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I loved your first book, and now I love this one even more (Jesus Was My Homeboy). It’s so accessible, so immediate, for lack of a better term. In your poems, you capture beautifully the midlife angst of time passing you by. I was wondering if you could say a few words about that, and then maybe post the poem, “Not Much to It.”
I’ll be 60 in March so it’s heavy on my mind lately. That used to seem ancient to me as a young man. I like to think I’m in the second half, but it’s probably more like the last quarter. It gets you thinking about the journey.
Not much to it.
You draw with chalk
on your sidewalk.
You ride your bike.
You go for ice cream
with your friends.
You party in college.
You get to figuring
by the fire
on a cold night
in the mountains.
You listen to jazz
on the ocean.
You catch a ball game
now and then.
You cradle with
different folks till you
find one that fits.
wake up one day
sitting on a
missing your kids
patting your dog
drinking a can of cold beer,
the summer night
like a blanket on your shoulders
and something you knew
floats by in the night sky
just out of reach.
I also love how you write about your family, about what I, the reader, imagine is often happening right now. Do you ever feel a need for distance between yourself and your subject matter?
I feel like I have to maintain a certain distance to be able to write the poems at all. The initial memory is the prompt to the poem but once I get into it I want to write it honestly, so standing back (and trying to remove the emotion) helps to get it right in my mind.
What does your family think of your books?
I have not heard too many complaints. My wife and kids are very supportive. They’re okay knowing there’s a good chance they’ll end up in a poem or two. My brothers and sisters are proud of their little brother I suppose. I think I get them weepy once in a while. The other day I went to my mother’s grave and read a few of the poems she was in. I did the same for my father when the last book came out. They didn’t offer any criticism. (ha ha). I miss them.
You have a talent for offering a sense of place in your poetry. Reading, I feel as if I am in the car with you, or I am in the coffee shop or the park or the sauna at the Y or . . . Is this something you are conscious of doing?
I do often think about painting that picture, how the right detail or two can focus the place for you. My fiction class and I were reading a story by Richard Ford the other day and the subject looks out to the mountains and sees a “red bar sign.” We talked about how that one small detail cemented the scene in our minds. I’m always searching for that right detail. I hope some of the time I can find it.
This book has such a natural flow. Reading it, I imagined that the words glided onto the page without effort. (Of course, we all hope to sound that way.) But I am thinking, it wasn’t too long ago that your first book was published by CavanKerry. How was the writing of this different from the writing of the first? Was it just a natural continuation?
In many ways it does feel like a continuation of the same subjects – family, place, death, grief, regret. It sounds so somber when I list the topics like that but these people and these memories have had a profound effect on me. I can’t get away from them. I put the pen to the page and they keep showing up.
As a poet you have this funny, whimsical side, but you also have a profound seriousness mixed in, as in the poem, “Death Wish,” which ends, “I want it to be special, magical/worth the wait,/ after being afraid for so long.” I just wanted to applaud when I read that line. Do you think of yourself as a funny poet? Is wit, in your opinion, an essential ingredient of your poetry?
I do sometimes make myself laugh when I’m writing. You always hope what you find funny or whimsical will translate. There’s nothing worse than pulling out the funny poem at a reading and staring back at the tight-lipped crowd. The subjects I deal with need some humor from time to time or the weight might kill me.
What is the most challenging part of writing a collection of poetry?
I feel like the collection piece can sometimes come after the poetry. In both these books I started by publishing a bunch of poems until I had a stack to weed through, pulling out the ones that didn’t make sense together, then writing some more to fill in the thematic gaps. I’ve yet to set out with a totally thematic intent, as far as a collection goes, but I always end up there. I have talked about tackling a specific subject with the next book. We’ll see how that goes.
Are there any writers who helped or inspired you in the writing of this book?
