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Wade Stevenson interviewed on Green Life Blue Water

 

Wade Stevenson

[Photo courtesy of the author]

An Interview with Wade Stevenson

First off, congrats on the success of Flutes and Tomatoes, one of Kirkus Review’s Best Indie Books of 2015. What an honor.

I read Dear You and Flutes and Tomatoes in relatively short order. There is such a full blown range of longing, despair, grief, and, dare I say, an exhilaration in the expression of it all, maybe more emotion packed into two slim volumes than many would experience in a lifetime. So — are you reconciled with the events that took you to such a dark place, maybe at peace, and if so, how did the writing help you to get there?

Writing for me has always been an act of catharsis, of purification, of healing. The stories described in Flutes and Tomatoes and Dear You did indeed take me to dark, difficult places. No one would want to stay for a long time in that kind of emotional cell, and the only path I could find to free myself went through words. The words that make up the fabric of those poems became me. I lived them as if they were real. The events that caused the original pain happened again, in real time. Holding those two books in my hand, I can say, “You are the proof of that love that was lived and lost.” That feeling is one of wonderful release, it creates peace.

Both books were published in 2015. How much time passed between the events and the writing of the books? Did you find yourself agonizing anew as you wrote them?

Both books were published in 2015 because they’re related in terms of their emotional context and impact. Flutes and Tomatoes grew out of an experience I had in Paris when I was in my early twenties. That was in the late 1960s. I still have the notebooks that formed the basis of the book. The story narrated in Dear Youtook place in 1992. I started writing about it then but I couldn’t finish it. It hurt me to finish it, and in one way I didn’t want to finish it because that meant putting closure to it. And I felt I needed to keep the wound open. It’s strange how that happens, no? You don’t want to stop reliving in your memory something that hurt you very much.

Dear You is a very intimate exposé of your feelings at a specific time in your life, but also an intimate portrait of the mother of one your children. You share a daughter and shared a life, the details of which now are very public. I think it would be hard to be written about in such an intimate fashion. How does the Mlle. X. feel about your characterization of your relationship and particularly of her part in it? 

I like to think that my poems are written from the center of my stomach, what the Japanese call “Hara”. You could also say: from the gut. You’re absolutely right: “Dear You” is a very intimate portrait. Extreme intimacy. I was afraid of showing it to Mlle. X, the mother of my child. But I also felt it would be wrong to publish it without first letting her read it. So I sent it to her and said, “If you don’t like it, or don’t approve, I’ll just keep it in my desk drawer.” She called me up a few days later and said, “It’s a beautiful book. I’m so sorry, I never realized I caused you so much pain.”

Do you think there are patterns in life and that people succumb to certain ones or that there’s much more of a randomness to the universe? For example, Greg Braden talks about something called Fractal Time and how, like the inside of a nautilus shell or the repeating patterns of a pine cone, life spirals out in ever-widening circles, but the pattern remains the same. Braden posits that there’s a precise mathematical formula to prove his theory and with certain bits of information such as the date of the inciting event, among other things, he can predict when the next event will occur, allowing you to prepare yourself for a disaster or maybe keep it from happening, or conversely, accept a blessing. I’m fascinated by this concept and wonder if you’ve heard of it and what your opinion of it may be. 
 

Greg Braden’s idea is intriguing, but I deal in my texts with emotional time, not mathematical time. My own books, such as the memoir One Time in Paris, or the novel The Electric Affinities, or my prose poem, The Little Book of He and She, draw on such different experiences of life and love that it would be impossible to say they conform to any preset pattern. In your own book, Six Sisters, you write a passage about how nothing happens by chance. I agree, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as saying that people succumb to certain patterns that keep replicating themselves.

I’m sure your familiar with the work of Joseph Campbell and the power of myth and archetype throughout the ages. You have two stories of lost love, both of which might have shattered you, but you proved resilient. Do you think that we are all living our lives under the umbrella of a few archetypes developed early on in our childhoods, and if so, what archetypes resonate with you? 

Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, is one of my favorites, and I strongly believe in his mythological narratives. The archetype that resonates with me is that of the hero, the man who, assuming his own destiny, ventures out on a dangerous quest, meets several obstacles, overcomes them, and is victorious. There are many types of “quests” and the victory is always a spiritual one, symbolic, but it must be fought for and achieved. My books are all about a quest for love, or what happens in the aftermath of a broken love.

What’s your next project? Another hybrid book of memoir/poem or something completely different?

My next book is actually about the moon. It’s called Moon Talk. It will be published by BlazeVOX next month. It’s divided into three parts, a long poem, an essay, and some quotations. It’s a poetic, spiritual, and philosophical journey through all the phases of the lunar cycle. It’s a lyrical riff on the moon as myth and symbol. Joseph Campbell would have liked it.

Sounds wonderful.  So what’s a regular writing day look like for you? Part time? Full time? Some time? Every day or only when the muse strikes?

I’m a nocturnal poet, I need the night to write. A certain solitude is essential. I don’t believe in the Muse. Writing comes from patience and discipline. For me, it’s almost like a Zen meditation. When I’m in it, I’m ready to kill any distraction.

I gather you are not a religious man, yet you write as though there is a real spirit of the divine in your work. Reconcile this for me.

I’m not religious in the sense of going to church or following any established ritual. But I went to a religious school (St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire), and at one time I even converted to Judaism. My forthcoming Moon Talk book is quite mystical. It talks about that “Name who, moving among darkness, sheds light”.

What is your greatest hope for the future of mankind?

If mankind as a whole read more poetry, the world would certainly be a greener, more peaceful place.

I know a few poets who would agree.  Good luck with your next book. I look forward to reading and reviewing it.

p.j.lazos 1.20.16

Read the whole interview here

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Dear You by Wade Stevenson Reviewed by Green Life Blue Water

 

Writing

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Dear You

      Dear You, a combination of poetry and memoir, by Wade Stevenson is one of the most exposed, unrelenting, and heart-breaking pieces on longing that I’ve read. Like Flutes and Tomatoes (reviewed below), named one of the best Indie books of 2015 by Kirkus Reviews,  Dear You is a genre Stevenson seems to have created, and if he didn’t create it, he knows his way around the terrain with the temerity of a conqueror. I love the mix of self-reflective recollection and metaphorical lyricism. It rounds out the narrative and answers the nagging questions that straight poetry leaves to the imagination.

The story starts with a breakup (Stevenson’s marriage); a rat (in the apartment of his soon-to-be beloved, Mlle X.); a rescue (by Stevenson of Mlle X. from the rat); a pregnancy (Mlle X.’s by Stevenson); a marriage (being rescued from a rat does not always end in marriage, but in this instance it did); and a birth. In reading the list above you would not guess that the birth would be the most tragic and life altering of the events that transpired, but it was both stunning and life-derailing for the author. Even more uncanny, Stevenson knew at the exact moment he watched his daughter’s head emerging into the world through his wife’s legs that their affair was over.

WHY?

I want to know the splitting event
The decisive moment that drove us apart.

Was it in that white hospital room
When her darling head crowned

Between your bloodied groaning thighs?
Standing proudly at your head, I thought:

You will never see her again in this profoundly
Open way. I had such strong sexual energy

Devoted to an act that is God’s
Cosmic joke, and then you laughed,

Asked why I keep returning to you,
I had only one answer, “It’s instant and love.”

I want to write you a poem
So full of magic and power
That you’ll read it and never leave me.

Stevenson had no empirical evidence to support the conclusion that at the precise moment a new life was beginning a prior life would come to an end, but his inner voice advises him as such, and so, there it is. Life in all it’s conundrums.

