Alicia Mountain Interview

Alicia Mountain is a lesbian poet, PhD candidate, and assistant editor of the Denver Quarterly. Mountain earned her MFA at the University of Montana in Missoula. Her debut collection, High Ground Coward (Iowa, 2018), was selected by Brenda Shaughnessy to win the Iowa Poetry Prize. She is also the author of  Thin Fire, selected by Natalie Diaz and published by BOAAT Press.

Alice taught a two day masterclass to the Creative Writing department at Idyllwild Arts Academy, during which some of our students held incredibly pressing questions; one was adamant that the Parallax team begin this interview with an incredibly nuanced and specific inquiry.

 

Q: What is your opinion on postmodern poetry?

 

A: Well, I guess when I think of postmodern, some of it has to do with form, and so I think of fracture or some rupture in traditional form. I think postmodern poetry definitely influenced a lot of poetry that’s followed the postmodern period, and some of my poems are pretty scattershot and definitely have some fracture, and some of them are tighter, so the influence is present.

 

 

Q: Some modern poets have chosen to group and categorize their poetry books based on certain themes or images using chapters or sections. With High Ground Coward not partaking in this practice, I was wondering if that was an intentional decision, if the knowledge of the practice being popular affected said decision.

 

A: I think that while sections work for a lot of books, I wanted [the book] to feel like a unified world or a unified space rather than creating little modules in the collection. I tried to let one piece flow to the next, and let them all talk to each other rather than putting them in separate rooms. Honestly, anything that brought us to where we are in poetry is favorable in my book, even if I personally don’t like it. I’m interested in how poetry evolves and what modern poetry movements will be called. I think that within every movement there are pieces that are more and less successful for different readers.

 

 

Q: In doing that, did you also have a sense of “connective tissue” even though it was one consolidated work? Was there a common thread throughout piece that you can identify?


A: Yeah, I think that there a bunch of little threads, and some of them are repeated images that come up or repeated actions such as driving, trains, dental health, funny weird things that I didn’t really expect to be threads kind of emerge, and then overarching emotional themes around identity and also around becoming an adult. So I think that within this unified world there’s still a bunch of different things happening and moving around that interact with each other.

 


Q:Speaking of the creation of the book, you mentioned that it took four years to create it. What did that four year process look like?

 

A: So, the oldest poems in the book were written right before I went to grad school for an MFA program, and the newest ones were written right after I finished that program, so kind of the year before, then the two years at Montana at grad school, and the year after that. I kept writing after the first three years I had to do an MFA thesis, so that was kind of a first draft, and a lot of the bulk of that books was part of the thesis (50 pages) and then  afterward I added another 30 after the fact as I was trying to develop the text and make it feel like it was both tight and also fully fleshed out. When I had 80 pages or so I printed it all out and tired to figure out an order that made sense and seemed right, and then I spent about a year sending it out to contests and things like that in different rounds before being published.

 

Q:Has your fiction writing changed at all during the process of creating a book of poetry, considering the two are different but can sometimes interfere when you’re focusing on one?

 

A: So, I wrote fiction in college, and I really haven’t looked back. After I started writing poetry, I’m definitely interested in writing nonfiction right now, and I want to say that my poetry has more in common with my nonfiction essay writing than with my fictional story writing, which I think has to do with the little shifts in logic and shifts in ideas. And even though poetry is written from a speaker’s perspective, and it’s not like nonfiction, it still feels to me as if so much of it is coming out of experience, and so, for nonfiction, it kind of maps onto my poetry. I’m sure fiction would be coming out of my experience, but for some reason right now, I’m creating fewer characters.

 

Q:I’m interested in that nonfiction you were talking about. Could you elaborate on what your nonfiction looks like?  

 

A: Nonfiction is still really narrative for me; it’s still involving telling a story, but I’m not concerned with hustling through beginning, middle, and end. In the same way that my poetry will linger on description, I think my nonfiction also lingers on those quiet moments. I have a piece about traveling through Wyoming to see the eclipse, and stuff about growing up, and figuring out who we are, so mostly personal narrative stuff. I’d be interested to write profiles of people, I’d be interested to do more nonfiction writing, I just haven’t quite had the occasion yet.

 

Q: Some say poetry is dwindling, that it’s not as popularized as it used to be and others say that poetry is more essential than it ever has been. What is your take on this? What role do you see poetry fitting into our modern society?

 

A: I think that poetry is actually very popular right now. There was a study recently by the NEH where they conducted a survey of readers, and readership of poetry is up. So, that’s exciting; that more people are reading poetry now than they were ten years ago, or at least the last time they did they survey. And poetry is actually being published more. When I speak to elder poets, they say there are more journals that are small presses publishing poetry than in decades past, so I’m excited about that, and I think some of that is about more openness to breaking the rules of expected language or prose or that sort of thing, or even how we just look at it on the page. I’m sure there’s something to be said about our time. 

But I think that there have always been people who have been having hard times, and I think there’s a temptation to say that “poetry is the balm that we need for this moment,” but I think poetry is for every day.

One of my younger sisters just got married and asked me to write a poem for her wedding, and I did and I was so happy to have that as a prompt, but poetry doesn’t have to be ceremonial for sentimental moments where people are like, “and now we read a poem.” I feel like it’s for before to fall asleep, it’s for when you’re sitting on the subway trying to get to the next place, it’s for when you’re waiting for the doctors office, all those little in between moments, all throughout our day.

 

Q:Are there any projects that you’re currently working on?

