The holidays are the time of year to gather around the table with loved ones, eat belly-bursting meals, and . . . write?
As writers, we often like to find routines, whether that be waking up an hour early every day to work on our next best seller or typing a few lines of a sonnet into our notes app at work during lunch. We like to find things that work for us, and we don’t like when those things get interrupted.
The holidays have a funny way of interrupting us, of taking us out of our routines and leaving us pulled between what we should do as polite hosts/guests and what we should do as writers. I’ve compiled a list of different ways to get the most out of your writing time this upcoming stretch.
A Morsel of Bread, A Knife
by Roberta P. Feins
Center on Contemporary Art
Occasional Monograph Series
84 pp., $18.00
Of all the topics poets tackle, the topic of the mother-daughter relationship ranks high on the scale of interest. Writers endlessly probe memories, conversations, events, inherited traits and objects, rights of passage. Mother, our first goddess, holds power over us for our entire lives. Even after she’s gone. Even after we think we’ve moved on.
Roberta P. Feins’ collection, A Morsel of Bread, A Knife, offers a series of images and moments that evolve from her connection to her mother and her mother’s connection to Feins’ grandmother. The poems weave pieces of each woman into the family tapestry, with each woman’s differing values and sensibilities glinting in the fabric. Artwork and travel overlay their significance within the family narrative, satisfying the narrator’s hunger for beauty in this world. The work raises the questions of what it is to be a mother, to not be a mother, to reclaim the self and walk away from pre-determined definitions of womanhood. The work goes beyond family history as that which shapes us in the beginning to the inevitability of our own paths into territories of our own choice. We move into a place where we let the voices of childhood fall to a whisper as we raise up what we know fulfills our deepest selves. And in that place, we find our own peace.
The thirty-nine poems in this collection dedicated to the author’s mother are divided into four sections: The Mother Country, Paysage, The Bitters, and Winter’s Bargain. The first section begins with the question of where sustenance might be found in, “The Cuisine of the Mother Country”:
My Romanian grandmother made mamalige —
pouring out a coarse yellow moon of cornmeal
onto a wooden board. I never tasted
this polenta from my mother’s hands.
The reader is immediately faced with complicated history and longing, food and love sought after from the start, as well as the sensory details that are part of every poem in this collection. Something as simple as polenta illustrates the connections of three generations. Placed between the sections are collages, both of the author’s own making and those of two other artists, offering another layer of imagery for the reader to consider. Feins’ understanding of visual art and her use of the language often reserved for that field make these poems explode in the mind’s eye. Feins demonstrates an ability to wield line breaks and caesuras at the perfect moments for heightened emphasis. Readers can see things clearly as they move from grandmother to mother to daughter, from New York to France and beyond. Feins’ understanding of feminism, the definition of the feminine from preceding generations to now, is also illustrated in stark terms as the daughter in the poems accepts that she will have no children of her own. Through it all, she never leaves behind the connection to the mother-daughter dynamic with its complicated gifts and frustrations. Several poems place the reader in front of famous pieces of art, while the mother remembers bits of what came before, as in, “Mother Muses at the Louvre – The Annunciation”:
Which aunt emptied the closet,
which uncle moved the double bed?
I lost faith, no longer worshipped.
Occasionally, the character of Aunt Sylvia shows up with sharp words for the daughter. In, “Aunt Sylvia’s Advice, 1971,” Aunt Sylvia cracks words like a whip to make the daughter behave after she has a fling:
Keep this up,
you’re wavin’ bye-bye to your family.
Aunt Sylvia’s appearance brings up the way older women might resent a younger woman’s definition of femininity when it goes against the norm, how it might threaten their own sense of balance versus missed opportunities. An aunt can say things a mother cannot or would not. An aunt can open old wounds, change how the picture looks. In another piece, “Kaffeklatsch,” the way aunts talk to each other in front of children has just as much chance of wounding as a direct conversation:
Minnie sniffs Yes, but she’s a liar,
as bad as her mother! Behind me,
they begin another round. And what about
her brother? I’ve always said
with that blonde hair,
Bertie can’t be his father’s son.
But, ultimately, this is the daughter’s path, the daughter’s interpretation of history, and the daughter’s search for answers that make sense.
In all, A Morsel of Bread, A Knife, is a complex, rich read that will perhaps nudge readers to remember the sensory details that make up their own complicated histories, and how lovely and bitter it all is.
For more information or to purchase a copy of A Morsel of Bread, A Knife, click HERE.
As we celebrate older women poets with our special Crone Issue that was released on October first, we thought it important to ask one of our contributing poets to share her wisdom in an interview. We chose to interview Tricia Knoll because she has appeared in our pages in past issues and contributed three pieces for the current issue. We were delighted that she readily agreed and are proud to present her insights here.
GR: Tricia, you’ve been published a few times in Gyroscope Review. What made you decide to submit to our call for work by women poets over 50 that celebrated the idea of wise women?
