Always looking back

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Ching-in Chen not so long ago gave me this fragment of a question to mull over: “Is it possible to escape our fate?”

Sometimes the mother in me wonders what things would be like today– especially for members of my family– if I had made different life choices. Would they be happier, be better equipped with inner reserves, be better able to face the vicissitudes of life? Be less prone to daydream and despair, be more buoyant on the tide?

Back in the day, before I left my (then very young) daughters in the care of my parents, I had colleagues tell me straight up in my face (and to my chagrin, even in my daughters’ faces) that I was *wrong* to “think only of myself” by deciding to take a fellowship and pursue doctoral studies in a different country so far from home (and my place in it). Some of them said without batting an eyelash, “Mark my words, perhaps not now but later, there will be a [negative] effect on them.”

Really? Is that ever the only possibility, the only fate that can be looked to, and that seems so blithely, god-like-ly decreed upon those who wind up crafting lives that do not match up with the norm?

And in each interregnum, in each wake of the already transpired, each of us is trying to recover and recolonize a self, selves… often forgetting that our basic wholeness is still and always the gift that we must keep learning to give every day to ourselves, no matter if we stay or if we go.

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The myth says Orpheus’ beloved Eurydice was “set upon by a satyr” in the tall grasses at her own wedding; in her attempt to flee, she was fatally bitten by vipers and taken into the underworld, among the shades, among the dead. So overcome with grief was he that he pleaded with Hades and Persephone (she who once also belonged to the upper world before her kidnap and exile), and his music softened them to sympathy. And the myth tells us Orpheus would have his beloved returned as long as he walked in front of her and would never glance back until they reached the upper world.

But why would we not look back at the beloved, why would anyone think it possible for the soul not to shuttle back and forth, so many times a day, through all the months of the year? Why do we speak in front of electronically powered screens and make halting gestures to approximate the intensity of all the things we want to say? Why do we stuff Balikbayan boxes with gifts picked lovingly and bought piecemeal to send away across the chasm that divides?

The soul should be immortal, but this is not to say the soul does not dream or weep or rejoice.

Who has the power to decree that exile should be forever? The bridge begins in one place and proceeds through the void to the other side. And at every station we have hesitated and recovered, peered backward and forward, always into the indecipherable.

What if the beloved, all this time, was never behind, but instead walks a similar course next to mine?

What if we have not lost anything, anyone? What if they have been here all along?

Roundup of April 2015 NaPoMo Poetry Prompts!

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As promised, I have gathered the prompts I wrote and posted every day in April for 2015 NaPoMo.

For NaPoWriMo 2015, I decided that I would contribute a poetry prompt per day (originally using the Notes function on FB and editing/adding to this Note daily). Some of the prompts will be familiar to my graduate poetry workshop students this spring, and the rest are new.

I hope this will be a useful resource that you can keep coming back to!

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April 30

Write a poem-sampler divided into sections. Organize the sections thematically, or according to tone or color or some other ordering principle. Show the stitches that make each line. Be precise, but unstinting. Let the poem showcase not only certain marks of technical virtuosity, but also thoughtful feeling, and feeling thought.

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April 29
Choose a form, and a line, from another poet. Use it as the seed, the trigger, for a poem of your own. Turn the borrowed line into a question, or into an answer.

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April 28
In the story “The Secret Miracle,” Borges writes of a political prisoner who gets a secret reprieve (of life) in the seconds before the bullets from an execution squad decimate his body. In that miraculous interregnum, he gets to revise his magnum opus over and over until he is satisfied. Write a poem of miraculous reprieve and of what you would use it for.

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April 27
Write a poem of in praise of something slow or still.

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April 26
Write a palimpsest poem, a poem of many layers. Take language and/or narratives that already exist/s in other forms or contexts. Etch through parts of the layers to get through to a new poem.
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April 25
Write a poem that offers something sincere without need for disguise or apology.

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April 24
Paul Eluard said, “There is another world, and it is in this one.” Write a poem about one of these other worlds in this one.

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April 23
The poem must contain hinges. Otherwise, how could it swing open in so many ways? Write a poem with at least two hinges.

