Poem: Patrick Fuellbeck – “The Feast”
June 15th, 2018
Remember when poetry was fun? I have to admit that, for the most part, I am more and more consistently embroiled in a rather selfish kind of poetic conquest, climbing fierce and grand climes chasing profundity, and usually I fall short, in the form of writing some kind of complaint, never stopping the search to even attempt to press a smile into the difficult world…
In ‘The Feast’, part of a series of children’s poems by Patrick Fuellbeck, our poet isn’t trying to hit us over the head with slapstick absurdity… you know why? Because one shouldn’t ever have to reach very far to find a good thing, to find something positive, something fun, like taking in a foot-full of delicious apple pie. How many days have we spent, especially lately, convincing ourselves that such positivity isn’t apt in the face of so
much (assumed) apocalypse?
I have the pleasure of knowing Patrick a bit in real life, and I will say, for one thing, that Patrick is one of the more obviously generous and positive fellas I know. He’s a refreshing man to encounter on the street, as he will listen to you intently, smile, and assess quickly what it is you need out of a conversation to help you go on your (up to that point) not so merry way. A similar refreshment occurs in ‘The Feast’.
Through subtle defamiliarization in the form of eating with one’s feet, Patrick is able to do something that a lot of poetry is unfortunately no longer concerned with, as we modern poets fall all over ourselves to say something dark (because dark seems to be the new meaningful) which is to appeal both to children (who will find that eating pie with one’s feet is fittingly absurd) and to older readers, who, despite ourselves, will read a
poem like this and feel a smile begin to curl the corners of our mouths despite how serious we have become in adulthood, despite how messy the world seems to be. Maybe we realize upon reading that eating with one’s feet would at least be a welcome break from being seemingly bilked by the whole wide world. Like taking an alternate route to work, or a branch of trail you haven’t yet taken through the park, the literalness of eating
with one’s feet feels as novel as it is silly, which forces us to be silly by placing ourselves at “The Feast”, to feel that warm pie mashing between our toes, and having no worry about the mess. It’s refreshing these days to be silly, silliness being in such short and ready supply that, like taking that unfamiliar route home, the mind is (subtly) forced to stretch a bit, our expectations too, and suddenly our bad luck narratives, our current cycles of ennui, and that perceived to be ubiquitous lack that makes your teeth grind falls away, and suddenly you’re making mud pies again, racing dinky cars in the dirt, eating sloppy pie with your toes.
I think it’s fitting, given what I’ve said above, that Patrick notes that the attendees to such a cathartic meal are “the witches and warlocks alike”. That’s us; you and me looking for the right spell, the right ingredient to magically improve our lives, our wants, what we get out of the shrinking world, etc. Balderdash! Let’s take off our shoes, give up the Sisyphean task of constantly trying to assert our so serious selves in this busy and dimly lit world, and, at least for a moment, dig in… having no concern, like children again, for what is ‘a la mode’.
My name is Patrick Fuellbeck. I reside in Peterborough Ontario. I have been writing children’s poetry for over 15 years. I can confidently say, that I very much think like a child and get great pleasure in the idea of inviting the reader into the mind of imaginative youthful innocence. I have a ten year old daughter, whom I share this carefree nonsensical freedom with.
Poem: Simon Turner – “Focaccia Numbers”
June 1st, 2018
Though E.M. Forster wrote Maurice almost 60 years earlier, the novel wasn’t published until 1971, as Forster feared for his safety after the imprisonment and consequential death of Oscar Wilde. I wonder if the epigraph Turner uses from Maurice is a reference to Wilde’s epitaph, that reads:
And alien tears will fill for him
Pity’s long-broken urn,
For his mourners will be outcast men,
And outcasts always mourn.
Fittingly, Turner’s poem is a kind of clandestine protest of the sort of alienation still visited upon LGBTQ+ people, as was detailed in Forster’s Maurice almost 100 years ago, and which of course is still despicably evident today. Turner’s protest begins to become clear in the way they attach an underlying lack or darkness to seemingly banal and innocent instances in the poem, following the invocation of the “echo” in the first stanza: the “news / is rotten”, the trepidation that comes with taking up joining a faith group, “star-gazing”, an “empty sink”, and “rubbing pennies”. There is a tarnishing at work here as well, as the empty sink, which to most readers connotes cleanliness, is “lined with dishwater scum”. Turner writes “I echo what’s read” to suggest that this underlying ‘darkness’ represents a commonality of experience among many homosexual men like Maurice, in the form of a shared history of intolerance, violence, and mourning.
For the “men” in Wilde’s epitaph, those who understand Turner’s ‘echoes’ only too well, there may be an inescapable self-doubt and very real fear inherent in engaging in religious, public, and even private spheres due to the possibility of being subjected to a wide variety of social or economic repercussions. For Forster, like Wilde, such a self-affirmation of identity could have meant imprisonment or social exile.
Forster’s original ending for Maurice saw the protagonist and his lover Alec living together as a couple, but living always in fear of being found out. The British Library’s synopsis about Forster’s dilemma in publishing Maurice notes that “To condemn Maurice and Alec’s love would have resolved the novel in a way that suited society; to celebrate it, however, rendered it taboo”. Similarly, Turner’s poem offers a real and difficult look at the possible tragic effects of identifying as someone who does not fit into current and arbitrary social norms. In the end, I think Turner is trying to rouse us with the alternative to Forster’s true story; if one is being made to live in the “dark”, one might begin to see oneself too darkly.
