Saturday, June 29, 2013

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart: An Example for How to Use Persona Poems to Write about History and Current Events

I live on the Ohio River, and outside my bedroom window I have been watching the construction of a new bridge. It is the only bridge on this part of the river for roughly 40 miles, so it is significant in many ways to my community. The importance of this new bridge, as well as the old one, has inspired numerous poems lately, and I hope to compile them into a chapbook.

I have mostly explored the bridge from the first person point of view, and all the poems are rooted in my personal experience. I have some familial ties to the history of the old bridge, currently being demolished, and I have personal ties to individuals working on the new bridge. As I dive deeper into this project, I have considered using the persona poem to add depth and complexity to this subject.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart recently inspired me. In particular, in her cycle of persona poems surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, Calvocoressi is able to use unique, historical perspectives to explore universal themes.  In poem V. of the “Amelia Earhart” cycle, “Doris Luman, housewife,” a witness poem becomes a meditation on loss from the perspective of a wife and mother. The speaker is responding to the news of Earhart’s disappearance and nonchalantly discusses loss as an everyday occurrence. One immediately thinks of Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” wherein the poet claims loss is not a disaster, although it may seem to be at times.  The first line of Calvocoressi’s poem is similar:

It’s easy to lose someone. Last
week, walking my son to school,
I turned away for a second.

The next thing I know he’s in the street. (1-4).
In this poem, the housewife is clearly more concerned with what is happening in her domestic sphere than with public figures.  Choosing the housewife as one of the personas allows Calvocoressi to take the exploration of loss to an unexpected place: the home. The ultimate human notion of safety revolves around the home, and the speaker in this poem is turning that notion on its head. The poem moves inward, and the meditation on loss dives into the themes of safety and permanence:
You can lose a person at home

            In the safest possible place,
            a place you could walk blindfolded.
that’s why I wasn’t surprised

when that woman got lost. (12-16)
The speaker refers to Earhart as “that woman,” a telling detail in the speaker’s reaction to the news of Earhart’s disappearance. Tragedies happen in the sky and they happen inside the home, and it is not the magnitude of the setting that dictates the severity of its effects the human mind.

These poems lend a personal context to the events surrounding a celebrity. By using different personas to look at Earhart’s disappearance, Calvocoressi allows room for truths to emerge that speak to the human condition and go well beyond the historical event. If the poet had only allowed her own reactions to Earhart’s story to be the subject of these poems, they would be missing the depth and diversity of human experience that gives these poems their universal appeal.

I hope that my bridge poems can explore my particular experience with a highly public happening while achieving some kind of balance with those themes on a universal level. Reading Calvocoressi’s persona poems, I was moved to reach deeper into my speakers’ dreams, memories and, sometimes, darkest thoughts. Diving into the subconscious via the persona poems in the style of Calvocoressi seems like a promising avenue to take my “bridge poems” to the next level. 

Angela Elles is a resident of Madison, Indiana. A mom, wife, teacher, and student, Angela teaches at Ivy Tech Community College and is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Spalding University.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Claire Everett's New Tanka Collection, Reviewed by Haiku Guru Barry George

twelve moons by Claire Everett  Introduction by David Terelinck. Perfect bound; 76 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4781539-5-5. $14.75 US. Available at

What is distinctive about Claire Everett's twelve moons is that her tanka do not merely juxtapose the natural and personal worlds; they interfuse the two.

            passing sun
            what of me is flame
            taking hold
            and what of me is timeless
            like this rock, briefly warm?

The poet compares herself directly to the images of nature; she is the sun's flame and the rock. The metaphor is woven into all five lines of the tanka. Indeed, a transmutation is at work, as the following makes explicit:

            by the breath of your love
            I am no longer sand
            scattered to the wind
            but the beauty of blown glass

In other cases, the interconnection between the poet and nature involves several images.

            and when my thoughts
            have followed the rosewood grain
            of sunset
            swirling dark from the eaves

Thoughts that become one with the texture of the fading sky, and then begin to focus on a darker motion around the eves, suddenly take shape - as bats.

Or, in the poet's contemplation, prompted by a similarity in shape, one image might morph into an entirely different one.

            by candlelight
            watching incense twist and curl
            as shadow
            the double helix uncoils,
            the illness passed down the line

Closely allied with this interfusion of thought and images is the the intermingling of senses, or synesthesia, which Everett sometimes employs.

            in silence
            deeper than the scent
            of pine
            we listen
            for the eyes of the deer

Here sound, smell, and silence work both as separate senses and as aspects of one combined perception.

As the title suggests, twelve moons, is organized seasonally. Each individual tanka takes on added resonance as it is grouped under one of the traditional names for the twelve full moons. The range of subjects includes motherhood, marriage, love, discord, disappointment, injury, illness, and mourning. Time is a persistent theme.

            son of mine
            what's done is done...
            seed by seed, I'd breathe
            back the dandelion clock,
            place its stem in your hand

The foregoing poem also exemplifies the tension Everett achieves with the sounds, rhythms, and pacing of words. So too does this one:

            no greater peace
            than the deep green
            silence of the trees
            when the breeze
            has moved on

Note the long "e" sounds in every line but the last one­­­ - when the (long-e) breeze has moved on - as well as the way changes of pace and even syncopation are used to advantage.

This is a collection to be savored as much for the richness of its imagery as for its finely crafted form. For all the intricacy implicit in their design, the tanka in twelve moons remind us that the best poetry often seems disarmingly and marvelously simple.

            after our walk
            with such tenderness
            you brushed
            the clouds
            out of my hair

Barry George’s haiku and tanka have been published in leading journals and anthologies. His essay, "Shiki the Tanka Poet," appeared in The Writer's Chronicle, and poems from Wrecking Ball and Other Urban Haiku, were nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives and teaches in Philadelphia.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Writing Exercise: "Poems and the Body"

Dear Readers,

As one of our regular offerings, we will post exercises we have tried or want to try.  I was skimming through PoemCrazy by Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge, a book I often walk past and wish I were opening, when I came to Chapter 24, "Poems and the Body."  I am working on a series of body poems, so it applies to my current project.  But I also thought I would share it here as a means of challenging myself and our readers to try one of these exercises.

"To reach one of the places poems come from," writes Woolridge, "I need to swim underwater, stay up all night or look at things upside down or sideways to tap both my alert, conscious self and my unconscious.  I need to delve into my sleep; do and see things from an altered perspective.  This not only helps me write poems, it can open up my life" (88).  Summer seems to be a natural time for waking up the body.  We wear less clothing, smell more smells, walk barefoot, swim, hike.  We remember our bodies.

In order to "tap" both spheres-- the conscious and the unconscious-- Woolridge offers a long list of possible prompts.  Here is a small sampling:

Stand on your head for as long as possible.  Notice details upside down.  Look in a mirror. Write.

Dance. Write...

Hang out with a dog, cat, horse or bird.  Feel the animal's fur or feathers and let yourself move into creature consciousness.  A grasshopper will do.  Write from his point of view.

Listen to your breath.  Be aware that it's automatic and that breathing, being alive, is effortless.  Write a poem about your breathing.

Write a poem of hunger or food....

Do anything new.  It will open you up to feel, see, write and be something new.  (90)

So.  I challenge you to try one of these or make up your own body-poem exercise.  As Molly Peacock says, a poet's job is to bring the reader back into her body.  Let's do it.  Feel free to post the results here.  Or write about the process.  Was it easy?  Was it difficult?  Which parts?  Why?

Looking forward to hearing from you,