Wednesday, May 7, 2014

from Volume 34: A poem by Jennifer Freed


Jennifer Freed

 

Lessons

 

 

If you were that woman, sitting

every Friday in the public library, one week working

through the who and how and why

of simple questions whispering from your tutor’s lips,

the next week learning price and pay and sale and save

and How much does it cost?—

if you were that woman,

then you, too,

would ask for repetition of bag and back and bank,

of leave and leaf and left and live,

and you would struggle to produce the English sounds

that held the meanings you still held

inside your head: the dappled murmuring of leaves

outside your childhood home, the trees

full of sweet yellow fruit you could not name in this new life,

the lives you left so you could live,

and as you moved your lips in all the unfamiliar ways

to make the sounds your tutor made, she would nod

and you would smile, but you would never

write, for you’d not yet know how

to form or read those fast, firm letters you watched pouring from her hand,

and so you’d have no way to store what you had learned

except in memory and hope,

alongside memories of why you’d never needed written words

in your native world, where your mother had taught you all the skills

of planting and harvesting and weaving and singing that you would ever need

for living in a lush, good place,

and alongside memories

of gunfire echoing beyond the trees,

of rebels begging for or stealing food,

of soldiers from some distant city standing in your

village, barking about loyalty

and able-bodied men,

and then the memories

of jungle paths for five long nights,

of sharing food and whispered hope with others who had dared

to flee,

and the memories of the daughter and the son, both

born and grown high as your eye in the refugee camp on the border.

The English words would nestle in amidst

all this,

get lost, be found again, and you would have to try

to pull them out but leave the rest behind, try

to let the new sounds tell you 

not only the hard-edged names and places

of this brick and concrete life, 

but also how to live in it:

how to take

a city bus, how to

pay for

light, 

and you would sit again, again, again

in a mauve chair at a round table in the library, 

amidst the shelves and worlds

of words,

struggling with your who and how and why,

and you would not allow yourself

to figure how much it had cost

or how much you still had to pay.

You would just smile and thank your tutor,

and come back

next Friday.

In the Spotlight: Jennifer L. Freed, poet

Photo credit: Sharon Freed
As an English Second Language teacher and teacher-trainer, Jennifer L. Freed currently volunteers her time to help resettled refugees in the Worcester area learn English. Her poem, "Lessons," which appears in The Worcester Review Volume XXXIV, is at first glance a response to those who wonder why it takes so "long" for someone to learn the English language, but ultimately, it is to get into the mindset of a person who struggles to overcome the language barrier.  




Was “Lessons” based on a personal experience?

Before having children, I worked as an ESL teacher not only here in the U.S. but also in China and the Czech Republic. Since 2010 I've been volunteering as an English tutor for refugees who've been resettled in the Worcester area. The poem comes from all that background. More specifically, though, it was inspired by a few of those refugees. I didn't want to name them or their country because I didn't want to limit the poem to those specific women only, or even to people from their country only; the many difficulties of learning a new language, especially when you do not come from a culture that allowed you much of an education, would be the same for all of us. Add culture shock and the burden of past traumatic experiences, and the task is far harder than many people in the U.S. might imagine.

How did you decide that the subject of learning a language was something you wanted to write about for your poem?

The refugees I have been tutoring know how to weave their own clothes, how to build a home out of bamboo, how to grow their own food. But none of those skills serve them here in their new lives. Upon arriving in this country, they not only had to find a way to support themselves in what is to them an alien place, but also to learn an entirely new language.

Yet I've met people who, in spite of having sympathy and good will toward immigrants, nevertheless don’t understand why it may take so “long” to become proficient in English. The poem was my response to that.

You've written about your experiences in China and The Czech Republic. Did living in other countries influence the poem?

Yes, especially my time in China. When we English teachers arrived there, none of us had any ability to speak Chinese. We were told we would have a chance to learn the language when we arrived at the university where we were to work, but our promised Chinese instructors never materialized.

