The Editors Write: We were ecstatic when Lauren Gordon joined the Radius staff as a contributing editor, and began providing us with her excellent essays on poetry and parenting. Her insight, enthusiasm and dependability have made working with her a joy. But it’s really when we read some of her Little House on the Prairie poems that we got a measure of just what a talented writer Gordon really is. With these poems, Gordon manages to tap into a distinctly American literary vein and come back with something that says something substantive and new about what lurks underneath the national character: Gender, race and class roles play out in her poems against a backdrop of survival that brings each piece of the poem into stark relief. This is is some excellent work that reaches into the matrix of literature and history and pulls out something indelibly human to ponder.
A Name, He Has a Name
by Lauren Gordon
but the old Indian playing checkers
in Harthorn’s is wrapped in a horse blanket
crooks a brown finger seven months of blizzards
and sure as a ship seven months of blizzards
no light enters now no light no light
A name, he has a name had a name once
seven months of blizzards a name
a horse blanket name
one cellar baby buried soft
in unfrozen ground crooks a brown finger
this ground all over the prairie
is there a song for that is there a song for that
Gordon Writes: This particular poem has gone through a lot of transformations in the last six years. It is part of a manuscript of persona poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder that will be published as a chapbook in March with Blood Pudding Press. It began as a series poem and then for awhile it was a chapbook manuscript, then it was a full length manuscript, then a chapbook again … this is only funny if you know how much of a Capricorn I am. I make decisions quickly and I don’t look back. I’m goal-oriented and focused. For whatever reason, I have really belabored this project. That kind of dualism and juxtaposition of personality and work ethos reflects well in this poem. In the book “The Long Winter,” there is a scene where Laura and her Pa are at the general store and they are warned by an indigenous man that a long winter is coming. The Ingalls’ relationship with Native Americans throughout the series is complicated and often pretty terrible, and this particular scene sort of smacks of mysticism. This poem is meant to deconstruct that scene of the “nameless Indian” held up alongside the son she miscarried and never named. There are also elements of colloquial language and lines from Tennyson (the first book of poetry she ever owned). There are two ways to read this poem, either from left to right or in columns. I like the idea that you can come back to a series like this and read it in a different way. I read them for entertainment as a young girl and I read them for historical value as a grown woman. It’s a hard space to reconcile.
by Ilya Kaminsky
To live, as the great book commands,
is to love. Such love is not enough!—
the heart needs a little foolishness!
So I fold the newspaper, make a hat.
I pretend to Sonya that I am the greatest poet
and she pretends to believe it—
my Sonya, her stories and her beautiful legs
her stories and legs that open other stories!
And I say: a human being
understands the universe: its music
makes us foolish. I see myself: a yellow raincoat,
a sandwich, a piece of tomato between my teeth.
I raise my infant daughter to the sky—
I am singing as she pisses
(Old fool, my wife laughs)
on my forehead and my shoulders!
Gordon Writes: Ilya Kaminsky was one of the mentors I was lucky enough to study under while I was getting my MFA in Poetry. He taught me so many invaluable lessons about what poetry could be and do. I chose this particular poem because it’s a persona piece that epitomizes what I see in all of his work: it sings. My writing seems to always be concerned with the anxiety of living and Ilya’s poetry seems to always be filled with the joy of living. It’s something I come back to again and again. I love the exuberance of grammatical syntax in this poem (it reminds me of Dickinson) and how a crass word and image like “pisses” morphs into a beautiful baptism. We go from heavy poem words like “love” and all those exclamation points into “So I fold the newspaper, make a hat.” It’s lulling and it’s a smile – it’s also hardcore existentialism! There is so much joy of the absurd and the madman thrust of this poem just tickles me. And I think that is like Ilya in real life. He was always so encouraging and supportive and positive and some of that transmitted into the work I created at that time. He encouraged me to sing in my poetry and at the time, the only way I could do that was through persona and lyric – which he gave me permission to explore in a way that was safe. I’m so grateful for that experience. This poem is not just how I strive to write, but how to live, too.
by Caroline Klocksiem
and the waning
have stayed out for us as posts.
A red-tailed hawk
a tan pebble
in the tidy
between teeth and cheek.
When I bend to fish it out
some tiny gear
in one knee.
half-second in the other.
the space we pass through together.
Gordon Writes: I chose this poem by Caroline Klocksiem because I love it up against Ilya’s poem. Here are two poems in a moment rife with concrete images concerned with living and being. The line breaks in this poem are so tight that it feeds the anxiety of existence being a temporary phenomenon. Listen to the consonance of “moon/and red/mud” – this is music. Then the repetition of “red” moving from mud to hawk, picking apart the vole, then the child picking up the pebble. This is deliberate craft and I’m always in awe when I read something like this. Klocksiem has a way of turning an image with language that sticks in my brain ages after I have read it. I think that’s an incredible compliment, to say someone has created something that will stay. The “tidy/pink/swamp” of the child’s mouth is so visual and jarring and then in the next verse when she is trying to remove the pebble from the mouth, the language extends the image of the swamp when she bends “to fish it out.” Then when the speaker’s knee pops, it’s a “tiny gear” catching and clicking. The bodies become metaphors for both the natural world and the man-made world. And then it ends like an epistolary from a mother to a child. This poem starts in the dirt, evolves and gets its legs, procreates, and then walks off into the sunset future. Klocksiem is talented and definitely one to watch.