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As the title of this post indicates, the winter 2012 issue of American Athenaeum is now available for purchase in both ebook and print form here.

The cover features a starkly beautiful image by award-winning photographer Harun Mehmedinovic and features new poetry, stories, essays and articles by Steven Cramer, William Lychack, Pat Lowery Collins, Jacqueline West and others, alongside well-loved work by revered writers from the past. Our contributors come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, but all share a common desire to understand — themselves, other people, their own and other societies as well as the sometimes frightening, mystifying twists of fate.

I’ve written the editorial for the issue. It represents my continuing efforts to be understanding, to examine what understanding requires of us and what it offers us in return. As the need for understanding and compassion has only grown in our increasingly fragmented, embattled world, we at American Athenaeum are proud and honored to present this issue. We hope it will give you the hope and inspiration to keep pushing toward the better future we all need and deserve.

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In this issue, you’ll find poetry, short fiction, nonfiction stories and essays from around the world and across time. From Li Po and Mary Wollstonecraft  to new writers taking memory, cat sanctuaries, Woodstock, aging, pacifism, connections and tensions with nature, urban life, and more as their subjects, I think there’s something in it for everyone. One reviewer of the issue has kindly and aptly referred to it as “a kaleidoscope into our own humanity.” Three of my poems are also included in the issue.

Both e-book and print versions are available, so you can have it just as you like it. I also recommend checking out our Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign page. We’d appreciate it if you donate — and you’ll receive a little something from us in return — or even if you just spread the word about us. Thanks!

There are essentially two literary genres: prose and poetry. There is also prose-poetry, which is a shifting, vaguely defined form situated somewhere between the two, but many people are uncomfortable with it and relegate it to one or the other of the previously mentioned because it helps them sleep better at night.

Some people like only poetry; some people only love prose. And then there are people who love both poetry and prose. My guess is that most people love both (at least a little), or would love both if they gave themselves the chance, but many are so enamored with one that they don’t realize their attraction to the other. Either that, or they’re afraid of what their friends would think if they went for that other genre once in a while.

If it is possible to turn a prose-lover into a poetry-lover, or vice versa, that person was likely already prone to loving the genre in the first place. And just because someone who likes both genres goes on a poetry binge does not mean that s/he no longer enjoys prose. Likewise, if someone identifies mainly as a poetry lover but once in a while dips into a bit of fiction, it does not mean that they are in denial or in the act of betraying their poetry-loving cause. It just means that that’s what they’re into reading right now, and they may eventually go back to the other genre or (most often) back and forth between the two.

There are also those who enjoy a little poetry along with their prose. For these, each form enriches the reader’s experience of the other. There is nothing wrong with this.

The literary world is huge and ripe with all shades and shapes of richly rewarding experiences. There is bad poetry; there is bad prose; there is bad prose-poetry (some would say that all prose-poetry is bad, but I digress). There is also much that is good in each genre, and to deny that it is possible for someone to appreciate these simultaneously is to be myopic and petty. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what anyone reads, as long as it has value for them in their lives. One person reading poetry does not denigrate the experience of the prose reader beside him or her. To each his/her own.

Blessed are the free spirits willing to embrace all genres, for they will be bestowed with understanding.

-Fin-

A very old pastime in Japan is the collaborative creation of poetry, called renshi (previously known, with different requirements, as renku and renga). Small groups of people get together and, passing around pieces of paper, compose one verse of poetry each, creating a longer poem through linked verses. Each person takes an element or two of the previous verse and either deepens or transforms that element in a new verse, and the person after him or her does the same. For example, in Basho’s Narrow Road to the Deep North (translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa), the poet writes of the impromptu full moon-viewing party at a priest’s hermitage:

Shortly before daybreak, however, the moon began to shine through the rifts made in the hanging clouds. I immediately wakened the priest, and other members of the household followed him out of bed. We sat for a long time in utter silence, watching the moonlight trying to penetrate the clouds and listening to the sound of the lingering rain. It was really regrettable that I had come such a long way only to look at the dark shadow of the moon, but I consoled myself by remembering the famous lady who had returned without composing a single poem from the long walk she had taken to hear a cuckoo. The following are the poems we composed on this occasion:

Regardless of the weather,
The moon shines the same;
It is the drifting clouds
That make it seem different
On different nights.           – written by the priest

Swift the moon
Across the sky,
Treetops below
Dripping with rain.

