In the "Looking Glass," we provide the space for contributors to share reflections on their work. "Looking Glass" provides a sort of parlor where authors reveal the genesis of their pieces, as well as provide meta-discursive insight into their textual and visual creative works.
Madge McKeithen "To Uzbekistan and Back”
Writing is for me sense-making and surprise. Frequently the latter comes wrapped in the former; just when I am exerting the most effort to connect disparate events, rein in unruly tangents, and scrape away that last film of distortion, in sweeps a blast of an inescapable “that’s it!” In writing about my brief three months of what was to have been two years in Uzbekistan, this happened at least twice. Despite the kindnesses, even fanfare, old and newer friends showed as I left, the solitary going and returning sounded differently in my head than the ready takes of others. Physical realities and emotional consequences, emotional realities and physical consequences kept me with fingers on keyboard and pen in hand, and one morning, pencil and ruler to page. When I drew the trajectories of my last four years’ moves and overlaid them with those of my older, disabled son, the “farsickness” of the move to Tashkent appeared bold and indisputable, as did the great value to me of the brief time on the tip of that board with my younger son. In the instance I recount at the end of this short essay, the narrator, so intent on care taking is - surprise! - taken care of. Surprises can overtake us, and we tell stories that tell - also on us. Despite and because of geography and technology, writing communicates, and the warm hand makes a human pledge.
Susanne Antonetta "Dark Energy"
I love physics, and spend a lot of time catching up with physics news, which in the last year has been particularly mind-bending: the amount of dark energy in the universe, so much more than we expected to find, the closing-in search for the Higgs-Boson. It feels at times like a science in which our discoveries only underscore our ignorance, and what we find always points to a larger, stranger and more frustrating locked door of further knowledge. I am fascinated by how little we actually know of our cosmos, so much of which is mysterious that a lot of our breakthroughs become simply a more precise calibration of what we don’t understand. I had been reading physics journals and physics news kind of obsessively around the time my son Jin turned thirteen, really became a teenager. It felt to me he went in the direction of the physicist’s cosmos; he’d become a world apart, understood largely through working your hands over the walls of all you cannot see and don’t know. The boy he was, in those first few months of thirteen, became very angry. And he suddenly did things that made no sense, like pocketing another kid’s iPhone. This boy is not who he is now or who he is normally, but temporarily he was an angry person who did stupid things and became angrier when caught at those stupid things. Whatever being thirteen did to his psyche and his body, it roiled through him like a dark energy, an enormous pulse of dissolution that I could neither apprehend directly nor understand. While, knock wood, that angry young adult gradually left, leaving behind someone taller, ganglier and still altogether more familiar, I watch my son now as I watch the night sky after reading about dark energy and dark matter, seeing all of the usual pintips of light in their appointed places, but also accepting the enormous unknowable that’s there.
Carlos Ramos "Forever and Ever"
This obviously is an extremely iconic Shining image of the twins in the hallway. So, clearly it had to go into my Kubrick show but how to do it? I rely heavily on getting an image to "pop" into my head. A vision. And this one I think took awhile. Then the image was there and I went for it. The problem with this piece is that it had to be completely symmetrical along with specific patterns like the wall paper. So this piece took alot of pre-planning and stencils which I hate and maybe didn't have as much fun with this one but after really liked it. I have a very consistent habit of hating a piece until it's done and I don't look at it for a week. Then they usually surprise me. It's an odd process.
Robert Wrigley "Dada Doodads"
While the poem is a fiction, I have always noticed that certain people have a pretty intense desire for order. My father, for instance, was always inclined to store and organize and label. Now he's 90, waylaid by Parkinson's, and that rage for order he insisted on is on display down in his basement workshop, where he will never go again. On a visit to see him and my mother about a year ago, I went down into the basement, just to look around. Everything in its place, still. Except for the man who made it that way.
Russell Thorburn "Rain and Thunder"; "Hotel Memory"; "If We Were Art"
I pride myself in being a survivor of upper Midwestern weather. During a hard rain I sat inside my car at a traffic light. I thought about dying and all those who were dead and imagined the rain blessing them in some way. That became "Rain and Thunder." James Wright helped me in the writing of "The Judas Fan Club." As a much younger poet, I admired his work and took to heart his Judas poem. It was easy to imagine all those who had been betrayed and who had betrayed praising Judas somehow in the basement of a church. My third poem, "Hotel Memory," comes from my love of Paris, and seeing a Michigan cornfield as "milk-white champagne/drunk in the vintage light."
Benjamin Rosenbaum "The Duck"
This story is a result of a little game I like to play with myself. I come up with the strangest single sentence I can, like "an orange ruled the world" or "Sheila exploded and the air was full of gum balls," and then I begin with it and try to follow it to its logical conclusion. At the moment of writing that first sentence down, it and I are strangers, a little shocked at meeting each other, here of all places. It sometimes requires a long and careful courtship, like an interrogation by a courteous police detective, or a ballroom dance; other times there is a mad rush to fall into each other's arms. I think this one was a little like following a path appearing suddenly in a forest. You can't rush these things. A light bulb salesman in love with a duck? Why a duck? What does the duck think? Where is she going? Why light bulbs? You cannot jump to conclusions. Only the sentence knows its own mind. You just have to keep coaxing it to tell you more.
