“I move/ to keep things whole,” writes Mark Strand, “wherever I am/ I am what is missing.” The paradox of having a complete experience is knowing time moves. To move, to also remove. To speak in the past tense, to recognize we can never be in that moment of time again.
Absorbing every millisecond becomes so much more intense when I think like this, and so much harder.
Does routine allow ourselves relaxation? What does it feel like to not think about a life in the past tense, but a continual be-ing? I think routine makes time seem less important, or relatively non-existent. En route we are reminded to think of the passage of time, again. Notice how our bodies have changed. En route we see the evolution of landscape; we compare to the day before, create new associations, begin to change ourselves, change our routine, get comfortable if we’re lucky and relax for a moment. If we stay in one place too long, we start to measure time through the dust collected. A new routine then. Notice how the things have aged, how we’ve gotten older, more experienced. We move to keep ourselves a part of the world. We remove to keep ourselves apart from the world.
Sarah Vap’s 2012 collection Arco Iris moves our speaker with Lover and ghosts through a foreign-to-her, sometimes wild and perfect, sometimes manufactured electricity-dominated and commerce landscape. We are in South America on the Amazon and in markets. Our speaker travels by bus for a whole day and wants coffee. She is hungry and starving to be touched by Lover, and frequently by Lover. Perhaps Lover can show her how she is feeling. She knows Lover cannot actually do this. She is mass and lonely; she is desperate and learning; she is moving to keep things whole.
“It was hard to tell what was important” ends the opening poem “Ghost.” This “Ghost” is the first of many poems samely titled. In this first “Ghost” we are given a vague map— told “We moved pretty slowly down,/then across, then up, then across, then down.” With a book cover of a rotting skeleton head decorated with wilting blue hydrangea, pink roses, and rose petals are we in the underworld, do we praise the dead? Because our speaker finds herself in an usually new place we have no sense of what is “important” or “not-important.” So the book opens as a blank slate for the traveler to make a connection and establish herself as an importance in the new landscape. Vap exemplifies the emotional work of traveling well with repeating title motifs showing the infinite variations one moment holds. Through the collection we see our speaker become acquainted with South America: “We saw, at our beginning, what is furious/ become part of how we would love. Quite a bit of fuss/ at this market.” Furious at first at what traveling is—frustrating, exhausting, and confusing— our speaker comes into loving the constant movement.
Through traveling we learn to love the confusion as a part of the learning. This book, at its heart, is dealing with conflicting and simultaneous emotions and physical responses when interacting with otherwise lovely people. Like every great book, readers should be asked to reevaluate how we treat those around us, no matter the situation. Arco Iris asks us to reevaluate and encourages us to become more empathetic, especially when it comes to participating in other cultures.
The Smithsonian’s March 2013 magazine published an article on the “Lost Tribes of the Amazon.” This piece profiles tribes hidden in the deep forest purposefully wanting nothing to do our Western or modern cultures. In recent efforts, South American governments are beginning to respect the tribes’ privacy, arguing in order to create private rain forest boundaries they have to pursue and locate the tribes. Inherent in the desire to protect and eventually leave alone is the necessity to observe. A similar tension is found in Arco Iris. Our speaker wants access. More specifically, wants access to those she sees every day living their lives in South America. In the markets she walks with those selling goods she “imagine(s) how we might touch. I find more way I want even more ways to touch—whoever you are who think that I don’t want you—here. Take this money. Give me something beautiful you have made.” She cannot fully have and feels regretful of an incomplete experience. Many of us, I believe, feel this way when we travel significantly and to places where we don’t fully speak a shared language. Becoming so visibly the other while traveling can be exhilarating when you are not feeling the fear of being lost, how to get what you need, embodying the ripped-off chum. Typical reactions, and reasonable ones as well, are to accuse globalization and tourism markets for denying world citizens a full experience, and only providing a curated and non-negotiable fringes tour. At the same time blaming yourself for not having studied harder during language courses could have been that blanket access key into an entire, most beautiful, more perfect world. This perfect world would claim you and hold you and finally give you your home. Travel over the rainbow into this magical world where everyone loves you just because you came here. This isn’t overly-dramatic pith, it is a real urge to understand and participate fully.
