Sunday, September 14, 2014

Review: Lissa Kiernan's Two Faint Lines In the Violet

Poetry books come and go, but Two Faint Lines In The Violet is a collection that should always stay.  Lissa Kiernan is someone I have known and workshopped with for years; and for years I urged her to publish, even as she demurred and returned--with a patience and meticulous devotion that I have never seen paralleled--to a regimen of editing and selecting, girded in a brilliant poet’s quest for consummate attainment.  Whereas someone like me would argue that you can approach, in the manner of an asymptote, a state of perfection, but only with lessening gains and then fruitless ire, Kiernan struggled, refashioned, and re-evaluated onward.  Through her persistence, I am happy to say, she effectively destroyed my case.  She hurdled the asymptote to overcome its blithe logic.  I fully admit now that I was wrong to press her to publish sooner.  Not because her poems weren’t wonderful then; but rather because she has accomplished a feat at first glance surreal and yet ringing with sonorous truth:  she made the asymptote touch the line of unmitigated excellence.

Kiernan has achieved a blend of fine concern for minute textures with a lush voice, a voice tended by fabulous varieties and a head-swirling vocabulary.  A handful of laced themes pillar the book, and yet the lines sojourn off on fresh searches of their own.  In a mysterious fusion of unjoinable elements,  Kiernan provides the rarefaction suggested by the ascetic title--“two lines in the violet”--and yet also a gritty abundance.  Nature is represented from myriad angles even while few if any of the poems are nature poems:

At first, you could still navigate the car to Avery’s store,
ignore the occasional synapse that, like an errant green

tendril, misfired.  Could hide the diminishing consensus
of your right and left halves, the querulous logic, incessant

chattering, like a beaver’s teeth on a half-drowned log,
or the scattering of some furred creature’s claws

(From “Mud Season”)

This poem is one of many that latch us into Kiernan’s bond with her father (and to a lesser extent, her mother), particularly as his mind faltered, gradually shifting the chemistry of the relationship.  She is a master of literature as prism, one through which this poignant downslope hosts many paths of mottled light.  Through metaphor and juxtaposition, Kiernan pulls our hearts into the trails of conceptual linkages, leading us on a withering journey--as if up and down uncertain yet panoramic arches of emotion--into her intimate familial realm:

Last night, my father stood on the threshold.
By the door hung a thin slab of slate.
He pointed.  I told him:

Mom put that there.
Mom bought that.
That belongs to Mom.

The slate was painted.  A chickadee
in winter--snowflakes throbbed in a star-
darkled sky.  Insolent beak, passerine feet

(From “Chickadee”)

Early on, the brain tumor that afflicts her father is linked to a sinister nemesis:  the Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, in particular its effects on the environment and the health of all it touches through various covert yet indelible tendrils.  In one poem, Kiernan intersperses a Mother Goose rhyme through a stark, mechanical description of the facility, sewing the lineal and the techno-political together in devastating ways.

Yankee’s decommissioning is not the death of its poison, nor of its stranglehold on the social surrounds.  Ominous precision from the poet provides a frightening two-way autopsy:

But each pipe, seal, and bearing must be mourned
and laid to rest.  Make no mistake--
for each method a cost.  Whether to store it dry or wet

addles your brain.  Odds for cross-contamination
curdle your spleen.  Perhaps we ought not place blame.
Go on.  Bury it.  As quickly and quietly as you can.

Dump it in dark trenches in towns with jowled porches
and slow-swaying stoplights.  Mottling a river--
with no will left to say no.

(From “Eclogue on Decommissioning”)

Despite her sharp condemnation of mismanaged fissioning, and the arrogant attitude that humans are ready to tamper with such things, Kiernan’s primary focus, with steadfast ardor, remains her father.  In fact, I have never seen a poetry collection that so carefully and completely examines any aspect of family life, even less one that takes a trajectory with so many fraught wings.  Page after soaring, plummeting page, with the weight of a tear-burned diary, Kiernan shows us phases of the decline, each differently evocative.  Each poem takes the previous poem’s muse and wrenches its anguish, as if a single heart were the reshaped clay of a hurt sculptor’s craft.  The encompassing quality of the writing insures that we are in the room as Kiernan confronts the terrible within the greater terrible:

... I wiped you clean tonight, raddled

hands roughing your bedsored flesh, I sought out all
the folds.  You, shamed numb by what you called accident,

buckled on your side, facing the wall.  But to me,
it was just another incident in what has become

routine:  this morning like last evening like tomorrow
afternoon ...

(from, “Riven”)

Through a series of absolutely moving poems, which approach, dive, and travel beyond her father’s death--poems that together, I think, form a special stellar space within an already sublime firmament--Kiernan catapults us into the second half of the book, which branches broadly through her history, her marriage, various reflections, and also special moments in Brooklyn.  Many of these trend dark or cynical, though not in any simple way; and it is impossible not to see this slant in relation to the first half, where the epigraphs, one supplying the book’s title, foreshadow a radioactive trinity between daughter, father and decay.

