Marriage Fragments

Two purple plums hanging from a tree limb.                                Image by andreas N from Pixabay

My brain, like everyone’s, has its ruts. One of the mostly deeply ingrained of these is iambic pentameter: da-DUM da-DUM da- DUM da-DUM da-DUM.  Free verse (poetry without meter or a given form) doesn’t come very naturally to me.

Habits aren’t bad, but experimenting with new patterns is, IMHO, good for the brain. To break out of my habitual poetry patterns, I sometimes mimic other poems to start one of these experiments.

When I read the very fine “Portrait of Reality in Fragments” by George Alexander, I was entranced with the pattern he used and also with the conversation in his poem between the self and a younger version of the self.  I was eager to try writing a fragment poem with bits of memory juxtaposed, and the result is “Marriage Fragments.”

Originally published by the remarkable journal The Sunlight Press. The editors publish poetry, fiction, essays, and visual art. If you’re an artist or writer looking for a place to publish your work, I recommend them.

The Sunlight Press

Marriage Fragments

I wanted to love him
like my fifteen-year-old self:
lips unsplit, nose unbroken,
face without a mark
on it, my tongue tasting
of plums.

*

Seneca thought luck happened
when preparation met opportunity.
I’d like to think it was the plums’ sweetness
that prepared me
to taste the bitterness,
the differences.

*

In this marriage, my mother’s skin was,
assuredly, my own:
craving, drenched with knowing
touch and never enough touch
and never enough.

*

Rivers froze where I grew up,
and spring shattered them.
He liked to say
he un-bitched me.
Maybe so, or maybe fish
leapt from the river as sleet.

*

His father took him fishing
on Ozark rivers under
yellow honeysuckle. I wouldn’t
recognize those rivers, only
his hands, circling
a canoe paddle and his sex.

*

He asked me to marry him
the first time we had sex,
asked so easily, as if it was
his habit. I waited
him out. My river, his spring,
my differences.

***

 

Writing About Our Dead

Fireplace-hand with shell fragments
An open palm holding tiny shells and shards

It’s an honor to hold the ashes of our dead.

Some of my brother James’ ashes are in a box on the top of a bookcase in my house. The ashes of a full-grown human being are heavy, enough to fill a half-gallon jug.

His daughters and I released some of his ashes on the beach at Tybee Island two months after his death, on a cold day when the wind was sweeping up sand. His ashes mingled with the sand and the salt wind.

We have vague plans for the ashes in the box, maybe to take them to the mountains he loved and scatter some there. I’ve already scattered some in my garden. James, like me, had an affinity for the plant world.

This poem was originally published in Atticus Review , along with the image above.

Atticus Review
Fireplace

Bananas love ashes in summer.
Time to spread some in the yard.
The fireplace grate is empty.                                                                                          

It’s easy to put things off. Even fire.
No one was diligent like my brother,
who sifted broken shells for hours

looking for shark’s teeth. Once, he held
his hand out with a shattered sand dollar
to show me little bones inside.

His other hand flew up and fluttered—
he said the bones were white doves, the peace
that passes understanding. He believed

in omens and Jesus and that one thing
could also be another. Time to feed
plants? At the first thunderclap.

The grate is empty, the urn is full.
His ashes scatter under the banana trees.
Rain dissolves fine particles, but not
the shards that passed on through.

Writing About Worry

worried

I’m not prone to anxiety. Maybe it was all that LSD I took in middle school. I’ve heard it’s helpful for similar issues.

But I do worry about the young people in my family.  I love them so much, and so many of them face obstacles that seem insurmountable.

Here are two poems about those worries that were originally published in the Winter/Spring 2020 edition of Wordpeace

For audio versions of the two poems, click below.

Michele Sharpe

Michelle Sharpe poem for WP word-page-0

 

Michelle sharpe poem 2 for WP

 

Writing About Shame

grey and brown fox on open field near herd of deer
Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I’ve denied shame exists, but that’s wrong. And one thing that makes me feel deeply ashamed is being wrong. Just imagine how I felt when at 21, I found out I was adopted! I’d been wrong about quite a few things.

