The gift of good literature that someone else has already edited: that’s what I gave myself as the Gyroscope Review reading period for the Crone Power Issue drew to a close. I needed to read for pleasure now, relax a bit before I dove into formatting the fall issue. Since Margaret Atwood was everywhere these past few weeks in anticipation of her latest work of fiction (The Testaments), I abandoned poetry for a moment to read The Handmaid’s Tale and clear my head.
Perhaps this is not how most people clear their heads, with a work of dystopian fiction that feels altogether too possible in the age of Trump. I finished reading it on 9-11 right after I watched New Yorkers remember the fall of the World Trade Center towers on CBS This Morning.
What I was really doing was moving from weeks of reading the words of older women poets to gulping down the words of just one formidable woman writer. Atwood’s book, written in the mid-Eighties, still feels like a warning, like a call to pay attention and speak up before that option is ripped away.
With that realization fresh on my mind, I thought about how it is that women get their words out there at all, how our experiences vary from insanely lucky to horribly disadvantaged. How women sometimes suppress or oppress one another. How women might lift each other up.
It’s that last thing that I really hope for, of course; that last thing is the driving force behind having a Crone Power Issue of Gyroscope Review. Older women, in particular, have so much to offer whether through the art they (we) make, the support offered, or the wisdom shared. With all the divisiveness going on in the world, there is ample opportunity to heal divides and wield our words with certainty, clarity, and power.
Since our Crone Power Issue won’t be out until October 1, I thought I’d share a small and completely subjective list of work by women poets that has gotten my attention this year. Some of this work is old, some is new, all of it contains skill with words and images that will surgically alter your heart. You’ll recognize some names here, and others will likely be new to you. And I hope our upcoming Crone Power Issue will find a place on bookshelves beside these also-wise women.
Happy reading. And may this list nudge you to seek out more women’s voices.
Margaret Atwood, Selected Poems II: Poems Selected and New 1976-1986. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987.
Francesca Bell, Bright Stain. Pasadena: Red Hen Press, 2019.
Alexis Rhone Fancher, The Dead Kid Poems. Bellingham: KYSO Flash Press, 2019.
Kari Gunter-Seymour, Serving. Parma, OH: Crisis Chronicles Press, 2018.
Kristin Laurel, Questions About the Ride. Charlotte: Main Street Rag, 2019.
Mary Oliver, Red Bird. Boston: Beacon Press, 2008.
Emily Skaja, Brute. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2019.
Elizabeth S. Wolf, Did You Know? Studio City: Rattle Foundation Press, 2019.
1. Thanks for agreeing to let us interview you for Gyroscope Review. We’re pleased that you are one of our contributing poets. Will you please begin by telling us where you’re from, what you write, and why poetry?
I was born and raised in Colorado—which is pretty rare these days give the state’s recent population boom—and currently live in Denver.
I write poetry mostly, but I venture into screen writing and long form narratives that blend verse and prose. I am drawn to poetry because it challenges me to be precise with my words and really look at language as a medium in itself. I read a great article recently that said poetry has the ability to use the page to create silence for a reader, which prose can’t do (or at least not as effectively). That insight made a lot of sense to me, which is why I often inject verse into my prose-like narrative works. Plus, poems can go beyond the confines of a sentence. I love to ramble, so poetry allows me to express the meandering rhythm of my thoughts and emotions without trying to fit them into a proper sentence.
2. Who, or what, are your poetical influences?
I am fascinated with myths, folklore, and symbolism—I think they are an interesting way to look into how humans grapple with the unknown as well as serve as collective archetypes in our minds.
The Beat poets sparked my initial passion for poetry. They showed me a whole new way of looking at poetry and writing that I had not experienced before which lead me to explore the medium further and discover the many ways poetry can presents itself. Also, reading Prometheus Unbound by Percy Shelley in college solidified my decision to dedicate my life to writing.