Many. Phil Levine was my first inspiration and remains so today. But there are many others, Jerry Stern, Ruth Stone, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Charles Simic. I also get inspiration from songwriters like Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams. I am fortunate to be close to two great groups of poets as well, one in Salem, Mass and the other in New Jersey. I owe these folks a lot.
I am always interested in titles. When did you know that this was your title?
I imagined it not long after I published the title poem. It felt like (to me) it contained a lot of the bittersweet-ness of some of the other poems.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about this book?
I’m happy it’s here. The response has been humbling.
I would love to close the poem, “Reading to My Kids,” about your daughter reading Of Mice and Men.
I was so happy to hear Garrison Keillor reading this poem on The Writer’s Almanac. But now I have to follow him when I read it in public!
Reading To My Kids
When they were little I read
to them at night until my tongue
got tired. They would poke me
when I started to nod off after twenty
pages of Harry Potter or one of
the Lemony Snickett novels. I read to
them to get them to love reading
but I was never sure if it was working
or if it just looked like the right thing to do.
But one day, my daughter ( fifteen then)
was finishing Of Mice and Men in the car
on our way to basketball. She was at
the end when I heard her say, No
in a familiar frightened voice and I
knew right away where she was,
“Let’s do it now,” Lennie begged,
“Let’s get that place now.”
“Sure, right now. I gotta. We gotta.”
And she stared crying, then I started
crying, and I think I saw Steinbeck
in the backseat nodding his head,
and it felt right to me,
like I’d done something right,
and I told her keep going,
read it to me, please, please, I can take it.
Sarah Bracey White, White Plains Women’s Club (White Plains, NY)
Wednesday October 26th at 1 pm
Sarah will be the keynote speaker and will be reading from Primary Lesssonsat the “Annual Book and Author Luncheon, 100th Anniversary Celebration”
Kevin Carey, Del Rossi’s Trattoria (Dublin, NH)
Sunday, October 30th at 3pm
Kevin will be part of an open poetry reading with Katie Towler
This post is part of our series in honor of ADA Awareness Month. While on a national level the focus is disability employment awareness, CKP is focusing on artists.
In this raw essay, Jackie Guttman, a member of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, writes with searing honesty about the change from being taken care of by her husband to becoming his caregiver. I’m grateful to her for daring to speak about the resentment associated with caregiving.
-Teresa Carson, Associate Publisher
WHEN THE CAREGIVEE BECOMES THE CAREGIVER
By Jackie Guttman
A sentiment I’ve heard a lot from friends – and which I share – is “this is not the life I expected.” One friend did not expect her very sociable husband to develop dementia; one did not expect her always healthy husband to die at 69 of pancreatic cancer; one did not expect her young up-and-coming husband to make bad decisions that left them having to watch their pennies in retirement. One even had her lover of three decades dump her when he became widowed; she was married and he no longer wanted a clandestine girl friend. It’s a loss of equilibrium. For better and worse, people evolve as they mature, inevitably changing the rules of the marital game. The scales tip.
In my own case, my husband was my caregiver by the time I was 30. My rheumatoid arthritis, in addition to affecting my hands, shoulders, knees and other joints, caused enormous fatigue. Howard never complained. He did the laundry; he took us for rides when walking was difficult; he did the bulk of the shopping; he didn’t cook, but neither did he expect me to produce meals. (We sent out a lot.) When necessary, he helped me dress – and still does on occasion. Over the past 25 years he has seen me through four major knee surgeries. All this enabled me to attend graduate school and work, albeit part-time. There was nothing he would not do for me, and to this day he opens bottles, jars, cans, medicine containers and recalcitrant fruit and vegetable packages.
