Monday, July 9, 2012

#41: Four Poems by Michelle Boisseau

~This poem originally appeared in Tar River (2009)

She knows a spoonful of religion.
It's very shiny. Over the dunes,
along the ocean, she steadies it

at the end of her hand. Like ribbons
wandering behind her, her children
follow their own trembling spoons. Careless

grasses congregate in the sand. Smirk
of surf, cough of gull, I must confess
I'm not trying that hard to love her.



~This poem originally appeared in Tar River (2009)

He cruises in smiling and knowing
it's polite to look out his eyes and exude 

regard, he sweeps our faces like a pine
shoreline with his trolling lights.

The tight tedium of others threatens
to swamp him, so he reconnoiters

with a drink floating by and the view
of Columbus Circle.  In the rain

the public queues glisten like lacquers.
All knowledge is orientation.

The horizon he sails toward eagers him.
The pleasure of knowing oneself

is knowing one's plenty.



~This poem originally appeared in Tar River (2009)

I don't understand it, a friend says.

Not the call of salt water? the mineral
kinship?  After dark when the day's swelter
walked on, I broke the stems of the lily

of the valley, so many, they were dribbling
from my grasp.  I don't know who's
responsible for importing these natives

of Asia, but I wonder about it, the bartering,
the crates, the camels.  When I lose interest,
the odor from little hanging bells

will plaster the night I'll want to scratch into.



~This poem originally appeared in Green Mountains Review (2009)

Hurt things continue.
The frost last night singed
the roses, but they'll
brave it out a bit
longer till winter
closes tight. The buds
were barely nicked. Thumb
their velvet. Hurt turns
toward the sun to be
untouched. Scorch-marks hem
the petals that cling
to five-pointed stars.
This little cemetery
has room for us all.



As for what to say about the poems:  
            Each of these poems has been recently revised and honed; they first appeared in 2009 in either the Tar River Review or Green Mountains Review.  
(Thanks to Luke Whisnant and Neil Shepard.)
            I don't have my notebooks from that time here with me on the glorious Oregon coast, but I can tell you that they arose from a powerful disgust with contemporary American culture and a fiery need to address in my poems some of its horrific manifestations. My repulsion led, at the death of my mother in January 2011, to a deep and brutal depression in which I did not see how I could write again or even keep my job.  I hadn't expected to be thrown so far or deep, for I had never been emotionally close to my mother.  My mother had a streak of cruelty that was often very damaging; nevertheless, despite her tough life, she didn't break down, and she managed to use an inheritance from her father's uncle to send me and some of my siblings to college. My mother was an only child and completely unprepared for the demands of nine kids in twelve years (she converted to Roman Catholicism when she was in her early 20's, before she married); she was an innocent--it seemed to me somewhat deliberately--for a sensible person would have known that my father was not the guy for her, and certainly was never going to be the kind of strong husband you need if you're going to go have so many frigging children.  
            My mother up to the moment she died didn't know how to pet a cat (she did it backwards) much less hug a sobbing toddler. She was intrepid and bold although her nature was shy and scared. She found resources of strength and bravery that many never manage to discover for even a moment. She voted in every election. I worried about her my entire life, and when she was gone I was completely disoriented. Suicidal thoughts were my constant companions. But with the help of medical professionals, gigantic portions of exercise, some shrewd and beautiful yoga instructors, loving friends and family, I managed to climb out of that deep slimy hole and climb up to a new vista. I feel that my mom is not so much dead as reconstructed into a galaxy, a universe, a dragon. And she somehow has given me the focus to understand that, sure I'm aging, but I'm also improving because I'm paying attention--I'm watching you, pal! and you're not going to get any of my kids, or my friends' kids, or even your own! TMI? I'm sure!
            These poems are likely to appear in my next collection, Million, Million (which I'm aiming to finish this summer or fall); in it I explore how poems can enact huge shifts in time and scale, and so reorient us suddenly, shifting where we are and how we got hereA million million equals a trillion; a trillion seconds ago is 34,000 years ago when the human race was painting on cave walls, when rhinoceroses lived in Europe, and the proto-Indo-European language was being developed.  In geology this span of time is miniscule (in physics nearly niente), but most of human culture has developed in this trillion seconds. A billion seconds ago was the Carter administration, a million seconds was nine days ago: our measures of time (our sense of numbers in general--consider the world financial crisis and the very rich for a second) our measures of time accordion with a zero added or dropped. Besides these notions, the poems come out of many kinds of formal issues that are always more interesting to me than subject matter (my husband and I are currently at work together on a book on poetics), but that's what makes writing poems so compelling; it's hard as hell and never gets any easier, unless, of course, one finds contentment in slop. 

Michelle Boisseau received a 2010 NEA poetry fellowship.  Her fourth book of poems, A Sunday in God-Years, was published in 2009 by University of Arkansas Press which also published her third, Trembling Air, a PEN USA finalist, 2003. Her other books are Understory (Morse Prize 1996, chosen by Molly Peacock) and No Private Life. Her textbook, Writing Poems (Longman), is in its 8th edition; some of the editions were co-authored with Robert Wallace, Randall Mann, or Hadara Bar-Nadav. New poems are appearing in Yale Review, Poetry, Gettysburg Review, Shenandoah, Hudson Review, Cincinnati Review and elsewhere. She is a professor in the MFA program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and she's mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore from those dopes sitting on the high bench, squatting on state and national legislatures, and humping up and down K Street with their greedy valises trying to control her and other women: her grandmother Irene Larson did not march on Washington for the vote during WWI just so these clowns could screw up the constitution and make corporations into citizens, God help them! Her mother did not raise nine kids with only the help, for a couple years, of food stamps, throwing the kids on her back as she forded streams and climbed the face of mountains, just so these nasty boys could take back all which generations and generations have fought so hard for. Boisseau's hunting for bear with a homemade spear, and she knows how to keep it sharp. She has the fabulous help of her brilliant, loving, hilarious husband, the linguist Tom Stroik, and her fully-launched daughter, Anna, whose sails are full of many ancestors' strength, generosity, civic responsibility and honor. 

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