3. How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?
That is the million-dollar question… I honestly just play around with each poem to see which rhythm best gets the message across. Sometimes if I want a certain symbolism in a piece or allusion I will play with different meters—like if want the number six to be present symbolically in a longer poem I will try and see if it will work in iambic heptameter or trochaic heptameter. For “Fermentation” I used the spaces as a way to affect the rhythm of the lines. I personally do not like one or two-word lines so I used a space where I could have used a line break, but didn’t feel it was necessary for a word or two to sit alone. The spaces also ended up adding a visual element to the poem that mimic bubbles of CO2 rising through fermenting liquid, making the form choice work on multiple levels.
4. What is your writing process like?
I write almost all of my rough drafts long-hand with a fountain pen. I find that if I try to start from scratch on a computer, I worry too much about perfection and end up trying to edit while I am trying produce content. But with a fountain pen I find I can just keep writing and not worry about how it looks because that is not its final form. When I go to transcribe the hand-written stuff onto the computer it acts as a first revision because I am forced to go through each word carefully to type it up. Also, I always carry a notebook in my left-back-pocket and a pen in my right-back-pocket because I never know when I am going to be struck with inspiration or learn a new word.
5. Do you belong to any writer’s groups—face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?
Lately, I have started going to a writer’s meetup in Denver for writers in their 20’s and 30’s. It has helped me meet some local writers and bounce ideas off them, as well as set aside some time to just get out and write.
6. What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?
I love language, so I am attracted to poetry that pushes language to its limits. I also look for poetry that has some philosophical, political, or social element. For classic poetry I admire Percy Shelley — especially the way he weaves philosophy and politics into long form poems. For Modern poetry, I really like the Irish poet Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin—I really enjoy the way she uses myth to talk about modern issues in Ireland. Reading Eleni Sikelianos’ The California Poem in college opened up my eyes to explore using the page in my poetry. She uses long lines on a landscape format page for this book-length poem, and I loved the way it added the tone, rhythm, and structure of the poem.
7. What is the most important role for poets today?
Poetry is such a unique form of writing that captures something that prose often doesn’t or cannot due to its limitations as a medium or writing. So, poets today need to find that avenue for expression and push it to its limits to tell the world what was once thought inexpressible through language to be expressed—taking advantage of language’s flaws.
8. Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?
I was lucky enough to hear Gary Snyder read at Naropa University in Boulder a few years ago. It was an honor to hear one of the surviving Beat poets read, as well as him talk about the challenges of writing traditional Japanese forms in English.
The most recent book I finished—I have a tendency to start a pile of books and jump back and forth between them—is Brothers Karamozov.
9. Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?
I am always working on various short poems tweaking them here and there as I find time. I also write for film and helped write the director, Joe Gietl, write the screenplay for a short film called A Void, which is currently in production right now. I am also working on a speculative piece that is structurally based on the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus. It will blend poetry and prose to tell a story about how we can take comfort in the unknown and mysterious—i.e., not everything needs an answer.
10. Tell us about the Irish Sport of Hurling. We noticed it in your bio.
Hurling is an Irish sport dating back to before recorded history that uses a stick called a ‘hurley’ or ‘hurl’ (camán in Irish) and a ball called a sliotar (pronounced sli-ter). The object of the game is the either hit the ball through a pair of uprights over a bar for one point or into the goal for three points. You are allowed to catch the ball and carry it for four steps before you must pass the ball or attempt to score. You can run with the sliotar balance on the end of your hurley for as long as you want. The easiest way to wrap your head around how the game is played is to look up a video on YouTube. Also, the women’s version of the game is called Camogie.
What I admire most about the game is that there is no professional level—all of the highest playing teams compete for the love of the sport instead of a paycheck. After the All-Ireland finals—which is the country’s equivalent to the Super Bowl—the players go back to their day-jobs on Monday. It truly is a unique cultural sport. There are fossilized hurleys that have been dug up from bogs that date back thousands of years; so, it is pretty much as Irish of an activity as anything.
11. What other interests do you have beyond literature?
I love sailing, which gets me odd looks considering I am from a land-locked state, but there is a pretty decent sailing community in Colorado—even though our lakes and reservoirs are tiny. I also enjoy gardening with my wife; we have a large assortment of succulents, cactus, bonsai, and orchids that are strewn throughout our home.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. (And thank you for being firmly on the side of pie, rather than cake.)
Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work:
As part of my love for fountain pens I dabble in calligraphy and post some on my Instagram @kendall_mallon —along with other fun stuff I am doing.
The current reading period at Gyroscope Review has been challenging for some poets who would like to send us work. Given that we have limited all submissions to the theme of Crone Power, we understand that some have decided this topic isn’t for them. We have seen some comments on our social media about displeasure with the topic of crones. I’ve been thinking that perhaps that displeasure comes from a misunderstanding about the potential behind the idea of the Crone.
With that in mind, I was so disappointed that when I typed the word, “crone,” into my Mac’s dictionary app, the first definition that came up was, “an old woman who is thin and ugly.” My paperback Oxford English Dictionary wasn’t much better: “crone n. an ugly old woman. Origin: Old French caroigne ‘carrion’.” And my American Heritage College Dictionary went further into the unappealing side of what a crone is: “An ugly, withered old woman; a hag….carrion, cantankerous woman.”
What editors oversaw such narrow definitions? Certainly not any with a comprehensive education around the use of the word, “crone.” And these definitions don’t do writers who research the word much good. A starting point, perhaps – one to argue with.
In the Wiccan tradition, the Crone is associated with post-menopausal women, the New Moon, a lifetime of accumulated wisdom. She is powerful, demands death and sacrifice. In other traditions, she is helpful, protective, a guardian to the Otherworld, keeper of knowledge that includes medicinal cures. If we consider the Crone as a metaphor for older women, then she becomes a way to remain vibrant and valued in a society that too often places more emphasis on younger people. She becomes a direct rebuttal of the invisibility that older women feel when they try to be heard.
What is a Crone today? That is the very question we want poets to tackle. What is it about being an older woman that is valuable to all? What is unseen and unappreciated that a poet can bring to light? What insights have surprised women who are in this New Moon phase of their lives? What strengths have appeared along with hard-earned wisdom? What inspirations can be drawn from fairy tale images of the Crone as witch (both good and bad), fairy godmother, protector? What would a grandmother-protector do right this minute in the United States? Elsewhere in the world?
This is a huge topic. It is one that could keep a writer busy for years, long past the time when our planned Crone Power issue has turned to dust. Dig in, poets. Draw on your wisdom, your strength, and your bravery.
image courtesy of Pixabay.com
My co-editor, Kathleen Cassen Mickelson recently did a review of Kari Gunter-Seymour’s chapbook, Serving. Then she passed the book on to me for my reaction. I come at it from a different place than Kathleen did. As many of you probably don’t know, I served in the U.S. Army in the Corps of Engineers. As I read these poems, I am reminded both of the men and women who served with me, but also the children they were before the military took hold of their lives.
In this book are the buzz cut boys who grew up playing with GI Joes and a longing to be the heroes of their own stories. Brash, bold soldiers with tender hearts who are caught between caring for the civilians in harm’s way and protecting their psyche. They also protect the souls of those left at home, shielding family from the pain and horror witnessed on a daily basis.
Gunter-Seymour illustrates the heartache of those left behind. They remember what it was like before. Before the military. Before the war. Before death and dying carved a place in a child’s heart. Serving touches on the aftermath of giving up our sons and daughters to an unneeded war. The poems relay the anxiety of waiting, wondering, and the dread of knowing. My favorite poem in the book is A Middle East Vet’s Mom Attends The Parade. It eloquently sums up the quiet rage of watching people go through the motions of honoring the military, blindly, only thinking of those lost, and not those coming home, broken.
In the military I built things, cobbling together troop housing in the jungle, or a runway to land lumbering C-130s with precious supplies inside. Everyone had a job to do, just as poets have their job to do. To let us know about the things we don’t want to face, the ugly side of a war no one wanted, the injuries that live on long after the war is in the past. Remember those, Gunter-Seymour tells us, but also remember what it was like before, when the child played with wild abandon and gave us hope for the future.