In addition, we were fairly isolated from Chinese people, presumably for political reasons. We were in a separate dorm for foreigners only, and visitors had to sign in at a guard’s desk, which may be why we had very few visitors. We had our meals separately too, just the five of us in a little dining hall set across the campus from the student cafeteria. We never got to mingle with or even meet the rest of the university faculty. So, for most of a year, we mainly interacted only with each other—and, in a very formal, controlled way, using English only, with our students during class. We had to ask how to say various useful phrases—“I want...,” “I don’t understand…,” “how much…,” and so we learned how to do practical things—how to count money, to order our favorite soup from a street vendor, to mail a letter home—but other than that, we had little opportunity to deal with Chinese people, and they didn't seek us out.

So I had the experience, right out of college, of hearing the sound of foreign speech all around me, and yet of having no entry into it. You don’t just “pick it up” by being in its midst. If you do not have a community of people who can interact with you in the new language in any kind of patient, daily, sustained way—as immigrants often do not—then the sound of that language becomes like traffic sounds. We all tune out what is unintelligible to us. So in the right (or wrong) circumstances, it is surprisingly natural to live in a foreign place and yet not learn its speech.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

From Volume 34: A poem by Jaydn DeWald


Jaydn DeWald            

 

The One Time I Saw Monk Playing at Minton’s

 

 

He looked like a drunk hammering on a typewriter. Me and Corwell in gray silk suits, black-on-black shirts, and Butcher Boys shoes. Cigars and whiskies and little hotties on our shoulders. Did his “angular rhythms clash like gods in the smoke overhead”? Come on, kid, I wasn’t even listening.

In the Spotlight: Jaydn DeWald, poet


Jazz. The theme for Volume XXXIV of The Worcester Review. Jaydn DeWald titles his poem after the famous jazz pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk who played at Minton's Playhouse in New York.


The Worcester Review: Why did you decide to write "The One Time I Saw Monk Playing at Minton's" in open form rather than something else?

Jaydn DeWald: Because [it] is the product of an assignment—Write a piece of prose in 50 words or less—put to me by my terrific friend and fellow writer Kyle Bilinski (whose work can be found here: http://kylebilinski.weebly.com). There was far less freedom, less openness, involved than one might expect. But I feel impelled to mention that, for me, “open form” poetry, or “free verse,” tends to produce too many choices, too many possible (and equally alluring) paths. Preferring my choices to be fewer and more susceptible to the vagaries of chance, I almost always adhere to some self-imposed requirement(s), whether traditional (rhyme, meter, syllabics) or non- (lipogram, found poetry, N+7).

Furthermore, since we’re on the subject of jazz, I find it somewhat odd that “free jazz”—the music equivalent of free verse, one might argue—should be reserved for our most virtuosic and most eccentric musicians (the Ornette Colemans and Cecil Taylors among us), while verse libre should be so ubiquitous and, in general, dull.

TWR: Did you actually see Monk perform live himself at Minton’s? Or was the inspiration for the poem the desire to experience the music from a perspective of that time period?

JD: Monk died in ’82, the year before I was born, so I never had the opportunity to see him perform live at all, much less at Minton’s Playhouse—the club Miles dubbed “the bebop laboratory”—where he (Monk) served as house pianist during most of World War II.

For better or worse, I also think it’s impossible for me to “experience the music from a perspective of that time period.” While I can appreciate the historical freshness of the bebop vocabulary, for instance, I would struggle to hear its historical freshness; it even strikes me, in certain moods, as quaint.

More precisely, “The One Time I Saw Monk Playing at Minton’s” is a quick exploration of conflicting interests and temperaments: the juxtaposition of a jazz enthusiast (“Did [Monk’s] ‘angular rhythms clash like gods in the smoke overhead?’”) and a stereotypical club-goer (“Cigars and whiskies and little hotties on our shoulders”).

TWR: Do you enjoy writing about the small moments in life as you did with “The One Time I Saw Monk Playing at Minton’s?” If so, is there a particular reason as to why that is?

