You are a grackle I say out loud to the black robed bird and her iridescent head, purpling in a bright May afternoon. You are a grackle I say to the voice in my head which uttered without thinking, hello mister starling. You are a grackle I correct myself, as she fluttered into a budding tree, lost behind the rumor of a shallow wind. I am a grackle, wings repeat settled again into the departure of flight. I am a grackle. You are a grackle; I am a grackle we whisper to each other, shoulders turned, heads aloft into the cadence of song. I am a grackle I am a grackle I am a grackle I am a grackle.
“Encounter on a Wednesday” was the first poem I brought to poetry workshop, 30 years ago, give or take a few Wednesday. Poppy for remembrance; annotations for sleepwalking.
During six months of vocal cord paralysis, author and professor Amy Nawrocki turned to the written word and fell in love with language again. The result of this exploration is her stunning collection Mouthbrooders, full of sounds and their echoes—ravens screeching, eggs cracking, and acorns falling. As Nawrocki struggles to find her own voice again, she midwives the voices of catastrophe, of memory, and of the small miracles of everyday life.
“Amy Nawrocki’s new collection Mouthbrooders is precise and carefully contained. Each poem is a vessel crafted to express one perfect thing: how saliva works on a burn; the tender terror of bringing a word or a child into life; the pleasure of “rigatoni…heavy/ with artichokes, cream sauce,/peppercorns slowly braised/and crushed under a fork”; the desire to “sample” one’s own flesh; a conversation with a peregrine in which the persona asks, “Tell me about the wind, the kind/that quiets fear and lengthens your cries/ into inaudible whispers.” Mouthbrooders is a collection to savor.”
Laurel S. Peterson, Norwalk Community College, Poet Laureate, Norwalk, CT 2016 – 2019
Also from the archives, 1992.
Blue Moon Diner
He might have been blind.
In my hourglass
recollection, I don’t believe
he ever looked at me
with his eyes–spacious,
window-like; each blink
the metamorphosis of a streetlight
from red to green
from grey to gray.
Aged cacti prickles
crowned his head; roadmapped
baldness charted the constellations
of his travels. To hear
in my novice ears was to see
wisdom printed on a napkin.
He said I looked New Englander, like himself.
I heard him say sheltered,
of all that is reachable, witness
of revolution, student
of places where clouds paint
shadows on the landscape,
his slight cricket body
I saw myself journeying
through time tattered windows;
I saw the vast-heavy earth
deflate to a school child’s globe
filled with places I will go to
when I know the color of every star.
I sipped coffee, sugarless.
I did not ask his name.
I did not think
to ask his name.
The poem began as a class exercise. My students were experimenting with fixed and traditional form poems. I gave them the option of trying a villanelle or a sestina. Some had trouble getting started, so I offered a few images that they could pool from. We had discussed the form and how repetition functions differently in each of these forms. The sestina incorporates repeated end words–words at the end of the line–in a pattern of six line stanzas. A “map” or chart is helpful, and I gave them handouts and examples to follow. As they worked, I asked each student for one word–my aim was to use their words, fixed in a pattern of the sestina. I also had in mind a debate about whether or not a pattern can overwhelm a poem and another debate about how meaning functions in the realm of pattern. Big questions for a 75 minute class.
In the end, I had about 20 words, which I wrote down in order, then supplemented to create six word lines which I then formed into six line stanzas. The exercise challenged me to see how word choice leads pretty naturally to syntax and a need to find meaning not only in words, but in phrases. Beyond that, the challenge was to vary the lines enough so that the repetition (already expected in the sestina form) wouldn’t overwhelm or underwhelm the poem. As I wrote, the fun was in rearranging in interesting ways for sound, then meaning. As I read and recorded the poem, the fun was in managing my voice, the cadence, the pronunciation and articulation of each word and each line. This made me think more about punctuation choices as well as line breaks (enjambing and endstopping–or not).
Whether the poem has logic or “meaning” is now up to the listener. For me, I enjoyed the practice, but I mostly enjoyed that the words were given by my students, and in a way, it’s their poem.