Many fine-tuned yet luxurious treats of wordplay await the reader here.  Despite an oracular look at reality, the lines often frolic or swashbuckle.  Sometimes the poems themselves are playful, as in “The Craft” (Real Wiccans are crated from other real Wiccans,/Don’t waste time wondering about the chicken-/and-egg situation./It doesn’t apply to covens.)  Or in Kiernan’s dark-swinging-to-light embrace of her city of residence:

How long have I breathed in your feral gardens, fermented tunnels,
sweat-licked shores?  Your natives sulk over the Immigration Act,

but which of them would not give me--in the blur of a vanishing R
train--the salt off their skin?  Breuckelen.  You’re a Dutch oven

(from “Dear Brooklyn”)

Given the mantle of saturnine clouds I myself wear as a bard, it is perhaps inevitable that I am drawn to the cutting yet generative aspect of Kiernan’s poetry, where she takes a deep breath of courage and builds voice in the doldrums of silence our society perpetuates:

Later, at the shrink’s, I won’t speak of the dwindling

life cupped between my thighs, but grin grimly, allow
I don’t care for the latest pill.  Makes me flat
as men, one-dimensional, a balloon without air.
Let go my string and let’s just say I would not rise

impossibly round, pink, and weave, giddy as a burp,
between the Chrysler’s glittering gargoyles.
But the body?  It’s resourceful.  I knuckle
that lipstick, jab on my old mouth.  Make a fist.

(From “Commute With Plath”)

Troubled dynamics of broken relationships provide a riveting archipelago of discrete foci among the variety of the poems:

Obnoxious holiday, I muttered, but the words
would not even be mine.  Meanwhile, I was so tired
from being beautiful and right!  Ironing lingerie?

And nothing quite like steak.  Instead, I buy you a keg.
At love’s last gasp, nothing is often the best thing to say
and nothing says I love you quite like beer.

(from “Apathy and Valentine’s Day”)

Ultimately, I cannot adequately convey the versatile range of this oeuvre.  “Census” is an apt series of stinging questions.  “Five Easy Pieces,” complete with roman numerals, haunt with their cameos of violence, sex and awe--and are not at all easy.  You will find surprises I have not mentioned, which add subtle yet symbiotic flavors.  Throughout the book, a picaresque sarcasm changes cloaks.  Sometimes, with a final chuckle, it plummets into abysmal yet steeling fire.  There is a strong influence of Plath, but Kiernan is not similarly damned.  Lament never overcomes the vulnerable warmth that connects the reader magnetically to her tender self-revelations and pained exposés.

If you can read a book by someone you never met, and thereby feel less isolated--touched in chambers of your being that you never thought to share--does it not, with robust delight, regenerate?  This, through the magic of immeasurable writing, is what you can expect when you meet with Kiernan, walk beside her, twixt the two violet lines.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Release: Halfway Down the Stairs, Sept 2014 Issue: Disappear

Check out the latest issue of Halfway Down The Stairs, which starts off with my forlorn and perhaps frightening poem, "Desert Weeds."  The theme of this issue is:  Disappear.  No need to wait for October 31 or the latest dark novel to feel the cthonic tingles--they're all right here in this potent collection.

Fly well in the dark.


direct link to "Desert Weeds":

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Poem: Walking Into A Dark Forest

A previous version of this poem was published long ago in Istanbul Literary Review.




Walking Into a Dark Forest

wanton as a moth,
silence opens its face into mine.

i’ve been here before, staring,
more exposed than i could be
to a mirror or lover or phrase.

people, after all, are just facets
strayed from the dark side of the moon.

we dwell in separate craters,
only fingertips and irises
for candlelight.

this silence understands,
listening with all its ears
and none. 

its speaks with the emptiness
within every voice.

somehow it has found me,
dissolving my tasks,
cradling what i want to be known.

no one can touch me like this,
nor can i find myself again
when i leave.


Poem: Glade Alone

Originally published in Pyrokinection.

Best to all,



Glade Alone

lost snowflakes
walk a graveyard
of marbled spruce.

this kind of death,
unmarked and pure,
never reaches the metros.

when solitude
is your mortician
something has gone right.

when your priest is frost,
and only the moon


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A day will come

A day will come when you would give almost anything to relive this particular day.

Layla Dragonlfy, Herons In Waiting

Friday, August 29, 2014

Acceptance: The Wolf Skin

So pleased to be associated with this shamanic place steeped in primordial energies.  They took two poems, one that ignores society, and one critical of society from the vantage of nature ("Topped Off," "Clover In Sidewalk").  Much thanks to Poetry Editor Tessa Torgeson!

More than any other set of profound ideas, I admire those associated with the pre-european Native American tribes.  It is painful for me to see our society attempt to destroy this mindset.  Guns can't kill ideas but industrialization combined with competitive consumerism can relegate them to dark forgotten corners, much like fossils.