D. Simon Turner is a recent graduate of English Literature from Trent University. Their short story “Ragdoll in Ragtime” is part of the upcoming anthology We Shall Be Monsters (Renaissance Press, 2018). Their poetry has been thrice published in the anthology Chickenscratch as Simon Turner-Semchuk (2016 and 2017) and they have written three plays produced in Peterborough, ON.
Poem: Nisa Malli – “What if you are the only people living here”
May 15th, 2018
Reading this poem for the first time I was reminded of a Matthew Zapruder lecture title: “the furniture appears to be dreaming”. Have always loved that title, picturing what’s inanimate in my apartment suddenly waking in the night to talk arses, to lament their stuffings slowly falling out, to wonder what to do about all that goddamn dog hair. However, Malli adds another dynamic here, when she writes “In your dreams, the house / is on autocomplete”, suggesting that a home isn’t just the objects and people and skins of paint that fill it, rather, depending on one’s experience and choices (and luck), it is at times what’s lost that most defines a space. Malli’s seemingly empty or at least sparsely populated home, void of throngs of excited parents and grandparents of imagined children, still “swells in its seams” due to the profundity and weight of the loss hinted at in the ending. Note that the voice of this poem, the assumed occupant of the home, is more focused on lack than substance; the “Furniture you forgot you owned”, “Lost books groping for shelves”, “the family that never visit”: the space is defined by what it will now never hold, rather than by what it houses. What a fitting reminder that we, as human beings, are maybe more defined by what we walk by, sleep during, miss, shoo away, wave to, run out of, strip away, or escape.
What if you are the only people living here
Nisa Malli is a writer and researcher, born in Winnipeg and currently living in Toronto. Her poems have been published in Grain, Arc, Carte Blanche, and Maisonneuve. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Victoria and completed a 2017 Banff Emerging Writers residency.
Poem: Anthony Cristina – “Teeth and Gums”
May 1st, 2018
Anthony’s title evokes proper oral hygiene, the syntax seemingly ripped from any toothpaste, floss or mouthwash commercial (note that Anthony writes “teeth or gums” in the first couplet, not “teeth and gums”). Something I find myself doing more than almost anything else as a poetry editor is trying to relate to (primarily) young writers the power of a well-wrought title, how a title can (should?) really be a poem of its own. Anthony’s title here is what first drew my eyes back to this poem from his submission, over and over, as the title acts on the poem in a really fresh way (pardon the pun that’s about to take shape). The minty freshness the title breathes into the poem that follows is actually a warning, a subconscious palate cleanser, as the spotlight he is about to put on such a
violent act is far more affective if we can first rinse ourselves of expectation and enter into the poem brave and clean. By using this title Anthony is giving us some room to read light and beauty into the otherwise messy destruction here, then, in the end, he mercifully runs us over.
Teeth and Gums
Anthony Cristina works out of a motorcycle repair shop somewhere north of the American border. He’s written for various publications both online and in print and has authored two chapbooks and an upcoming graphic novel one critic described as, “If Hunter S. Thompson killed Neil Gaiman and wrote The Sandman instead.” He can be found at www.cristina.la
Poem: Conor Mc Donnell – “Study of a Study for the Nurse in Battleship Potemkin”
April 15th, 2018
Some of the best poetry I encounter is about what the subject of the work is “not”. Many poetry detractors or dabblers would argue that most poetry functions this way, as poets have long been accused of purposely obfuscating meaning in order keep the genre inaccessible. Poets accomplish this confusion by presenting the world with our unique brand of elusive intellectual code in need of an intellectual codex that is available only to those in ‘the club’. Almost every poem, like Mc Donnell’s here, is best consumed by reading literally first, and then taking enough time to think, in order to get at what’s underneath.
I love when poets elevate the presence of unlikely secondary or background characters to a height of primary importance in order to elucidate other themes. As such, in Mc Donnell’s vision, “She”, our primary character, “is not contained”; our nurse is given a second life in Mc Donnell’s “study of a study”. However, Mc Donnell isn’t acting as White Knight here, he is simply repositioning the nurse from a “tomb” to a “precipice”, where we, as modern readers, might use our collective cultural wisdom we have gained since the film’s release to declare her fate. This is not a revisionist work as much as it is a work of reclamation, as she is no longer “screaming in invisible rooms”; she is afforded a narrative of her own, outside of the world of the film, outside of time. Indeed, Mc Donnell is providing the nurse, as the poem says, a “chain” that would prevent her from falling again and again (as the fall, in this sense, repeats with every viewing) into the “unmarked tomb” of obscurity. Such a reclamation allows us a more nuanced look at the character, and therefore, in a sense, at every character in film’s sordid and misogynistic past, as a means of providing us a chance to airlift her out of old expectations, old politics, and into a more informed, modern, and (ideally) enlightened spotlight.
This poem is an indicator of how far we have and haven’t come. Mc Donnell understands there is risk in revision, and danger in a lack thereof, as a study will reveal what is present, or what can be observed, but a “study of a study” will reveal what has been missed. Yes, “she” is left tipping, but there is a “chain”, and we can help to hold it, or release; this poem is a chain. By magnifying her personhood, her humanity, by telling you what she is “not” instead of speaking for her, Mc Donnell is making a statement: how many “unmarked tombs” could we exhume today by digging into what we did ‘not’ in the past?
Study of a Study for the Nurse in Battleship Potemkin
Conor Mc Donnell is a poet and physician who lives and works in Toronto. His first chapbook, The Book of Retaliations, was published by Anstruther Press in 2016. His second chapbook, Safe Spaces, was published by Frog Hollow Press in 2017. Mc Donnell was shortlisted for The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Prize for Best Poem in 2018.