Posts Tagged ‘Tilt Press’

Reading Barefoot and Listening

I have always been fascinated with women poets who reach back into the past, snatch both history and myth, and retell stories that have been buried or pushed aside by time.  (See my review of the Mary Alexandra Agner’s chapbook, The Doors of the Body). Margaret Bashaar with her first chapbook, Barefoot and Listening, (Tilt Press) is one of those poets. 

Bashaar starts out her collection with a poem titled simply, “Sita”.  In this work, we see a being “found at a construction site of 376, unearthed by a backhoe/naked kicking infant with no mother but the dirt she breathed/skin the color of red clay.”  Already, we know that the women in this collection are not the traditional women of myth — they are beings of grit and dirt, real flesh.  And what follows are other poems that take on various myths.  For example, Kalypso makes two guest appearances in this slim collection.  In “Kalypso,” the heroine is described as a devoted being: “She has cut her feet/on forest paths that lead her to him/with fistful of constellations to lay at his left/while he sleeps and his hair is like fire.” In another poem,  “Kalypso Speaks” she says this about Odysseus, “I do not need winged feet/to tell me I am just a stop/on his journey home.”  

I enjoyed all of the familiar characters found in Bashaar’s poems; however, I must say that my favorite poems were the ones that place seemingly contemporary women in more surreal situations.  For example, in “The Girl Who Would Blot Out the Sun”  she depicts a girl who “hates the dark spots the sunlight makes/so she’s building a satellite/to block it out.  She hides it in her garage/under a blue tarp between/the tool chest and the lawn mower.”  In “After the Cold Snap” a lonely figure explains that “everything is like breathing when she sits alone” and with “Forehead pressed to the window/she breathes on panes of glass, ties knots in the curtain tassels.”  And finally, “Barefoot and Listening” is a love poem of sorts, opening with the lines,  “When I do not know if I am a stone or a doe/you gather up handfuls of pebbles/give them to me to collect in my pockets.”

I cannot end this short review without mentioning my absolute favorite poem, “The Giraffe Girl.”  This poem begins with the lines: “April wears a garland of dandelions/on Sunday mornings and sits/with her legs open, strips/oranges with her teeth while she waits/for sweet potatoes and ovulation.”   This poem displays a young woman — a little lost, a little dreamy — who finds hope and protection in her imaginative “blue-haired girls who slid/across her knuckles like silk/a Padaung woman” yet returns to the reality of her life to count “brush strokes on the ceiling.”

Whether she is looking at past myths or capturing the abstract feelings of contemporary women, Bashaar excels at the surreal.  In spite of the fact that Bashaar chooses to write about feelings and ideas that could easily fall into  categories of cliches’, every image, every line is surprising.  In my opinion, Bashaar, whose work has also just appeared in the poetry anthology, Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25, is one to watch.

Chapbook Renaissance?

I’ve been skimming through an article titled “Chapbook Renaissance: The Little Book in the Age of Digital and DIY”  in the most recent copy of Poets & Writers.  The article by Kimiko Hahn caught my attention for many reasons.  First, I read a lot of chapbooks and support presses that publish chapbooks.  Second, my own chapbook, Stealing Dust, came out this past February (really, I wasn’t aware that I was part of any “renaissance”).   I liked Hahn’s article for many reasons, but mostly because her words put the chapbook into historical perspective.  But her article did leave me wondering a bit about why people choose to publish chapbooks.  I know for those who are in publish and perish situations, the chapbook often does not “count” for real publication, but I really don’t know the percentage of poets who have publish or perish jobs.   For me, I made the choice for a chapbook (after consulting several friends who had published chapbooks) because I simply felt that my full length manuscript was not ready to be sent out.  And yes, since I keep the rights, I’m hoping that some of the poems will find their way into a full length manuscript some day. 

I know a lot of poets view the chapbook as an important stepping stone towards that first book, and some of my favorite poets have chapbooks.  But what I am also finding interesting is that some poets who have books out are now publishing chapbooks as their second collections, and I am wondering why.  It does seem that there are so many great publishing companies for chapbooks — perhaps that is the reason.  If you are a poet who has (or is about to) publish a chapbook, I would love to know why.

And speaking of chapbooks, Tilt Press has announced its new lineup of 2009-2010 chapbooks.  As someone who is a big fan of both Sarah Sloat’s In the Voice of a Minor Saint and Julie Platt’s In the Kingdom of My Familiar, I am really looking forward to the press’s new books!  Special congrats goes out to Margaret Bashaar whose chapbook, Barefoot and Listening will be published.