emerging Writer in Poetry Award for the Southern Women Writers Conference, the Dana Award in Poetry, and The Greensboro Review’s Annual Literary Award in Poetry, and fellowships at the VCCA and the Artist House at St. Mary’s College in Maryland.
Jessica Barksdale is the author of twelve traditionally published novels, including Her Daughter’s Eyes and When You Believe. Her novel Becca’s Best is forthcoming from Ghostwoods Books. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension.
Tim Denevi’s first book, Hyper, a memoir and history of ADHD, will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2014. He received his MFA in nonfiction from the University of Iowa, his MA in English from the University of Hawaii, and his BA from Northwestern University. Recently he was awarded fellowships by the MacDowell Colony and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
Can’t wait to see you there!