Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Eggs of Summer: Camp, Cooking Class, Santa Fe Poetry Reading

I’m marking summer by kid camp, for sure, as mothers of littles do. First year all three of mine are old enough to go to Junior Lifeguard Camp and adrenaline-crazed enough to attend back-to-back sessions! Out they trundle, reeking of sunscreen under the Coronado June gloom mist. Back they come under blue skies to litter every inch of the house with sand, sprawling their sun blonde limbs across the living room rug. Fridge door opens and closes like a windmill, shelves emptying faster than we can replenish them. Even the broccoli!

We are still celebrating my first poetry book’s release, November Butterfly (Saddle Road Press, November 2014) so I’m reading in Santa Fe at Garcia Books in August with poet friends Barbara Rockman and Robyn Hunt. Here’s a facebook page for the event:  Facing Forward, Looking Back: Poetry Reading. Then I’m off to attend A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Summer 2015 retreat at Ghost Ranch as the Marg Chandler Fellow (an honor).

Here’s a poem for you from the new poetry manuscript I’m writing based on an Illinois commune I lived on during my childhood. I wrote “Cooking Class” when Tweetspeak Poetry put out a call for poems on the theme of blue jeans back in April. At the mercy of universal bad timing usually reserved for the opening of car doors (into those of adjacent cars), I had just sent my only blue jean poem into circulation.

Tweetspeak (via Twitter) introduced me to a writer named Amy Billone; thanks to some mutual “egging” on of one another, we both managed to draft poems you’ll find in Tweetspeak’s e-book, Casual: a little book of jeans poems and photos (available for free during National Poetry Month, 2016, or if you want a copy sooner, you can become a Tweetspeak supporter at the $15 level, details for the e-book Casual here). The book is edited by L.L. Barkat, cover image by Susan Etole.

Cooking Class, Illinois, Mid 70s

Along her immaculate counter: silo
of red-handled sifter, bright order
of silver spoons, lemon bales of butter

softening in late winter light. In cupboards
her husband the carpenter built, bars
of Baker’s Chocolate, dried figs, quartered

apricots and Mason Jars of brined harvest.
A good cook puts up her hair, wears
apron, stores flour in freezer to keep

Boll Weevils out, uses shells of her egg
as a tool to separate yolk from white.
She also wears dresses, I learned,

when for donning jeans, she informed me
she no longer wished me to babysit. She cited,
over the phone to my mother, the effect

it might have on her son, the kind of wife
he might choose, the man he’d become
as I chased him on my hands and knees round

living room’s glass table she refused to move
when he was born. He’d learn, she’d said, he’d learn
soon enough, where he stopped and she began.

I love that writing prompts have the power to take us into the labyrinth of memories. You never know which one will light up. Try it—just write “blue jeans” across the top of a blank page—and let me know what happens.

Reflecting back on the situation of the poem--50s values prevailing in the 70s--I can see that I emerged relatively unscathed emotionally from being fired for wearing jeans. True, I loved the little boy and the babysitter snacks rated. I’d lose out on some pocket change.

But there was a hidden gift, a form of ferocious love us firstborns covet. My mother slammed down the phone and raged to my father in the next room while my body tingled with collateral adrenaline. Seconds later she stormed in and said, “You are not going back there. Ever. No one tells my girl she has to wear a skirt.”  One of her finest Mother Bear moments.

Related Links:

I solicited a beautiful post by Amy Billone at Mother Writer Mentor about the writing of her blue jeans Haiku for her son, My Baby Boy’s Jeans. 

All the photos in the post are by my poetry movie collaborator Robyn Beattie.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Vasectomy Sonnet, Fathers in the Birth Room, and a Poetry of Fatherhood Exercise

Photo by Robyn Beattie
Only you’d joke through a vasectomy, / 
Sitting up to view the clamp pinching shut / 
Your vas deferens (of its lobe fished free… / 

—excerpt from Paybacks, by Tania Pryputniewicz, A Year in Ink, San Diego Writer’s Ink Anthology, Volume 8

A Year in Ink,San Diego Writers, Ink Anthology, Volume 8 is now out and available for purchase (prose editor Dean Nelson; poetry editor reg e gaines, cover image by Margaret Larlham). The anthology holds 145 pages of prose and poetry and includes work by Jill G. Hall, Jim Moreno, Judy Reeves, Ron Salisbury, Anitra Carol Smith and 43 more authors. 

In his introduction, poetry editor reg e gaines offers this fabulous reminder regarding the role of a poem’s title: “It must allow the reader freedom to imagine, not serve as a sign leading to an exit ramp.”  What great advice; I’ll be revisiting all of my poem titles with that in mind! 

The anthology also includes the rest of the vasectomy sonnet, Paybacks, for my husband; he’s fond of saying that if I would just write poems about him, the clouds might drop their bounty of dimes upon our roof. We’ll see!

I was going through a “forms” frenzy when I wrote Paybacks. I also loved the challenge of writing about a male process from a female perspective. The sonnet form doesn’t leave leeway for rambling; it forced me to radically distill the memory of witnessing the vasectomy. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was already composing the sonnet back then, but I certainly couldn’t shut off my poet’s mind that day. There I was, sitting at the foot of the operating table, nursing our third child while the doctor snipped and cauterized: “proof of potency”—our baby--colliding with “bye bye potency”—stitched husband. I had the best view in the house, just as my husband had the best seat for the labor, birth, and follow up episiotomies we endured for our three children. I figured I owed him a “witnessing” or two.