Having slept
In a temple,
I watched the moon
With a solemn look.           – written by Tosei [Basho’s earlier pen name]

Having slept
In the rain,
The bamboo corrected itself
To view the moon.             – written by Sora

How lonely it is
To look at the moon
Hearing in a temple
Eavesdrops pattering.      – written by Soha

Another, shorter example of this is in Junichiro Tanizaki’s novella “Captain Shigemoto’s Mother,” set in the Heian period, which I finished reading not too long ago. In it, the lovelorn amorist Heiju paints this short poem to his married lover on the inside of her son’s arm:

The promises we exchanged so long ago have led to misery–
What was your pledge, that this should be its only trace?

The woman responds, also written on her son’s arm:

With whom did I pledge my love in the waking world?
On a fleeting path of dreams I wander, doubting who I am.

I was reminded of this tradition when a very kind reader of my poetry left a comment in one of my recent posts that included a haiku, and I left a haiku in response. While each poem is lovely on its own, the two poems together create a subtle narrative that deepens the metaphors and meaning of each.

And so I came up with the idea to post a haiku and ask readers to respond in kind. Ideally, one reader will post a haiku in the comments section in dialogue with mine, and the next reader will post a haiku in response to that one, and so on. The level of experience, with haiku or poetry in general, doesn’t matter (just give us your best); the point is to see what happens with open collaboration: where it goes, how different voices augment a poem with their own, unique insight.

Having said that, here is my poem to start us off:

This morning the fog
Clung veil-like to our windows—
Gone now, the world wakes.

It’s here! The Sugar Mule “Women Writing Nature” issue containing my first published poems has been made public. Download the PDF here. (My poems are located on pages 323 and 324.)

I’m thrilled and honored to be included in the (long) list of truly wonderful writers and poets published in the issue and to have found a momentary niche in a community of sensitive, intelligent, perceptive women. Together, we observe and discuss the natural world and our places in it — the bonds we human animals make with other animals and the impact of not only ourselves on the land but also the land’s impact on us. It’s a symbiotic relationship we have with the earth, for all our sins against and struggles with it. The pieces included in this issue reflect the various, idiosyncratic experiences we have in a world that is both brazen and subtle, wild and tame, wonderful and bitter(sweet), strange and common — sometimes all at once.

Check it out. I’d love to know what you think.

Colossus of Rhodes, a 16th century engraving by Martin Heemskerck

More good news! American Athenaeum, the literary journal I’ve been helping to curate for the past several months, is just about ready to release its first issue, Colossus. It won’t be released until July, but we are taking pre-orders for print, e-book and PDF versions of the issue here. I’m proud of this work and excited to share our contributors’ stories, poems and essays, so I hope you’ll buy a copy and check it out.

In celebration and for the sake of general enjoyment, a Wallace Stevens poem I love:

“The Latest Freed Man”

Tired of the old descriptions of the world,
The latest freed man rose at six and sat
On the edge of his bed. He said,
“I suppose there is
A doctrine to this landscape. Yet, having just
Escaped from the truth, the morning is color and mist,
Which is enough: the moment’s rain and sea,
The moment’s sun (the strong man vaguely seen),
Overtaking the doctrine of this landscape. Of him
And of his works, I am sure. He bathes in the mist
Like a man without a doctrine. The light he gives–
It is how he gives his light. It is how he shines,
Rising upon the doctors in their beds
And on their beds…”
And so the freed man said.
It was how the sun came shining into his room:
To be without a description of to be,
For a moment on rising, at the edge of the bed, to be,
To have the ant of the self changed to an ox
With its organic boomings, to be changed
From a doctor into an ox, before standing up,
To know that the change and that the ox-like struggle
Come from the strength that is the strength of the sun,
Whether it comes directly or from the sun.
It was how he was free. I twas how his freedom came.
It was being without description, being an ox.
It was the importance of the trees outdoors,
The freshness of the oak-leaves, not so much
That they were oak-leaves, as the way they looked.
It was everything being more real, himself
At the centre of reality, seeing it.
It was everything bulging and blazing and big in itself,
The blue of the rug, the portrait of Vidal,
Qui fait fi des joliesses banales, the chairs.