We all know this is desire. This desire isn’t restricted to travelers. We know, though, no matter how much language we studied, a brief exploration anywhere couldn’t lend itself so completely to you. We resign to “okay” because building a home takes a long time—we know that. But we can wish it didn’t take so long.
Linguistically, the poems contain beautiful lyric lines and build tremendous memory waves: “This morning, rainbowlight-cerebellums in the arc of water that is spitting out from the engine.” Our speaker is constantly questioning the affect of memory: “would you call this remembering./ Would you ask: did the garden become a market. And did the mountain/become a station.” And while our speaker resists memory in trying to build it in a new landscape, she is constantly reflecting back to a spinning ballerina in a music box she owned as a child.
“Begin with the memory of collapsing the ballerina back into the music box after she twirls in her white plastic dress slower then slower to somewhere over the rainbow. Her feet glued to the spring, she moved, I thought, as much as she possibly could. Loneliness across a whole life. Even here, in Guayaquil.”
“Fuck me, or something like it I said every night. That lock, the click at the plastic bent over. He wanted to—at the spring she was glued to. The plinks, and the crank that turns her.”
and finally she tells us of when the dancer broke, but stayed in the box, and she lost the key. “It is a stupid memory, it was a stupid song./ It is the worst-possible thing to have loved.”
Desiring touch, company, and experience complicated, our speaker mourns. Perhaps the ballerina and the song is stupid, but I can’t believe the memory is. This memory is what connects the present with the past. The beautiful constantly rotating girl but never moving. See, the ballerina cannot be whole, and then broke and melted into a ghost memory. Our speaker felt like this once—spinning but not moving with a limited 365 degree scope of the world. But our speaker is not broken and it quite alive. As she becomes more familiar with Guayaquil her thinking ribbons part past and part present mixing the ballerina with Lover. Who is our speaker now? I see her changing. She’s not someone else. She’s more her now.
For those with the heart to travel I recommend Arco Iris. Even more I hope those who have travelled read this poetry for contextualization of the emotional return to our home lands. Know we all felt binary and conflicting emotions when we first got back, we still feel this way and it isn’t wrong. Reading Arco Iris for the first time let me grieve over my own time in China and how sad I am today to not still be there with my friends. This book helped me remember, maybe, one day I can go back. Coming home isn’t the end of the travel, but the start of our figuring out why we came back and “what are we supposed to that about that.”
♥ Sheila M
Sarah Vap is the author of five collections of poetry. Her first book, Dummy Fire, was selected by Forrest Gander to receive the Saturnalia Poetry Prize. Her second, American Spikenard, was selected by Ira Sadoff to receive the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her third book, Faulkner’s Rosary, was released by Saturnalia Books in 2010. Her fourth book, Arco Iris, was released in November, 2012, and was named a Library Journal Best Book of 2012. Her book End of the Sentimental Journey is just released from Noemi Press. She is a 2013 recipient of an NEA Fellowship for Poetry.
The following is a guest post by regular guest blogger, Alyse Knorr.
Paul David Adkins, a former So to Speak contributor, is the author of The Upside Down House (Yellow Jacket Press 2012), a beautifully crafted and uniquely feminist chapbook about a childhood in Florida.
As the book’s title suggests, Adkins turns the domestic space of the childhood home “upside down,” highlighting the uncanny and the mysterious in Florida suburban landscapes that include everything from a mini golf course to spooky Florida canals.
The speaker’s family, too, is turned “upside down” in these poems by “all the thunder in that house.” Not only across poems, but within poems, we find ourselves immersed equally in the love and the turbulence of the household. The parents are as sympathetic as they are flawed, ever complex in their tenderness and their anger.
The book is as carefully ordered as the poems are written. Each new poem turns to reveal a new complication in the family, and Adkins disrupts any linear re-telling of this childhood by jumping forward and back in time, resurrecting the dead and revealing the future all at once. For example, in one early poem, the young speaker hears a “black secret” by spinning The White Album backwards—the chilling sound of the poet’s name (“Paul is dead”) followed by, later, “Miss him/Miss him/Miss him.” In the very next poem, it is not Paul who is dead but the speaker’s father. The poem’s perspective then rapidly, dizzyingly, shifts from the siblings touching the coffin to the speaker imagining himself being placed into a coffin, then six feet up to the flowers placed above his own grave.
