Poetry Soundbite: A Reading and Interview with Agnes Vojta

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Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s fifth Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For this edition, we welcome Agnes Vojta, a poet who grew up in Germany and now lives in Rolla, Missouri where she teaches physics at Missouri S&T and hikes the Ozarks. She is the author of Porous Land (Spartan Press, 2019) and The Eden of Perhaps (Spartan Press, 2020), and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines.

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More By Agnes Vojta:

Legend

Sisyphus Calls It Quits

Flotsam

Mike James Reviews Wave If You Can See Me By Susan Ludvigson

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Mike James Reviews

Wave If You Can See Me

By Susan Ludvigson

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In “How It Can Happen,” one of the first poems in this fine new collection, the narrator imagines death as Shakespeare’s “other country.”  She writes, “I go with you, / but not all the way to your destination. / I wait in a dark house while you are taken / to a secret location. / We knew this could happen.”

The last line is instructive because it hints at a foreshadowing which haunts so many of these poems. In poem-after-poem the narrator is never sure of what’s across the river, but she’s certain it’s bad. A bridge will suddenly give way. Flood waters will rise too quickly. The villagers at the next exit won’t be friendly.

The dread is natural since so many of the poems are concerned with the death of the poet’s spouse, novelist Scott Ely. Many are not elegies as much as they are re-imaginings of an old life and dream-like restructurings of the current one. In the wonderfully titled “You Could Be Drinking Faulkner’s Bourbon,” she pictures what her husband might be doing in that other country. The poem moves from image to image, then concludes with a leap of transcendence: “we tell ourselves we’d like to know / but knowing / puts a period on speculation / and we are opposed / even in esoteric theory / to endings.”

From a technical standpoint, the addition of the four words “even in esoteric theory” deepens the poem. If good writing is about surprising the reader, those words surprise by their placement. “Esoteric theory” may not be the most sonically pleasing phrase, but it serves well to play off the narrator’s “speculations” and to strengthen the poem’s conclusion. The narrator is not just opposed to death and all the sorrows death brings. The narrator is opposed to all finality, even of the most far flung variety.

For Ludvigson, mourning is not relentless. Death is to be accepted. If Ludvigson never imagines death as gentlemen caller the way Emily Dickinson did, neither does she shy away from placing a spot at the table for him to sit. The narrator in “Too Late” tries to take in both her dream life and her new life as she travels without fear. “In the new country, / I try to ask directions, tell someone / how far we are from home. / The man behind the counter nods / as if he understands.”

Throughout the collection, over many roads and many nights, an understanding is always sought. Some poems end with an epiphany. Other poems end with an image like a cocked gun.

Though the subjects are often wrenching, there’s a steadiness throughout this collection which is appealing. The poems are tough and sensuous, subtle and clear. And the book is structured so that each poem adds resonance to the one before it.

This is Ludvigson’s first collection in 14 years. That’s a long time for a poet who has published many books, with most appearing in three to four year intervals. What has she done during her long silence? Well, she has continued to appear in magazines like Poetry, Atlantic Monthly, and Georgia Review. She has taught and judged book contests and taken up painting after a lifetime of watching. And she has said goodbye to friends and to her husband all while taking note of, “stars / burning through the debris of history / like love burning through the dark of loss.”

Wave If You Can See Me, by Susan Ludvigson
Red Hen Press, 2020
Poetry, $15.95

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About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 18 poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), He has received multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.

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More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

Howie Good: “Red Rosa”

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Red Rosa

In memory of Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919)

She lost a shoe as the political police were dragging her from the Hotel Eden to the waiting car. Lieutenant K. Vogel, the commander of the unit, shouted insults (“Whore!”) and spat at her. She was bleeding from a blow to the head with a rifle butt, but could still see with the eye that didn’t have blood in it. As they pushed her into the back seat, she saw the dark breath of crematoria, Berlin burning, rubble everywhere. Then she passed out. They would take her to the hospital only when they were sure she was already dead.

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About the Author: Howie Good’s latest poetry collection, Gunmetal Sky, is due in February from Thirty West Publishing

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More By Howie Good:

The View from Here

Reason to Believe

People Get Ready

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Image Credit: “Portrait of Rosa Luxemburg in 1910″ Public Domain

Nadia Arioli: “On “The Answer Is No” by Kay Sage”

(You can view Sage’s painting “The Answer is No” here)

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On “The Answer Is No” by Kay Sage

Things left undone can become
a city, further out,
and have little lives of their own.

Mold blooms in teas you never tried.
Poems you meant to write paper a bathroom.
You are somewhere in that
city of unhemned garments.

