Borrowed Pages – “the last day”

On the first day of September, we ended our long series of “write!” salons at JohnnyCakes Cafe in Nyack, which we “prompt”-ly eulogized in verse. Many thanks to Mary Blehl for sharing her fresh-on-the-page musings.

Our community “write!” salons continue at three other times and places this fall; check our calendar for details.


Last Day Hodgepodge 

by Mary Blehl

 

The last day never happened.

When the Volkswagen van engine blew up

Requiring another four weeks of work to pay for another

Only to have the last day not the last day

When the engine blew up again.

More money, more time.

The last day moved to a day riding with two crazy guys

Across the country

At 100 mph so we could have lots of time to sight-see

And get there in a week.

 

The last day I saw my mother

Fell on my son’s 7th birthday.

“You should go home to Erich,” she said.

I did, and never saw her again alive.

 

The last day of cleaning an apartment

To go to an owned house.

The dirt never stopped—32 hours to get it sparkling.

I wanted that security deposit

And wasn’t taking any chances.

 

The last day of writing in the coffee shop,

Remembering the prompts

Stones—how vividly I recall the family ones shifting and re-organizing

(One is missing now).

The variety of responses to the same prompt,

No repetition anywhere.

Prompts that brought out love, bloody violence, dialogue, gentle reflections, sex, memories of childhood, visual splendors, humor,

And wonder how so much could come from a simple idea.

The Hopper House –paintings and thoughts about Edward looking at the river (David loaned me his notebook).

Another kindness—half a blueberry pancake so delicious it became a poem.

Dishes crashing.

Comfy 50s tables and funky atmosphere.

No formality.

Food surrounds like mother’s milk.

Children’s voices,

Professional waitresses whisking your coffee,

Bright lights – you can see the food.

Does the men’s room also have a porthole window and permanent dust greased in the corners?

The end of something good feels final, unwanted.

Yet other last days exude relief.

Let go of the past.

Yippee! It’s over.

This one may not really be the last.

We carry on…

 

Guest poet Rachel Eliza Griffiths @ The Carson McCullers House, Nyack NY

We lit up another full house for poetry on June 9, as local writers and musicians opened the mic for featured guest Rachel Eliza Griffiths at the Carson McCullers House in Nyack, NY.

Our open mic stretched to include eight readers and songwriters while Griffiths battled rush hour on Tappan Zee Express. With performances from some regular attendees of our community writing groups, some new friends, and two even newer wordsmiths from Nyack High School to delight us, the evening sweetened through the backdrop of falling evening light and a breeze from the Hudson River through the open doors to the screen porch.

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Rachel Eliza Griffiths, a poet and visual artist, read from her most recent collection, Lighting the Shadow (Four Way Books). With effervescence and humor, as if just arrived on a rocket ship instead of a late commuter bus, Griffiths offered insight into her writing process, her interest in the work and life of Frida Kahlo, and past and upcoming projects. Her other poetry collections are Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books), The Requited Distance (Sheep Meadow Press), Mule & Pear (New Issues Poetry & Prose). Her visual and literary work appears widely in a broad range of publications, including The New York Times, Poets & Writers, American Poetry Review, Callaloo, and Guernica. Griffiths has received fellowships from Yaddo, Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, Vermont Studio Center, Millay Colony, and the Cave Canem Foundation. Her video project, P.O.P, which gathers more than 100 contemporary poets in intimate interviews, is now featured online by the Academy of American Poets. She is currently teaching creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the Institute of American Indian Arts. (Whew!)

Our thanks to Nick Norwood, the director of CSU’s Carson McCullers Center for Writers & Musicians, for co-hosting this event with River River Writers Circle. Thanks to all who signed up for the open mic and to everyone who attended. Stay in touch for future readings and events!

Mother says~

To honor all of our mothers and the start of Mother’s Day weekend, our Friday afternoon community writing salon took up this prompt: “Your mother said, ….” A loving tribute to relationships and many tender stories followed. Enjoy these few borrowed pages from our writers. Happy Mother’s Day!


Come Home When You Can

by Steven Swank

 

Things my mother said:

Be kind to strangers, we are all going somewhere.

