May 3 2017

Poet Spotlight: Stacey Balkun on the elusive in history and mythology

Stacey Balkun

Stacey Balkun. (Photo by Karl Ault, Kault Photography.)

Stacey Balkun’s poetry has been described as nuanced, insatiably curious, and fearless. She is the author of two chapbooks, Lost City Museum (ELJ Publications 2016) and Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak (dancing girl press 2016), which has recently been nominated for an Elgin Award. She is also co-editor along with Catherine Moore of Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Women Poets, a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn, and Chapbook Series editor for Sundress Publications.

Your most recent collection of poetry is Lost City Museum. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Oddly enough, the phrase “Lost City Museum” came to me after a poetry reading by New Orleans poets Elizabeth Gross and Geoff Munsterman. Both read fascinating poems about loss, water, and preservation: all of the themes linking my most recent poems. The idea of a lost city and a museum commemorating it made me realize exactly how this project would come together.

Lost City Museum by Stacey BalkunI’m interested in how these poems incorporate imagery of both the concept of museums as buildings for artifacts and objects kept static and preserved behind glass cases, untouched, and imagery of water in the form of sea, rivers, and rain as a constantly moving force. Can you talk about what draws you to this kind of imagery? Did the imagery provide a focus for forming the collection or did you discover the theme after having written a number of individual poems?

I’m fascinated by weird, under-known history as well as mythology, both of which seem elusive to a degree and ever changing, ever moving. I wanted to somehow capture that tenuous energy to reflect an emotional landscape. Some of these poems were written during my MFA, and some came later. I lost my father about a month before my wedding. For months I wondered, how can a person feel the most lonely at a gathering of friends and family meant to celebrate her love? I struggled to write about this tension, and I think images of ocean and rain or desert and drought helped me explore and understand that odd momentum of gain and loss. This type of tension has always been there in my work, yes, but as these poems came, I sort of re-discovered it and saw a thematic thread that helped order the poems, though not necessarily narratively.

Continue reading


May 2 2017

Adjusting to New Conditions

In many of my previous weekly updates have noted that I’ve been feeling a wee overwhelmed, which has lead me to skip weeks — like last week. When I started off posting weekly updates, it was an effective (mostly) tool to check in with myself and see where I’m at, particularly in regards to my writing progress. It helped me keep forward momentum on my work for a time.

Its easy to get locked into routines and to beat yourself up when you fail to follow them (like I do). It can take a while to figure out that things are not working like they once did.

With all the projects I have going on the weekly updates (and the website in general) can sometimes feel like a distraction from the work I need to be doing. I won’t be giving up the updates entirely, but I’m likely going to allow my weekly updates a little less weekly as needed.

At some point, I’m going to need to explore my goals for this site and what I’m hoping to accomplish with it.

What I’m Reading

I’m *this* close to being done with The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin — and I’m hoping to finish it off by the end of today. So many revelations about this world, it’s amazing. Really. I love this series so much.

What I’m Writing

I’m still trying to find a home for my Pantheon chapbook, so I binge submitted it along with a number of individual poems all at once. I’m . . . hopeful, somewhat?

Another chapbook is sitting by ready for a good edit and then a send out, almost ready to face its own slew of rejections.

The 30/30 challenge went well. I completed all 30 erasure poems on Instagram, all using Trader Joe’s Feerless Flyers. It’s been a fun journey down a number of different roads in terms of themes and erasure styles. My personal favorite of the month has to be “Naval,” pictured below.

.

The Running Life

No runs over the past two weeks, but I got myself out the door and took a long walk with a friend. We strode through the trails near her house and talked and talked. It had been a while since I just took a really long walk. It was wonderful just to be out there with a good friend in nature and enjoying the trees and the stream near the reservoir. Starting to feel the itch to get back into my running routine again and/or adding in some hiking.

Longest Run walk of the Week: 6.1 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 6.1 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 68.64 miles

Linky Goodness

Ayana Mathis in her essay On Impractical Urges:

“We have a cult of success in America. We believe that if we just work hard enough, we will achieve. It is certainly better to hold these beliefs than a fatalist vision of the world in which fortunes are determined entirely by factors outside of oneself (social position, nepotism, economic status, etc.). Nonetheless, there is something naive about our way of looking at things, and cruel too, in the way children can be cruel because they are too young to have anything but an absolutist vision of the world. It isn’t always true that failure has direct correlation to insufficient grit or ambition.”

Marci Vogel on Publishing a First Book at [almost] 50:

“In the years before I was 50, I placed a manuscript in a drawer because I didn’t know what else to do with it. I might not have written again for a long while. I might not have started writing poems ever. But unhinged desire did lead to poetry, and it was because of the support I received from others that the drawer didn’t shut completely.”



Apr 30 2017

Things We Lost in the Fire: Stories by Mariana Enríquez

The stories in Things We Lost in the Fire are dark, unsettling and powerful. Mariana Enríquez uses horror and the uncanny to explore women’s lives, from schoolgirls to grown women, some impoverished, some wealthy, most reaching for levels of independence or to carve out some space for themselves in the world.

One story tells of three friend drink and drug their way through their young years, a partying haze. Part of the beauty “The Intoxicated Years” is the breathless quality of the prose, moment rushing into moment as the girls rage through their days. At first, it seems a story of reckless freedom, but it becomes clear that all of their adventures are underpinned with a growing viscousness that’s beautifully powerful and raw.

In “Spiderweb,” a woman feels bored and trapped by the marriage she rushed into, and when she brings her husband to visit her family, she’s embarrassed and repelled by him with every passing moment. One a trip with her cousin Natalia and her husband to Asunción (an open market offering mostly knockoffs or illegal items), her frustration comes to the surface. I love the way this story builds on the feeling of being stuck by the choices you’ve made.

