Help Ukraine–And Get My Book for Free!

As I mentioned several days ago, my new chapbook Amo e Canto was released. I posted about it on Twitter, Facebook, and Linked In, thinking that I could encourage some sales and share this book I’m so proud of with friends and peers.  (And I was going to pay the postage for anyone who purchased a copy.)  And like the last two “pandemic books” I published (What Magick May Not Alter and Daughter of the Wheel and Moon), nothing but crickets.  (That was my little pity party moment.)

Then I thought, I know what I’ll do:  I will give the proceeds from book sales to Ukrainian charities to help citizens fight the Russian invasion.  Surely that will drum up sales. (It didn’t.) Still when the world is burning, that’s when we need poetry the most—because it offers solace and empathy, and the world is sadly missing those things.

Right now Ukraine needs our empathy, and it needs our help.

So if you don’t want to buy my book, that’s fine!  I know there are more important things going on than my chapbook release at this moment.  But  please give all you can to these legitimate charities which you can read about on the USA Today website (along with several more charities than are listed here):

Please help.  And you know what?  If you give at least $20 to any of these charities and email a copy of your receipt and your address to aishatonu[at]gmail[dot]com, I’ll even send you a copy of Amo e Canto for free!

Amo e Canto is Out in the World!

Nearly two years after the announcement that it had won the 2020 Sow’s Ear Poetry Chapbook Prize, my collection Amo e Canto (Italian for I Love and I Sing) has been released.  Because it came out as Issue 30.1 of the Sow’s Ear Poetry Review (and was sent to all subscribers of the Review), it’s not conventionally available for purchase.  However, I am selling extra copies, postage paid, for $13.50 via my CashApp, $Aishatonu.  Hit me up if you would like to buy a copy.  (Put your address in the “For” line so I’ll know where to send your book!)

Amo e Canto is a collection of “poemoirs”—half poems, half memoirs about a trip I took to Venice in 2014. The poemoirs focus on typical Venetian sights, like churches, canals, pigeons, and art, and tangentially examine a relationship with a missing love.  It’s a really different kind of writing from what I normally do (which tends to be mostly narrative, women-centered writing), so if you’re interested in Italy and hybrid forms (or you just love me), this collection is for you.

I’m really proud of this work, and it’s a beautiful collection.  The cover includes an absolutely lovely painting by Alex Ghizea-Ciobanu called I Will Take Venice with Me that as soon as I saw it, I wanted it for the cover.  (Actually, I’d love to own the actual painting!)  The ecru paper is smooth and silky and not insubstantial.

It may have taken longer than I hoped for Amo e Canto to manifest, but it’s wonderful that it exists now. (Patience is a virtue, and all of that.)  I’m so grateful to Sarah Kohrs and Kristen Zimet at Sow’s Ear Poetry Review for all they’ve done to bring this collection into being, and I’m grateful to Sam Rasnake for choosing it as the winner.  I’m also thankful to the journals who originally published some of these poems, especially Rowan Glassworks, which nominated five of them for Pushcart Prize in 2015.

I have many to sell and would love to get one into your hands!

Writing the Red Flags

from dreamstime.com

This past weekend at Tybee Island was the first time I’ve set foot on the beach since I was caught in the rip current in Southampton, NY in 2018.  I thought I would feel fear, but when my sister and I went out last Friday night, it was low tide, the water warm, and the waves almost gentle.  In other words, the ocean felt safe to me.  It was a different story the following morning—the wind was crazy, the waves at high tide so rough that I just couldn’t make myself go in.  There was also a red flag warning—and can you get any more obvious than a red flag literally warning you there’s danger?  Three years ago I ignored the warning, and we all know how that turned out. I learned my lesson.