My new collection, Mouthbrooders, is ready to go to the printer for release in June. Order your copy and support Homebound Publications and get a 20% discount.
Fill in the blank: Poetry is ____________
From Poetry 205 Fall 2017 to Poetry 205 Spring 2019. This poem was compiled from students’ responses to the above equation.
What is Poetry?
a baby’s first tears,
wrapped in the arms of a mother with fears
a cigarette bowing to the flame
and a vision upon paper with inked emotion
a light breeze making branches sway
and the sun’s dance on hard concrete
a mouthful of honey,
the sweetest stopping of breath
a cluster of words with power
to break history and sleep with lullabies
an escape; suddenly you find a light
that guides you to freedom
a life preserver: keeping me
from drowning in my thoughts
the sky at night, open
yet hard for one to see without clear vision
as stimulating as green tea
and as hard to sleep after
Rhythm, brain down to fingertips
Life with depth, a looking glass, an entrance
to a world
Poetry opens unlearned minds
to live the impossible through the imagined
a rebirth of ideas, precisely ironed
the power to defy time
the soul coming out to speak
an attempt to point
A poet is a soldier, lover, and fighter packed in one.
A therapist for all aspects of my being
A poet is a pathologist and the muse his corpse,
cracking open each vein to see what brought it to his table.
After the ice storm, it’s good to get back to the living world, back to performing ordinary acts.
A Gathering of Sorts
As morning curdles its way to noontime,
autumn plays its lazy guitar.
To join the living world,
we make our way to the post office
with enough change in hand for three stamps.
Their duty is delivering messages:
a utility bill, the insurance payment, a letter
to a friend. In the front of the line,
a woman’s daughter spins
and spins in her orbit.
Gathering packages in his arms,
a man, Santa-like in tweed jacket
and leather cap, stands beside
a painter covered in plaster.
He sways and looks away
from us, staring instead into
the clouds of his day.
Each day we perform ordinary acts:
we teach algebra, refinance mortgages,
cook dinner, journey to the moon.
Each day a mixture of light and color
penetrates our trust. We place our faith
in little things: the oak’s red summit,
a stamped envelope,
holding the door for each other
as we enter and leave each other’s lives.
Hold steady . . . find your still point . . . get used to letting go . . .
I was pleased to by honored recently by the Hamden Arts Commission and the Hamden Symphony Orchestra for my poem “Circumstance.” The poem won second place in the first ever poetry award co-sponsored by both organizations. Also featured during the orchestra’s spring concert were fellow poets Meri Haray and Laura Alshul and the winners of the Young Musicians Concerto Competition. Listen:
I’m also trying out my new voice, mostly recovered from vocal cord paralysis. Work in progress.
After Inspecting Brassaï’s Graffiti
At Musée d’Art Moderne
I notice the construct of silhouetted
stick figures juxtaposed above a door;
one’s triangular body tells me
to go into a different salle. There,
I find another version of graffiti
on the door in front of me as I sit down.
This is not art someone has written.
My bladder agrees, but against this angst
and all treachery of the world’s turmoil
another has revolted: Yes it is—
Art is what you make of it. Such words
delight me at first; they affect such openness,
pretend pluralism, and compel acceptance
of every sapling of discontent that arises
at seeing paint spread like entrails on the floor.
What you make of it . . . as if anyone could
wake and slither into anarchy and come out
with the paraphrase of a quail egg. I go out
and back to the exhibits, back to the violence
and spectacle of color and form. Seeking out
other dimensions, I walk into a room wrapped
in giant spools of gray, industrial felt.
At the end of one hall, a sculpture in straw
creates the illusion of an airplane; a thousand
pairs of scissors spear its shape. Art is
what you make of it? I need to go back:
digging into my bag and finding a pen
I scratch the last two words into blackness.
The poem is featured in Reconnaissance, published by Homebound Publications. For a signed copy (and free shipping), click the side menu and find “Purchase Signed Copies.”
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