“No Flesh Over Our Bones” is the story of a woman finds a human skull, rings it home and names it Vera. The woman becomes more and more obsessed with the skull, desiring to make it whole again. The story approaches the realm of body horror as it explores women’s relationships to their bodies.

In “Under the Black Water,” Marina is an attorney who works with the people who live in impoverished in the slums of Buenos Aires. She learns that strange things, including a dead man coming up out of the water, are happening in the slums. When Marina investigates, events grow more and more disturbing in a way that feels Lovecraftian. This is one of my favorite stories in the collection. I love the main character and how the story is both grittily realistic and strange in the ways it explores poverty and environmentalism.

Among the most disturbing and powerful stories for me was “Things We Lost in the Fire.” Body horror is a key trope in this story, in which women claim their own lives and bodies by setting themselves on fire and living in the world with their scars proudly shown. The scars are presented by this movement of women as a new kind of beauty, with fearlessness and a fervor, and yet.

I’m looking forward to reading more work by Enríquez.

Note: This book was provided as an ARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Apr 26 2017

Watching the Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds_of_Sils_Maria1

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

When I finished watching Clouds of Sils Maria all I could do was sit in stunned silence, letting myself exist in that space a little longer. A few minutes after the credits rolled to a stop, the tears came. I’m not sure how to describe what I was feeling, except that I knew I had seen something beautiful and I wanted to immediately watch it again.

The trailer sucks, by the way. Although it shows clips from the movie, they’re so out of context that it comes off as a completely different movie. And I get it, Clouds of Sils Maria is full of subtleties and is a hard movie to sum up in a simple, marketable way.

On it’s surface it’s about an film actress starring in the revival of the theatrical play that launched her career — now in the role of the older woman. She has to face how time has shifted and she has shifted with it. The more she delves into the role, facing the character’s pain, the more her own insecurities come to the surface.

clouds_of_sils_maria2-juliette-binoche

It’s about the relationship between stars and their personal assistants, that weird line — on the one hand it’s an employer/employee relationship, and on the other hand, the state of constantly being with your employer, answering their phones, and so on creates an intimacy. Sometimes that leads to friendship, sometimes it leads to weirdness. As the central relationship in the movie, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend a vast number of scenes alone together. They both provide phenomenal performances, with great chemistry together.

clouds-of-sils-maria-kristin-stewart

The movie is also about art and what it means to different people. Most of the conversations involve discussions about the theatrical play — analysis of who two women in the play are and what they and their literary relationship stands for. These conversations illustration how the meaning of art changes from perspective to perspective, whether from person to person or from one person at different stages of their live. And as these conversations about a fictional play takes place, it brings attention to the question of the two main characters in this movie and what they stand for (will this movie have the same emotional resonance to me ten years in the future as it does now?).

The movie leaves space for quiet moments and some questions unanswered. It’s a movie I feel strangely protective of this film — I want to tell everyone to watch it, but I also am a bit afraid family and friends might not connect with it the way I did. But then, I suppose that’s all apart of different people understanding art through different perspectives.



Apr 18 2017

All the Miles I’ve Travelled

Over half of last week was consumed by as work trip to Michigan. I flew in and out of Chicago and then drove across Michigan visiting industrial facilities (something I find so interesting). Over the course of the trip I drove about 940 miles. Most of the roads revealed large, flat empty fields with skeletal trees surrounding them. I wanted to get out and explore the forests, to stand among the winter trees, but my driving schedule didn’t really allow it. I did, however, get some photos from the roadside.

This is probably where I should connect these miles to a metaphor about the roads I’ve traveling in my creative life, how I’ve persistently pursued poetry and fiction and filmmaking, how I’ve come across mountains and ravines and struggled my way through, how these roads have garnered me new perspectives and insights into myself and the creative world at large — but I’m just not going there right now. Maybe some other time.

What I’m Reading

I’m stoked to be reading The Obelisk Gate, the second book in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. This book is just as fantastic as the first book, The Fifth Season, which presented a world defined by continual catastrophe (review). I love this world and the characters in it. More about this world has been revealed, making it even more interesting than it already was. I can’t wait to see where this is going.

What I’m Writing

I received three rejections for my homeless ELJ chap over the weekend, back to back. One of them said nice things about my work and offered to publish a few of the poems in their upcoming journal, even though they couldn’t take the book — which was nice.

These days, I’m finding my skin is not as thick as it used to be regarding rejections. I keep reminding myself that most manuscripts get rejected a dozen or more times before finding a home. So, I’m setting myself a requirement to send the chap out to four new publishers, and I’ll continue doing that until it finds a home.

Even with all of the traveling and holidays and life being lifelike, I’ve managed to consistently keep up with my daily erasure poetry on Instagram. I really enjoy doing these and I’m considering putting together a self-pubbed chap of erasure poems at some point.

The Running Life

The not running has continued, and I can feel it in my muscles that I need to be getting back out there again.

Longest Run of the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for the Week: 0 miles
Total Miles for 2017: 62.54 miles

Linky Goodness

“Literature’s grand mission is to tell the complicated truths about what it means to be human, but the most powerful proof that any writer has achieved that lofty goal is in the humble phrase: me too,” says Cheryl Strayed in a response to question on the power of words.

“So maybe it was just sad, doughy me, at home stuffing the void with takeout, but it felt like Sad Girl Theory had infiltrated all the biggest moments in pop culture over the past two years. Beyonce’s visual album Lemonade, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout TV show Fleabag and Rachel Bloom’s My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend each fixated on two things: being sad and being a woman and the connection between both.,” writes Sophie Atkinson in Feminism and the Pursuit of Relentless Happiness.

Five Fierce Women Poets You Need to Read Now