This powerful use of the imagination permeates the collection and puts us, significantly, into the mind of a child. A sense of wonder permeates these poems—treasures, secrets, and things hidden inside of other things delight the speaker, and, in turn, the reader, at every turn. A toy safe with five dollars inside, buried somewhere in the yard, marks a hidden prize tantalizingly within reach. A WWII-era army coat purchased at a flea market contains its own ominous treasure inside a pocket. A birthday cake becomes a hidden miniature world for the plastic Indian family positioned in its frosting.
This use of the child’s perspective offers Adkins a subtle and poignant lens through which to critique society in my favorite poem from the chapbook, “Fifth Grade Field Trip, Gold Coast Skating Rink, Fort Lauderdale, 1974.” In this poem, Adkins describes being chastised by a DJ for roller skating with a male friend during a Couples Skate. Adkins’ speaker recalls the honesty in their childlike innocence, ending the poem with an indictment that is all at once sharp, funny, and still painfully raw:
We didn’t find it wrong
to hold each other up
though the laughter now pricked us
like straight pins our mother failed to find
when we tried on the dress shirts at Sears.
It is moments like this, along with Adkins’ thoughtful, subtle representation of family dynamics and parental gender roles throughout the book, that mark this text as distinctly feminist. Perhaps what is most striking about Adkins’ writing, here and in countless examples throughout this chapbook, is his use of transformative metaphors to subtly convey complex emotions.
In “America Loves Bowling!,” for instance, the father, returning drunk from the bowling alley, transforms through Adkins’ description into a pin (“red-faced and teetering/like a glanced pin”) and the house into an alley (“that house, with its hardwood/swept to a shine”). The implications of violence here echo in their chilling silence.
Similarly, in “The Christmas Tree and My Father,” it is the father, not the tree, who “wilt[s]” in the Florida heat, and the father’s beer that “sweat[s]” after a frustrating attempt to saw the tree’s base that works him into a rage.
Adkins treats us to a double transformation in “My Mother Combing Key Largo After the Labor Day Hurricane, 1935,” when the speaker’s mother hopes to find doubloons and finds instead an unopened bottle of beer:
The cap tumbled to gleam at her feet
like a coin.
She sipped, and sipped again,
assumed the brine was beer.
Perhaps the most fitting example of Adkins’ mesmerizing use of metaphor comes in “Coconut Grove Nightclub Fire, 28 November, 1942.” In this poem, after a magician’s cufflink starts a fire at a nightclub, Adkins describes a man rescuing survivors from the flames thusly: “in the alley a man/pulled them out/like scarf after scarf after scarf.”
In The Upside Down House, Adkins, too, takes on the role of magician, and he, too, has ignited a fire—one fueled by the power of transformative metaphor, and one that will surely burn in his readers’ imagination long after closing this book.
Filed under: Interview, Poetry, Post by: Sarah M, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews
Sheila: Why is feminism important to you? What does it mean to you?
Sarah: Feminism is responsibility. I believe that I am responsible for being an effective advocate. Like Steinem, I think that a “feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” Being a feminist means subverting an accepted culture of silence. As such, feminism is vital to creating civic-minded, educated humans and consumers. I spend a great deal of time thinking about ways to win hearts and minds. I lesson plan and write and start conversations and show my face in my community. I support other feminists— I think we have a duty to be role models for young women and men. I am painfully aware of my words and actions and how they impact those around me. I am overwhelmed by the cultural backlash to feminism that surrounds us on a daily basis: reality television, violent and degrading (always present) pornography, the Republican’s war on reproductive freedom, etc. It is important for me to remember that I am (we are) the example. People are always watching us. We are educators and guides, and being a feminist means having integrity. It means being in healthy relationships. It means modeling how to be with a respectful partner. Having self worth and refusing to wallow in self-pity. It means not looking in that bathroom mirror, hallway mirror, car window, etc. and saying, “I look disgusting,” because I never know who’s watching me. A student? A child? A friend? It means not judging someone’s clothing or lack thereof. Today, I am accountable for giving what I never had.