The answer is “no” to a complicated question
I cannot bear to ask.
How “no” can become white noise
after a while, when uttered enough times.

Rapid spinning makes you weightless.
Preponderance becomes iteration,
iteration becomes quiet.

Quiet like barren,
quiet like cataracts,
quiet like something you slip into
your pocket and never let out.

I have glowed as much as I could,
in green and other light.
There was nothing left to do but scream.

Now you’re waiting for me again,
past the frames holding canvasses
like gums hold teeth.
I’m on my way.

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About the Author: Nadia Arioli (nee Wolnisty) is the founder and editor in chief of Thimble Literary Magazine. Their work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spry, SWWIM, Apogee, Penn Review, McNeese Review, Kissing Dynamite, Bateau, Heavy Feather Review, Whale Road Review, SOFTBLOW, and others. They have chapbooks from Cringe-Worthy Poetry Collective, Dancing Girl Press, and a full-length from Spartan.

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More by Nadia Arioli:

On “I Walk Without Echo” by Kay Sage

On “The Fourteen Daggers” by Kay Sage

Poetry Soundbite: A Reading and Interview with John Dorsey

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Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s second Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For this edition, we welcome John Dorsey, who will read from his book Sick, a collaborative collection of poems with Daniel Crocker. Dorsey’s poems explore growing up with cerebral palsy and the challenges he faced in an era before our present day accommodations for young people with disabilities.

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About the Author: John Dorsey lived for several years in Toledo, Ohio. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), Sodomy is a City in New Jersey (American Mettle Books, 2010), Tombstone Factory, (Epic Rites Press, 2013), Appalachian Frankenstein (GTK Press, 2015) Being the Fire (Tangerine Press, 2016) and Shoot the Messenger (Red Flag Press, 2017),Your Daughter’s Country (Blue Horse Press, 2019),Which Way to the River: Selected Poems 2016-2020 (OAC Books, 2020) and The Prettiest Girl at the Dance (Blue Horse Press, 2020. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Stanley Hanks Memorial Poetry Prize. He was the winner of the 2019 Terri Award given out at the Poetry Rendezvous. He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com.

Diana Rosen: “A life. Of sorts. Or, 18 ways to remember my love”

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A life. Of sorts. Or, 18 ways to remember my love. 

  1. My love is in the kitchen, baking popovers. The heat of the kitchen, or the intensity of his concentration, makes him sweat from head to toe. He delivers mine on a gold-rimmed plate, so proud. I break it apart, dab it in the accompanying jam and butter, offer proper oohs and ahs. He beams.
  2. My love is standing at the toilet, right shoulder to the wall, howling with laughter at the note I taped to the bottom of the seat reminding him to put it down when he is done. He doesn’t fail to forget ever again, and often giggles leaving the bathroom.
  3. My love loved and lost someone, that’s why there’s a fence of mistrust between us. I chip away. It takes so long, but he finally believes.
  4. He’s cleaned up the living room, set out candles mid-afternoon, made scones and tea for the wife of a friend who’s brought her diminished boy to spend the afternoon. My love coos and bills. The toddler giggles. The woman tries not to cry.
  5. He wants a child, but I’m no longer able. He misses his little boy with the hole in his heart that ended his life at three.
  6. My love and I play Santa and Mrs. Claus for the village holiday festival. Grown women sit on his lap, share intimate details of their lives. Children climb up, each totally astonished that he knows their names, not realizing it’s their parents’ friend Alexander underneath the red velour suit and snowy beard. Everyone wants a photo. I accommodate.
  7. My love looks like the Elephant Man, pustules of shingles up and down the left side of his face. Eventually, they go away but leave a post-herpetic pain I cannot take away. Nothing I do helps. I feel bereft.
  8. He brings me flowers. Picked by the highway. Brings me Japanese boxes, the amethyst ring, always unusual, pretty things. That they were bargains made me love them more.
  9. My love refuses to go to a girlfriend’s significant birthday. She lives way up in the hills during an era devoid of Lyft and Uber and I don’t have enough money for a cab and it’s too late to call mutual friends for a ride. She holds that against me for years. He does not apologize. This is my first view into the depression that comes and goes.
  10. My love and I tango in our gallery kitchen, belt out the soundtracks of operas, Broadway shows. He tapes me singing which was sweet, tapes me snoring, not so sweet. Shares thousands of words with me, their roots, pronunciations, he seems a veritable human dictionary. It’s not the same looking up words myself even in my mammoth Random House which sits on a stand he makes for it. We play word games in bed until one of us fallsin asleep. Usually him.
  11. His mother was beautiful and spent many hours admiring herself at her vanity table. Such a well-named piece of furniture, he says. He spent hours braiding her hair, fetching her ribbons, avoiding her temper. His father loved alcohol more than his wife or sons. His mother sent him to fetch his father from the neighborhood bar. He was five. This father, a sailor, and my love, a Marine who lied about his age, unexpectedly meet up in Japan. They drink together, of course. My love soon finds himself face to face with a Japanese soldier. No one else is around. My love bowed. Was bowed to in return. Each turned and walked away. He still thought the act was cowardice. I’m grateful his drinking stopped before we met. He quit his five-pack-a-day cigarette habit, too, then says he won’t kiss me until I stop my half-pack habit. Longest two weeks in my life.
  12. A girlfriend admits she’s never had a birthday party. We invite others, one friend brings a cake, my love makes dinner, all the women take their time hugging him goodbye.
  13. My love becomes old, age-wise, but the personality is so strong, no one believes his numerical age. The powerful energy still bristles, announces itself when he enters the room.
  14. My love reconnects with his oldest child, a daughter. They even appear on a daytime talk show on reunification. He is not who he was. I’m unsure how I feel.
  15. My love and I separate.
  16. My love recovers from a stroke but won’t let me visit. He feels diminished yet the strength of his voice, that deep radio voice, is still there, the mind is still there, his arms still work. These reminders fall on deaf ears.
  17. My love has a second stroke that puts him in a coma. His daughter comes to whisper love in his ear until there is no hearing left. I am the last to hear he died.
  18. Age fades the bad memories and leaves us with the good. He’d love today’s sunshine, hurry me up so we could go “saling” – – his dry-ground adventure visiting every garage sale in the neighborhood until the treasures surface. When I first trek through the swap meet in my new hometown, I laugh, walking countless aisles, recognizing all the many things we’d collected, then sold. As I left the arena, an ocean breeze brushed my shoulders as if to say, “Didn’t we have fun?”