 

A: Yeah, definitely going to keep on writing. Right now, I need to start working on a dissertation for my PhD, so that’ll be a new poetry collection, and thinking it’ll be sonnets, 14 line love poems. They won’t be too much more formal, like I don’t think they’ll be Italian sonnets or Petrarchan sonnets or Shakespearean sonnets but more contemporary sonnets, unrhymed and unmetered, but 14 line pseudo-love poems.

 

Q:Why love poems, of all things?


A: Well, the sonnet is inherently a love poem, and so, anything that’s called a sonnet, I kind of read with that historical lens, even if it’s an anti-love poem. I think the sonnet puts itself as a form in conversation about love in some way, whether its questioning or undermining that, but I think that’s part of the conversation.

 

 

Q:Here’s a curveball for you: do you have pets?

 

A: I don’t have any pets, but I have plants that I really love, and I think of them as my friends. For a long time, they were all named The Saturdays because my mom was once moving me out of college and they gave all the parents stickers for the day they were allowed to be there, and as she was leaving, she left her Saturday sticker on one of the pots. That’s why they were The Saturdays.

Allison Benis White Interview

The Parallax staff interviews Allison Benis White, an author and professor of poetry.

Allison Benis-White is a renowned poet from Southern California. She has published three books: Self-Portrait with Crayon (2009), Small Porcelain Head (2013), and Please Bury Me in This (2017). She is currently a poetry professor at the University of California, Riverside.  

 

Q: Have you always written poetry and if so, when did you start writing it?

 

A: I first started writing when I was sixteen, and it was traditional high school poetry: angst, and, you know, a lot of violence. Then, I had a boyfriend who had an ex-girlfriend who was a writer, and he introduced me to her, and she took me to my first poetry reading in Venice, California, in a place called Beyond Baroque. It was this huge reading for a literary journal, maybe thirty people read, and my life was transformed by hearing that reading. I mean, before that, I had written in some casual way an adolescent writes, but after that reading I was bewitched. I was enamored with poetry, and not so much with the vision of, “I’m going to devote my life to this genre,” but there were much sharper desires to make something on the page that lasted. So, when I started going to college, I began taking literature classes and studying poetry. Poetry’s always been my genre. I wrote one short story in a creative writing class, and it was okay. The experience of writing in fiction—in prose, really, was tedious for me. There wasn’t a lot of pleasure in it. Whereas writing poetry there always was and still is this great energy and excitement and urgency, and a sense of invention. Somehow, for me, writing in prose— traditional prose, because I do write prose poetry— always felt constricting. I don’t know why, exactly, and I don’t know if that will last, but so far I’m a single genre person.

 

Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?

 

A: The only advice that I think is useful is to read widely, to be patient, and to try and find your own conviction. Those are the three things that kept me in a space where the work feels alive. Advice is a tricky thing, because everybody’s particular. I guess it’s less advice and more of the things that I hold dear and that have kept me in motion.

 

Q: What’s your process when writing ekphrastic poems? Have you written other ekphrastic poems [ekphrastic poetry is poetry written in response to other works of art (i.e., paintings, films, other poems, etc.)] inspired by other art?

 

A: I got this opportunity to go to London by myself, and I was visiting all of the museums I wanted to visit and in one of the gift shops I found this postcard of Degas’ painting, “Combing the Hair.” It’s a young girl, maybe thirteen years old. She has long, red hair, and an au pair is combing her hair. She appears to be in pain–she has curled fists. The whole painting is in reds and oranges, and I was completely enamoured with it. So I bought it, and I brought it home and I set it on my desk a few weeks later. Then, just as a writing exercise I decided to respond to it. I was familiar with ekphrastic poetry, I certainly didn’t know that word, but I knew people wrote in response to paintings. It was a really sort of spontaneous writing exercise, and I found that when I wrote about that painting, I was able to write about my mom leaving when I was very young in a way that I had never been able to do before. I had tried to write about that experience before, but the poems would always end up feeling repetitive, hysterical, and unsatisfying, so I just shoved that topic aside. Somehow, writing in response to that painting facilitated this kind of speech for me. So I tried it again with another Degas painting, and it worked again; I was able to articulate in this really surprising way. I didn’t think this was going to be a book. I was just really happy to be making something that was surprising to me and where I could discover things, so I just kept writing in response to his paintings and it kept working. I was able to go deeper and deeper into stranger spaces and that continued on until I had a manuscript length amount of these poems.

 

Q: Why Degas for this collection specifically?

 

A: Why Degas? I didn’t really understand it, I just capitalized on it, and I didn’t study Degas while I was writing these poems. I was just viewing the painting as a common viewer of art. I didn’t want to be an academic that studied the nature of Degas. However, towards the end of this process I did do some research on him, casually, and I found that his mother had passed when he was very young. There were also rumors that he was impotent. Both of those things are interesting to me because he paints so many dancers, that’s his main gig. So, I thought maybe the loss of his mother and the desire and the inner way to talk about stillness… it’s something I’ve relied upon and it continues to be fruitful.

 

Q: Throughout Self-Portrait with Crayon, you make use of large motifs like abandonment, as well as many smaller motifs. Did these small motifs show up on their own or did you weave them into the pieces purposefully?

 

A: There was no conscious weaving of themes. The way I wrote the poems was sentence by sentence in this state of meditating on each painting. I tried to allow the language to direct the poem. I was conscious of the themes that were emerging, but I never said, for example, “Oh, I need to braid in this theme.” The themes were so prevalent that, regardless of intention, they were going to reveal themselves. But I tried to be led by the painting and the language versus by the theme or a biographical incident.

 

Q: When you were writing this collection, were you focused more on the music or the narrative?