Being a feminist in today’s academic culture means publishing my students, teaching equality in the classroom, and talking about gender identity and sexual violence even when it’s uncomfortable—even when no one wants me to have the conversation. During college I was a sexual assault/rape crisis counselor and victim advocate for Butler County, Ohio. Being a feminist means positively impacting our communities. Gloria Steinem has always been my hero because she represents fearlessness. She revolutionized the presentation of our emotional lives. She represented the uninhibited. She was apt to unwomanly assertion, passion, and individualism. Through her example and the example of so many others, (Adrienne Rich, Elaine Showalter, Eve Ensler, Betty Friedan, Susan Brownmiller) I learned that being brave and strong doesn’t mean that you don’t have a difficult time or make mistakes, but that you walk through them with dignity and grace. I learned to embrace femininity. I think that forgiveness (true forgiveness conquers the dutiful martyr) is principally feminine.
Today, I feel this communal attitude that we are only allowed to publicly call ourselves feminists within certain limits. We are not supposed to be aggressive or appear angry. We should know how to communicate and operate and advocate for change within the realm of our context—within what the current patriarchal hierarchy has deemed acceptable—what they feel comfortable with. This model feels submissive and repressed and ironic to me. Sexual and angry—we are threatening; we are dangerous. I think that our discipline is self enforced and kept in check by society’s incessant scrutiny.
I do not pretend to speak for or represent an entire movement or even a small part of a movement. I’m not sure that I would even feel comfortable aligning myself with a particular wave of feminism. Although, I do have a soft spot for second wave hardliners… I am a feminist operating within a tradition of trailblazers. I am also a feminist who loves and appreciates chivalry (I have received unfortunate, collective gasps for this statement). I hate that some people would like to kick me out of the club for this. Yes, please open my car door and do kind things. I do not expect this, but I certainly cherish it. I respect it. It’s not because I don’t know how to open my own door. It’s not because I need a man (or anyone else) to help me. I value the concept because it’s caring, because it epitomizes the idea that we should be of maximum service to our fellows. It was a beautiful day in my life when I realized that I was finally becoming the kind of man that I was told I should marry (Steinem’s description of self-actualization).
A: In the 7th grade, Mr. Simeone told our class that patience plus perseverance equals survival. This is a math equation that makes sense to me. I hope BACKCOUNTRY inspires us to be ferocious. I am arguing that the act of entering someone or something (a landscape) physically and emotionally is a type of violence. It’s violence even when it’s beautiful. This is a violence because some boundary, some border, has been irreversible crossed. A barrier is broken. I think love is a type of violence. People describe themselves as love-sick (so the body experiences a violence). Perhaps these instances should be called small violences. Everything about our human nature is voyeuristic, intense, and wild. When you enter someone, you must also at some point leave them. (This is a violence.)
Filed under: Movies, Post by: Sheila M, Reviews, Starring Local Feminists
“On the eve of her best friend Katrina’s wedding, Laurie reveals a long held secret feeling which may alter their relationship forever.”
The Veil is Bunte’s newest script revolving around the real life concerns of real people. In this story the veil is not only the description of the bridal gown, but the intersection of metaphor when society makes it particularly hard to reveal one’s true self and demands honest and good people to hide behind. Here, we follow Laurie as she comes out to her best friend. As a central theme in all Bunte’s stories, The Veil “aims to express the feelings of LGBTQ people growing up in small American communities, to show young people that they are not alone in their experiences and to help straight Americans see and understand all people for who they really are – human beings.”
In collaboration with Director Krisstian de Lara, Producer Lu Liu, and Director of Photography Donk Kyu Lee, Alison Vande Bunte has initiated a Kickstarter Project to help fund and make possible the shooting of The Veil. A donation to their production fund will help the team “let people of the LGBTQ community know that they are understood and supported and that others have gone through strikingly similar experiences. More specifically, in order to produce this film, we need $5,000 of funding to pay for: equipment, props, locations and actors. We want to make a high-quality film, and therefore need to rent a high-quality camera, as well as lighting and sound equipment. We also need to pay for our locations and props, and compensate our actors.” –from The Veil Kickstarter profile
The Kickstarter profile has many wonderful and detailed descriptions and insights of The Veil team’s goals, and in addition I’ve asked Bunte some more feminist related questions…
SM: It seems to me one aspect of the movie is investigating female friendship– those bonds and struggles, especially if one friend develops a crush. Do you think this is different at all between opposite sex friendships when a crush happens? Or any thoughts in general about same sex friendships? (I try very hard to be female friendship positive on the blog)
AVB: The second part I’m not so sure about, but I do think there is a difference if someone develops a crush in a same sex relationship v. an opposite sex relationship. For many opposite sex friendships, I feel like (especially if at least one party is single) it’s basically expected by society/friends/etc to develop into something more. But there’s very little expectation on anyone’s part for that in a same sex friendship, especially when someone has been frightened into staying in the closet their whole life. If that makes sense!
