It’s here – our first anniversary issue, the Spring 2016 edition of Gyroscope Review. You may access this issue here.
If you are viewing this from a smart phone or a tablet, then please go to our Issues tab for a PDF link.
We’re excited and proud of our first year of publication. The poems that we’ve had the privilege to read, the authors with whom we had to honor of working, and the magazines that we’ve put together for everyone’s reading pleasure have all been just what we’d hoped for: a way to participate in a community of writers and readers who care deeply about sharing their visions and talents.
We hope you enjoy Gyroscope Review. Share it everywhere. And come tell us what you think at our Facebook First Anniversary Happy Hour event today, April 1, from 7-8 p.m. Central Daylight Time. We will be online, ready to answer questions and comments and just have fun as we kick off National Poetry Month. Here is the link to our Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/614658885365404/. See you there!
One of the ongoing discussions in poetry is whether poems are accessible, a word that has become despised. But Billy Collins put it well in his introduction to 180 More Extraordinary Poems for Every Day (New York: Random House, 2005) when he wrote about how he chose poems for that anthology:
….a preference for…poems that are hospitable toward their readers, poems in which a human voice is clearly sounded—poems with the front door left open.
As the anthologizer, I tended to choose “accessible” poems, as defined above, not because I wanted to gather into this bouquet only poems that are easy to consume…my preference has more to do with the pleasure that is to be derived from a poem’s power to convey a reader from one place to another, its capacity for imaginative travel. (p. xvi)
Scottish poet James Graham’s work presents the reader with these kinds of poems. In his own introduction to Becoming a Tree: Poems 2007-2015 (Leicestershire: Matador, 2016), he opens with a quote from Carol Ann Duffy:
You can find poetry in your everyday life, your memory, in what people say on the bus, in the news, or just what’s in your heart.
Those two poetic philosophies come together beautifully in Graham’s work. Becoming a Tree, which is dedicated to Graham’s late wife Jean, begins in deeply personal territory. Graham plumbs his earliest memories, dissects them to reveal the nuggets that are carried forward through his life.
James Graham was born in Ayrshire in 1939. This collection reaches back before that, in the taut thread of, “Autobiography,” which introduces his mother, father, and Scotland, along with the realization that, “We are accidental,” that there is, “Almost time enough.” It pulls the reader into the collection without wasting a moment. The invitation is unmistakeable: Be here now.
Graham was a teacher for 30 years. He admits to having wished to be a journalist. He actively campaigns against war and injustice. His poems demonstrate these skills and interests in their breadth, their depth, and the research that lurks behind the words. The reader is forewarned in the second poem, “Inheritance,” when they read the last two stanzas:
But I wish I could tell you, Mother:
somewhere along the dangerous years
I have come to know this too:
you gave me one kind of poet’s gift,
an ear for the world’s disharmony,
even the will to go out and meet it.
And meet it he does. Graham’s ear misses very little. Whether the topic is something as close to him as receiving his late wife’s ashes in, “Ash,” or one on the other side of the earth in, “The Miners of San José de Copiapó,” Graham teases apart the emotions while looking deeper at how we are changed, whether we look at mining gold or mining a beloved wife’s very being.
I try to find a metaphor
that is more than a mere trinket:
She was a mile-deep mine.
Seam below seam of priceless ore.
While the rescue engines worked, I fired
search engines, gouged through strata
of inflated pieteies – Another healthy year, growth
better than expected, strength to strength –
and finally unearthed, six hundred metres deep
in the mine of petty information, two names:
Alejandro Bohn, Marcelo Kemeny.
from “The Miners of San José de Copiapó
Why do we value what we value? Who profits and who makes those profits possible? What is laid to waste in our efforts to gather gold and gather love?
Graham has a remarkable ability to become the other in his work. The collection’s title poem, “Becoming a Tree,” with its nod to Walt Whitman, reminds us that it is not just the poet’s ear that must be attentive. It is also necessary to retain a child-like ability to imagine: what if I were a tree? What if I were one of those miners in Chile who was trapped? What if the earth spoke directly to us? What if we believed in ghosts?
In spite of the seriousness of topics offered here – not just the Chilean miners, but garbage cities in Cairo, factory workers in El Salvador, the end of the Russian Tsars, loss of faith – there is also a breath of whimsey near the end. It is as if we are allowed to return to childhood for a moment, recover from the stresses of the world and allow a glimmer of happiness to sparkle on our foreheads. There is the possibility of a thousand elves in, “Isle,” the humor of, “Can’t Count,” and the fairy-tale that is, “The Saga of Torvald Longtooth.” Torvald is an otter who makes a pact with a bunch of Canadian beavers to make things better for the otters. It’s a long poem and a surprising inclusion; just when the reader thinks they might have a handle on James Graham, they realize they don’t.