 

A: The music. Almost 100%. I mean I also think the music, the language, was inspired by the meditation on the paintings. And I wrote them sentence by sentence, via the ear. The first line or sentence would dictate, sonically, ultimately, the second line. And when I say sonically, I don’t think that it’s entirely accurate to say that was the driving force, because of course there’s image, and of course there’s pattern, and the narrative, etc. But I think the thing is, especially with prose poetry, is that the ear has to be at work, because you don’t have the luxury of breaking the line, so to keep it buoyant, the ear really has to be awake. As for the narrative, there are very few truly narrative moments in the book, maybe five or six. The narrative and the music and the imagery and the connection between the speaker’s mind and Degas’ mind, that is what I think is driving the book.

 

Q: How did you know you were done with the collection, and what was it like going through the contest system?

 

A: I knew it was finished because I continued writing these pieces and I started feeling like I was repeating myself, that I wasn’t discovering anything new, or whatever I had discovered I had said better somewhere else. That happened three or four times in a row, and I started to think, “Hmm, I think this is winding down, I think I have expressed myself as completely as I possibly can using this tactic.” And another practical signifier was that once I hit about 48 pages, which is usually the minimum page requirement for the contest system, I was like, well, if I start repeating myself or losing steam at this point, it’s okay to stop, because I have an entire manuscript. In other words, I would’ve been very sad if at the twenty-fifth poem, it had stopped working— which I would’ve accepted, but I was fortunate to have written enough to be manuscript length.  

And the contest system, it’s huge now. There are many reputable presses that have blind submissions, so one would submit their manuscript via Submittable, usually with a fee of $15-25, so it’s a little expensive, and the idea is that there’s a group of screeners who whittle the manuscripts down to 20-25 manuscripts which get sent to a final judge, usually somebody of note, and if your manuscript is selected you usually get a small monetary prize– something like $1000, and a publication contract. This is a really common way that poets get published nowadays, because poetry’s not a commodity, you don’t have an agent, no publisher is going to make a bunch of money off of your poetry collection. It’s a way for unknown writers to get published, to provide some income for the press, and to create a space for newer writers. Very rarely are poets discovered, or have the luxury of having an agent going around trying to get editors to notice your work. I published through the contest system for my first book, and for my second book, and now the press that published my second book has agreed to publish my third book. So, ostensibly, I have a press now, which is the dream of any writer, to have a press that supports you and wants to publish you. I think my beginning is a very common beginning for modern poets.

 

Q: Do you find yourself editing as you go or writing and then revising?

 

A: I’ve done both. With Self Portrait, I actually edited as I went along; I wanted each line to have a sense of completion before the next line, and so on. It was a tedious process. I remember on a good writing day, I would write three good sentences in a row. And that was very taxing. And then the next day, I would go back to the same piece and write three or four more sentences. Very rarely would it tumble down the page, would I complete a poem in one sitting. It was usually many, many sittings, one sentence at a time. But then, more recently, I’ve periodically written more quickly, understood that all of the raw material was there, and then went back and edited acutely. So I’ve done both, but with Self Portrait with Crayon, it was very tedious sentence by sentence, word by word process, and I just couldn’t write them any other way. But with more recent work, I could sort of streamline.

 

Q: Have other poets inspired your writing, and do they differ from the poets that you read?

 

A: I think the poets I read are the poets that inspire me. The initial poets that inspired me were Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I found them when I was very young, as many young people do, and they still continue to inspire me, specifically Plath; her work continues to burn through me. Later, when I was in college, I found Louise Glück, specifically the book The Wild Iris, and that book also is the gold standard for me, still. And then there’s another book that is less well known, by this woman named Killarney Clary, called Who Whispered Near Me. It’s a book of prose poems; I think I discovered it in graduate school. That book changed me and gave me a vision for something I wanted to do. I think Plath, Glück, and Clary are the three writers that continue to inspire me and give me the ambition to write something with that kind of heartbeat.

 

Q: Can you tell us about your mother and how she inspired this book?

 

A: Sure. So, my mom left me and my father sometime between when I was a year/year and a half old. Of course, I was very young, so I don’t remember any of this. As I was growing up, we never talked about her. I didn’t know where she was. There was no reason given, I just knew that she was gone. I knew she wasn’t dead, I knew she was alive, although nobody talked about it. I just grew up with my father. Then, just before I turned eight, she called, and a few weeks later, she showed up, and I met her. That’s the language I use, because I didn’t remember her. After that, my dad ended up having a nervous breakdown and going to a mental hospital so I ended up living with my mother for a few years. So I did get to know her in that way, but after that I ended up moving back in with my father, and she’s always lived up north, in Northern California, so… We’re not close. We have a relationship. We talk on the phone periodically. I think the question is always why? Why did she leave, why did she come back, what’s going on? I still don’t have answers to those questions. I still don’t fully understand.

 

Q: Has [your mother] read Self Portrait with Crayon?

 

A: She has! She wrote me a letter and said something to the effect of: Her approach to reading the book and her experience of reading the book allowed her to be proud (of me) rather than be ashamed (of herself). So, that was interesting, and I appreciated that. I did call her, when I found out the book was going to be published, and told her, “FYI, this is the anchoring subject matter of this book,” and that it wasn’t disparaging her. I didn’t write the book to disparage her, but rather I was writing from this enormous silence and mystery that has characterized my life. But, I did want to give her the dignity to know. And, I mean, it’s poetry, it’s not like we’re going on Oprah discussing this. So yeah, there is that connection. She has read what I have made. But there’s an endless mystery to my mother, and me writing that collection didn’t resolve it.