Here’s a poem that touches on the experience of shame, published in February, 2020 by the wonderfully daily poetry journal SWWIM.  It’s an honor to be included in their river of poems.

For Sure

Honoring Laura Hershey — #CripLit Goddess

Image result for laura hershey
Image description: Book cover featuring photo of Laura Hershey, a white woman with O2 line and wheelchair, at her desk.

The publication of a new book by an author you love is a wonderful thing, perhaps especially when that author is no longer in this world  Last month, a posthumous collection of Laura Hershey’s poetry and prose was published by The Unsung Masters Series, a project of Pleiades Press, Gulf Coast Journal, and Copper Nickel Journal.

Hershey passed away after a sudden illness in November of 2010; this came as a shock to her many friends and followers, including me. I’d met Laura when she organized a WOM-PO event at the 2010 AWP conference in Denver. About 30 women attended the lunch, exchanging news about recent books and publications.

I’d become familiar with Laura’s work through the WOM-PO listserv, and deeply admired her incisive intellect and her writing on personal and political facets of living as a disabled woman, and I was anxious to speak with her about her work. At the time, I was working on a chapbook of poems about my experience with hepatitis C and stigma. After some conversation, we embarked on an exchange of poems via email for mutual feedback.

Laura and her long-time partner Robin Stephens had recently adopted a teenage girl, and many of her poems in our brief exchange centered on her new daughter. As an adoptee raised in a fucked-up home, I had a bad taste in my mouth about adoption in general. Laura’s poems were a palate cleanser for me. I had no idea that an adoptive parent could focus, as she and Robin did, on learning all they could about who their daughter was, understanding her daughter as an individual, and acting for the benefit of their child.

The Unsung Masters Series project is an important one, but Laura Hershey was hardly unsung in the many communities she touched with her poetry, prose, and activism. For a sampling of her international influence, check out her website, which continues to live on after her death.

She put her considerable energies to work for both the theory and practice of LGBTQ and disability rights. In addition to her prolific writing, she worked with ADAPT, Not Dead Yet, and other disability rights activist groups. Among other issues, she advocated for universal design — a world that is ready-made for all of us — because, as she asked, “what could be more universal than having a body?”

One of Laura’s poems, “You Get Proud by Practicing,” was set to music and also became a rallying cry for many people with disabilities. It’s included in this important book. Here’s an excerpt:

 

You Get Proud by Practicing
by Laura Hershey

If you are not proud
For who you are, for what you say, for how you look;
If every time you stop
To think of yourself, you do not see yourself glowing
With golden light; do not, therefore, give up on yourself.
You can get proud.

You do not need
A better body, a purer spirit, or a Ph.D.
To be proud.
You do not need
A lot of money, a handsome boyfriend, or a nice car.
You do not need
To be able to walk, or see, or hear,
Or use big, complicated words,
Or do any of those things that you just can’t do
To be proud. A caseworker
Cannot make you proud,
Or a doctor.
You only need more practice.
You get proud by practicing.

Fresh Confessions

Perhaps especially because I’m a native-born #FloridaWoman, it’s a delight to have my review of Leah Claire Kaminski’s chapbook, Penninsular Scar, in this month’s Tupelo Quarterly Review

peninsula_1024x1024The title of the review, “Fresh Confessions,” refers to an observation about how the nature of confessional poetry has expanded in the twenty-first century, as exhibited in Penninsular Scar.

Like Sexton and Plath, Kaminski employs a set of private symbols that may accumulate meaning over time for the reader who follows her work. “Cypress,” for example, appears in many of the poems as a strong, durable building material that nevertheless falls to the same destruction as the rest of Florida. Unlike the confessional poets of the 20th century, however, Kaminski proceeds with a distinctively contemporary aesthetic. The confessions contained in the poems, even those contained in conversations with “my therapist,” avoid a coherent narrative by questioning a sense of self at the center of consciousness and employing syntactical disruption.