Becoming a Tree is a collection worth your time. Be here now, remember what it is to really pay attention, relish this time you’ve been given. Allow yourself to become the other.
Kathleen Cassen Mickelson, Gyroscope Review Co-editor
Becoming a Tree and Graham’s previous collection, Clairvoyance, are both available from Matador, an imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd., www.troubador.co.uk.
The poems, The Hurt Beech, and, A Poem About Maria Teresa, were published in the inaugural issue of Gyroscope Review.
So, you are overcome with the urge to pen a poem. You were inspired by the sunrise, sunset, your last date, the neighbor’s new puppy, the snow, footprints in the sand, a romantic movie, or [fill in your favorite inspiration here]. Words flow, flowery, full of adjectives and adverbs.
Alternatively, that last political debate got to you. You’re incensed by Trump, Clinton, Cruz, Sanders, Rubio, [choose your least favorite politician]. The latest news from Syria or Afghanistan inflames you, the last shooting disarms you. You are driven to your keyboard to unleash the rant to end all rants, damn it, and make sure they (whoever they are) see reason before it’s too late. Then you shape that rant into quatrains or couplets or a long train of free verse.
Either way, you’ve gotten your thoughts into a form you now call a poem.
We all know that great feeling of brainstorming a piece of verse, getting down all those things that have us swirling. And sometimes it feels like we have to send it out right now, before it cools off, before is loses its glow and we lose our nerve. A writer might be so anxious to call themselves a poet that they haven’t taken the time to read, to observe and settle into their thoughts, to probe and probe some more until a gem is discovered. The heat of the moment sweeps them away and takes their ability to discern good verse from knee-jerk reaction along with it.
Creating a decent poem is a process. Sometimes, it’s a long process that involves intense immersion in some relevant piece of the larger cultural conversation that goes on around us every moment. For example, we get plenty of submissions here at Gyroscope Review that recap some current event. We have received poems about hunger, poverty, refugees, David Bowie’s death, technology, and politicians. Those submissions mean something to the poets who sent them, but often those same submissions get rejected because they don’t do anything more than tell us what we already read online or in newspapers or heard on the evening news. They don’t take the reader deeper into a space where thoughtful and delicate teasing out of what this all could mean happens. Why is this important? Why has it captured the poet’s attention and why should the reader care? What are the larger metaphors and historical lessons? What does this say about humanity?
We also get plenty of submissions about love and loss and death and grief. Poets lay themselves open, reveal their hearts’ desires both realized and thwarted, and send it off. What often kills the piece for us is that there is nothing new in that poem. Nothing we haven’t seen. And then we wonder whether the submitter has read widely on these topics to see how other poets handle them. What separates the rejected work from the poems that see publication?
Revision. Revision. And revision.
Successful poems reflect life, and they also question it, probe it, turn it over and compare different facets. They keep their focus, but draw from a range of experiences and images. Successful poems respect the reader by offering ideas and feelings without telling the reader what to think. This does not happen in one sitting.
How do you get a poem from brainstorm to publication? Here is one suggested path.
1. After your brainstorm, let the poem sit for a while.
2. When you return to the piece, read it through and ask yourself what you want to focus on. You might have more than one poem in that brainstormed piece.
3. Do you need to do any research about your focus? This is particularly relevant when writing about current events. Make sure you know what you’re talking about and you understand the backstory. This can only add depth to the evolving poem.
4. It’s okay to throw in everything about that focus and then choose the strongest bits as you go through the revision process. Choose your imagery carefully and deliberately.
5. Once you have the images and overall idea you want to include, work on that language. Strong verbs. Few adjectives or adverbs. Take a hint from the poet Mary Oliver, who said, “Every adjective and adverb is worth five cents. Every verb is worth fifty cents.” (p. 90, A Poetry Handbook. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1994.)
6. Does the language you chose fit the topic? Is it understandable, clear? Obscure poems don’t pull readers in. Poet Ted Kooser puts it well: “Poetry’s purpose is to reach other people and to touch their hearts. If a poem doesn’t make sense to anybody but its author, nobody but its author will care a whit about it.” (p. xi, The Poetry Home Repair Manual. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.)
7. Look at the line breaks and white space. Does the way the words flow mimic the feeling you want? Have you allowed space for the reader to pause and let the words sink in?
8. Does your ending answer or somehow return to what you offered up in the beginning of the poem? Is it strong or does it sort of dribble away?
9. Let the poem sit some more and return to step four.
10. Let someone else read the piece and comment. Do not freak out. We all need honest readers who will tell us what works and what doesn’t. Better for a reader to point out gaps and necessary tweaks than for an editor to reject your work; editors usually don’t tell you why.
11. Let the poem sit some more and return to step four.
12. Keep revising until it feels right. Mary Oliver claimed to revise her work 40-50 times. Don’t be afraid to toss out a poem that isn’t working.