I think writing is the same way—there are times when writing feels easy and safe (and of course we love those times!), but there’s also those red flags that tell us that maybe we need to reconsider, or even back away.  That’s not to say we shouldn’t “write what we’re afraid to write”—we should, absolutely, write our lives, our stories, our poems that challenge us to be our most authentic selves.  Sometimes that means we write about difficult or painful memories.  Sometimes that means we share what we’re afraid will make us look ridiculous, or damaged, or imperfect.  Some danger is good.  Too much danger and we risk losing ourselves.

What do I mean?  I think there’s a chance that we can give too much of ourselves away when we write.  After all, we are “baring our souls” in one way or another—and when we write about unprocessed trauma that’s when the red flags go up.  We can unintentionally re-traumatize ourselves when we really mean to heal.  Of course, writing about the things that have shaped us is necessary, but I wonder how much good we accomplish if writing about an experience that was painful, terrifying, or devastating makes us revisit those dark places?

What boundaries do we have in place that will protect us?  Have we gone through counseling to process our trauma?  How do we know that what we write won’t revisit trauma on someone else?  If we don’t have boundaries, and we haven’t had the benefit of therapy, we are putting ourselves in danger of revealing too much and re-opening old wounds.

That’s always a danger with writing, I suppose, because to write and share something means you risk exposure—you invite the audience in, and once an audience is involved, you’re not entirely in charge of your work or the interpretation of experience anymore. There’s danger to the writer in the act of audience consumption of work.  How will the audience react?  Will they judge the person you were when you experienced what you experienced?  Will they discount your interpretation of events?  Will they harass you?  Will they reject you?

I think about my own experience trying to publish poems about past trauma in my life.  It never goes well.  I’m not afraid so much about sharing my life—I’ve had plenty of therapy, so I’m well and truly “processed.”  I just think I’m really bad at it.  (And honestly, does the world need more poems or a memoir about child abuse?  I doubt it.)

Not every experience that’s happened to us (or we were involved in) needs to be written about and shared.  Maybe that’s the difference.  Maybe, now that I think about it, we should always write the red flags—what scares us, what seems dangerous.  That’s what journaling is for—it’s a controlled environment:  we are both writer and audience, and there’s little chance of discovery and judgment.

But sharing traumatic experiences in published writing can be as dangerous as a rip current, where even the strongest swimmers can drown.  Are we prepared for the fall-out, to ourselves and to others?  If we’re not ready, then the work should probably stay private.  At least for now.  When the waves are less rough, we can always venture back out.

Redemption Sandwich

Today is my last full day at Rockvale.  It saddens me to be leaving—I’ve enjoyed unprecedented productivity in the last two weeks (22 different first drafts of poems), and it kind of shows me what my writing life would be like if I didn’t have a “day job” that takes up a lot of my creative energy and squanders it on quotidian crap.  Of course, that day job also pays the bills, so I can’t be too dismissive of it. I am grateful to have a job.  But I’ve been very grateful for these two weeks of “professional development” because I’ve really needed them.

Gerbera daisy in the garden

One of the best things that’s come from being here is meeting two new friends.  We were talking last night about how lonely being an adult is, and how difficult it is to make new friends.  But both Kelly and Rebecca have been a godsend.  We eat breakfast together and unwind at night with wine and tea, and becoming friends with them has been really remarkable—especially after the Year of Covid.  And sure, maybe friendship was born of proximity, but I feel like being around other writers, especially these two women—who are honest about themselves in a way that sometimes, surprisingly, writers are not—has been a real salve to my heart. Just this morning, Rebecca made me breakfast—a fried egg with cheese and kale on French bread—a “make-up” for the breakfast sandwich she made me the other day that was, to her mind, imperfect.  Today’s was delicious, for sure—it’s become a joke, her “Redemption Sandwich” (which she has been singing to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”).  But more delicious was her company!  I have felt too sequestered this past year (for good reason, to be sure), but I have missed human company.  Kelly and Rebecca, being writers—and kind, and funny, and goofy to boot—are my kind of people.

