Essay News and Two Thank You’s

I thought that I knew the world, but I had only looked. I had not seen. I had not recognized that looking was not seeing, that seeing was witness, that the privilege of living in a place of looking came with the responsibility to recognize, to act, to aid. I had looked and I had not seen. I had not realized that the borders between worlds and loves and lives were not borders but lines of separation set into the mind by the privilege of looking. I had not realized the responsibility of my eyes to see and not look, of my hands to reach out and give, and give, and give.

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The above paragraph is an excerpt from my essay, “Between Looking and Seeing,” which appears in the Fall 2016 issue of Origins. The theme of the issue is “witness,” and it’s the theme of the essay, too — in it, I consider the difference between seeing something and witnessing something, between standing by and acting, between ignoring and bettering. In a way, the writing of the essay itself has been my own journey towards trying to figure out how to speak and act for the good of all instead of acquiescing with silence. The essay has seen more deconstruction and reconstruction than the average episode of Fixer Upper (PS I love you, Jo!). I wrote the first draft five years ago; in its initial incarnation, it juxtaposed paragraphs about the Tuscaloosa/Dolomite tornadoes in April of 2011 with scenes from a relationship. Even now, just writing that sentence, I can see the problem that took me all five of the intervening years to figure out: to employ a tragedy as a metaphor was a terribly irresponsible, dangerous, and damaging thing for me to do. I considered giving up on the essay, but something just kept nagging me. Sometimes, I think a piece of writing or an idea just won’t go away because there’s something larger about the working-through of it, something important to learn or to say. I think that was definitely the case here. In the incarnation of the essay that appears in Origins, I confess, and I grapple with the ideas of witness, responsibility, and right action.

I also want to give two thank you’s, at the risk of moving too extremely into a different tone that commits some of the sins mentioned in the previous paragraph (“Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself.”). The first thank you goes to the editors of Compose, who kindly nominated my poem, “House Is A Hoard,” for a Pushcart Prize. The second thank you goes to Kristina Marie Darling, whose beautiful essay “’My Heart Pedals Shut’: On Distance, Desire, and Lyric Address in Recent Poetry by Women” appears in the latest issue of The Literary Review. The essay discusses my chapbook, The Sad Epistles, and Megan Kaminski’s Desiring Map. It’s humbling to have my work discussed at all, especially in such good company, so I’m just very, very grateful about this.

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Coyote Poem Howling in Amethyst Arsenic

I’m proud to say that I have a poem, “The Coyote Doesn’t Have To,” in the Fall 2016 issue of Amethyst Arsenic. I’m ecstatic to see this poem roaming out in the wild, and I can’t thank guest editors Staci Schoenfeld and M. Brett Gaffney enough.

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I wrote the first draft of this poem in April of 2014. That was, of course, National Poetry Month, which meant that I was writing a poem every day of that month. I was particularly lucky during that particular National Poetry Month because I wasn’t writing alone. Instead, I shared a collaborative writing space in the form of a blog with students and fellow faculty members. This poem arrived at the end of the month, and I remember feeling strangely vulnerable when I posted it. I’m not sure that, even now, I can articulate the reasons why. I do know that this poem originated in one of those faraway moments of fear that happen in childhood and haunt adulthood. When I was six years old, my parents and I moved from Alabama to Arizona. I was the kind of child who got upset when lunch plans changed; needless to say, I did not adjust well. We lived on the edge of the desert with only a concrete bricked wall between us and the Saguaros and sand, and I was terrified. Every sound, every rustle, and — especially — every howl made me bristle with fear.

That’s where the poem started.

I had a lot of faith in this little poem. Even though I felt vulnerable about it, I still felt as though there was something important about it. I sent this poem out over and over again and it was rejected over and over again. I’m glad about that, though, because I feel like this is the exact right moment for this poem to make its way out into the world.

The reason for that is that the poem didn’t end in the same place in which it started. In fact, the poem ended up in the very opposite place. When I wrote the poem, I began in that howl, that moment of wordless, inchoate fear. However, as I wrote, as the coyote began to move across the page, gathering muscle and teeth and fur, I felt the moment change. I began to empathize with the coyote, who, I discovered as I wrote, was a female. I began to see her not as a destroyer but as a creator, as a protective force who would fight any evil enemy in all of that darkness to save what she loved. The coyote’s howl became a war-cry of power, a clarion call for strength, and a warning for any beast who tries to come for all that she held holy.

There is no better time for that energy to be released into the world.