Arts Night at Emily’s: Nasty Women Poets

Thursday, April 5
Emily Dickinson Museum, Amherst, MA

Open mic sign-up, 5-6
Open Mic at 6, followed by featured readers

What better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than a reading with the Nasty Women Poets at the Dickinson Museum?
Bring a nasty poem to share for the open mic!

This Arts Night will feature readers from NASTY WOMEN POETS: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, published in 2017 by Lost Horse Press. This timely collection of poems speaks not just to the current political climate and the man who is responsible for its title, but to the stereotypes and expectations women have faced dating back to Eve, and to the long history of women resisting those limitations.

Featured readers from this anthology are:

Janet E. Aalfs, poet laureate emeritus of Northampton, MA and founder/director of Lotus Peace Arts at VWMA has recently returned from co-facilitating a performance program called Labyrinth Through Fear: A Gift Event in Langa township, Cape Town, South Africa. Her poems have been published widely, and her most recent book is Bird of a Thousand Eyes, Levellers Press.

Kathleen Aguero’s most recent book of poetry is After That (Tiger Bark Press). She teaches in the Solstice low-residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing Program at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA.

DeMisty D. Bellinger’s writing has appeared in many places, including The Rumpus, and her chapbook, Rubbing Elbows, is available from Finishing Line Press. She teaches creative writing at Fitchburg State University.

Julie Cyr has been published by Smoky Quartz, Five 2 One Magazine, Blood and Thunder Journal and Broad River Review. Julie holds an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Amy Dryansky’s poetry collection, Grass Whistle, received the 2014 Massachusetts Book Award. Her first, How I Got Lost So Close To Home, was published by Alice James and individual poems appear in a variety of anthologies and journals. She’s the current Poet Laureate of Northampton, MA.

Gail Hanlon’s poetry has appeared in Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Cincinnati Review, CutbankOnline, Iowa Review, and Best American Poetry, among other journals and anthologies. She edited Voicing Power: Conversations with Visionary Women (Hachette), and has published SIFT, a chapbook (Finishing Line).

Rage Hezekiah is a MacDowell and Cave Canem Fellow who earned her MFA from Emerson College. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Fifth Wednesday, Tampa Review, Salamander, and West Branch, as well as other journals.
and anthologies.

Zoe Deschanel & the Narrative Arc

Zooey Deschanel

If this were a movie and someone slyly beautiful were playing me, say Zooey Deschanel (with thick glasses to make her look a little less Deschanel), we’d be approaching some kind of zenith, we’d be belaying up a sheer rock face to the tippy top of the narrative arc

where we might temporarily mistake denouement for enlightenment. We might have to endure one more lonely, blood-red sunset, possibly a shipwreck, a little suspension of disbelief or just a suspension bridge with a few key rungs missing, but these hardships would fall away as the deus ex machina of forgiveness and enlightenment are lowered creakily into place,

followed closely by significant weight loss, removal of the glasses, and the heroine, recognized for what she really is—talented, misunderstood, secretly hot—is rewarded with a book deal, a manageable amount of fame and fortune, great clothes and just enough star-fucking, perhaps only briefly interrupted by a minor collapse which serves only to intensify our pleasure when we do, indeed, reach resolution.

Sadly, this is not a movie. Our stories aren’t like that. Our lives are more subtle. The outlines can be hard to make out, especially when we’re in the midst of drawing them. Kind of like poetry, actually.

And the shape of Pokey’s path to enlightenment—if enlightenment it was, and if path it was–looked a lot more EKG readout than dramatic arc. There were spikes, to be sure, places where she felt she was close to understanding how to move forward, but mostly it was feeling her way in the dark.

So, if after the last post you were thinking Pokey had reached some kind of resolution, you’d be right, but only temporarily. I think what’s true is that I found a place to begin.

The Starting Place

Pokey had to let go of certain ideas and habits she held dear: first and foremost, that the only way she could write was to have long stretches of time alone, produce acres of free-writing, and revise, revise, revise.

Nope. Not possible. My creative process needed to bend to my new reality: not enough time, very little silence, ongoing sleep deprivation and a head filled with the minutiae of family life—some of it cherished, but much of it mundane. Not the stuff from which we think to make art. At least, that’s what Pokey used to believe. (More about that to come.)

It’s not a coincidence that about this time Pokey began to write “found” poems: collages of interesting shiny bits stolen from other people’s writing, sometimes poetry, but just as often from text books, newspaper articles, museum catalogs, etc.

Pokey Mama: Starling of the Poetry World

What’s interesting about working this way is that the poems still reflected my concerns—my life and my obsessions, but I felt safer expressing myself because the process created a helpful kind of distance. I didn’t have to produce words, I just needed to select and order them. Not Warhol’s factory, not that distanced, but maybe Duchamp’s “ready-mades” or Cornell’s boxes. (I wish I could name a woman artist here, but you see, I can’t, which is an interesting problem I’ll have to write about another time).

Looking at it as a Mother AND…it was as if these patched-together poems I made weren’t quite my children. I wasn’t really responsible for them. It was OK if they watched too much TV and ate Pop-Tarts for breakfast.

Maybe this is cowardly. But it was what Pokey needed to do at the time—remember, she’s hanging by her tastefully manicured nails from a precipice, right?

The other handy thing about making collage poems is that I could snatch a few minutes during nap or play time and work on a poem without feeling like I needed to lock myself in the bathroom and pretend I had the stomach flu in order to get some time.

I learned to make do with what I had. Stop and go. Drop and roll. Catch as catch can.

Some of the poems from this time aren’t half bad, and they were incredibly fun to write. In a way, it was refreshing, allowing myself to move away from myself—kind of like what I’m doing here: looking back from a distance.

A few of the poems even made their way into my new book. I wrote one where I used only first lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems; that was a really interesting project. (See below) First, as a bonus, here’s an image of a piece by artist Lesley Dill, who uses the life, mythology and poetry of Dickinson extensively in her work.

Lesley Dill: Small Poem Dress (the Soul Selects)

See, I knew I could work in a woman artist!

And here’s my piece.  “Stolen” from one of our great “domestic” poets.

Soul Accounting

I had not minded walls.
I had some things that I called mine.
I read my sentence steadily
from blank to blank.
I breathed enough to take the trick.
I asked no other thing.

It was a quiet way.
It would have starved a gnat.

The sky is low, the clouds are mean—
the moon upon her fluent route
the reticent volcano keeps.
Cocoon above, cocoon below—
How soft this prison is!

Perhaps you think me stooping—
a little dog that wags its tail—
my heart upon a little plate
pink, small, and punctual.

Alone and in a circumstance
I saw no way – the heavens were stitched|
within my reach.
The future never spoke.

Of course I prayed.
Oh give it motion, deck it sweet…
If ever the lid gets off my head…
Over and over, like a tune.

There comes an hour when begging stops—
the clock strikes one that just struck two.
On such a night, or such a night—
today or this noon—
the life that’s tied too tight escapes.

Dreams are well but waking’s better.

So I pull my stockings off.
Soul, take thy risk!
Bring me the sunset in a cup—

the brain is wider than the sky.

Yes, it is, reader. Yes it is.