Thursday

Poet of the Week: Alexis Orgera

 
Alexis Orgera writes poetry and the occasional essay in south Florida but doesn’t stay in one place for long. She was born in Connecticut, raised on the South Carolina coast, and has ping-ponged the last decade between Boston, Los Angeles, and Florida—and some places in between. She graduated from Emerson College’s MFA program, where she was awarded Best Thesis for her collection, A Map of Earth. Most of those poems were gutted and filleted long ago.

She is the author of two chapbooks, Illuminatrix (Forklift Ink, 2009) and Dear Friends, The Birds Were Wonderful! (Blue Hour Press, 2009) and a full-length collection, How Like Foreign Objects (H-ngm-n Bks). Her poems have been published in various magazines and journals including Bat City Review, DIAGRAM, Folio, Forklift Ohio, Fou, Green Mountains Review, Gulf Coast, H_ngm_n, jubilat, Luna, RealPoetik, storySouth, and The Tusculum Review.

You can find her blogging at theblogpoetic.wordpress.com and htmlgiant.com. 


POET ON POETRY'S QUESTIONS FOR ALEXIS

1.                 What inspires you as a poet?
 Probably much the same as what inspires me as a person. My dogs and cat give me a lot to think about. Birds are important, particularly the trickster raven. I’m really interested in self-development lately, but that’s hard to get into poetry without sounding like a self-help manual. Reading other people’s poetry out loud to the animals is sometimes the most inspiring thing I can do. Just the sound of words reverberating against each other—there’s not much else like it.

2.            What advice do you have for other poets?
 A young poet just messaged me on Facebook about this very thing. He asked how he can know if he’s a poet. I basically told him that you just know, that it’s something you have to do despite the fact that there’s a pretty negligible economic return. The old advice is true: read poetry and think about poetry. Don’t be afraid to screw up, to write crap, to sound silly. Fearlessness is the only path to truth. In terms of publishing, it’s kind of a shot in the dark. You just read lots of journals and magazines, find what you like, and send and send and send until something sticks!

3.     What prompted you to start writing poetry?

9th grade English teacher. We did a whole semester, it felt like, on poetry. We had to compile our own anthology and even construct our own book. Also, I’m just an angst-y type of gal. I needed an outlet. I should have started a punk rock band.

4.     Where do you see yourself going in the future as a poet?

Deeper.

5.     What are your favorite poetry journals?

I like a lot of the big guns—Paris Review, Agni, Boston Review, Gulf Coast. But I love smallish and online journals like:
 Sixth Finch
Forklift, Ohio
H_ngm_n
Bat City Review
Beecher’s Magazine
DIAGRAM
Fou
jubilat


6.            Can you tell us a little about the poems your chose to present today?  What inspired them maybe, or anything else you’d like to say about them.

 I chose three poems from my book How Life Foreign Objects. The first one, “Stargazing,” I guess was inspired by my time living in Los Angeles. Actually, I’d just talked to Kyra Sedgwick about a melon in the produce section of a local supermarket. She was super nice, and the poem has nothing to do with her, but I was thinking about labels, how we label ourselves, how we label others, and how we want to seem to the outside world. So, these feelings found their way into the grocery aisle. Also I have a real love affair with the ocean, and I was thinking about how, as I kid, I used sit on a jetty in the Long Island Sound and crack open mussels and attach them to clothespins on string to catch crabs.

“How Like Foreign Objects” is the title poem of the book. I was thinking a lot about sex and desire at that point in my life, for various reasons. The poem is about this dude imagining a union with this woman. In the end, you’ve got a coffin, which is sad. But that was my state of mind at the time. Also, the line that reads “How Like foreign objects in their own skins” is the most important line for me in the whole poem. It pointed the way to the whole book, the notion of not feeling right in your own body.

“Illuminatrix” comes from a series of poems about light. It’s also one of the first times I began writing about my parents, who are dealing with my Dad’s Alzheimer’s disease. But that’s not what the poem’s about. It’s just in there. It’s about light.