 

Q: When you finished  Self Portrait With Crayon, what was it like to start a new collection?

 

A: I don’t remember exactly. I remember being relieved when it was done. And I remember organizing it, which was an extraordinary task for me because I didn’t write them in a sort of sequence, so I had to truly think about how the poems were going to unfold, which was very challenging, so I remember a feeling of relief. My friend had committed suicide about six months before I finished Self Portrait with Crayon, so I already had this other terrible grief in my life, and I knew, because that’s how I process being alive, I knew I wanted to put pen to page in some way, responding to my friend’s death. So I didn’t really grieve Self Portrait, because I had this other grief. I think it took about a year to really find a way to write about my friend’s death, and that’s what became my second book. So that’s my memory of letting go of Self Portrait: I felt a sense of relief, and then tried to find a way back in.

 

Two Poems by Amelia Van Donsel

Van Donsel’s pieces explores grand American imagery and poetry itself.

Eyes Adjusting to Dark
 
I suppose any work that is done is yet to resurface.
It’ll bubble up,
I think,
As though it is made of
Cloudy little spaces.
Rise
A little sloppy, even.
The busking bodies’d stretch, next
Tucking into the cots of sidewalk,
Hunkering down for that wind that could ruffle ships.
But brave swallows, swallows
Tell all with such a temper!
Don a pace
Of sky and skin and hungry mouth.
The light crescents which dote on this day
Are bilious, all things considered.
To keep the man who grew me
Is to be told that heaven really is just bathtubs of fog.
Clawfoot or drop-in?
Yet the crested firmament has begun
Greasing under my fingertips 
Please don’t touch 
Touch
Don’t 
Don’t touch please
Please.
An ignorant abstention.
 