Mama (Little Mexico) in the mist

Another thing I’ve enjoyed about being here (besides the writing and my new friends) has been the wildlife.  I love the horses and the cows, and the flocks of goats on various farms.  But I love the other, unexpected, wildlife.  As I was driving a few days ago, I saw three wild turkeys, just hanging out in someone’s front yard, enjoying a colloquy.  I’ve seen deer everywhere.  When I was out at 6:30 a.m. one morning, I saw a whole herd of them, and the other night, when Kelly, Rebecca, and I drove to Publix at twilight, we saw families of deer along both sides of the road, eating dinner.  (So many deer!)

Gladiolus in the garden

Plus, I’ve seen hummingbirds, and butterflies, and even a turkey vulture, sitting on a post.  The rural life is really where I feel the most whole—it reminds me of Grandpa Reilly’s old farm in Pennsylvania, when we escaped the city and just could walk across his fields and take tractor rides and pet the animals in the barn.  That’s what being here has been like for me—a chance to reconnect with rural roots—and realize that in another life, I might have been a farmer poet, instead of an academic.  The trees and the hills and the fields feel like home.

I have always said I want to live in Tennessee, if the fates come together to permit it.  Every time I come to this state, something in my heart blooms. These last two weeks, my heart has blossomed from a year and a half of incubation, of being on hold.  I hope that I can keep blooming when I return to Atlanta—the idyll will be over, but the spirit of it doesn’t have to be.  That’s what imagination and poetry are for—to bring you back, to bring you back even when you only have memories to hold on to.

            Won’t you help to sing
            These songs of freedom?
            ‘Cause all I ever have
            Redemption songs
            Redemption songs
            Redemption songs

Daughter of the Wheel and Moon Released!

My second print chapbook, Daughter of the Wheel and Moon, has been released as part of the artisanal Red Mare Chapbook Series (#21).  I got copies in the mail yesterday!

The Red Mare Chapbook Series produces a limited print run of hand-numbered, handmade books, with fancy papers, ink-block-printed covers, and hand-stitching.  These are beautiful books that feel decadent in your hands, books that you appreciate for their ephemerality, quality, and uniqueness.  Poets who have been published in the series include Maxine Chernoff, Alfred Corn, Lorraine Caputo, and others.

The press specializes in works with an ecofeminist bent, and Daughter of the Wheel and Moon combines poetry about nature and the environment with a focus on the magickal Wheel of the Year to tell about the life of a solitary practitioner witch.  It may—or may not—be a companion piece to What Magick May Not Alter… you can decide for yourself.

Daughter of the Wheel and Moon is available for $15 + shipping. If you buy a copy, you are supporting a woman-owned, non-profit, small press.  And, of course, you’re supporting poetry—so it’s win-win!

Saintly Visions & a Writing Mania Miracle

Quick Note:  It’s been a while since I’ve written (obvs.)—but in my defense, I was having problems with WordPress’ posting/editing interface, and it took me a while to figure out the sitch. Turns out I’m an airhead.  Anyway, it’s squared for the time being.  Now, onto the post!

So, a few months ago I was lamenting my writing.  Or rather, my lack of writing.

This seems to be a typical thing with me.  I suppose it is for many writers, though—you just go through phases, some of which are productive, some of which suck ass.  And of course, my ever-present and generally intolerable BFF, “Deppie,” has made a real nuisance of herself in my life:  that is to say, the dysthymia and anxiety pretty much kick my ass every day. (Sometimes, I tell myself:  just get through the next hour—and that’s the best I can manage.) But this isn’t a post about effed-up brain chemistry, this is a post about writing.

–from makeameme.org

As I was saying:  in February (technically, two posts prior), writer’s block (you know I hate that term, and try not to use it because it always feels like a crutch) was a thing.  I mean, THE STRUGGLE WAS REAL. 

(–from Lucasfilm/Disney)

Poetry and I repelled each other, although there was always kind of a Rey/Kylo (Reylo?) thing going on between us. And while it upset me (not just the least of which had to do with thinking about my writing in terms of the most recent Star Wars trilogy), other more pressing things on my mind (like staying alive) took precedence.  So, I just added “writer’s block” to the list of THINGS THAT MAKE MY LIFE MEANINGLESS O WOES ME. And carried on.