About 20 years ago he was diagnosed with breast cancer. A mastectomy and Tamoxifen took care of it until it returned 11 years later. This time he had surgery, chemo and radiation, all of which left him somewhat damaged. A robust and big guy at 6’3” and 215 pounds, he lost 30 pounds and turned into this bald, skinny, pale-faced man. After both of his surgeries I dealt with his drains, pinning them to his undershirts so they would not pull. I sat with him as he slept through chemotherapy. Together, we laughed at post-op instructions that told him not to shave under his arms or wear an underwire bra. He gained back much of the weight, his color improved and his gorgeous white hair grew back, but since that time he has had more than his share of medical problems. He has had a hip replaced and had three spinal surgeries with extensive rehab. He has severe neuropathy of his hands and feet. Despite having normal cholesterol levels and blood pressure, he had a very mild and initially misdiagnosed stroke two years ago. At 79 he is bent over and walks with a cane or walker at the speed of a slow snail. With a diminished appetite he has lost additional weight and we are struggling to deal with that before frailty sets in. He drives, but far less than he used to. And just today, in another bitter blow, he was given a diagnosis of probable oral cancer – he who never smoked.
I, thanks to superb medical care and luck, have held my own and even improved. In many ways, and despite limitations, I am in better shape than I was 20 years ago. I do not appear ill so I am perceived as my husband’s designated caregiver. I do much of the driving, though my joints regret it if I exceed 90 minutes. When we go to our vacation home, I bring most things to and from the car. I sometimes help him with buttons, a frustrating challenge. Loading and unloading the dishwasher has been his purview for years; now I often do it. Though I’m fairly tall, he always reached the things in high places; now that has become my job, when I can do it, or we have to ask others. I drop him off and park the car, as he used to for me. I pave the way. I advocate. He is still quite strong, but everything takes him so long that I do more than I need to out of sheer impatience. We rented a scooter for him on a recent cruise. It was a godsend for him, but as I trotted alongside it I felt like it was my pace car. Doors on ships are extremely heavy and not always automatic; I became the doorwoman, pulling them open with both hands and slithering around to lean on and hold them.
Though I can and do offer emotional support, I am not a natural nurturer; he is. This is not a role I relish. I see one friend cater to her husband’s dietary needs and another one tenderly feed her husband meals. She also changes his diapers and keeps him clean. I don’t think I could do that. After over 40 years with RA, while I’m grateful that I can do what I do, I admit I resent the caregiving. As I see my husband begin to need more, I find I cannot be his keeper. That sounds heartless even to me, but I know that when I do extra lifting, carrying and driving, it takes me three days of rest and painkillers to recover. I must protect myself. I see my friend drive to Albany and back in one day for her husband’s medical needs; one way would be too much for me.
Our retirement plans included travel but it’s become complicated; we used to take long auto trips with our kids and I’d hoped to do more. Not gonna happen. Flying involves wheelchairs and, again, careful planning. Cruising ditto. We do it, but… this is not the life I expected. Ironically, I thought that I’d be in a wheelchair by now and am grateful that I’m still on my feet, but why-oh-why can’t we both be more able?
We don’t laugh like we used to; there’s too much bad stuff. However, we often tell each other how fortunate we feel, and we really do. We do not have financial problems. We do have each other, for however long. Our minds are intact, mostly. We have our kids and grandchildren. We have love.
Ah, but I do miss the old Howard. My protector is gone.
Joan Cusack Handler, Canio’s Book Store (290 Main Street, Sag Harbor, NY)
Saturday, October 22nd at 5pm
Joan will be reading from Orphans
Kevin Carey, Dodge Poetry Festival (First Baptist Peddie Memorial Church, Newark, NJ)
Saturday October 22nd at 5pm
Kevin is part of a festival reading with Nicole Terez Dutton, Celeste Gainey, Amy Meng, and Deborah Paredez
The Disabled & D/deaf Writers Caucus
A yearly meeting at the annual AWP Conference & aims to allow for disabled individuals to network and discuss common challenges related to identity, writing, and teaching while professionally leading a literary life.”
Poetry Society of Michigan Outreach Project
The Poetry Society of Michigan has created a program where the members work with individuals or groups who lack a particular ability or who live in an overwhelming situation. The poet offers opportunities to write poems, read poetry, talk about both and discover the impact that doing so has on the person, her/his daily life, and on the member of the Society. It is poignant, profound, and powerful how adding poetry in this way affects the recipient’s each day, perceiving what heretofore has been overlooked, unrealized.