ALEXIS ORGERA'S POETRY
 
STARGAZING

 
It's been said that dumb creatures
don't anticipate snow
or high winds off the coasts.
We claw and scratch
at the boat's horns—
we laugh in the mouth of the fire.
I went downtown yesterday
to buy my euphemisms, but
instead there were beasts, all manner of ugly words.
Beasts of the desert. Of towers.
Of fame. A movie star nibbled my earlobe
in the cauliflower aisle. Can you guess
how many years it took to grow
an appendage that tastes
like the nectar of movie stars?
My stomach's a race car
so I couldn't stay there long.
I am an ocean beast, if you need a label.
A rock dweller: green-lipped mussel
or a tidal snail. I like the sun.
I like the roar in my ears.

HOW LIKE FOREIGN OBJECTS



Do I get to sit inside your mouth? she says.
And he thinks of her tongue as a waterbed
she’s slip-sliding into him. She’s an eel,
he thinks. A lovely electric blue
wriggling pinky. Maybe glow-in-the-dark
if he’s lucky. Do I get to drink your spit? she says.
And he thinks of her swimming in a pool of vodka.
How drunk they’d make their somersaults.
How like foreign objects in their own skins.
Do I get to climb up your stalk? she says.
And first he thinks of Jack and his magic beans
and all the promises of the future,
but then he thinks of peeling bananas,
of greased poles, of the strongman competition
he will win when this is all over.
She needn’t ask another question, ever.
But then she asks, Do I get to meet your mother?
Do I get to come home for dinner?
And what he sees is a flatbacked plank of oak
and three bowls of steamy chowder.
A coffin’s worth of light in the crack
between her eyes. He sees how her questions
are really only the outlines of questions.
How gravity is what solders them glass
to glass to glass like the windows in church.

ILLUMINATRIX


A boy in Iowa suspects
three burning stars inhabit his chest
and gets lithium for his troubles.
The poet next door to him secretly
wishes the burn were his,
instead of a helium, bumbling heart.
A truck driver named Sally
up in Sacramento confides to a diner waitress
the sun’s calling her future-name: abuela, abuela
from eighty miles off the coast
where a solar flare disturbs radio waves
all the way to Alaska,
and the aurora borealis takes the shape
of a firefly ten days running,
polar bears irradiated like orange lamps.

The Janus faces of incandescence scream:
Step Away From The Light.
To live life in a closet is to find peace
in stasis, like trans-filament meditation,
the incantation of a childhood rhyme
in a language I still don’t quite get:
Nina o, nina o. Questo figlio a chi lo do?
—Who will we give you to?
If we give you to the laughing witch,
she will keep you for a week, fly you
on her broom, dropping stardust on the world.
If we give you to the black wolf, he will keep you
for a year in a cave, no fire, no sunrise.
And you will grow hard.
If we keep you for ourselves, we’ll have you
forevermore under the blinding
light of the morning star.—

All this nasty effulgence reminds me
that across the States a father’s light
dims, a mother’s electricity sparks
and sputters like an angry vacuum cleaner.
Not news to anyone—
not to the rhythms of spectrums vying
for their fifteen minutes, petulant in rapid cycles,
not to the sky with its jewelry
caught up in our affairs,
not to the dancing picnics of flesh we call
like dogs into our lonely beds
to mask this infinite glare.




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Monday

What is the Point of Poetry?

It's been a rough week trying to understand the suicide of a friend of the family after 57 years of marriage to her childhood sweetheart and the death of a 16 year old niece in a car wreck on the same day. Each succeeding loss brings me back to my own losses over the last few years, most notably the death of my husband in a freak accident at 44.  I've also lost my sister, my brother, my father and grand mother in just a few years.  I understand less and less about each death as time goes by.

The acute grief ebbs and flows, but the sadness and missing never leaves and only grows.  The questions loom though you eventually give up the screaming and yelling,"Why" to settle into a more gentle, "nobody knows anything really" phase.  You can look to Buddhism, the Tao, Christianity, prophets, psychics, psychologists, friends and the heavens but no answers really come.  God is maddingly quiet when it seems to matter the most.

