Blue Five Notebook – (October 2014 / 14.19)
Artist, Robin Grotke, is an artist and photographer living in southeastern North Carolina. Her inspiration is drawn from nature, people and cultures, emotions and humor, new life and decay, present moments and distant memories. Grotke’s work focuses on the sensation of “being there,” taking the viewer to the location of the photograph so that he/she feels as she did when the image was taken. Of the art included in this month’s issue, Grotke tells us: “‘Crows in the Woods'” is a combination of a scanned drawing (duplicated), layered over a picture I took at Fort Fisher, NC.”
Ann Yu Huang
For there are warm words in each doorstep;
There is syrup of bread that feeds on the seasons,
Those ever tucked-in tuberoses; the ground
We dig into until the green pastures change;
A torch with few fireflies to extinguish
My inner volcano fuming against all the bright souls.
An ocean’s wilderness of turbulent waters, is unmatched
By clear clouds; the golden sun disappears
As if they were hinged on the grand darkness,
Narrow, crystal, with the French tulips wrapped all around.
You fill age with good memories, smiling at the Lovers’ Reflector.
You feel like a young goat, wide-legged and far-fetched.
Ann Yu Huang was born in Shanghai, China and moved to Mexico when she was a teen. She graduated from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and currently resides in Newport Beach, California. In October 2012, Finishing Line Press published her first chapbook Love Rhythms, a collection reviewed and noted by Orange County Metro. Huang’s newest poetry collection, White Sails has been selected for Cherry Grove imprints by WorldTech Communications and will become available in bookstores by May 2015.
I step outside from the door of my flat, lock it, and turn around to head down the walkway of the two-storey block of flats to the stairs. In the middle of the walkway there is a praying mantis. It’s green, with yellow eyes. It sees me, and starts swaying from side to side in a menacing way. It seems to be warning me off. It has its front claws raised in that praying mantis pose. It reminds me of the film Karate Kid. I imitate the Karate Kid and mantis. We stay there, locked in that position. I’m late for work, I have to go. I step around the mantis.
“You win” I say
When I come back from work, tired, the mantis is still there in the same place. This time it doesn’t assume the warning stance, I step round it, keeping my distance.
The next day, I head off to work again. The mantis is still there, in the same place. I wonder why no one has stood on it yet. I step round it, careful to keep my distance again. I head off to work. When I come back, it’s raining and I have a transparent plastic umbrella in my hand. The mantis isn’t there in its usual place. As I’m heading to the door with my key, I see it. Nestled under one of the lights, hiding from the rain. I wonder why it’s still here.
The next day, I check to see if the mantis is on the light. It is. It’s still there, but now there is a smaller mantis there too. The bigger one doesn’t seem to have noticed the small one creeping up on her. I don’t say anything, I just head off to work.
When I come back, there is only one mantis there again, unless you count the head of the small mantis, which the big one is gripping in its folded claws and munching on with its mandibles.
I go into my flat. I close my eyes. I open them again and turn on the TV. Some girls’ head has been found on a beach in Chiba. I think about the mantis, eating its mate. I think about spiders, devoured by their own children. I think about humans. I don’t know what to think.
Stephen Prime is a cantankerous Yorkshire man, living in Tokyo where he teaches at a university. He is currently undertaking a PhD in Applied Linguistics; writing creative works is a form of escape. His work has been previously published in Aesthetica, The Vein, and Randomly Accessed Poetics among other places.
George J. Farrah
As if there were no one alive here
I have dug out my memory as earth
boat error of rain
my hearts are stacked like chairs
and we are always walking
my eyes have become lights
dusted outside in August
George J. Farrah has been published widely nationally. He received an MFA from Bard College, NY.
They settled into the back of the cab.
“What was so funny?” the dark haired one asked.
“Just that guy,” said the blonde.
“The Brad Pitt guy?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“What was so funny?”
“He is just full of himself, you know.”
“He totally thinks it.”
“So what happened?”
“It’s too mortifying.”
“No. I can’t. I don’t like to talk about sex.”
“You love to talk about sex.”
“But not about me.”
“Yeah. Yeah. How about the time you were on the kitchen table…”
“… do not remind me.”
“Give it up.”
“Ok. Ok. He’s been hanging around. Talking about what a hot lover he is.”