Calliope
I.
Calliope tells me
That light holds
Too much mercy.
She has not seen the
Barefoot and blessed.
It’s a miracle minus the blood.
I implore her to watch
The silk gowns fill new torsos with light
Pressed all the way through.
The balding monks murmur
Of the interstitial planes of consciousness
Between the hairs of spider legs.
The young are blue-lipped in the luminous waters
That lift skirts of pallid light.
Their skin must smell like petrichor, I think,
O, Christ that cinnamon perfection.
In the basement I am told
I must read them stories
That have teeth big enough to gnaw on God,
About how scenery will be seen,
How fish will be fished,
How gardens will be gardened.
All will be satisfied.
I dropped a seed into pot a week ago.
It didn’t spring yesterday.
Instead I’ll probably find a baby
Growing in between the sidewalk cracks 
The place where bodies crush bone to skin.
Blueberries molding
Under my mother’s refrigerator.
The fields the farmers used to walk
Their market horses through
Weren’t mowed yesterday.
For a moment the sun would blind them
As they crossed that distant yellow haze,
That dust suspended in gas.
They could watch the grass crystalize as
The sun tried to kill the moon.
I long to see that ratty hair thick with sun,
Clouds on backs,
Boots sloshing with gold.
Now their unfinished chapels
Entomb the wants of things
That were once alive.
I can’t tell the difference
Between cold tiles and cold foreheads.
Amidst crooked night voices,
Junk food television,
And picture tube slumbers
I dreamt of us cooking shrimp tempura
As we argued over something I couldn’t see.
You swelled and reddened,
Tongs raking apart the hot pink commas
Until you hauled the wok over your head
Like Goliath and threatened
To pour it down your body.
My knees, my face melted into the floor.
Steaming oil cascaded down my neck,
Bubbling summer exploring my back,
Crawling in a searing, gelatinous wake.
I feel no pain.
Your kitchen body waits there
Until the wallpaper turns to sun,
Then I wake.
The feeling of the empty house
When you return to retrieve something.
Was it waiting for you with bated breath?
Did it miss you?
Calliope, I have met the American people They’re pretty standoffish.
I’ve learned that my handshake
Will never be strong enough
And that there is too much sky 
The world must end somewhere.
The GPS god on my dashboard
Tells me to run with highway packs of beasts
That roam and scavenge as one great machine,
Raking their claws through the earth.
Moon hammers off the hood,
Shoots diamonds into my eyes,
Traps me in a lightbulb of rumpled red leather.
Yellow foam froths at the mouth
Of the upholstery’s wound.
From behind, a thousand bloodshot eyes blink open,
And red spider legs ascend
The cobwebs of forest,
Scissoring them into diamonds.
From ahead, gold lanterns
Sway with gob-eyed goldfish.
They kiss at plastic rest-stops.
Wild men with their thick beards swarming with sun
Stop at gas stations and squeeze out
The dark spit-up beside me, and
A moment suspended between us is forgotten.
Soon it will be blown apart by bildungsromans
Swept off the butt of a flatbed truck
And all that’s blazing and embedded with teeth marks.
I do not care that you are someone who believes
The sun is a golden carriage
And that the moon is an extinct tusk
Dangling over a pounding fire
Or a spotlight loud
Upon millions of pale, upturned faces.
You show me the wet piles of clouds where
Ribboned veins palpitate in bodies in planes
Beating over our heads like red hooves.
You want your heart to be warmed sometimes,
Don’t you? you remind me.
How these little words ring.
You show me how terraces
And sun-butchered landscapes bleed white
From the wide pores of the earth.
Its sweaty legs spreadIn all its ravenous impulses.
No secrets yielded.
You leave a yellowed trench of a bed in the mothy dark
Where just yesterday the topmost layer of the sheets
Had grown with the unnaturalness of pointillism blood.
Maggots have been feasting their way
Like sunken teeth through the molding mound,
Cloaked in a gangrenous white,
The last of which I killed breaking glass bottles.
You had to call the poison-skinned exterminators
In vans who promised you your home would become a tomb.
Since then these breaths of mine endanger the ability to kiss,
To feign slumber while your shirt exposes
The outline of your ribcage when you lean over,
To grasp with filthy fingers and dusty hands around my throat.
This must be what life is.
A sun drying out like an apricot.
Between the crumbling hours
White dinner plates are now clean shaven.
Dusty fan blades remind me of the planet’s panicked whirr,
Remind me of buoyancy
And abyssopelagic breathlessness,
Of bodies circulating a great wrist.
I’ve never caught my childhood friend’s father naked.
I’ve never had seafood finer than hair.
I’ve never argued with those skittish horsegirls on the street
Whose skin is made of trash and spoiled milk
Which I guess you could call trash.
When I walk past tired homes
People hide in dark windows.
In always-yellow cafes I expect people to comment
On the uncomfortablenesss
That all whicker chairs possess.
Instead they comment
That their creamer looks “bombly.”
Above I wonder why one light bulb is lit differently.
One must have droppedFrom the ceiling one night
The released fist of God
And smashed against the cafe floor,
Just glassy cocaine to be snorted,
Whether anyone was there or not.
Maybe: when a light falls
And no one’s there to hear it,
Does it make a sound?
They drag their knuckles
Through pools of milk
As they try to counteract
The fade of their enamel,
Their nostrils to hot steam,
Shoulder blades to cool metal jaws.
Somewhere
A man in front of a fire chuckles,
His front to heat, his back to cold.
If the fire could cavort
And in a breath take the field,
The shrieking trees,
Sending the wildlife out,
Would I remember in the morning?
Caffeine, sweat, and corrosion
Weaken me. 
II.
We are in the same sleep, you and I.
When I ask you, Please,
Would you hold my soul, gaunt and wrinkled,
As you might your purse
While my blood goes curiously about my body?
You oblige.
When Calliope tells me the moon is not in tonight
 Would you like to schedule an appointment?
Would you like an Email alert when it returns? 
You point to the circle of jeweled orphans
It has left behind.
O, give me Atlas’ swarthy–armed constellations,
His sweltering vaults of peppermint comets
That are hurtling towards me crowned!
With malfunctioning fingers I wrap
Round your hair those burning burls of curlicues,
Those messy neurons and droplets of chains,
That polyphonic network
Made of tinseled buds
Made of reverberating rungs
Made of unbreakable knots of fingers,
Skin as hungry as mouths,
Tireless clenching,
Busy work, busy-work, busywork.
People garden signs that tell me
No homes for the homeless
No roads for the roadless
No gods for the godless
While my unemployed wheelbarrow
Slumps in the corner
Growing a stubble of rust.
I pour out its dirtwater, a mosquito brothel,
That swirls tightly, suctioned into a thin black hole,
Reduced to strands of liquid.
I think the scientists call it spaghettification.
All things considered,
They are just massive graves.
The scientists have not found
Which god is us.
They have not seen
The swaddled moon-faces that suckle
From little fat drops of milky sky,
That are caught in the bleach-white snow
Like mammoths awaiting ablation.
It is so bright!
So bright.
Too bright.
They have not seen the hermits,
Refugees from the engine,
With granular spectacles and nebulous bodies of hair
Who watch the world as though they are lighthouses in the desert.
The tarlike oceans too still to be alive,
And docks humming, floating in bluelanternfloodlight,
Suspending wind-up kayakers,
And fishermen who dangle their treats
And await in gossamer beds
Like dark spiders of the water,
And birds white as candles
Who buckle themselves up and dive in streaks,
Who are small enough to nest in eyes.
The dead Nevada sky where
Cartwheeling sparrows spit out dust,
And every man with his dog, gun, and truck
May be scraping plump bodies off of highway strips,
And deadbeat beatniks and tan vigilantes,
And tongues slick with fire fuel
That makes an escape down chins,
And the sun an asterisk teething
On chipped mountains,
And the stupid calm of earthsky folded in half,
And the rictus of yellow skulls burning into the body
Which our automobiles gore and slash,
And sunflowers loud and rupturing,
Palms yanking wide apart
To grasp at the fleeting light,
Already stiffening with night dew,
And sunburned freshslapped faces
That shrivel and crumple
Into a pinpoint
Like a television screen.
The thick people draped
Over fire escapes like rags,
Hot bellies skyward,
Eyes dripping like oiled vegetables,
And dirty artists’ tormented in nirvana,
And snakeskin plastic bags uprooting trees
Into hot air balloons,
And the overbite of the forsaken sun smudge
That lifts grimy and untouchable,
And high offices bare and bright beside
Wooden libraries suspended in dust,
And smoking manholes on the vomiting Vegas sidewalks
Swinging with the incarnation of the soup of jazz,
And jaws that crank open with bleak bonegrindings,
Catching coindrops on their cigarette ash tongues,
Bits of sun crawling from their lips
In cities of asphalt and glass and what have you.
All the little golden teeth
Fall the same. 
O, how I’d like to sleep now!
 To lie with you in early Denverdesert mornings
Where the vitreous world clears like a Polaroid picture.
Only sleep has crusted together my eyelashes
So they are the tiny twisted wings of sparrows.
Beneath them my eyes are turning to salt.
Sun cracked and is spilling all over the place.
My arms drip with yolk that is
Gurgling up from a ground made of crackers.
That may I rest in the dark rhombi of train windows soon
Where grainy films jitter past each other 
Two heads nodding on the street.
The world pulls itself forwards
To each steamy purgatory
On its knees, tender flesh aching.
The receding howls and wails of whistles 
The way things ring when you strike them,
Notes that surely will never fade.
It is not so in the pain of life,
Rather in the pain of our routine days.
How many kneecaps will bruise  
Until my body loves me?
But how joyous, you say to me.
What else should it be but illustrious?
Perhaps mornings made of crows
That lift together the same way heads turn together
To meet an open door,
And leaves hugging themselves to death and
Curling up like cinnamon cigarettes,
And swampy ghost forests by New England highways,
And fraying ghost faces behind counters,
Heads condemned to eternal dragging,
And neighbors just for show
With bones of yarn and
Photos of warm houses to share
Between fingernails of sleepy pretty pink,
And all those dozing buggy roses,
And places where rain comes like a dial tone
Spangle in your eye.
Such things,
Such hard cries of the sheltered.
When will you call for me?
Callouses are entombing my feet now
Under which the enigmatic engine gallops
In obedient pulses.
This white paint of bird shit
Plays connectthedots on my windshield.
Wipers fall like axes.
Somewhere those last gobs
Must have been so holy.
I pass children’s rainshine rubber boots,
Stroller families strung together
Swaying through parks like plush caravans,
And babies strapped into those strange cloth lungs.
How it might be to be unfurled into a cottony mist,
To be hushed and folded into a void.
Love is a language to which I am growing deaf.
Now I hear with my fingers,
Guiding the horns of the knobbed,
Thin-skinned steering wheel
As light deflates with a hiss.
Now I see with the brightness of street steel
And the weak strands of headlights,
Like a miner’s helmet through the tunnels of night.
Machines glide head-to-tail
As though they are floating fish masses
Fanged with light and
Sliding from or
Propelled by
Something I cannot see.
O, tell Calliope I wish not to awaken
In those long gray aisles
As if we migrate on a death march
Just to fill the time,
Golden beams of our slithering automobiles
Touching at one of those ruddy specks
Of ticking tollbooths,
At some gilded destination.
 