The National Arts and Disability Center
The National Arts and Disability Center (NADC) promotes the full inclusion of audiences and artists with disabilities into all facets of the arts community.
Disability Visibility Project
The Disability Visibility Project (DVP)™ is an online community dedicated to recording,amplifying, and sharing disability stories and culture. The DVP is also a community partnership with StoryCorps, a national oral history organization.
University of Delaware, The National Leadership Consortium on Developmental Disabilities: Recommended books about the disability experience
The Ability Center: Links and resources
The Art of Autism
An international collaboration of talented individuals who have come together to display the creative abilities of people on the autism spectrum and others who are neurodivergent.
Alliance for Arts and Health New Jersey
Connects artists and arts professionals and those who provide health and wellness services in order to educate, advocate, and advance best practices in arts and health.
Articles and News Reports
“A Short History or Disabled Poetry” by Michael Northen
“There is still a long way to go, however, before disability poetry gets the attention that it deserves. While the poets above show the increased tendency of poets with disabilities to view physical disability as a social construction, it should not be thought that the saccharine and paternalistic poems about disability have ceased to be written. Just as the charity and medical models of disability still hold sway in the American mind at large, they also continue in poetry about disability”
PBS Newshour: Meet the Deaf Poets Society, a digital journal for writers with disabilities
“Katz said members of the disability community have struggled to find its place in the literary world, with many writers asking who is afforded space to write in a world that often renders disabled people invisible.”
Poetry Foundation: “Disability and Poetry, an exchange“
“Disability is dangerous. We represent danger to the normate world, and rightly so. Disabled people live closer to the edge. We are more vulnerable, or perhaps it is that we show our human vulnerability without being able to hide it in the ways that nondisabled people can hide and deny the vulnerability that is an essential part of being human.”
Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts: “Written on the Body: A Conversation about Disability” (transcript)
Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature
Deaf Poets Society: An Online Journal of Disability Literature & Art
Breath and Shadow: A Journal of Disability Culture and Literature
Links and Resources
Portal to the disability blog word
The Barefoot Review: Creative Works about Health
Poetry Out Loud: Accessibility for all students
Disability Social History Project: Resources from the web
National Endowment for the Arts: Accessibility Resources
This post is part of our series in honor of ADA Awareness Month. While on a national level the focus is disability employment awareness, CKP is focusing on artists.
Jack Ridl, Honorary Chancellor of the Michigan Poetry Society (MPS) and a member of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, describes the MPS’ outreach program in which the members work with individuals or groups who lack a particular ability or who live in an overwhelming situation. CKP collaborates on this program by donating books.
The Poetry Society of Michigan has created a program in which the members work with individuals or groups who lack a particular ability or who live in an overwhelming situation. The poet offers opportunities to write poems, read poetry, talk about both and discover the impact that doing so has on the person, her/his daily life, and on the member of the Society. It is poignant, profound, and powerful how adding poetry in this way affects the recipients each day, perceiving what heretofore has been overlooked, unrealized.
CavanKerry Press has enabled this program to have what it could not possibly afford–access to CKP’s astonishing works, books that matter and connect with those taking part in the program. Someone with Multiple Sclerosis, for example, can ask for Body of Diminishing Motion, Joan Sidney’s important work. You can imagine what it means to discover that there really is someone out there who has, through her exquisite art, offered what it is REALLY like to live with this malady. Imagine what it means to be so deeply understood, to feel less alone, to receive the permission to create out of his/her actual difficult world. Imagine the member of the society coming to know this world from the inside, to know how care is transformed into caring empathy, how difference is erased by shared understanding.
Yes, this program is another where who is helping whom is mutual, where a soulful kind of healing transpires through the loving generosity of the intelligently caring talent in The Poetry Society of Michigan and of the great good heart that is CavanKerry Press.