“I got these tickets for a black tie deal and I was trying to figure out who I could get to put on a tuxedo and he happened to come by and he was not as obnoxious as usual so I asked him.”
“So we went and then we had a few drinks and he was very elegant.”
“When we got back to the building, I was in the mood.”
“I tell you, that guy should just shut up, you know, he was looking good but as soon as we got upstairs he started talking and I was feeling like this was a mistake and so I just told him to just shut up for christ’s sake and, miracle of miracles, he does.”
“Well next thing we were all tangled up in his tuxedo; it was like trying to open a federal express package…”
“I doubt it..”
“Finally, we got over to the bed and got hooked up.”
“You know I have been training for the Broad Street Run.”
“Girl. I don’t want to hear about your running.”
“Seriously. I have been training and sometimes I get cramps in my calves, particularly when I have been wearing heels.”
“Its so embarrassing.”
“We’re lying on the bed. And he’s working away. All of a sudden my right calf starts to clench. I try to ignore it but ….”
“What’s he say?”
“He is oblivious. Pumping away. And when I try to get into a new position, he just moans and pumps harder.”
“Boom! A full fledged cramp; it just seizes up solid.”
“What did you do?”
“I screamed. My leg is a complete knot. I jerked loose and grabbed my calf with both hands. I was crying.”
“Scared the shit out of him?”
“You see, just as I screamed he was …”
“You got it.
“I finally get my calf to loosen and I lie back.”
“What did he say?”
“He rolled over and looked at me with those Brad Pitt eyes like he is Mr. Stud and said, ‘I told you I was good…’”
Jay Xuret is a San Francisco writer and illustrator. His stories have appeared in many online and print journals. He blogs at www.jayxuret.wordpress.com.
Elizabeth Cantonwine Schmidt
Playing with Fire
A boy stole matches from the drawer
and slunk down the stair to the room
with the half door. His brother waited
inside, lights out. It was so hot
they took off their shirts,
breathed in the dark pitch of the wall.
A thousand times they’d watched
their father light a match –
absently while talking to their mother
or watching TV, without thought
at the table. In his ease, their father
was like those men who built skyscrapers
and ate their lunches on steel beams
half mile up with no fear of falling.
The boys loved him for that.
Elizabeth Cantonwine Schmidt lives and writes in Dayton, Ohio. Her poems have appeared in Mock Turtle Zine and been featured on WYSO’s (Yellow Springs, OH) poetry program, Conrad’s Corner.
A Review by Kelly Cherry
Marie Slaight, The Antigone Poems
Poems by Slaight. Drawings by Terrence Tasker. 96 pgs.
Altaire Production and Publication, 2014
It is in the nature of a play to present to its audience a dilemma: a choice between alternatives, none of them agreeable. A play may therefore be said to be the most philosophical of art forms, as its personae grapple for a solution to the (unresolvable) dilemma. This is seen very clearly in Greek drama and, while it is usual to say that Presocratic philosophy stemmed from considerations of nature, it seems likely that classic Greek philosophy (Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, et al.) was sharply influenced or inflected by Greek drama. In particular, the play Antigone, by the tragedian Sophocles, sets two characters, Antigone herself and the king of Thebes, Creon, in opposition.
Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, follows her heart and “divine law” (here, the previous practices of the community), whereas Creon behaves as if he is above the people. Creon has declared Antigone’s brother, Polyneices, a traitor; it is, he has decreed, thus a crime to bury the body, which has been left out in the open to be ravaged by wild animals. Antigone cannot bear this; she feels she must, as the practice has previously been, as divine law requires, honor her brother by burial, even though she knows Creon will punish her for it with death. Her action is one of civil disobedience, and civil disobedience cannot be borne by the community for long. Indeed, Creon does sentence her to death. This is in spite of the fact that his own son, Haemon, is betrothed to her and in bitter disagreement with his father. Antigone decides to commit suicide before Creon can have her killed. Learning that she has done this, Haemon kills himself in sorrow and anger. Creon’s wife, Eurydice, kills herself when her son kills himself.
A domino row of deaths as will happen later in Shakespeare’s tragedies.
None of this is in The Antigone Poems.
The Antigone Poems is a beautifully made object. Only every other page is printed. The book has a section-sewn binding. Charcoal drawings on French folds are striking and fierce, conveying a strong sense of the otherness of ancient Greece. For the ancient Greeks were not at all like us: their language was a wild cry in the dark, a wailing wind; their battles were savage; their gods hard and desperate; their people superstitious.