Amelia Van Donsel is a seventeen-year-old Waltham High School senior of Waltham, Massachusetts whose work has been displayed at the U.S. Department of Education, published in American High School Poets Just Poetry National Poetry Quarterly as a national winning entry, The Best Teen Writing of 2015 and 2016, as well in an anthology and numerous magazines. As an English tutor and the editor-in-chief of her school’s literary magazine, she has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards with multiple national gold medals and regional awards. 

The Marshmallow

Halsey Hutchinson has taken multiple new perspectives on your average, mundane marshmallow, to evoke a whole new richness from the treat.

 

PURE is this sweet, and pure confection

Powdery, spongy untainted white

Blissful bundle, and now finger’d fare,

Ah, this tasty marshmallow square.

Thou know’st that this cannot last

A form reformed by fingers without a past;

How this heat changes you

And swelling, insides oozing goo;

And this, alas! chang’d through and through.

O dark unsightly, unwelcome crust,

Coating caked, white, no more.

This marshmallow harm’d and, I am changed

Our skin scarred, jutting bones rearranged.

Crying uncontroll’d, as I bear witness

And the creepy black brown crust of this.

Now burnt, scathed and impure,

Misshapen sweetness now obscur’d,

And life and death and pain endur’d

Cruel cancer, hast tumors multiforme

Glioblastoma, mass surgery deformed?

Wherein could this marshmallow be,

Except in this molten middle that comes from thee?

Now finish’d, consum’d, no more blacken’d crust

Not pure sweet, but bittersweet, chalky remains and dust.

Memories of her without tumors last;

Just good and bad, now chang’d, time pass’d,

Sweet tastes of life, pure and innocent, burnt and beautiful.

 

Halsey Lilac Hutchinson was born in June 1999 on a cold, windy evening as the fog crept across the Golden Gate bridge along the corridors of California Street.  Soothing her mother’s cries, the room smelled of lilacs, delivered by the hour from a fearful father to whom women still seemed to be a mystery. Now at the age of sixteen, Halsey is a junior at the acclaimed San Francisco University High School, known for its unique interdisciplinary approach to art, history and music. She spends weekends at SF Botanical gardens finding creative inspiration among the vibrant purple hydrangeas and never misses her annual trips to Pacific Grove to observe the colorful orange and black monarch butterflies in the shimmering eucalyptus trees.

Art by: Sterling Butler

Melon Groves

In this poem, Segolene Pihut explores the interchangeability of terrain and relationships through the physicality of the human body.

melon groves, boyo. rows of young boys, backs exposed like the inner sliver of a green bean, hacking and picking away in the steaming soil.

 

  1. for real
  2. magnetized by high eyes
  3. treat me my body; a full mountain expanse
  4. drawing arrows down
  5. i am an epitome of forlonging
  6. dullness in my muscles
  7. as a stinging shower
  8. heat on skin
  9. how can you demand control
  10. blossoming oranges
  11. thank you for the way your wet mouth rolls over them
  12. we are the grinning acquaintances on your ascent in hell’s mountains.

 

Segolene Pihut is a senior at Idyllwild Arts and she is majoring in creative writing. She is the poetry editor for Parallax and loves dogs. 

Art by Noah Jones

melon groves

Phone List, by Emily Clarke and Danae Devine, is a poem that emphasizes the strains of an abusive relationship.