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About the Author: Diana Rosen is a journalist and avid tea enthusiast, with six books on the topic, who writes poetry, essays, and flash fiction and creative nonfiction. Her work appears in RATTLE, Tiferet Journal, Mad Swirl, PIF Magazine, and Potato Soup Journal, among others. She loves exploring Los Angeles’s Griffith Park, the country’s largest public green space, which is her 4,000-acre “backyard.” To read more of her work, please visit www.authory.com/dianarosen

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More by Diana Rosen:

Dinner at Six

Hollywood Freeway

Mrs. Reagan, Who Lived Next Door

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Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Spring Rose” (2021)

John Brantingham: Five Poems About the Santa Ana Winds

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Still for a While

We get a Santa Ana
and wake to streets
full of branches
and trash and a palm tree

that’s crashed down
through the wrought iron fence
around the city yard.
Today, the air is still

for a while, but the winds
always come back,
or they have so far.
The train tracks are

covered in tumbleweeds.
This air that has come down
from the highland deserts
smells clean.

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News of the Weather

The first weather report I get
is when the airport shifts
its flight pattern directly over us,
and I know the winds are coming.
The breaks in our conversation
as the engines pass above
soon become natural and unnoticed
unless one of us points them out.
The eucalyptus across the train tracks
looks shaggy today. I wonder
what it will look like tomorrow.

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Just Us

The flags on top of the tax service
and immigration building are torn
to feathers by the Santa Ana winds,
and that feels like a metaphor

for something, but I’m not sure what.
The winds have always felt
more symbol than real to me.
They’re so dry they suck

the water right out of you.
We can see for miles across
the normally smoggy sky, and at night
we get stars. All of these things

might mean something like someone
is out there telling us something
with great clarity that I could see
except that I am limited to being just who I am.

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Baldy Winds

After the winds
have died down
here in the valley,
they are still rising
a mist of snow
blowing it off the top
of Mt. Baldy,
which I can see
headed straight up
Euclid Avenue.
It’s still early
on a Sunday morning,
and I’m the only one
out in the world
made clean
by the Santa Anas.
The dawn has no transition
through filtered air.
One moment it’s night,
and the next it’s full day.

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The New Neighbors

When the Santa Ana picks up,
some long haul truckers
pull off the freeways
and park in the neighborhood.

We can see their cabs
in the pale blue lights
of their computers
as they wait out the winds.

When we walk the dog
down the street in the evening,
we invade their space.
This is now their backyard.

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About the Author, John Brantingham: I was the first poet laureate of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, and my work has been featured in hundreds of magazines and in Writer’s Almanac and The Best Small Fictions 2016. I have eleven books of poetry and fiction including my latest fiction collection Life: Orange to Pear (Bamboo Dart Press). I teach at Mt. San Antonio College.