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April 22
Many years ago I was at a literary seminar in Cambridge keynoted by the late John Fowles. In his talk, he compared writing with gardening, but favored in particular the state of the wild garden, the undomesticated (versus the tame, strictly ordered) garden. Write a poem that grew there.

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April 21
Entering the poem is acknowledgement that we agree to be altered. Write a poem with several doors; choose one, and write of what happens when you pass through.

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April 20

It’s almost dawn. You hear someone singing. Write a poem that is a lullaby for the singer.
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April 19
Take any discarded scaffold, that bag of thrown-away bones, those table scraps. Fill the body of that poem.

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April 18
Write a poem that chases after its own tail: a mobius strip with a bend in the middle; infinite and flexible, ever traveling toward and away from its own origins.

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April 17

Write the peal of the cymbal, the citrus zest released to air; write the secret breathed into the pillow, write the lift in the lantern floating away in the night sky.

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April 16
Write a poem of waiting, endurance, and release.
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April 15

Write a poem which retraces steps, or which reconstructs events, from more than a decade ago.
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April 14
Write a poem with a cup, a wishbone, and a thread.

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April 13
In “The Right to Dream,” Eduardo Galeano writes: “In Argentina, the crazy women of the Plaza de Mayo will be exemplars of mental health, because they refused to forget in times of amnesia.” Write a poem of refusal against amnesia, a poem that uses memory as weapon against oblivion.

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April 12
We talk about needing things, wanting things. Write a poem, conversely, about how a thing would/might need, or even want, us. Does the curve in the bowl of a spoon need the shape of a mouth? Does the flesh of the oyster need a tongue? Does the tip of the mountain need the measure of one’s ascent?

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April 11
We think of an obstacle as something that has been placed in our path to prevent or slow progress toward a goal. Write a poem that is a creative detour around or through some kind of obstacle.

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April 10

Write a poem that navigates land mines.

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April 9

Write a poem strapped to the leg of a carrier pigeon. Write the answer that comes back.

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April 8

Write a letter-poem to the you that does not wish to be found, that does not wish to be sought out, that shyly hides out of view, out of sight, out of mind. Will you write to invite? to coax or entice? to aid and abet? to reprimand or chastise? And how and to where shall this letter be sent?

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April 7
Write a poem of first meeting, of looking into the eyes of the new arrival.

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April 6
Where does the third eye reside? When and what does it see? Write a poem of anticipation, of premonition, of foresight.

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April 5

In traditional Philippine celebrations at the end of the Lenten season– at dawn on Easter morning– an angel (played by a young girl from the community) is suspended on pulleys from the rafters of the church. Bearing flowers, she lifts the veil of mourning away from the image of the Blessed Mother to signify it is time to meet the resurrected Christ. This folk ritual, now seamlessly blended with religious tradition, is called “Salubong” (the act of meeting).

Whether or not Easter is something you celebrate– write a poem today in which a moment or experience from your world of daily groundedness, goes to meet or is met by another moment or experience that seems transcendent, epiphanic, visionary, or suddenly, dazzlingly, transformingly new.

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April 4
Write a poem that dismantles a fable or fantasy, that refuses to participate in the lie.

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April 3
In CITIZEN, Claudia Rankine paraphrases the philosopher Judith Butler and writes: “Our very being exposes us to the address of another… We suffer from the condition of being addressable.”
Write a poem from inside an experience of such exposure and “addressability.” How does a body feel in this condition? The mind? The heart? What speech does the tongue muster? What movement, what memory, what sound? And what does it, can it, return?

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April 2
Write a poem in which something dead (or dormant, or asleep) comes back to life.