Dear You is simply, achingly, this: a story of a man who loses his wife. The loss is not in the classic sense through death or divorce although given how abruptly the relationship failed it may as well have been. A traumatic change of heart? Possibly. A near death experience in childbirth? Perhaps. Too much pressure to return to the conjugal bed? Could be. Or was the fruit of the union — the child — more than enough emotion for the mother to hold. After all, the process and pain of childbirth is tumultuous, scary, and maybe closer to God than any of us will ever get while still walking around in our human suits. Before modern medicine, women regularly died in childbirth. Even with modern medicine, some women experience a postpartum depression so severe that it may take months, even years before they return to their own selves while the helpless father sits attentive, ready to assist, but unable to cross the great divide between those two disparate selves that are now joined in the body of that tiny beautiful little baby. How can a father compete against such helplessness? How can he suppress such unbridled longing? The answer is, he can’t.

Stevenson tries valiantly, and sadly, fails, but he leaves behind a collection of poems depicting the war he wages against his new found isolation, punctuated by one of the most despicable, definitive words to pass between lovers: no. For anyone who’s loved and lost, Dear You is your comrade in arms.

Next up:  an interview with Wade Stevenson.

p.j.lazos 1.17.16

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Flutes and Tomatoes – A Memoir With Poems

“I became sensitive to every vibration in the air, to every nuance of the changing light. It would be late afternoon. It was then that the snake of emptiness would tighten around my throat. It was hard to breathe. I didn’t know if I could make it to the next day. There was a bottle of red wine on the chair. I grabbed and gulped it and enjoyed the warm swish of the liquid down my throat.” Wade Stevenson, Flutes and Tomatoes, A Memoir With Poems

Flutes and Tomatoes, A Memoir With Poems by Wade Stevenson is not at all what I imagined it would be. Let me start with a confession: poetry confounds me. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the cadence, the sentiment, the succinct nature of the writing; it’s just that I don’t always understand it. Without a context, it could be a metaphor for anything which is exactly the commonality of human emotion the poet intentionally taps into, but for a reader like me who wants certainty, assuredness, a good clean ending, the myriad possibilities that poetry presents can be downright frightening. That’s why I love this hybrid memoir/poem combo platter by Wade Stevenson. There was no guessing as to what had happened to make the poet lock himself in a basement studio in Paris with a bunch of tomatoes and a flute because he tells us, straight off, that he’s in mourning, that his lover has quite unexpectedly died, that he’s not coming out of the basement until he discovers the meaning of it all, or alternatively, learns to live with it. Having been apprised of the situation from the offset, I could relax, free to roam the pages of Stevenson’s poems, spending as much or more time on each as I felt necessary to understand because I’d been released from the chore of deciphering the code. I already had the rudimentary understanding; the rest was pure — wait for it — poetry, and it was illuminating and lovely.

I think poets, more than novelists, are the epitome of private people. Full disclosure is near impossible which is why they cloak everything in layers of metaphor. As with all good poetry, Flutes and Tomatoes is no exception. Stevenson keeps the details, crushing as they were, in the safety of his private zone. We have no idea, despite the broad brush of events, as to what actually happened in the atelier in Paris: how the lovers met, whether they were young or old, how long they were together, whether they spoke the same language or were perhaps the same sex, whether the trip to the countryside would have been the first or the last. All we know is that the flute and more than a dozen tomatoes remained, the flute maybe because Stevenson and his lover shared a flat. The tomatoes because, as he discloses, they were gathered/stolen from a farmer’s field on a trip that should have been but was/not.