And then I had a vision of Mary Magdalene.

I know this sounds hokey.  Just go with me on this.

Digging through some old files on my computer, I came across a poem I had written years ago about Mary Magdalene—it had been nominated for an AWP Intro Award (which it didn’t win—big shock there)—and it got me thinking.  What could I do with this poem?  Would it just continue to sit in the file in perpetuity?  Or could it be part of a sequence?

The only way to see if a poem will be part of a sequence is by writing another one.  And then another one.  And so on. To help myself focus, I looked at image after image of Mary Magdalene through the ages, remembering the bond I used to have with her (as well as other women from the Bible).  I read hagiographic blogs and articles. I wrote a dozen poems or so, of varying qualities.

The Penitent Magdalene

Caravaggio, The Penitent Magdalene, ca. 1594-95

Some poems were ekphrastic because I believe in THE DREAM (writing a good art poem one day—and I do love me some Italian Renaissance/Baroque paintings), some were my typical narrative poems-with-a-wry-bent, some were just fragments (the Caravaggio poem is in limbo…for my sins). While I still need to revise and complete the sequence, it feels like I’ve accomplished something, and that takes a bit of the edge off.

And then (!!!)—I started another sequence of poems.  I mean, I wrote (and revised!!! OMFG!!) 25 poems in the span of 6 weeks.

I was like HamiltonI worked nonstop.

Or to put it another way, it was as if I had a visitation from The Madonna and she told me to me to get into the groove.  So I did.  And I’ve even started sending them off into the world.  Two of the poems will be published in Soul-Lit: a Journal of Spiritual Poetry in the near future.  Maybe more acceptances will be forthcoming.  (I can hope.)

If I sound amazed, I truly am.  But I don’t want to sound like I’m all, “look at me, look at me, I’m so fricken awesome.”  This is not me espousing a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps approach to writing. (Barf. I would never.) This is not me trying to lure you to my Patreon (which I don’t have—but maybe I should?) or to broadcast an infomercial at 3 a.m. promising that “You too can conquer writer’s block! For six equal installments of $29.99, you can download my step-by-step method…” It’s just me being surprised at how inspiration (another word I hate when it’s applied to writing) works sometimes.

I have slowed my roll somewhat since the middle of April, but I haven’t rolled to a stop.  So that’s a win.

My to-be-read pile                       (from NYPL Digital Collections)

A lot of work is coming my way though—I’m plodding (slowly) through a ton of reading to do for Atlanta Review (now that we’re down to basically only me as the reader/typesetter/social media maintainer), and a pile of research I need to for my next major WIP is accumulating on my bedside table. (Every time I look at it, there’s another book on the pile.) And of course, the new Fall teaching schedule dangles before my eyes, even if it’s still a couple of months away. Not sure I can maintain much rolling at all, with all this going on.  But slow and steady wins the race, or something like that?  I just need to keep trying  (Which is difficult with that beyotch Deppie albatross hanging around, but I’ll try.)

The middle one is “Deppie.”
(from NYPL Digital Collections)

***

Anyway…enough blathering. I hope your writing is going well.  And I hope you, my beloved 5 readers, are staying safe and healthy, even as the world opens back up.

Basketcase

from the NYPL Digital Collections

CW:  Depression, myopia, navel-gazing

The pandemic is almost a year old (in the US, anyway), and it’s been a horrible year for so many people, including the half-a-million folks who’ve died from Covid, and their families.  Then there was the bizarre and unbelievable insurrection on Jan. 6th (Epiphany!), and now the Texas power grid disaster and the below freezing temperatures across the country—with people dying, in their houses, without heat or water.  It seems that we are beset with tragedy everywhere.  I don’t want to sound dismissive, though I fear it might, if I say that the year has been hard on me, because I haven’t been able to write like I’ve wanted to. 