Great news! Two of my poems have been accepted for publication in the Women Writing Nature issue of Sugar Mule. Sugar Mule is an online literary magazine headed by M.L. Weber. Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, author of Work Is Love Made Visible and editor of Mongrel Empire Press, is the guest editor for this issue.

Much of my work addresses human interactions with nature or explores human issues through the lens of the natural world, so the Sugar Mule issue seemed like a great home for my first published pieces. I’m glad they agree. The poems to be published, “A Series of Poems On the Theme of a Blue Jay” and “Song of the Orchid Cultivar,” are fairly new poems of mine and explore themes of love, regret, foreignness and connections.

I keep telling people that I’m not a poet, that I write some poetry but mostly fiction, but the poetry thing keeps sticking to me. Granted, it was my first love, and some might say that I approach even my fiction as if it were poetry (for better or worse). I still don’t know that I’d brand myself a poet, but this recent news makes me a little more willing to admit it as a legitimate aspect of my writing life, rather than just a hobby.

The Women Writing Nature issue of Sugar Mule will be published in July 2012. I’ll post a link when it comes out. Until then, I highly recommend checking out past issues of Sugar Mule. And if you’re a new visitor to Something Looseknit and want a taste of my creative work, feel free to click the links below:

A Simple Poem
A Plain Thing” (flash fiction)
and another untitled poem.

A very good friend of mine, Hunter Liguore, is heading up a new literary journal, American Athenaeum, which will contain “a variety of fiction and poetry, along with regular columns that run the gamut of American arts. We consider this journal to be a museum of artistic endeavors, filled with cultural appreciation and stories that not only teach, but demonstrate the frailty of the human condition” (from the Sword and Saga Press website).

There are five themed issues and one general issue, and the call for submissions goes out for all of them. I’m the managing editor for the Compassion/Epsilon issue, so I’ll be selfish and request that you particularly consider submitting to that one, but all issues are equally valuable and in need of stories, poems and essays. We’re also interested in art submissions to give the issues some visual punch. Click this link to access the American Athenaeum homepage, where you’ll find all the information and links you’ll need to submit. Submissions are made electronically through Submishmash, which is free, easy to use and environmentally friendly. ^_^

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or fill out the contact form on the AA website linked above. We look forward to reading your work!

I’ve started reading Nobuyuki Yuasa’s translation of Basho’s travel sketches, including The Narrow Road to the Deep North. I was going to wait to make a post about it until I finished, but I got so excited about the following quotes from and about Basho regarding writing poetry (which can be expanded to writing in general) that I couldn’t help myself:

“Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And in doing so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn. Your poetry issues of its own accord when you and the object have become one — when you have plunged deep enough into the object to see something like a hidden glimmering there. However well-phrased your poetry may be, if your feeling is not natural — if the object and yourself are separate — then your poetry is not true poetry but merely your subjective counterfeit.” (Basho)

In his collection of critical essays entitled Kuzu no Matsubara, Shiko (one of Basho’s disciples) included commentary on Basho’s famous poem:

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water —
A deep resonance.

Of the poem’s creation, Shiko wrote:

“This poem was written by our master on a spring day. He was sitting in his riverside house in Edo, bending his ears to the soft cooing of a pigeon in the quiet rain. There was a mild wind in the air, and one or two petals of cherry blossom were falling gently to the ground. It was the kind of day you often have in late March — so perfect that you want it to last for ever [sic]. Now and then in the garden was heard the sound of frogs jumping into the water. Our master was deeply immersed in meditation, but finally he came out with the second half of the poem… One of the disciples sitting with him immediately suggested for the first half of the poem,

Amidst the flowers
Of the yellow rose.

Our master thought for a while, but finally he decided on

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond.

The disciple’s suggestion is admittedly picturesque and beautiful but our master’s choice, being simpler, contains more truth in it. It is only he who has dug deep into the mystery of the universe that can choose a phrase like this.”