JD: I do like to write about small moments, particularly moments of fantastic, life-altering interiority in which nothing, outside of a person’s mind, happens. Lyric poetry often seems to have been created for, or to have arisen out of, these moments, and though it’s unfashionable to admit it, I tend to think of myself as writing old-fashioned lyric poems.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Poet Interview: Lisa Taylor

Each post on Lisa Taylor's blog is a story; they are "observations about the ordinary and extraordinary in literature, life, and teaching."  Taylor encourages people to expand their creativity. She believes poetry is written from a deep emotional and personal place and fiction is from the imagination. Sometimes people need to slow down in order to analyze and appreciate those life's moments' importance. Two of her works, Necessary Silence (2013) and The Other Side of Longing (2011) have been published Syracuse University Press.

Do you remember the first poem or creative story you wrote? Did you ever go back to them for revisions? What were your thoughts upon your return to them?

I began writing at age 12. My first effort was a poem called “The Storm.” My sixth grade teacher put it up on the bulletin board. In high school, I won first prize in the National Scholastic Writing Awards for poetry. I wasn't very good at revision then. Now I’m an ardent reviser of my work, going through sometimes thirty or more drafts before I consider something worthy. Even then, I’m often dissatisfied. When I look at what I wrote as a child or a teenager, I think it is clumsy but still representative of my love affair with language. I came from a family where I was read poetry. My father was a visual artist who loved poetry and literature. My mother was an English teacher.

You wrote on your website that “[w]riting matters because it is how we communicate.” In this time and age, people are short-cutting through writing by abbreviating or shortening words, particularly in the dimension of texting. What do you think of the world we live in where technology is constantly developing and texting is the fastest way for people to communicate? Is texting defined as writing, talking, or both? Or something else entirely?

http://syracuseuniversitypress.syr.edu/spring-2013/necessary-silence.htmlI feel encouraged by the trend of texting because it is getting people to write more. As a professor, I do not accept texting shortcuts as writing, but as a person in the world, I appreciate it because I have always found writing easier than speaking. I think technology will continue to redefine our methods of communication and I’m okay with that. Communication has changed throughout history. That said, I will always prefer letters to emails, and I am saddened that the process of sending someone a letter is quickly disappearing.

As we live in a fast-paced world. I know that for you poetry is one way of slowing down. How do you suggest others take a moment and jot down their thoughts and feelings? 

Poetry is not only a way to slow down; it is also a way to encourage observation. We miss so much in our fast-paced lives. I don’t believe that a person has to be a writer to benefit from writing. Some people keep journals or jot down poems without any desire to publish or even share their work. Creativity can be cultivated, and really, it is necessary to keep pace with the changes in our culture. The employers of tomorrow will want employees who can think critically and creatively, and becoming a good observer and writer are skills that can benefit everyone. Reading, analyzing what you see and read, and writing are ways to develop critical thinking and creativity.

As a creative writer and poet, is the emotional truth the same for both prose and poetry? Or does it vary? 

Emotional truth simply means that my first allegiance is to the emotional viability of a situation rather than the literal truth. The emotions must feel authentic, revealing some aspect of human nature. It is less important that anything else in the story or poem be plausible. I do think poetry allows for more leeway with experimentation. It is a very different process for me than fiction. To me, poetry comes from a deeply emotional place while fiction is completely the work of the imagination. There is something very freeing about writing fiction. I can create characters who bear no resemblance to anyone I know.

Can you talk about the fiction you’re currently working on? Is there a correlation between your creative stories?

http://www.syracuseuniversitypress.syr.edu/spring-2011/other-side-longing.html
I am currently working on a collection of short stories as well as a novel. My short stories have a range of topics and settings but one thing that is consistent about my writing is my fascination for unreliable narrators and the complexity of deception people can unleash on each other. One of the stories in my collection came from a painting by an artist I met at Vermont Studio Center in 2012. My narrators range from a recently deceased young man to a teenager meeting her absent father after ten years to a woman whose dreams reveal brutal truths. My novel is a character-driven love story between two childhood friends from different backgrounds who meet again twenty years later. I use an experimental narrative form with repeated lines, some from his wounded past or her memories. PTSD, the Vietnam War, mental illness, and the changing definition of family all play a part in this story. I am about halfway done with the first draft.


The Worcester Review would like to thank Lisa Taylor for her time to participate in the interview and her contribution to the publication. 