Of course I was saying that five months ago, too.  And in the intervening months, there were Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas, which are always bright spots, if momentary. But my depression persists—made worse, of course, by the tragedies that surround this country, the inability to see family and friends (oh my goddess, do I miss my Mom), the loss of a friend to suicide last October, the incessant stay-at-home-ism—the endless, endless darkness (not to be a drama queen or anything) that has just taken the spirit out of me.

I can’t seem to do anything. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to do much more than read books (to take me away from myself) or sleep. I’m irritable, sad, lonely, hating myself, and suffering migraines all the time.  Sure, those are all garden variety symptoms of depression (well, maybe not the migraines), and I’m still relatively high functioning (though I can’t manage household cleaning chores), but I am exhausted all the time. Weary. Unmotivated to the point of laziness.  And so very, very heartbroken about my writing.

Yes, I know there are thousands of people who have it worse.  I know that. I loathe that I’m sounding like a whiny little bitch, when relatively, there is so much decent (if not good) in my life.  But part of the depression sphere is that knowing something objectively doesn’t mean anything if you can’t feel it.

***

Feeling anything has come hard to me as an adult. How many therapists have said to me that I live too much in my head?  Some of that, I’m sure, comes from feeling too much as a child and a teenager, when I was told over and over again that my feelings were invalid/ unreasonable/ ridiculous/ unwanted. So I learned to suppress so much of my humanity—just became a floating intellect. I was pretty good at school, so I did that.  Kept my emotions in check as best I could for as long as I could, till I didn’t seem to have them anymore.  (Like I intellectually love my family and friends—they are great, wonderful people—but I secretly wonder if I really feel that love?  Like, can I ever feel anything, authentically?  Or am I always processing everything on such an intellectual level that I’ve atrophied anything else that was real inside of me?) Everything on autopilot.

Or is this all just depression talking?

It’s not a lie to say that I have developed a true fear of writing (scriptophobia!) this past year.  Fear is a feeling—though I “feel” very intellectual about it. As in, I can compartmentalize it—and do the writing I need to for work without a thought.  But when it comes to my own writing, I’ve been terrified (again, intellectually speaking).  What do I say?  What does it matter? Who cares if I write or not (besides me)?  I’ve wondered if I’ve forgotten how even to write poetry.  Or if I’ve developed a fear of poetry (metrophobia).  This is beyond writer’s block (which I don’t actually believe in)—this is something fundamental, and deeper.  Like poetry is a mountain I can see across the forest, but forget about crossing the forest, I’m floating by in a river, trying not to drown.

And maybe it’ll just be temporary.  Like, maybe this past year is too much to process, and the only way to “cope” (not very effectively, of course) is depression and an “inability” to write.

***

Intellectually, I know I will write poems again, when I’m not so depressed and stuck.  But it’s hard to feel it.  But, even when I do write poems again, to be honest, I know they will be the intellectual exercises they have always been for me.  That’s why I’ll never be a great poet—because my poems don’t have an emotional core, they just don’t—but it will have to be good enough to be good enough as poet. Because if I’m not a person who writes poems, I’m not sure what my point for being is?

Thanks, always, to my five readers for reading this. I wish I had something better to share than just head garbage.

Catfish Moon (poem reading)

from the NY Public Library Digital Collections

from the NY Public Library Digital Collections

Since all poetry readings are canceled for the foreseeable future, I thought I would take the opportunity to read a few poems over the next several days from my new book What Magick May Not Alter.

This poem called “Catfish Moon,” named after the full moon in August (which is technically the Sturgeon Moon, but this is poetry, and we take liberties).

(Also, the picture looked backwards when I was filming it, but it’s correct when you watch the video, so forget my little “backwards” comment.)

If you like the video, or this blog, please feel free to share it near and far!