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April 1
Alchemy, or turning obstacles into gold- or into something different:
Write a poem at least 14 lines that does all of the following things ~
– begins with an image/thought/statement, and returns to it at the end of the poem but in some altered way
– uses a central, unifying image or images
– looks at the etymology of a word
– incorporates found language (including visual text), or heard/remembered speech/conversation)
– includes no more than 2 words with 5 syllables
– uses any of the following means for developing lines or stanzas, or even the entire poem: negation, or showing/describing something through what it isn’t; providing the answer to a question; providing argument to a prior statement or idea

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In celebration of April National Poetry Month 2015, POETRY DAILY is once more featuring week-day POETS’ PICKS

Luisa A. Igloria’s Poetry Month Pick, April 8, 2015

“[God gave a Loaf to every Bird —]”
by Emily Dickinson (1830-1986)

God gave a Loaf to every Bird –
But just a Crumb – to Me –
I dare not
eat it – tho’
I starve –
My poignant luxury –

To own it – touch it –
Prove the feat – that made
the Pellet mine –
Too happy – for my Sparrow’s chance –
For Ampler Coveting –

It might be Famine – all around –
I could not miss an Ear –
Such Plenty smiles opon my Board –
My Garner shows so fair –

I wonder how the Rich – may feel –
An Indiaman – An Earl –
I deem that I – with but a Crumb –
Am Sovreign of them all –

(The above version is a transcript from a manuscript from
Poems: Packet XVIII, Fascicle 36
Includes 22 poems, written in ink, dated ca. 1863
Emily Dickinson Archive)

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God gave a loaf to every bird,
But just a crumb to me;
I dare not eat it, though I starve,—
My poignant luxury
To own it, touch it, prove the feat
That made the pellet mine,—
Too happy in my sparrow chance
For ampler coveting.

It might be famine all around,
I could not miss an ear,
Such plenty smiles upon my board,
My garner shows so fair.
I wonder how the rich may feel,—
An Indiaman—an Earl?
I deem that I with but a crumb
Am sovereign of them all.

(The above version is set out as it appears in Poems, by Emily Dickinson, edited by T. W. Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1892)

* Luisa A. Igloria Comments:

Dear Emily,

It is this poem, of all your poems, I keep returning to through the years: its dark, hard pellet around which my hand, knuckle-fisted, has closed; but which, whenever I open my palm again to look, I find has expanded, like a piece of fermented, spongy bread. A living thing; sustainable, sustaining.

So much has already been written about this and your other poems that have the theme of stoic abstention in the face of hardship: given “just a Crumb,” you “dare not eat it— tho’ [you] starve—” Here you show how the contemplative self or heart, diminutive like a bird and dwelling in its spare isolation, must feel when regarding the comparative wealth of others and the plenitude of other ways of being in the world. The self that is less abundantly blessed, that has less of an ability to possess the object/s of its desire, comes to find solace in its spartan practices. A little becomes the world, a crumb becomes “poignant luxury.”

I often wonder what it was that might have specifically occasioned this poem. Forgive me, but perhaps because I am a person of color, a woman born and raised in a third world country, where the poor are visible everywhere one looks, I cannot read this poem without considering how it is an indictment of poverty— no, not poverty itself but those seemingly invisible and abstract forces which control the distribution of wealth, of what we call luck or chance: “God gave a Loaf to every Bird -/ But just a Crumb – to Me -“

And while I know the poem speaks perhaps to more metaphorical and internal experiences of stringency, I cannot help but read it too against the braided contexts of race, gender, and power, and their concrete effects on real lives.

You mention “the Rich-” the “Earl[s]” and “Indiam[e]n” who came into their fortunes through the indentured labor of others. I read in the dictionary that an Indiaman is “a large ship formerly used by European and North American merchants on trade routes to India, East or Southeast Asia, or the West Indies.” I think of how they brought back to the New World precious metals, spices, scrolls, statuary, as chains of brown bodies rowed in the hold and birds scattered in every direction, making small dark marks in the sky.

And so this is how I have come to know those internal reserves of which you speak in this poem: how having less can teach one to develop the resilience needed to survive, how a “Pellet” can be extravagant treasure when held against those longer times of seemingly endless deprivation and “Ampler Coveting.” You might as well have subtitled the poem “The Art of Making Do.”