From Volume 34: A poem by Lisa Taylor


Lisa C. Taylor

 

Cathedral of Shadows

 

 

The saddest lies

are ones we tell ourselves.

 

Church doors

inviting the disillusioned

 

who imagine

 

answers rest

in the chisel of stone

or lead seams on cobalt blue.

 

Eyes follow, someone

is speaking; we decipher

 

the language which sounds

both familiar and unfamiliar.

 

Does truth speak in tongues?

 

Ask the windows looking out

on the shifting shoulder

of day. Each step

 

leading us closer

to the mirrored hall,

cathedral of shadows.

 

One woman lifts a bronze arm,

another has no mouth

 

but we hear

a psalm; her name.

We chant liturgy,

disguise ourselves with veils,

fickle light.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Poet Interview: Brian Simoneau

Brian Simoneau, a contributor to Volume XXXIV of The Worcester Review, currently resides in Connecticut with his wife and two daughters. He finds inspirations for his poems through the everyday life's moments that stick out to him. These moments can be a memory, an observation of the people at a bus stop, or a bug on a windshield.  



What’s the procedure you use when writing a poem? What comes first? For instance, does a topic come to your mind first and then you choose which form to use, and so on?

The process is different for almost every poem. Sometimes a poem emerges from a memory, or from an idea, or from something I've noticed in the course of my day, or simply from a word or phrase that catches my imagination somehow. Once I've figured out where the poem is trying to go, I might think about what forms will help to get it there. Other times, I might give myself a formal challenge—write a sonnet, or write lines that break after seven syllables, or write a poem that would fit on a postcard to an old friend—in order to help myself break out of habit, to push myself out of a rut. Even then, as I revise and rewrite over weeks and months (and sometimes years), I might try out several different forms until I find the one that seems the best fit for what the poem’s language is trying to do.

How did you decide which format and form was right for “From Too Much Dwelling on What Has Been” and “Minute” (both of which appear in The Worcester Review Volume XXXIV)?

After the first few drafts of “From Too Much Dwelling on What Has Been,” I noticed some similarities to Robert Frost’s “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things.” Instead of editing away from Frost’s influence, I decided to try emphasizing it. While my poem uses shorter lines and somewhat clipped rhythms, the quatrains are straight out of Frost and the title is borrowed directly from one of his lines. I really liked the idea of trying to steal Frost’s poem from its rural setting and to fit it around my experience of the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, where I grew up.

In “Minute,” once the language began to feel settled, I wanted to use a caesura similar to the one we see in Anglo-Saxon verse, a space that would open up each line on the page and emphasize the alliterative connections between the halves of each line. Breaking the lines this way—single lines becoming staggered couplets—also seemed like a way to make a line that was both long and short, a way perhaps to mirror the conflict between the improbably small and impossibly large that plays out in the poem.

I enjoyed reading your poems because of how relatable they are.  We all have moments when our minds wander off and question the little things that might not be immediately relevant. What does writing poetically about these moments mean to you? 

“From Too Much Dwelling on What Has Been” came out of a childhood memory of a fire in Lowell. In my father’s car, waiting to cross one of the bridges over the Merrimack, I asked about the dark smoke and orange glow in the sky, and my father told me what it was. I don’t know why that moment has stayed with me, but it began to seem especially important to me as I moved away from home, as the city continued to change, as even my memories of home began to fade.

I originally wrote “Minute” as part of the poem-a-day challenge during National Poetry Month. About two weeks in, I was already running out of steam, already feeling like I was straining for something to write. As I drove home from work, I happened to notice a bug smeared across my windshield. Later, after several failed attempts to start a poem, I wrote, “I want there to be metaphor in the bugs on my windshield.” With another anniversary of my father’s death on the way, questions about mortality and consciousness weren't far from my mind, and the poem began to take shape.

I’d like to believe that writing about these moments leads to the “momentary stay against confusion” that Frost says a poem should offer. But really, poems are often more interesting to me as attempts to acknowledge the confusion, to enact the mind as it wrestles with the mysteries of the world around me.