13. If you’ve gotten this far, then what are you waiting for? Find somewhere to submit your revised work.
There are online writers communities and plenty of books that talk about the writing process, especially revision. All you have to do is Google either one. But the real work of writing happens when the writer is alone with the poem, when there is quiet space and time for creativity to show itself without competing for attention. Don’t be afraid to disconnect from the very world about which you write.
You just might surprise yourself.
GR: 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, where you write, and why poetry?
ARF: A life-long Los Angeleno, I’ve lived all over L.A. county, including a childhood in the wilds of Topanga, and a decade on the beach in Venice. These days, my husband and I live and work in an 8th floor, 2,000 sq. foot loft/studio in downtown Los Angeles, where I write on my iMac computer. I write poetry because I am a minimalist at heart and take pleasure in telling stories that are reduced to their bare bones, stories that have room for the reader to step inside.
GR: Who, or what, are your poetical influences?
ARF: Influences include Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Matthew Dickman, Karl Shapiro, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Anne Sexton, Thomas Tranströmer, Wislawa Szymborska, Edward Field, Louise Glück, and e.e. cummings. I studied for five years with the poet Jack Grapes, who taught me practically everything I know about writing.
GR: How do you decide what ‘form’ a poem should take?
ARF: That’s an interesting question. Sometimes I have the form in my head before I’ve written a word, sometimes the poem decides. But usually I play around with form, writing a poem in various ways until it feels “right.”
GR: What is your writing process like?
ARF: I’m a creature of habit. Up and writing daily by 6 a.m., a huge mug of French Roast coffee within reach. I write a minimum of four hours a day. First drafts are often long, and include pages of notes and (sometimes) research. The poem begins to take shape around the third or fourth draft. Then it goes to my peer editor. After she edits the poem it goes to my paid editor, who may put the poem through up to a dozen drafts before we consider it finished.
GR: Do you belong to any writer’s groups – face-to-face or online? If so, are they part of your process?
ARF: No writers groups these days, just the editing process mentioned above. I’ve taken my share of classes and workshops, but find my time best spent working one on one.
GR: What do you look for in the poetry you like to read? Any favorite poets?
ARF: I’m a great fan of narrative poetry, a fool for a well-told story. I look for the “zinger” at the end of a poem – that ‘aha moment’ when a chill runs through me, along with a tinge of jealousy, because I wish I’d written it. I want to read poems that move me, change me in some magical way. Favorite poets include: Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Federico Garcia Lorca, Gerald Locklin, Sharon Olds, Louise Glück, Jeffrey McDaniel, Richard Jones, Frank O’Hara, Rita Dove, Francesca Bell, Mark Strand, Tony Gloeggler, Carolyn Forché, and Laura Kasischke, to name but a few.
GR: What is the most important role for poets today?
ARF: Poets hold up a mirror to society. At our best, we reduce life to digestible morsels, bits of insight and reflection, served up as poems.
GR: Which poets have you had the opportunity to hear read? Alternatively, what is the most recent book you’ve read?
ARF: I’m a fool for live poetry! In December I was at the Orpheum Theatre for the launch of Patti Smith’s new book, M Train. She read. She sang. She was brilliant; she’s been a hero of mine for decades. Sharon Olds recently wowed me at the Hammer Museum, where Louise Glück had astonished me the year before. I’m a big fan of local poets who are also performers, especially Nicelle Nicelle, Rich Ferguson, Rick Lupert, Michael C. Ford, Brendan Constantine, Laurel Ann Bogen, Linda J. Albertano, and the always brilliant Suzanne Lummis, who sparkles on stage as no other. World Stage artist, Conney Williams, is another poet I try never to miss.
GR: Any future plans for your work that you’d like to talk about?
ARF: My latest book, a full-length collection of erotic poems, Enter Here, has just begun the poetry contest rounds. I’m working on two chapbooks, Gidget Goes To The Ghetto, and Junkie Wife. And a coffee table book of my photos of over 50 Southern California poets is in the works.
GR: What other interests do you have beyond literature?
ARF: I have a monthly photo column in Cultural Weekly, (http://www.culturalweekly.com), “The Poet’s Eye,” in which I explore the streets of Los Angeles with my lens. Photography is one of three passions in my life. The other two being poetry (of course) and my delicious husband, Fancher, who, after almost sixteen years together, still makes my heart sing.
GR: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Please let our readers know where they can find more information about you or your work.
ARF: You can find out more about me at: alexisrhonefancher.com
Or find me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/alexis.fancher
Both my books, How I Lost My Virginity to Michael Cohen & other heart stab poems, and State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, are available on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com
Editor’s note: Alexis’s poems, “Daylight Savings Won’t Save Us”, “Never Forget Why Your Wrist Throbs”, and “When You Think You’re Ready to Pack Up Your Grief” appear in Gyroscope Review Issue 16-1, Winter 2016.