Read the full review here.

What are Crackers?

Thank you, Twitter! Last year, I saw a tweet asking “What are crackers?” and, as someone who can claim the title, I replied. Later, this poem came around, and it got published in B O D Y Literature on April 1. 2019, the first day of National Poetry Month: https://bodyliterature.com/2019/04/01/michele-sharpe/

B O D Y Cracker

Crackers, most simply, are people from Florida, or people whose ancestors have been in Florida for generations. That would be me. But language is rarely simple.

“Cracker” can be a slur hurled against working class white (or white-ish) people.

Some might say that “cracker” is the Florida version of “white trash” or “trailer trash.”

Some might say that a cracker is any white rural Southerner.

Some students of language say “cracker” comes from Middle English or Gaelic “craic,” meaning boaster, braggart, loud talker.

Some historians say the first Florida crackers were landless cowboy types in the 1700’s and 1800’s who herded cattle in the Florida backcountry using whips (the crack of the whip) and dogs.

The term has been used to denigrate loudmouth people since Shakespeare’s time. Yes, I learned this and other things about the etymology of cracker from Wikipedia.

Child Sacrifice

close up of girl covering face
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Possession of even a small piece of history can bring us power, whether it’s personal history or cultural history. Such possession can give us context for current situations, and a deeper understanding of motives and patterns of behavior.

I’ve been outraged to see so many people shocked at the government’s cruel treatment of children at America’s southern border. As if children have never been abused here. Please.

Children have always been the least powerful among us and they have always – in every country’s history – been subject to shameful cruelty and exploitation.

Writing poems and essays is one way I try to understand others and myself and to communicate my concerns. My poem, “Moloch upon Awakening,” recently published in the lovely Parentheses Journal, is an attempt to communicate the horror of both child sacrifice, and the very human complicity that makes it possible.

Click here for the full text of the poem.

I’m a Writer — Why Write Reviews?

Literary journals are often looking for book reviewers, especially for folks willing to review small press and university press publications. Writing book reviews means investing hours of your time in the serious work of analyzing and evaluating another writer’s book, and if you write them for nonprofit journals, you may be donating those hours, and earning a very modest stipend.

If you’re a reader, though, the good news is that by writing reviews, you get free books. These can be hard copy book, or e-books. Either way, they are yours to keep!

 

But if you’re a writer, you may wonder why you should spend spend time you could devote to your own stuff on reviewing other writers’ books. The answer is simple: it will make you a better writer.

Reviewing a book requires reading a book, and we all know that reading will improve our writing. Beyond the simple reading, though, is the re-reading and analysis that forces us to focus on either theme, craft or genre strategies. I always learn something important about craft while writing a book review, and it’s usally something I can put to use in my own writing.

For example, in this review of Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s poetry collection, Ornament, I considered how this poet works with form and repetition:

In addition to rhyme and meter, palilogy shapes some of these poems. As subtle as slant rhymes, repetition of individual words resonates like the often-invisible patterns in nature and in housekeeping. The poem “Trillium,” which is set outside of the home, is particularly rich in meter, palilogy, and internal rhymes.

. . . our eyes, kept closed against branches,
opened slowly to a shimmering white,
flower sleeves that lit themselves and flared

over dark leaves. Like stars, whose light is both
a wailed call and calm response, they leapt
out from shadows as we leaned down to breathe

the barest scent of pepper from their centers
and walked among green leaf and flame-white petal,
careful that our feet did not catch fire.

The review is one of several that appear in the December selections of Tupelo Quarterly,  a journal that publishes original poetry as well as reviews of poetry collections. If your chosen genre is fiction, try Necessary Fiction for reviews. And yes – reading reviews of books in your chosen genre will make you a better writer, too!