While visiting my family in Virginia, my dad handed me a book of selected poetry by Walt Whitman, one of those Dover thrift editions I love (I have about ten now). I hadn’t read much of Whitman before; I’d never been in a state of mind to really appreciate his work when I’d come across it in the past. But I love poetry and, because it was slim, I put it in my purse and read it on the plane trip back home. It couldn’t have come at a better time. For a while now, I’ve been disappointed by people as a species, including myself — the pain we cause, the hatred and biases we feel, the common dignity we deny ourselves and each other. The righteousness we’re all sure we possess, without considering that others in opposition to us believe they possess it, too. And from that sense of righteousness, a smugness, a denial of others’ humanity. It’s so easy to lump everyone into categories according to their beliefs and ways of life, to deny them as one of our own. What we forget is that they, too, are vulnerable, sensitive, fragile — even the most bigoted among us. Everyone has their moments of doubt and weakness. Everyone is deserving of compassion. And Whitman’s poetry teaches me to remember daily, in every interaction and conflict I face, to accept all people as my own — as members of my family — and to see the entire world as my home. His work also teaches me to accept, forgive, and love myself, which is the hardest thing for me to do.

That the poetry came now — out of nowhere, falling right into my lap when I needed it most — seems an act of fate. I’m not sure what I believe about fate (if I believe in it at all), but some things are just so opportune that I wonder. Reading this right now, you may not appreciate Whitman’s work. You may never see much in it at all. That’s okay. Literature hits people when they need it and not everyone needs the same things, certainly not at the same time. But for those of you who, like me, do need it, I’ll post some sections here.

_______________________________________

From “I Sing the Body Electric”
7.
A man’s body at auction,
(For before the war I often go to the slave-mart and watch the sale,)
I help the auctioneer, the sloven does not half know his business.

Gentlemen look on this wonder,
Whatever the bids of the bidders they cannot be high enough for it,
For it the globe lay preparing quintillions of years without one animal or plant,
For it the revolving cycles truly and steadily roll’d.

In this head the all-baffling brain,
In it and below it the makings of heroes.

Examine these limbs, red, black, or white, they are cunning in tendon and nerve,
They shall be stript that you may see them.

Exquisite senses, life-lit eyes, pluck, volition,
Flakes of breast-muscle, pliant backbone and neck, flesh not flabby, good-sized arms and legs,
And wonders within there yet.

Within there runs blood,
The same old blood! the same red-running blood!
There swells and jets a heart, there all passions, desires, reachings, aspirations,
(Do you think they are not there because they are not express’d in parlors and lecture-rooms?)

This is not only one man, this the father of those who shall be fathers in their turns,
In him the start of populous states and rich republics,
Of him countless immortal lives with countless embodiments and enjoyments.

How do you know who shall come from the offspring of his offspring through the centuries?
(Who might you find you have come from yourself, if you could trace back through the centuries?)

From “Salut Au Monde!”
11.

All you continentals of Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, indifferent of place!
All you on the numberless islands of the archipelagoes of the sea!
And you of centuries hence when you listen to me!
And you of each and everywhere whom I specify not, but include just the same!
Health to you! good will to you all, from me and America sent!
Each of us inevitable,
Each of us limitless–each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow’d the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.

13.
My spirit has pass’d in compassion and determination around the whole earth,
I have look’d for equals and lovers and found them ready for me in all lands,
I think some divine rapport has equalized me with them…

Salut au monde!
What cities the light or warmth penetrates I penetrate those cities myself,
All islands to which birds wing their way I wing my way myself.

Toward you all, in America’s name,
I raise high the perpendicular hand, I make the signal,
To remain after me in sight forever,
For all the haunts and homes of men.

From “Song of the Open Road”
5.
From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
Listening to others, considering well what they say,
Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,
Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,
I can repeat over to men and women You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,
I will recruit for myself and you as I go,
I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,
I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,
Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,
Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

From 6.
Here is the test of wisdom,
Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Wisdom cannot be pass’d from one having it to another not having it,
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities and is content,
Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the excellence of things;
Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul.

Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,
They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.

From “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
5.
What is it then between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?

Whatever it is, it avails not–distance avails not, and place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it.
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me.
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had receiv’d identity by my body,
That I was I knew I was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.

6.

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall,
The dark threw its patches down upon me also,
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre?
Nor is it you alone who know what it is to be evil,
I am he who knew what it was to be evil,
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant,
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting,
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest,
Was call’d by my nighest name by clear loud voices of young men as they saw me approaching or passing,
Felt their arms on my neck as I stood, or the negligent leaning of their flesh against me as I sat,
Saw many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word,
Lived the same life with the rest, the same old laughing, gnawing, sleeping,
Play’d the part that still looks back on the actor or actress,
The same old role, the role that is what we make it, as great as we like,
Or as small as we like, or both great and small.