TK: I’m 70. I’ve been very lucky to feel that I know many women my age who are wise, loving, kind – whose political fervor is balanced with a sense of how we are one with all parts of the universe. I’ve written many poems on this theme. I have an unpublished manuscript, “Gathering Marbles,” which I have recently revised heavily and am submitting once again. It highlights collecting marbles rather than losing them. And, I have a collection of marbles including some very old handmade German marbles. We can find treasures in our life at any age. I feel blessed to know other feminists who live in resiliency and love in the face of today’s sometimes overwhelming challenges.
GR: We love the idea of collecting marbles rather than losing them! Do you feel that older women poets are well-represented in poetry journals today? Do younger women poets have it any easier?
TK: I have a library of poetry books, probably 90 percent are written by women. In online journals I’m drawn to the work of women poets to read first. I sense that a great number of the poets I read are younger than I am. Some have MFA’s. From my perspective the only reason younger poets may “have it easier” is that they have longer than I do to practice this craft. Possibly they have a more contemporary voice for whatever that might mean. I love to do whatever I can to encourage young women I meet at workshops and events to stick with it. To keep writing!
GR: What are some of your favorite women poets and why?
TK: I enjoy the work of Ursula LeGuin, who I started reading as a fantasy/science fiction fan decades ago. I lived in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, for decades and heard her read frequently. I have her poetry books that have come out in the last couple of years and look forward to her collection coming out in Fall of 2018 from Copper Canyon. Grace Paley. Jane Hirshfield. Maxine Kumin. Lucille Clifton. Louise Gluck.
I read Naomi Shihab Nye’s work over and over again because it touches me deeply –I have had the privilege of studying with her. Just as I go back to Wislawa Szymborska over and over again.
The work of women poets in my community also matters to me. I wonder what are women writing who live where I do, those who are experiencing this changing world in the same timeframe and environment that I am. The upside of this is being able to hear their voices at poetry readings.
That said, I also have favorite male poets: W. S. Merwin and many others. I spent my high school years reading poems from anthologies, hearing predominantly the voices of male poets.
GR: As did all of us who studied literature. Male poets, male writers are the examples we were most often exposed to. It delights us to hear more women’s voices in poetry readings today, see more women being published in all kinds of places. Where is the most interesting poetry being shared today? Can you talk about that a little bit?
TK: What interests me is the popularity of hip hop. What I’m searching for bends toward the political and acknowledges the changes and impermanence we are experiencing due to climate crisis from the point of view of personal history and emotions. I love poetry that blends the traditional lyricism and emotional resonance of poetry with science. A poem that comes to my mind frequently as an example is Adrienne Rich’s poem “Power.” We all can welcome the news of poetry’s increasingly popularity among young readers and voices. I also admire the words of those who are aging.
GR: What advice would you give to a poet who is just starting out?
TK: That’s easy. Keep at it. Don’t stop. I did stop as I was enmeshed in a career writing press releases, scientific reports, newsletters, and annual reports, etc. Find time to write even if it pinches other parts of your life. Carry a tiny notebook with you always to write down stray impressions, dreams or words that spark your imagination. Write about those when you find time. Find other poets in your community that you can share with, who can provide feedback on your work. Send poems out. Don’t stop because of rejections. I’ve written a poem about rejected poems as homing pigeons that come back to you for more petting and feeding, ringing a little bell as they enter their loft. Read poetry every day…it is so easy with the large number of online journals available now.
GR: Rejected poems as homing pigeons that come back for more petting and feeding is one of the best ways to look at rejections we’ve ever heard of. That gets right to the need for revision to make the poem something better rather than giving in to rejection dejection. What are you working on right now?
TK: I finished a collection of poems I’m calling One Bent Twig during a two-week April residency at Playa. These poems focus on my vision of trees as sentient lifeforms with whom I share a world and who are experiencing climate crisis along with other creatures. It is perhaps more lyric and narrative than that may sound. It is out looking for a publisher.
Two months ago I moved 3,003 miles from Portland, Oregon, to rural Vermont. The poems I’m writing now are about my experience in moving to be nearer my daughter, to “renuclearize” a nuclear family, to respond to a new (to me) eco-system with love, curiosity (why ARE all those barns red?) and respect. I don’t have a title for this collection yet. It acknowledges that I continue to age. :>) That I am a crone or walking down that road.
GR: That’s a huge move to make and we look forward to the poetry that comes from that. Any links to your work you would like to share?
Find details about my four collections of poetry:
GR: Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, Tricia!
This highly-anticipated issue surprised us by eliciting an intense response from poets who sent work for our consideration. We are so grateful to have opened our doors for a demographic that is too often pushed aside even as they have powerful words and visions to share. This issue offers 41 authors, some of whom are not over-50 women poets but whose poetry, which came in through our general submissions, nicely dovetails with the themed work. We hope you will not only enjoy this issue, but will find yourself moved to think about and discuss this work for a long time to come.
To purchase a print copy, click HERE.
To purchase a Kindle edition, click HERE.
To view our PDF version, click HERE.
To let us know your thoughts about this issue, contact us HERE.
Thank you to all the amazing poets who made this issue possible and thank you to all who choose to read and share this issue of Gyroscope Review.
One more thing – our submissions are open for our Winter 2019 issue. Please read our guidelines to fully understand what we look for in the poetry that is sent our way.