Oliver de la Paz "Nocturne" Series
The poems of this Nocturne sequence were initially generated through prompts I had given myself while looking through pages of National Geographic magazine. There was an article about an Italian embalmer who had embalmed his daughter who had died at a young age. Further down the line, there were other stories that combined the idea of the grotesque and the quest for grace that moved me towards writing a sequence of poems geared towards exploring that interchange: at what interval can a meditation about the grotesque transform itself into an understanding of grace. So I began seeking other source materials out. The photograph of Trepanned Skulls was found from a collection of photos from the Mütter Museum. I've written a number of ekphrastic pieces informed by the photos from that book. The other two poems were narratives generated from prompts by other poets.
Don Shea "Wrong"
Alex and Cody were modeled on a couple I was friends with years ago in San Francisco whose lives were dominated by careful attention to aesthetic detail in the Kierkegaardian sense. The bizarre moment outside the Drake Hotel happened as described. The ending was an attempt at what Richard Ford calls an empty moment. I am also reminded of a marvelous story, quite unlike mine, from The Evergreen Review in the 70’s titled “The Man Who Played Himself.”
Andrew Lam "Slingshot"
One day long ago, I sat in a small Vietnamese restaurant in the Tenderloin district here in San Francisco listening to a teenage girl cursing someone on the phone. Serving as a waitress during the summer, she was clearly not up to standard with the service industry, but her foul mouth was amusing and memorable. Her voice stayed with me. Then one day I sat down to write Slingshot as a way to get her voice out of my head. As I wrote, I kept seeing her a modern day Telemachus, but whose father was never going to come home - and it was up to her to string the bow, and to deal with the consequences of her arrows.
Carolyne Wright "Sunday Morning in the City"; "Aubade: Still Life"; "Round: Mirror"
"Sunday Morning in the City" This poem, which turned out to celebrate a mood of dynamic harmony and contentment on an ordinary domestic morning, was written as a “poetic palimpsest.” It is modeled on the “You were / I was” back-and-forth rhetorical pattern of Kelly Cherry’s poem, “Reading, Dreaming, Hiding,” reprinted in Wendy Bishop’s text, Thirteen Ways of Looking for a Poem. I had given my students the prompt to write a Poetic Palimpsest: a poem written in response to an earlier poem, often in the form / rhetorical patterning of that originating poem, as a way of trying out a pattern new to them and of extending the dialogue in the great conversation of poetry. And I was inspired by the quality of my students’ responses to write a few of my own, including this one. I have found that this strategy is a way to honor the earlier poet's voice and turns of phrase, and to extend that voice by building on it, by replying to it — and the poet writing the palimpsest poem must always credit the original source. Moreover, unlike artists who copy Old Master drawings - or young fiction writers who type out short stories by Faulkner or Joyce or Welty just to see, feel and experience how these writers (or any number of others we could name) put their fiction on the page - poets who practice Poetic Palimpsest have a poem of their own at the end. Yes, it reflects an earlier poem, but the poetic palimpsest can grow to be much more than a *mere* rewording, with synonyms and similar rhetorical moves, of the model poem. It can become a free-standing work on its own - with plenty of acknowledgment, of course, of its origins, the model upon which it is based. This is a wonderful poetic option - it has renowned precedents in many prior poetic palimpsest pairings, and it can be a great way to break out of a writer's block, or to assay a form that is overly challenging.
"Aubade: Still Life" This poem is from the first section of a book-length, lyric-narrative sequence of poems involving an interracial couple, artists and writers. Moved by mutual fascination, shared ideals and aspirations, and the passion they discover in each other, the two are challenged to find a place together in the cultures of both races and both families, against the backdrop of America's racism and painful social history. This poem comes early in the narrative, when the couple are just starting to allow themselves to share intimacy; but hints of mutual fears, unresolved conflicts, and differing personal values are already beginning to gleam through. Nevertheless, the speaker’s sense of wonder, expressed in heightened awareness of the sensory and sensual details of the previous night and the morning into which she has awakened, prevails in this poem.
"Round: Mirror" This poem was generated in a short workshop that I taught at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House: “What Goes Around Becomes. . . a Round!” The round is similar to songs we sang as kids ("Three Blind Mice" and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat") and to the musicalfugue. Like the fugue, the round uses repetition and recurrence-with-variation of motifs or compositional elements. These are interwoven in a relatively free manner over the course of a few dozen lines, concluding with the same line (the opening motif), or the same line with some variation, with which the round began. The first round in poetic form I knew of was Weldon Kees’ aptly titled “Round” (which begins “‘Wondrous life!’ cried Marvell at Appleton House.”) - a friend of mine in the Vermont College MFA program had faxed it to me as material from a workshop she was taking at the time. I found Kees’ round useful as a model for employing recurrence-with-variation in poetry, and for freeing up the writing process by juxtaposing compositional elements—words, phrases, and images - much as composers and visual artists do with musical and graphic motifs. For poems and drafts that seem “stuck” in old patterns, the round pattern is one option for revising them so that their elements are recombined into new and surprising relationships, to make new, resonant, re-energized compositions.
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