Fathers in the Birth Room

Photo by Royn Beattie
I take it a bit for granted my husband could (and did) accompany me in the labor and delivery rooms; I can’t imagine not crushing his hand through contractions, not having him there as each infant crowned. But when I asked my own father about his access a scant fifty or so years ago, he wrote:

When you were about to be born I was allowed in the room during labor, but they kicked me out before the actual birthing.  This was at St. Luke's.  When I took your Mom to the hospital in Rochester for your brother’s debut I expected the same… and was dismayed when I wasn't even allowed to go up to the maternity ward!  I remember standing outside the elevator in shock as the doors closed.  I can only imagine how that felt for your mother.

By the time your little sister came along I was allowed in the delivery room for the entire event.  St. Luke's again.  I remember a very festive atmosphere. Your sister looked luminescent, silvery and pale violet.  Her voice sounded like music.  The doctor quipped, "$250, please!" (the fee for prenatal care and delivery at that time). We all found that hilarious!

What about you? Would love to hear in comments from other mothers and fathers. I also set about to find poems about tubal ligation. Do you know of any? Do tell, in comments, if so.

Poetry of Fatherhood Exercise

Here’s a related writing exercise for you to try from my Poetry of Fatherhood Class:

Consider landing on a parallel metaphor for the experience of circumcision or vasectomy, as Thom Ward does in, “Vasectomy” (May 1996, The Atlantic online)Brainstorm a list of potential metaphors and images before you start writing to jumpstart your process. If neither of these experiences figure for you, your father, or your child, write about any other tangentially related experience located in the male body that has to do with fatherhood (“couvade” syndrome, for example, vicarious pregnancy, a term from the French term “couvee”—to hatch).

I also used a poem by Greg Wrenn, “Circumcision” (I was not able to find it online; it was published in Crazyhorse, 2011). See also a poem by Phillip Appleman, Vasectomy.

Photo by Robyn Beattie
The Moon and The Devil at Tarot for Two

Mary Allen and I continue to co-blog at Tarot For Two. Here are excerpts from our Card of the Month writings. Both of us refer to the Thoth deck, painted by Lady Frieda Harris, and the Rider-Waite deck, painted by Pamela Waite Smith:

Tania on the Moon Card:

I think of Frida Kahlo’s bathtub portrait (What I Saw in the Water, also known by the title, What the Water Gave Me) painted from inside pain’s hyper alert state of slowed time. We could say it is Frida’s Moon map, memories bobbing on the surface of the water, stilled for her to see. And for us to witness, looking over her shoulder, blessing vicariously her story and our own buried sorrow wicked to the surface in resonant sympathy.

Mary on the Devil Card:

The Devil in the Rider-Waite deck has harpy feet, bat wings, and a reversed pentagram on his forehead, and the Devil in the Tarot of Marseille (this was the first tarot deck I ever had, bought on a whim when I saw it at a bookstore, the images turned out to be way too abstract for me to even begin to make heads or tails of) – that Devil has boobs, a face on the belly, eyes on the knees, male genitalia, and its own set of bat wings.  What could all these images possibly be telling me during the last month?

Read rest of our post: The Moon and The Devil.

Saddle Road Press News:

ARCs of RuthThompson’s new poetry chapbook Crazing are here; here is a review by Jendi Reiter; you'll find two poems from the chapbook there as well, "Mary Speaks" and "Losing the Words." I love the cover image and the poems by Ruth Thompson (my editor for November Butterfly at Saddle Road Press). We will be running a poem from Crazing at Mother Writer Mentor shortly and I will share the link with you when it is up.

November Butterfly in Santa Fe

Facing Forward, Looking Back is the title for a reading I’ll be giving with two other poets and dear friends: Barbara Rockman and Robyn Hunt. We will read on Sunday, August 9, 2:00 p.m. at Garcia Street Books, 376 Garcia Street, Santa Fe. The event is free and open to the public. I'll be reading from November Butterfly; here's what you can expect in Santa Fe:

Sharing a passion for the journeys of family, marriage and poetry’s power as renewal through myth and story, the poets will read from collections that transform individual quests to make sense of love, grief, trauma, history and an unsettled world. They will read from their recent books as well as from new work.

Here are bios for my fellow readers Robyn Hunt and Barbara Rockman:

Robyn Hunt ran offset printing presses and owned a bookstore in California before returning to her native Santa Fe where she is Development and Communications Director for Las Cumbres Community Services, serving families with social emotional challenges and disabilities. She obtained her degree at California State University at San Francisco and on the streets of that city in the seventies. Her poems resound with the landscape and language, images and rhythms of northern New Mexico.  Robyn blogs at “As Mourning Doves Persist.” Of her debut collection, “The Shape of Caught Water,” Jimmy Santiago Baca said, “These poems strum the lyre strings of the heart to conjure olé music.”

Barbara Rockman has taught poetry and generative writing workshops since 1999 when she earned an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts after a career as an arts education program developer and theater director. Her widely published work has received numerous prizes and her collection, “Sting and Nest,” received the New Mexico-Arizona Book Award. She is workshop director for Wingspan Poetry Project, bringing writing classes to Esperanza Shelter for Battered Women.  A frequent collaborator with artists, her poems have accompanied installations and exhibitions. Of her work, poet, David Wojahn says, “She has the capacity to wrest celebration from our failings, sorrows, and confusions.”

Related links:

To see more of my poetry movie collaborator's photography, visit Robyn Beattie's website.