Here's part of the "About" page from The Wolf Skin:

In Shoshone mythology specifically, the wolf paradoxically represents both death and rebirth. According to legend, the trickster Coyote and Wolf had an argument about whether or not humans should live after death. Wolf insisted that he could bring a person back from the dead by shooting an arrow under him. Coyote said that men should remain dead. A few days later, he returned to Wolf because his son had been bitten by a rattlesnake and was dying. Wolf reminded Coyote of his words and refused to raise anyone else from the dead. The Shoshone claim this is how death entered the world, and that Coyote was punished for his devious ways by having his son be the first to die.

Anyway, my posts here are terse as I struggle with humanity's continued disfigurement of the planet, and the approach of robotic, cyborg, anti-animal--indeed, anti-human--ways of technological self-evolution.  On top of that my own psychological issues are flaring up.  I can sum it all up with an allegory of having to sit near a wall, knowing that it must be passed to bring health and avoid great misery.  The wall is guarded and yet the guards are in denial.  They are strong and there is no way to get them to open the one door in the wall.  They talk pleasantly and shallowly to you, as if you are insane.  "What wall?" they say with a condescending smile.

They are impervious to every attempt of logic or emotion.  And you are forced to deal with them over and over.  Should you discuss the things they want to discuss?  Or continue to try to change them?  This is what I deal with in my life, and I'm exhausted.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Acceptance: East Coast Literary Review

Editor Heather Lenoir informed me that my poems "Zephyress" and "Back Together Again" will be appearing in the Fall Issue of ECLR.  From my geezerly perspective, Editor Lenoir is a precocious youngster who recognizes the importance of both visual and verbal passion, expressed as art, for the health of community.  As with most internet zines, the sense of community she helps establish is national or even international.  We need this kind of empathy, as we are all going to swim or sink as a species, given the global hurdles we face. 

ECLR is a source of catharsis, mind-enrichment, and luscious meaning.  You get people expressing their deepest truths--painful or ecstatic.  They thereby demonstrate what we are, and what we need to express as we grapple with the dictates of society.  Society is a norm-imposing beast.  A deadening beast.  A battlefield where greed often wins and sets the rules.  We need to escape the dysfunctional locus.  We need to be more like children and also sages.  Child-like sages.  ECLR helps with that. 

Into the future we go, numb yet reckless, cocksure yet stupid.  It is a future enmeshed in so much technology and environmental upheaval that nothing can be certain.  It seems that humanity tends to hate itself, and act self-destructively.  Art and poetry, in contrast, allow us to accept each other, share, and actualize our best.  We can be ethical and mutually caring.  We can.

All these thoughts came to me while reading Editor Lenoir's zine.  Go check it out, and see what comes to you.


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Acceptance: Dressing Room Poetry Journal

Editor Meg Johnson has just released the latest issue (#9) of Dressing Room Poetry Journal.  I’m emphatically thrilled that my painful poem, “Guinevere Finally Leaves” is included.   

Johnson is amazingly busy, having just received a four-course-per-semester appointment at Iowa State University.  She is also moving soon.  And her recent book, Inappropriate Sleepover, is drawing good reviews.  Furthermore, she is doing various readings--AND, of course, running her own zine!

To read more about her clock-crunched life, you can visit her blog:

In a very positive review of Inappropriate Sleepover, Hannah Stephenson writes:

In her debut collection of poems, Meg Johnson’s specialty is exposing the absurdity, humor and disturbing messaging in what we deem “sexy.” “Inappropriate Sleepover” is irrefutably funny — Johnson has a gift for timing and unexpected punchlines. But more significant, to me, is her bold examination of gender performance and objectification. These poems are littered with cast-off items of clothing and classic icons of femininity: Marilyn Monroe, Lolita, Betty Boop. If this book were sexy sweatpants (like those that appear in the book’s first poem), the back would be emblazoned with the word “subversive.”

I hope you get a chance to meander through Issue 9.  It includes some well-known poets like Kenneth Pobo, and also prodigy-level work by lesser known folks, including some new editors of new journals.  There are also two interviews:  one with Blake Lee Pate & Taylor Jacob Pate; and the other with Kristina Marie Darling, conducted by Genevieve Jencson.

I’m tremendously grateful to be included in DPJ.  Even more so since the poem selected brings solace concerning my distant past.
Best To All,


PS:  direct link to "Guinevere Finally Leaves":

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Acceptance: Halfway Down the Stairs

Editor Joseph Murphy informed me that “Desert Weeds” will be appearing in the next issue of Halfway Down the Stairs.  I’m overjoyed to become part of this beautiful journal’s repertoire.  Sharing the task of poetry editing with Joe is Roxanna Bennett.  On the masthead page, both editors present an aura of openness and healing creative energy--and this could be said of the journal in general.  The current edition, June 2014, is titled possession, and I highly recommend a perusal.

I wish I had more time to ladle praise.  Thank you so much to Editors Murphy and Bennett.  Moments of acceptance in fine journals are so very important to poets, well, at least they are to me.  My morale is a bike tire with a little hole in it, and it likes a good amount of pumping!

Best to All,