 

 

Re-centering

Right now, with the Corona Virus going on, it’s hard to think about anything besides that people are dying and the only thing we can really do is socially isolate ourselves and wash our hands to the Alphabet Song (or Happy Birthday, twice).  But while that is true, it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of what makes us us—whatever it is that makes us feel humanity, we should try to continue to do it, even as we make health and safety of ourselves and others a priority.

For me, that’s writing. The last few months at work, I was putting sometimes 50-60 hours a week trying to get everything done, and unfortunately, what had to give was my writing.  I was just too tired to work on poems, after I had been in the salt mines, and I realize now that more than just what I thought I lost (some sanity and true connection to my inner world), I temporarily lost some of my humanity.  Not surprising, when you become an automaton for work.  But not writing—not connecting—contributed to my anxiety and worsened my already pretty heavy depression, and frankly, no job is worth that.

I am sorry that it’s come down to a pandemic to allow me to write again—but I also feel better for the first time in several months.  I’ve been writing, revising, and sending out poems to journals, and it feels like me again, a re-centering.  Usually, the nudge that AWP provides in the Spring also helps my productivity, but this year the Ed. decided (rightly) that we should probably forego AWP since both of us tend to be immunocompromised. (Everyone knows all you have to do is sneeze my way and I pick up a respiratory infection.)  But it was hard, not getting to chat with writers I know as well as visiting with the people tabling in the Book Fair. The energy from that is so motivating.  So, I’ve just been reading the journals that have stacked up around my house, and I’ve been combing Submittable’s Discover tab, looking for new journals to explore and possibly to submit to.  And, I’m finally connecting to the project I’ve been batting around in my head for months, and that feels good too.

In related news, I’m looking forward to my official release date for What Magick May Not Alter, which is April 17th.  So, that makes my book an Aries (and you know how Aries and Taurus don’t mix too well 😊).  But I’m excited for my book to be out in the world.  I’ve sent ARCs out to several people, with the hope that they would kindly write a review, no matter their opinion.  I know for a fact that one person has written one—she’s just waiting to share it a little closer to its birthday.  And another person is in the process of making a YouTube review and told me that he “damn near couldn’t put it down,” so that is great news. I’m still looking for some readers/ reviewers, so if anyone is interested, please let me know and let’s figure out how we can get a copy of What Magick May Not Alter in your hands!

I know this was a short post—I’ll try to do better than write one post a year!  Maybe I’ll even get back to my Wednesday posts, who knows?  Until then, be safe, sequester yourself, and wash your hands. And if you believe, pray.

Solstice

Long beach postcard 1910

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Sunset tonight is technically 8:51 p.m., but of course it will still be light out closer to 10 (for a total of 14 hours and 24 minutes of sunshine).  It’s the kind of day I could imagine myself being out by the ocean for as long as possible—you know, if Atlanta was on the coast.  Which alas, it is not.

I simultaneously love and hate this day—I love it because it’s high summer and there’s something interesting about the sun being out as I’m (supposed to be) readying myself for sleep.  But I also hate it because it means the days will now get progressively shorter, creeping as they do towards the fall and a new school term.  (I’ve had this love-hate thing with the day since I was little.)

Anyway, here is a poem I wrote several years ago commemorating the summer solstice.  Initially I planned to write something New Agey and mystical—but then I defaulted to funny.  This poem has always been one of my favorites, and it always makes me laugh.

Solstice

Tonight is the shortest of the year,
not enough time to break into Mr. Next Door’s
shed and rearrange his tools,
hide the scotch he keeps on a ledge
beside the coiled snake of orange power cord,
let the air out of the tires of his ’87 Impala,
fray his collection of ropes,
steal the front wheel of his Schwinn
and replace it with a stale doughnut,
spill turpentine into his jug of marbles,
stuff his sleeping bag with twigs and old leaves,
or tangle his fishing wire into knots
not even the navy knows about.
Tomorrow, the night is two minutes longer.

 

If you like this poem, you might like the others in my collection, La Petite Mort.