You jerk you didn’t call me up

You crashed your motorcycle Saturday

Because you were hasty

Your hand wrapped around the handles like crab spines

And this made it easier to weigh the bike into the ground

You didn’t think of me

When Steven and the swedes burned their house down

Was webbed between one handle and the wheel

And your turbine legs churned up the ground.

 

You want to see my body bent like a broken bird? Turn to page 8.

 

For the broken glass that scattered the asphalt and my skin, turn to page 19

 

You are cracked board game spaces

Perfectly symmetrical squares of auctioned land

But do you remember when I tripped and broke your guitar stand?

You got pissed and kicked my dog across the beer stained carpet

Well Sparky didn’t appreciate that and neither did I

And we would both appreciate it if you would come pick up all your shitty paintings

The apartment seemed emptier

When our muscles were trained towards the bedspread, we observed it like this:

 

I think of the layer of skin beneath

Tiny pieces of stone tumbling and spilling from my seams

Clever bug, carpet skinner

Its tassels drawing our wrists to our ankles like hog ties

But I am not yet disassembled; not yet stolen

We write, we bleed, we live, we bleed,

We bleed.

Emily Clarke and Danae Devine are both students at Idyllwild Arts Academy and major in creative writing. Emily is the nonfiction editor of Parallax and enjoys incorporating her native american culture into her writing. Danae is the fiction editor of Parallax, and hopes to make creative writing more noticeable to the public. 

Art by Dawn Jooste

 

When The Wise Man Speaks

Grace Vedock explores the conflicting drive of creative passion and its often exhausting nature in this piece.

I don’t mind sleepless nights
utterly unmanageable
afraid of drowning in
piping hot cups of coffee

So wind me up, watch me go
seventy-five down the metro
and moving from predator to prey
has not been easy, but natural

Rather mindful indeed, and not
an ounce of shame to show
proud and pearly whites
or matte black silhouettes

I’d play for you if I could
the melody of a thousand notes
the key change of a single song
if I mustn’t choke back
the fear (a dangerous
concoction when mixed
with passion)

To this day, I am
convinced that
He sang it better.

Executive entanglement, I’d like
to say, yet words fail me;
you belong on the couch
feet on top of mine;
tucked, frightened, and ready to run

The yellow pencil trembles
while I grasp it
I beg to communicate
a foreign and mental narrative
Pen for me not ten verses, but one.
The scraps of memories that live
in the darkest corners
and compartmentalized
into the ephemeral seasons

When pure bliss was mine,
I didn’t know.
Brilliant ideas rarely appear
in the “comfort zone”

But who you are is not
who I want you to be-
you belong to the people
who love you
hopelessly lost
in the labyrinth
of life

When you took a shot
at change, it worked.
You transform the intolerable
into the sentimental,
much like everything else:
Ideas that didn’t die.

 

By Grace Vedock

Grace Vedock is an aspiring poet. When she isn’t finishing her schoolwork, Grace enjoys looking to outside sources of inspiration for writing. Throughout her high school career, poetry and literature have been of great interest to Grace. On her own time, she decided to study and begin to write poetry. A handful of her poems have been published, most notably by Crashtest Magazine and The Noisy Island. She has an acute desire to share her poetry with the young readers and writers of the world.

Artwork by Sumin Seo.

Gregory Robinson talks Mixed Medium

The Creative Writers were fortunate enough to gain an insight into the fascinating world of Gregory Robinson’s unique prose-poetry.

Everyone has an obsession. Gregory Robinson channels his fascination of silent films into his book of prose-poetry, All Movies Love the Moon. This book takes readers on an entertaining journey through the evolution of silent films. The creative writing majors of Idyllwild Arts Academy were fortunate enough to Skype with Robinson and ask him questions about his writing.

 

When and how did you get interested in silent films?

Robinson: It started when I watched The General with a friend who was really into silent films. It was amazing. Silent films have so many surprises, and they break many of the rules that they ultimately helped to establish. Also, as a literary sort, I loved that silent movies ask you to read. As I started to watch more, I noticed how essential the title cards are, and I love how they blend in with the design of the movie. The more silent movies I watched, the more I got into them. Now I’m a big fan. My wife and I go to the silent film festival in San Francisco every year.

I was wondering if you wrote the book in chronological order? Or did you go all around?

Robinson: I totally went all around. I was really worried that the texts would sound detached, and that it wouldn’t be a cohesive piece, but recurring themes eventually emerged on their own.

At what point did you know you were writing the book?

Robinson: I sat down one night and wrote one about the movie Sunrise, and it just sort of clicked. After that, my goal was to write one [prose-poem] a night and write 100 total. I wrote about 50, and just over 30 made it to the book.

You write prose poetry, which is a hybrid combination of two genres (prose and poetry). Hybrid writing, such as this, is not something you generally find on the bookshelf of your local Barnes and Noble. Because of this, did you ever feel like a misfit writer?

Robinson: I thought it would be an unpublishable book. I was not sure if there was an audience, and publishers often don’t want to publish an image and poetry book–it’s really expensive, for one thing. It is also not quite traditional prose or poetry. With prose poetry, I felt like I was not writing in any genre. I was just writing quick quips. I felt like I was writing other things that other people weren’t doing. It’s not so radical, but it did feel different.

How did you find someone who would publish something so unconventional?

Robinson: I found Rose Metal Press as I wandered around at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) conference, and I bought The Louisiana Purchase by Jim Goar. Rose Metal Press looks for hybrid works such as flash fiction and image/text combinations. I only spoke with them for a few minutes, but I knew they would be a good fit for me. I had my book mostly written at that point, so I sent it in during their open reading period.