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Image Credit: Impressions of Southern California by Chase Dimock

Giovanni Mangiante: “i have to get better”

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i have to get better

 

“you have to get better” says the doctor before i leave his office—

he doesn’t shake my hand and i don’t mind.

i walk out the building, get into a taxi, pull out my phone, open the notepad

“i have to get sober” i write, and slide it down my pocket again.

i look out the car window and i know most of the faces i see

have already given up entirely while others are well on the way.

i look in the rear-view mirror “how is it that i look like?” i think.

when i get home, my father says he’s sure i’ll get better soon 

and suggests going out for dinner. i say okay, but when we get there

my mind is somewhere else and i can’t enjoy the food nor the moment.

“a lot of people don’t have a good father like yours” i think to myself, 

and the guilt doesn’t make the situation any easier to endure.

i pull out my phone again and write “i have to get sober”

then i look at my father and he vanishes; the plates, the food, 

the silverware, the table too. people’s voices suddenly go underwater 

and the restaurant is finally an empty crater with me in the middle.

i pull my phone out again—my nerves fractured and sharp

“i have to get better. i have to get better. i have to get better” i write.

i slide my phone down my pocket and look up—everything comes back. 

my father takes a bunch of fries to his mouth, and smiles. 

i smile back.

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About the Author: Giovanni Mangiante is a poet from Lima, Peru. He has work published in Newington Blue Press, Rusty Truck, The Daily Drunk, Anti-Heroin Chic, Heroin Love Songs, Rat’s Ass Review, Three Rooms Press, and more. He has upcoming poems in The Piker Press and Synchronized Chaos. In writing, he found a way to cope with BPD.

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Image Credit: Jack E. Boucher. ” INTERIOR VIEW OF EAST END OF DINER – Bob’s Yankee Diner, Route 20, Charlton, Worcester County, MA” The Library of Congress

Larry Smith: “Grief into Mourning”

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Grief into Mourning     

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      “Wildflowers don’t care where they grow.”
         -Dolly Parton

A friend has abandoned me
after 40 years, and not
for the first time. Once for five years.
Inside his wall of darkness he has
spit me out like spoiled milk,
and I can’t reach across
to explain. His back turned
he curses my name as he
throws down their phone.
Yet I know he cannot help it.
There is no sin here, only sorrow
and sickness, a grief-pain I carry
inside my head and heart.

And so, I write this to myself
to mourn. In quiet breath
I close my eyes to see his
wounded face in a mirror,
look deep inside his hurt eyes
and step forward to embrace
his figure, as we stand together
breathing forgiveness.

II.
With the taste of grief swelling
my tongue I remember past hurt
keeping us apart. A cherry pie
left out for weeks that I eat with
spoiled milk alone at night.

You said you could never forgive
and so, I walked away, burying it
like a dead child till now
I stare it in the face, swallow regret
and forgive us both.

III.
Placing each stone
beside the bench
where dead friends once sat.

Wild geese overhead
echo their names.

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About the Author: Larry Smith is the editor-publisher of Bottom Dog Press in Ohio, also the author of 6 books of fiction and 8 books of poems, most recently The Pears: Poems. A retired professor of humanities, he lives and works along the shores of Lake Erie in Huron, Ohio.

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More By Larry Smith:

No Walls

Union Town

At The Country Store

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Image Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnson. “Bell Flower (campanula)” [between 1915 and 1935] image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Nada Faris: “Echo’s Song to Her Lover”

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Echo’s Song to Her Lover

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“Mother made Frank smell her Bible
she knew he loved the aroma of fine leather”
— CAConrad, The Book of Frank

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It was my father who taught me how to drive. When I sat
in the passenger seat, he said with a glint in his eye,
if I made a mistake, he would punch my shoulder, hard.

         “It is how I trained your mother.” 

I could die of compassion. All this suffering, everywhere.
How can anyone muster enough hope, desire, or will
to invest in finitude? Of course, our candle fizzles
and every song knows little doves
learn the crackle of aching from belts in sharp nests.
Father in our presence. Father in our midst.
Father on the terrace. Father on the swings.
Father, I don’t blame you.
God made everything beautiful, terrible and beautiful,
as well as narcissists.

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About the Author: Nada Faris is an Honorary Fellow in Writing at Iowa University’s International Writing Program. She has earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, received an Arab Woman Award from Harper’s Bazaar Arabia for her impact on Kuwait’s creative sector, and authored three international books.

Twitter: @nadafaris



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Image Credit: Chase Dimock “Sunset Reeds in Klamath Falls” (2020)