It is these attributes of the ancient Greeks that Marie Slaight’s poems capture, not the play. Her interest, I think, is not in the play; it is in the figures of the play, all of whom are larger than life, tragic, restricted by rules and duty: ardent, violent, severe. The drawings reflect these qualities; they are aggressive and haunting, even brutal, and the use of charcoal suggests a darkness that cannot be alleviated. Slaight and Tasker collaborated on this book in the seventies; they were then living in Montreal and Toronto. It’s not often that a forty-year-old manuscript finds its way to publication, but we are fortunate that this one has done so. Here is the opening poem in Chapter One:
In my skull (all)
The hungry cawing.
In tormented call.
In my heart (only)
The last flutter.
In whispered song.
We might take the cawing to be discordant, argumentative voices. Antigone hears them, all of them, in her head. Perhaps the call, the cawing, is destructive and scorching, like fire. Perhaps her heart is like the last rook or crow fluttering. A fluttering thing falls. The call is reduced to a whisper of a song. The end is anguish.
Maybe. Am I reading too much, or the wrong things, into it? But I suspect Slaight wasn’t worried that a reader might misinterpret her poem. She wanted to convey the world of the play more than the play; she wanted to convey Antigone’s state of mind. Hence, poems.
In Chapter Two Antigone speaks of “daemon ancestry,” referring to the line of mythological Theban predecessors including Oedipus, destined to kill his father, and marry his mother, and to blind himself when he learned what he had done. A seemingly abstract little poem —
In every crevice
— speaks, I believe, of the intensities in this troubled family and the poisoning of each generation by the previous.
Chapter Three takes us through Antigone’s death. Having been walled up by Creon, she hangs herself. Haemon, desperate and heartbroken, loyal to his father and loving Antigone, conflicted between both, dies on his sword. From Chapter Four: “A sword on slate / Impaled / By sunlight.” Is there no turning away from such stark events?
Not here. Chapter Five permits Antigone/the author to reflect on her ambitions:
. . . .
To live all lives, all deaths, encompass all women.
To smash every confine.
. . . .
I have written a few words
Created a few images
Influenced a few lives.
And here we are, recognizing a writer’s anguish, which may be as turbulent, as disordered, as that of a mythic heroine. Like civil disobedience, artistic endeavor, especially artistic innovation, runs the risk of offending the community in which it occurs. We hope that the artist’s (writer’s, visual artist’s, composer’s) life is not at stake but in a sense it always is: for the work is the artist’s life. Antigone protests, with her life, the injustice of Creon’s rule; in that respect, she is a revolutionary despite her affection for older ways, for religion, for divine law: a revolutionary and a feminist. At the same time, she, like all the play’s personae, are subject to fate. She is fated to be a revolutionary, and she is fated to die.
Again, that is the artist’s fate, too—unless her work survives. And how rare that is! But how much hoped for!
I imagine the artist might, as Antigone, Creon, Haemon, Eurydice do, live with such focus that he or she is blind to everything else, but would that result in a ruined life? I am merely asking questions here; I have no answers. Nor do I know anyone who has answers for these questions. There is a perpetual tug-of-war between the world and art, and the artist may make one choice at one point and another at another. Some choices, of course, preclude others, but most choices are not as dire as Antigone’s, who thinks of marrying death. Marrying death introduces a certain luridness or sensationalism into her characterization when we view it from a distance, but if we live her lines as she says them, marrying death becomes something smaller, something like an ache in her heart. Death, however, puts an end to further decisions. Antigone, Haemon, and Eurydice might or might not have influenced their future, but they are unlikely ever to know either way. The artist, I like to think, will find a way to recognize her or his individual death in the created work while yet passing beyond it to a late style (Edward Said’s formulation) that will approach the Beethoven late quartets.
Meanwhile, this book—the poems and the drawings, the paper, the cover, the printing— is serious, intelligent, one of a kind, and gorgeous. It is a major find, a supplement to or interpretation of the Sophoclean play as much as is Anne Carson’s Antigonick and more unified. (Sophocles, born nearly five hundred years B.C., was himself a writer who furthered the modernization of Greece, moving toward characterization and a natural idiom of speech.)
The Antigone Poems can be read quickly but absorbing them, and the drawings, takes more time, contemplative time. Philosophical time. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.