Your poem’s alchemy consists, for me, in its ability to lead through its language and juxtapositions, to the idea of a transformation that is almost spiritual— To show how I, “with but a Crumb -” might yet find internal reserves that are independent of external circumstance. It’s a paradoxical idea, one that is especially difficult to comprehend because there can be so much evidence called up to thwart it.

But it’s that crumb of hope that has become precious to me, that is the real “Sovereign:” the idea that reversals are possible, despite history.

Gratefully,
Luisa

About Luisa A. Igloria:

Luisa A. Igloria is the author of the eChapbook Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press, spring 2015); Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (selected by Mark Doty for the 2014 May Swenson Prize, Utah State University Press), Night Willow: Prose Poems (Phoenicia Publishing, Montreal, 2014), The Saints of Streets (2013), Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize, University of Notre Dame Press), Trill & Mordent (WordTech Editions, 2005), and 8 other books. Luisa has degrees from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was a Fulbright Fellow from 1992-1995. She currently teaches in and directs the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. For more than four years now, since November 20, 2010, Luisa A. Igloria has been writing (at least) a poem a day; these poems are archived on Dave Bonta’s Via Negativa website.

 

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Don’t forget! If you enjoy our regular features and special events like this one, please join Luisa A. Igloria in supporting Poetry Daily by making a tax-deductible contribution.

Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved.

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Looking forward to spring…

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…and to the spring equinox (March 20, 2015) release of Kudzu House Press/Kudzu House Quarterly‘s first eChapbook Selection, my BRIGHT AS MIRRORS LEFT IN THE GRASS \o/

Copying KHQ’s announcement here:

“We are so pleased to announce Kudzu House Quarterly’s first eChapbook issue, Spring Equinox (5.1) will be:
BRIGHT AS MIRRORS LEFT IN THE GRASS

Poems by Luisa A. Igloria
Here is what our poetry editor had to say about the work:
In Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass, Luisa A. Igloria’s poems attempt to yoke us to the phenomenal world. They show us that nature is around us and within us, but it’s not completely describable; “nature” entails what’s “hidden, that gleam / constellations away.” In its pursuit of both the mysterious and knowable in nature, Bright as Mirrors recalls Emerson and Thoreau. Igloria praises the celestial and the quotidian, the museum artifact and “the broken mismatched part.” Her speakers—one of whom compares herself to dust on the outer fringes of a constellation—still seek the evidence that stands for a living thing’s mark on the world, from the milk trail a worm leaves behind to the “spark struck on the heel of a boot.” These are poems that invite the reader to experience the brief but beautiful moment that a flower effloresces—for its own sake, but also because it mirrors our own brief flourishing.”

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Please go back to Kudzu House Quarterly this coming Friday to read the entire eChapbook; I am told that toward the end of the year, the poems will be included in a print edition.

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Maraming salamat!!!

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On Thursday, February 5, the English Department of Utah State University will present a poetry reading by Luisa A. Igloria, the 2014 winner of USU’s May Swenson Poetry Prize for her book, Ode to the Heart Smaller Than a Pencil Eraser. The reading will be held at noon in room 101 of the Merrill-Cazier Library.

Igloria is the author of several other award-winning books of poetry, including Juan Luna’s Revolver, which won the 2009 Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry, Night Willow from Phoenicia Publishing (Montreal), and 10 other books.

(Photo credits: Rich-Joseph Facun)

(Photo credits: Rich-Joseph Facun)

Luisa will also be presented at a reading on Friday, February 6, in Brigham Young University’s English Reading Series. This reading is scheduled for noon at the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium.

Both events are and open to the public.

For more information:

Michael Sowder (USU)
(435) 797-7100
michael.sowder at usu.edu   or

Stephen Tuttle (BYU)
(801) 422-4425
stephen_tuttle at byu.edu

Celebrating the poetry vendors!

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Congratulations to the excellent Dave Bonta, on his milestone 6000th post at Via Negativa yesterday (where he has graciously accorded me the status of co-blogger since 2010).

Yesterday, it was also my FOURTH year anniversary of writing (at least) a poem a day – they’re all archived at Via Negativa – so, double huzzah!

Dave created this fun video to commemorate the occasion.

Michael Kors outlet online,