Don’t use so much peanut butter….
that jar has to last us all week.

Tell the truth, seems simple enough,
don’t hide your mistakes by making up stuff.

Come home when you can, she said.
Your father and I are here on the farm
waiting your safe return.

I return many times:

In sickness, in health, with girlfriends, without,
with joyous exuberance, burns, injuries, doubt,
from hitchhiking New England in winter or fall
or across the country, I return from them all.

Once with a girlfriend with whom I was living,
we came to celebrate with family Thanksgiving;
the sleeping arrangement raised their alarm,
so to sleep together, we go to the barn.

I think about these things as the coroner
and funeral guys lift her unceremoniously
onto death’s gurney, then wheel her
through the house and out the door.

Continue reading “Mother says~”

Editor’s Eye

At the risk of this blog post sounding something like a Dierks Bentley song, I can easily say what I was feeling in this set of poems featured in the fall issue of River River… but what was I thinking? Let me see if I can shoot some holes in the tailgate called editorial process.

My favorite aspect of this group of poems is the way it demands its freedom to demand, in a resonant voice of plaintive enjoyment. Un-untwistable metaphors entertain and delight me more than technique. The singularity of the Mobius strip, the endlessness of a mandala knot, the beginning and ending somehow different because of a slide down the curly slide all begin to describe the effect of these permanently kinked metaphor-strings.

Continue reading “Editor’s Eye”

Patience, clarity, and the “glimmer factor”

In anticipation of our upcoming 6-week workshop, “Step into Revision,” here’s a brief discussion on the topic. And, following typical revision advice (“Show, don’t tell”), our Fiction Editor, Donna Lee Miele, demonstrates the art of clarifying character motivation, improving syntax and word choices, and creating momentum in a scene.

Patience: First Draft and the Revision Persona

In prose or poetry, fiction or personal essay, revision begins in the first draft as the nagging, questioning voice of self-doubt. Most of us begin hearing that voice in the middle of the first paragraph! That voice is your revision persona. As you press forward, make note of that persona-non-grata’s questions and comments in a separate file or notebook. Then ask her to kindly get out of your way. Be determined, but don’t rush your first draft. The first principle of writing, and re-writing, is patience.

Continue reading “Patience, clarity, and the “glimmer factor””

Editor’s Eye – Poems

A telescopic tour of the poetry featured in our inaugural issue–

A few steps into a poem and you know you’re in trouble. The sudden sweep of imagery or spare sounds, like a current across a shallow river’s-edge, knocks you down into the muddy silt of language. Soggily, you take a seat on a tree stump or bench, and the river poem reveals itself as galaxy pulsing with the competitive gravitational forces of supernovae verbs, dark-matter participles, and adjectives that act like binary star systems.

In “American God,” a sequence of kinetic verbs—strip, tear, attack, pull, throw, whisper—leads to shear, which explodes in multiple dimensions of suggested meaning. Shear the god’s beard, and the word suggests its homophone, sheer, which can mean diaphanous (as a fabric) or unmitigated (for emphasis) or precipitous (as a cliff).

As we fly off with the congealing debris of supernova elements, the poems “jumper” and “The Gargoyle” swallow us into dark, energetic descriptors. In “jumper,” the sequence builds from trembling, evolved, ascended, and aimed into pushed, compressed, distorted, and discarded. “The Gargoyle” is painted almost entirely in participles, until the end of the poem where watching unexpectedly twists up an actual verb with a verbal, or what happens when dark matter meets light.

Fields of oppositional forces pulse with nodes of intensity alternating with nodes of tranquility, and “42nd St-Times Square Subway” offers exactly that: a high-voltage, alternating-current experience. The binary sensibility of adjectives within a line’s-length of each other—concrete/natural, filthy/electric, muted/loud—pushes and pulls us aboard the train and its subterranean conduits. In “Wanting to Be,” the uncoupling of arid/swamp and small/long occurs because of the non-binary fallow/alluvial. Where we land—in muck or dreams—depends on the stream of the poem and how wet with starlight our boots have gotten.

A. Anupama