Judge for yourself what could possibly happen to you that would cause you to spend a day, a week, a month, perhaps an entire summer living a solitary existence, just you and an external object(s) of your choice. How devastating the shock? How debilitating the news? It’s unclear from the text how long Stevenson remained underground. Long enough for the tomatoes to rot, for grief to move in with its own baggage and take up excess floor space in his sparsely furnished apartment, for questions of the existential nature of reality — living as he was, at the time, in Europe, the birthplace of existentialism — to be answered, or go unanswered, for him to turn on a tomato or two, to watch them rot and fester and disintegrate into nothingness, to violently throw one against a wall, to embrace his own darkness and ultimately his own light. It’s not an existence for a cowardly heart, perhaps not even a tomato heart. In the end, only the experience remained, and the words, resonating with an emotion the color of tomato.

Tomato Heart

If you choose not to eat it
A tomato quickly becomes useless
Unless by chance you learned to love it
Knowing buried deep inside
Are seeds of water and sunlight
To you it is transformed, a crimson flower
You watch its pink petals fall
Think of everything that might have been
Desires, sorrows and regrets
How to reconcile the shadow of your soul
With your real self? Tenderly, with blind
Fingers you touch the precious skin
As it swells and dilates
Like some enormous empty heart

p.j.lazos 12.9.15

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Doug Holder Interviews Poet Alexis Ivy author of Romance with Small Time Crooks

Alexis Ivy is a poet and worker in a homeless shelter in Cambridge, Mass. She recently completed her B.A. in English from Harvard University. Her most recent poems have appeared in Main Street Rag, Off The Coast, Spare Change News, Tar River Poetry, The Santa Fe Literary Review, Eclipse, Yellow Medicine Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, J Journal and upcoming in The Worcester Review. Her first poetry collection, Romance with Small-Time Crooks was published in 2013 by BlazeVOX [books]. She is finding a home for her next collection, Taking the Homeless Census which has been a runner-up for University of Wisconsin's Brittingham & Felix Pollack Prize. Holder interviewed her on his award-winning Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.

 

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Nine by Anne Tardos Reviewed in Jacket2

 

Stu Watson: A Review of NINE by Anne Tardos

· Paperback: 148 pages

· Binding: Perfect-Bound

· Publisher: BlazeVOX [books] 

· ISBN: 978-1-60964-226-6

 

Anne Tardos’s Nine is a sequence of nine-word lines grouped in nine-line stanzas. This metric which involves the counting of words rather than accents or syllables has a radically leveling quality. Suddenly “temporomandibular” and “I” are of the same metrical value, based on their simple, monadic quality as “words.” As employed through Tardos’s artistry, this form, sometimes referred to as “counted verse,” feels appropriate to our historical moment. It is as though these nine-by-nine grids are architectural blocks, constituent elements in a particular kind of linguistic structure. In its porous inflexibility the form mirrors the empirical reality of infrastructure, of the walls that separate our homes and the streets and subway tunnels that convey us through the world—the commonplace yet all-but-invisible concrete around which our lives are constructed. But it also parallels our desire for ratiocination and “numbers”—“more data”—on which to base our political or personal decisions. The meaning of these poems is often generated by the resistance, dissonance, and lateral freedom they demonstrate within such bounds.

This dissonance leads the poems to express a curious kind of self-referentiality aimed at their form. And so we see concluding lines that offer statements like: “The ninth line is often problematic, as we see.” “The ninth often gets to deliver a punchline.” “The ninth usually knows the way out of here.” Each line of each poem is end-stopped, which further delimits the language, yet Tardos at times follows up a line in such a way so as to hint at enjambment, as in “It’s So Quiet Somehow”:

 

It’s so quiet today—don’t know what to say.

The uncertainty of the uncertainty and then the uncertainty.

Is the road we take imagined or already given?

Are we inventing our lives as we live them?

Why do we ask questions no one can answer?

Have we finally found a groove, you and I?

A modus vivendi that’s livable for both of us?

Don’t you hate a poem that’s full of questions?

Shouldn’t I try to answer some of them somehow?