CKP’s commitment to making poetry accessible to everyone isn’t just words in a mission statement—as evidenced by the letter from Jennifer Clark, a member of the Michigan Poetry Society who participates in its outreach program.
“Thanks for sharing these treasures. Thank you many times over.” These words are is just some of the lovely comments that have come my way since distributing the beautiful books you selected and sent my way as part of the outreach project between CavanKerry Press and the Poetry Society of Michigan.
Since then, I have received a dozen emails from the older woman who organized an opportunity for me to read and discuss poetry. In one, she wrote, “I have no background in basketball other than a gym class a hundred years ago, but Jack Ridl has caught me in Losing Season. It is fun to read and I keep going back for more.” She is finishing Walking with Ruskin and loves the faith and nature themes. When she finishes it, she’ll share it with her granddaughter and daughter and then, as she’s done with Losing Season, donate to the library of her retirement center so more people can enjoy the book. Also, in a few weeks I’ll be taking up her invitation to have lunch at her retirement home and meet/discuss poetry with her and her 96 year old friend (to whom she lent Losing Season and “she loved it!”).
I’m sorry if this rambles on but thought CavanKerry Press ought to know how the books you send out through this outreach project take on a life of their own. Here in Kalamazoo, you are rekindling love for poetry, creating new friendships, helping people feel less isolated, and, in my case, carving out precious space in a crowded, noisy world.
Kevin Carey, Newton Free Library (Newton, MA)
Monday, October 11th at 7pm
Kevin will be reading from Jesus Was A Homeboy
Sandra Castillo, Black Dog on the Square (567 Industrial Drive, Tallahassee, FL)
Thursday, October 13th at 7pm
Sandra will be reading from Eating Moors and Christians
Joan Seliger Sidney, Mystic Museum of Art (9 Water Street, Mystic, CT)
Friday, October 14th at 7:30pm
Joan will be the opening voice for Marilyn Hacker’s Arts Cafe reading
Margo Taft Stever and Richard Jeffrey Newman, The 2016 Western Maryland Independent Literary Festival (Frostburg State University)
Saturday, October 15th and 11am in the Library Mtg. Room
Margo and Richard will join Susana H. Case, Ellen Kombiyil for the panel After Violence: The Poetics of Trauma and Resistance:
The panel investigates the role of factual accuracy in poetry and poetics—why poets choose to invent or alter facts and the difficulty in portraying traumatic memory. To call something real suggests that it is so in relation to ourselves, but there are multiple realities to daily life and its events, accuracy a form of negotiated reality. What if research reveals conflicting truths? What is the cost of invention to the poem and to the poet? How do the psychological and physiological workings of memory and post-traumatic growth affect the act of writing? How does the influence of the world outside the writer, its politics, memes, and rewarded behaviors, hinder or enrich the truth as it is conveyed in poetry?
Welcome to CavanKerry Press’s third annual “October is Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Awareness Month.” Throughout the month we’ll be posting new essays by members of the CKP ADA Advisory Board, re-posting “greatest hits” from previous years, and providing useful links to ADA resources (e.g. journals that publish disability-related creative writing; advocacy groups; interesting articles).
If you have any comments or disability-related resources that you’d like to tell us about then email Teresa Carson at Teresa@cavankerrypress.org. We look forward to hearing from you!
Jack Ridl, The Lost Lake Writers Retreat (Alpena, MI)
Jack will be joining Dorianne Laux, Kelly Forden, and Irina Reyn at The Lost Lake Writers Retreat
Shira Dentz, The Seligmann Center (Chester, NY)
Sunday October 9th at 2pm
Shira will be a featured reader
Sarah Sousa launched a mini lit mag which is delivered via the Tinyletter platform to subscribers’ inboxes every Wednesday. Subscription is free.
To subscribe: https://tinyletter.com/QueenofCups
Submission info: https://sarahasousa.com/queen-of-cups/