Looking For Help in Grief

I eventually looked to poetry and an online support group, after throwing all of the grief books against the wall after the loss of my husband. It wasn't that I thought I would find answers in poetry, as much as I wanted to see the process of grief, raw and unadulterated. I wanted to see someone was as torn up as I was, as messy and lacking in faith or strength, but somehow miraculously survived.

Too many grief books had a "tie it up with a bow, God never gives you more than you can handle, time will heal" pabulum approach that drove most of the people crazy.  Time wasn't making us better and God had given us more than we believed we could handle, in fact some of us couldn't handle it. Most of all we knew nothing about our loses would ever be tied up with a bow, clean and neat. So many grief books seemed to be written by psychologists with "credentials" who had only watched others going through grief, but had not personally experienced it, or some writer who wrote years after the death with a dispassionate objectivity that feels a million miles away to someone in the agony of immediate grief. 


Not Finding Poetry That Helped in Grief 

When I turned to poetry, I didn't find much to help either.  Everything was written as a riddle, or a challenge and seemed to be written by people who hadn't experience enough of life yet to realize that life is enough of a puzzle and challenge and no one who is hurting and screaming why needs another challenge.  What grieving people need is comfort, beauty, solace and something that speaks the truth without trying to put a bow on it and say, "It will be all better."
 
My international online support group members agreed, so I began to write what we all wanted and couldn't find.  They couldn't wait to read what I wrote the night before and posted.  They wanted me to publish but I was too broken to try.  I just kept writing poems, crying my tears and sharing it with those who understood.  It wasn't pretty, my verbs weren't exciting, my tone personal, my pieces reeked of emotion.  In short, I wrote everything the poetry elite hate, but everything real people want to read, hunger for and need to read.

So that brings me to the title, "What is the point of poetry?"  Is it to entertain, enlighten, challenge, create social change, touch the heart, heal or to create puzzles?  I like to think poetry is all of these things, but sometimes it seems like the poetry world, as it exists in America, eliminates especially the healing and emotional or personal type poetry-the very poetry the world hungers for and desperately needs.


What if we Embraced all Types of Poetry?

If poetry were music, it would be like saying the only acceptable music is discordant jazz and that's all we'll play.  Music, unlike poetry, has many types of music that can be in vogue at the same time.  Yes, both have their vocal Nazi's who declare all other forms, except the one they happen to like, as inferior.  I can't help but wonder what it would be like if we welcomed all forms of poetry, including the personal and sentimental.  What if our poetry could also speak to those in pain and heal?  What if there was a decent book of poetry that really speaks in a raw, earthy and beautiful way that I could buy for our widowed friend?

What if the Bourgeois Could Enjoy Poetry Too?

Is the poetry world big enough for all of the forms of poetry that touch people?  Is it big enough to embrace the bourgeois common man and invite him to enjoy poetry for the first time in his life because he can understand it while he ponders the questions that really matter in life like, "Why, oh God why, is there so much suffering in the world?"

What would the poetry world, and the larger world we exist in, look like if we opened ourselves to the mundane trivial loss of everyman, that is only mundane and trivial until it happens to you?

What if we Soothed Even One Tortured Soul With Our Poetry?


What if our poetry has the power to reach others when they most need it?  Or, to heal or soothe when nothing else does?  Which one of you wouldn't want to throw someone a lifeline in a sea of sorrow? I dream of a day when all the notes in the songs are valued, not just those of a certain type.  I yearn for the day when bookstores brim with books full of poems that reach people in such a way that they line up to buy a poetry book and give it to their loved ones and friends.  You may call me a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. What would the poetry world look like if we dropped the artificial boundaries and judgments with equal opportunity for all types of poetry, even allowing the common man to partake of our little treasure?

Any thoughts out there?  I'd love to hear them! What does poetry mean to you?


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