 

The way the second and third lines abut suggests a continuity, as though “uncertainty…Is the road we take…” but the poem resists this interpretation in its syntax, as the third line instead “resolves” into a question. The final seven interrogatory lines modulate between concrete images and abstract musings before concluding by turning on their own need for questioning—and raising the specter of an “answer” that, by virtue of its appearance in the terminal ninth line, cannot be offered. Just as an individual, when faced with some bureaucratic encumbrance will sometimes comply but do so unhappily, so these poems always reach their appointed end, but are not always “happy” in doing so, and they let us know this.

Read the whole review here

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My Secret Wars of 1984 by Dennis Etzel, Jr reviewed in the Volta Blog

 

Review: My Secret Wars of 1984 by Dennis Etzel, Jr.

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by Laura Madeline Wiseman

“You put your thumb on a button and somebody blows up 20 minutes later, says Ronald Regan,” writes Dennis Etzel, Jr. in the closing poem of My Secret Wars of 1984, a book that examines the words written and spoken by cultural figures like Ronald Regan during the culturally significant literary year of 1984. For Etzel, 1984 was the year he entered high school from middle school, the year his mother came out, and the year he played Dungeons and Dragons, while also reading books that appeared that year such as Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars. Etzel’s secret war reads like a chorus, for the voices here with quotes arranged alphabetically in 366 sentences for the leap year of 1985 include bell hooks, Lyn Hejinian, George Orwell, popular culture writers and editors, and the national weather service, for this storm of language also alludes to an ice storm in Topeka, Kansas, one that sheathed the city in cold, left over 80% of the population without power, and destroyed hundreds of trees trying to bare the weight of two inches of ice. Arranged as blocks of text, the poems offer voices that echo and complicate, layering meaning as they seem to reflect and trouble who spoke that year and why. Etzel writes,

An unspent lunch money becomes a sustenance of comic books. And a number of pages were excised by that agency head there, the man in charge, and he sent it on up here to CIA, where more pages were excised before it was printed, says Ronald Reagan. And as soon as we have an investigation and find out where any blame lies for the few that did not get excised or changed, we certainly are going to do something about that, says Ronald Reagan. And as the heroes watch, they are watched in turn. And each evening the pace back home matches the sun’s setting. And I start high school at my lowest. And now we are putting up a defense of our own, says Ronald Reagan. (23)

Here, former president Reagan’s quotations work as a sort of troubling reminder of the cold war tactics that pitted capitalism against communism, of the way politicians speak in the doublespeak that Orwell described in 1984, and of the concerns of teenagers finding imaginary superheroes and imaginary powers a solace amid troubling growing years, as much as the lines remind that Reagan lost his mind as so many do due to Alzheimer’s, a disease that eats holes in the brain and excises what one thought they knew by swapping it with others. The rigorous constraints of My Secret War of 1984 make this first full-length collection an enjoyable and creative read, part of the pleasure reading for how the poet turns each sentence against the ones before and after it, how the poet moves through the alphabet as much as he moves through the spoken and written thoughts produced during that year, and how such lines move against the sweeter, more innocent lines and references such as those like “Please come to my rescue, Atreyu. Please let me find a place to hide” (61), for they remind how the social and cultural world shape us, shape our children, and shaped our younger selves. My Secret Wars of 1984 show how such youth and youthful pasts are full of thinkers, individuals who question and trouble the stories told about war, government information, and gender norms. For example, Etzel quotes hooks, “Feminism defined as a movement to end sexist oppression enables women and men, girls and boys, to participate equally in revolutionary struggle” (34), a line that suggests a powerful and necessary, if secret, war against which the protagonist of such a memoir in verse struggled, one that empowers such a revolutionary poetry of resistance. Collections like My Secret Wars of 1984 that speak resistance through poems retell and reimagine the historic moment, taking on the fragmentation of information and layering it into something whole, complicated, and smart.

BlazeVOX Books (2015): $16.00

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of over twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her most recent book is Drink (BlazeVOX Books, 2015). She teaches in Nebraska. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

READ THE WHOLE REVIEW HERE 

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