Another dimension I’m interested in is what you hope you’re script will teach people? What attitudes people might walk away with after viewing the movie. What you hope for the movie in the long-run.
So the script has two audiences, the LGBTQ community and people who may not understand the LGBTQ community fully. For the first group, I hope that it will be something people can relate to, to know that weird or embarrassing feelings they have had are not weird or embarrassing, but something other people have experienced too. For the non-LGBTQ community, it’s to show them the emotions behind the lesbian main character and her fear of coming out, as well as that she is a real person, not a stereotype.
So I hope that people walk away with an attitude of understanding and of not feeling alone. And I just want more media that represents gay characters as real people, especially in main roles.
If you want to see more gay, lesbian, queer, transgender stories in main stream and pop culture consider making a minimum donation of $1 to this film. If you also want to see more LGBTQ concerns at the center of films, then definitely donate to this project! To help support this incredible movie pledge the amount you are comfortable with here! And a bonus: For different amounts pledged, you are guaranteed a fun thank you gift! Follow writer Alison Vande Bunte for movie updates @myhandsmyknees
♥ Sheila M
Shamefully, I have only just now discovered Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars (Graywolf), winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. I had the pleasure of seeing Smith read with the Dark Room Collective in D.C. last spring, and now can add, too, the immense pleasure of encountering her word on the page.
Life on Mars is Smith’s third collection, following Duende and The Body’s Question (both from Graywolf). My experience reading the book was such that it’s hard to know where to start—with the elegant unraveling of sentences, the daring scope that encompasses the intimate and universal, the precision of description. Perhaps it is this incredible breadth that impresses me the most in this text: Smith guides us from upstairs hallway to stars with the same authoritative gaze, which at once wonders at and accepts all of the component parts. To call Smith meditative is true, of course, and this book is at its basis a powerful elegy for her father; her voice also has a note of prophetic vision. Through Smith’s descriptions, we have access to new images of our planet “ticking with mines,” can experience “The Universe as Primal Scream” through an infant screaming through an apartment wall as though reaching for the moment when “the whole building will lift off, and we’ll ride into glory like Elijah.” And Smith doesn’t expect us to simply take her word for it—the book is full of entreaties to join her in her observations and grappling. Look, she reminds us, listen.
When we do, we are thrilled by her disruptions of our expectations. For Smith, it seems that perhaps a barrier between the intimate and the universal doesn’t exist—there is a complex pain induced by both seeing a lover’s dead wife in a picture frame and the beauty of space, a particular kind of human longing that can be measured by a desire for eggs in the morning. In “Song,” she writes of a lover’s hands:
I am trying to decide what they feel when they wake up
And discover my body is near. Before touch.
Pushing off the ledge of the easy quiet dancing between us.
In the sequences, Smith tackles her father’s death more directly, softly meshing together memory with imagination. Her father worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, and I can’t help but think of the book building further on that project: the telescope allowed us to see the universe as never before, and now come Smith’s words to show us even more of it. Smith, as a guide, draws on the scientific and religious with familiarity, but allows revelation to come as easily from lyric reflections and visits from David Bowie or Charlton Heston. In “My God, It’s Full of Stars,” Heston asks, “Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth/ Toward God-knows-where?” Smith’s book offers a range of possibilities in response, a variety of types of existence, all with confidence that there is divine presence and also extraterrestrial life, perhaps passing by our noses at this moment. Smith asks us to engage in the kind of preparation it seems she has always been making in “The Universe Is a House Party:”
How marvelous you’ve come! We won’t flinch
At the pinprick mouths, the nubbin limbs. We’ll rise,
Gracile, robust. Mi casa es su casa. Never more sincere.
Seeing us, they’ll know exactly what we mean.” Read more