In the book, the speaker references imagined conversations with Ralph Spence, a prominent title card writer in early 1900s. Would you mind describing what it was like to talk with Ralph Spence?

Robinson: I never actually met him; he died a long time ago. In the book, I have some imaginary dialog with his ghost. I can say that he was a very important guy. He knew everyone in Hollywood and lived a movie star lifestyle, including mansions and limousines. His job was to “fix” movies with words. They called him a film doctor, and I love the idea that words could make a movie better. His tagline was “All bad little movies go when they die go to Ralph Spence.” He was not a nice person, though. He had a wife and child that he neglected and he ultimately died alone. He had a grandson, and I did talk to him, but that was the closest I got [to speaking to Ralph Spence]. Spence’s grandson knows very little about him, nor does anyone else.  I drove to find Spence’s grave once, but it was mostly grown over. So, the lesson from Spence is that you should write down your stories. At some point, people will want to know who you were. I want to be able to know Ralph better, but I don’t think I ever will.

Was this book supposed to pose more answers to questions about silent movies, or more questions?

Robinson: I hope that I asked more questions. The book should be playful and fun, while dealing with serious issues. In fact, I think the book is kind of a bad place to go for real answers. There are facts scattered throughout, but there are also partial truths, and things that I might like to be true.

What is your definition of immortality? Movies contain an essence of immortality because they last forever, so I was wondering what your definition is.

Robinson: I love thinking about silent movies ahistorically – so rather than considering them immortal works, I try to look at them as if they were created recently. This lets me talk about silent movies without being nostalgic.

What was your favorite movie to watch and what was your favorite poem to write?

Robinson: My favorite poem didn’t make the collection. In fact, I do not think I even submitted it to the press. It was The Passion of Joan of Arc, which is probably my favorite silent movie. My wife is named Joan, and the poem was more a piece for the two of us. My favorite movie to write about was The Woman in the Moon. I love all the scenes, interactions, and innuendos, and what they thought a rocket ship would look like.

What is the future of written word? Do we have anything left to say?

Robinson: I think we do. I love to see authors play with genre and look forward to works that combine genres. For example, think about all the genres that are available – play writing, cookbooks recipes, and obituaries, which aren’t typically creative, but are fertile soil for someone with creative ideas. Take the dullest thing you can find and make it into something amazing. Those are the kind of things I love to read.

Sunday Dinner

Fiora Elbers-Tibbits describes the cliché Sunday dinner in her brutally honest and satirical prose piece, “Sunday Dinner.”

The family comes bubble wrapped, prepped to eat over synthetic discourse.
Prayer first. The future’s passed around; patrons pile on the collection
plate. The oven is hot and the timer cheats. Women leap at the beep,
unrehearsed in their assembled domestic burst. Another spring chicken:
underdone meat, dry like chalk. She’ll learn. The men are robust with
compensating promises, raises and grease simmering at the table, lingering
green outside the confession booth. They lurch. A bubble pops and the
curtain drops. Chairs adjust, scrape back singed skin. Faith and heat
converge.

Fiora Elbers-Tibbits
A senior creative writing major at Walnut Hill School for the Arts.

Art by Florence Liu

Pink Weddings with Kristina Darling & Carol Guess.

Ana Garcia experiences grown-up fairy tales in “X Marks the Dress: A Registry,” a new poetry book by Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess.

Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess. X Marks the Dress: A Registry. 2013.  100 pages. $15.15. ISBN: 0985919159.

Kristina Marie Darling & Carol Guess bring a wonderful collection of poems in their book X Marks the Dress: A Registry. These poems explore various themes, such as relationships, identity, and love, but the authors manage to write them in such a way that the collection reads like a short story. Darling is a recognized author of seven other books and is the winner of the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Award; Guess has published another twelve books, some of which were nominated for the Lambda Literary Award. This collaboration resulted in one of the most interesting and catching poetry books I’ve come across this year.

From the very first poem, we are transported into a vintage, pink world that gives the sense of being part of a fairy tale. However, as one moves on, we realize that this is more of a bittersweet story, like what happened before the characters could live happily ever after. We get to witness scenes previous to the wedding and how they affect the vision we have of ourselves, the experience of becoming parents, the fights the couple has, the struggles we go through trying to regain our sense of identity. The authors do a perfect job keeping the readers interested, drawing them into a knot of experiences and emotions that get more and more complicated. While reading this, I found myself feeling nostalgic, as if I was looking at the wedding album of someone I knew very well, knowing that their lives weren’t exactly a perfect fairytale, but that there is still a bittersweet love between them. This is a book that can be enjoyed by anyone, because even if the reader is more into fiction stories than poetry, X Marks the Dress: A Registry, can be read as a plain, sweet short story.

One of the most interesting aspects of this book was the experimentation with various formats to take us on this journey. Filled with prose poetry, appendixes, footnotes and line breaks, it creates a very unique and creative reading experience. For example, the poem “A History of Wedding Invitations: Glossary of Terms,” just consist of various definitions of many concepts that surround the idea of weddings; however, they are not “formal” definitions that we would find on a dictionary: the writers here played with the concepts they have been working on the book so far, adding their own original ideas to these concepts, making it fun to read. Or in their poem, “Appendixes,” where it just consists of footnotes, but there’s not text at all. Yet, as we read the footnotes, we can have an idea of what the “invisible poem” would be about.

Even when the formatting is so varied, it does not make the poems hard to follow, which comes back to my earlier point that this book can be also read as a short story. This is the perfect book to have a date with on a weekend. This book must definitely be part of your bookshelf!