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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

Where the poem comes from: Beth Gylys

Friday, October 30, 2009

I met Beth Gylys online through an enthusiastic introduction from Dustin Brookshire. Beth is an associate professor at Georgia State University. She is the author of two award-winning poetry collections, “Spot in the Dark” and “Bodies that Hum,” and two chapbooks, “Matchbook” and “Balloon Heart.”

Here is her poem, “The Scene,” and her story behind it.


The Scene

Last April when Travis's band played a set
at the Zonolight, Michael got sloshed. 
Kelly had trimmed his goatee
because his book had been accepted.
Paul arrived in a limo with his girlfriend
who wore sandals with see-through plastic straps.

No one seemed to notice how my bra straps
kept slipping down my shoulders.  The set
had started, and I got talking to Paul's girlfriend
about breast reduction.  Michael was busy getting sloshed,
and Kelly kept bringing up his acceptance
for publication, stroking his well-trimmed goatee

as if it were a bottle with a genie, instead of a goatee
that we all thought he should shave.  The traps
we'd fallen into made us giddy with acceptance.
We loved Kelly anyway, and Travis too, whose set
had inspired two little girls to hula. Almost sloshed,
Paul unabashedly stroked the ass of his girlfriend,

while Michael told me a story about the girlfriend
of a friend of his who only liked men with goatees
and wouldn't have sex with him until he grew one.  Sloshed
on wine, Paul's girlfriend kept pulling at the straps
of her dress.  Travis was jamming, his drum-set
a blur of noise, when the conversation turned to the acceptance

of US world domination as a norm.  "Acceptance
on our part doesn't mean the world…." Paul's girlfriend
trailed off.  "Exactly!" exhorted Michael, who set
his wine glass on a chair excitedly.  Kelly's goatee
looked like a stain on his face.  He thwacked the straps
of his suspenders with his thumbs.  Someone's beer sloshed,

on my foot.   Michael whispered in my ear, "I'm sloshed,"
then burst out:  "We can't be complacent.  Acceptance
of tyranny is as bad as enactment. Patriotism is a cultural strap
used to bind us!"  Looking bored, Paul's girlfriend
left for the bathroom.  Kelly fondled his goatee
as if it were a rabbit's foot, and Travis finished up his set

with a flourish-even his goatee was sweating.  Paul's girlfriend
returned with a set of chopsticks in her hair. She looked sloshed,
one dress strap undone.  The air shimmered with acceptance. 


“This is a sestina that I published in Terminus a couple of years ago.  It's also possibly going to be in a sestina anthology edited by Daniel Nester.  The poem is a real mishmash, which is maybe true of a lot of sestinas. 

“One night several years ago, I went with friend Michael to hear my friend Travis' band.  My housemate Paul also happened to show up that night with his then girlfriend Leslie. Michael and I were all stirred up because Bush was hell-bent on this Iraq war, a war that clearly had more to do with his own need to assert power and impress his/avenge his papa than with any real defensive need. 

“The sestina seemed a good way to blend the political with the personal and social.  There's a party aspect to the poem that highlights the "theoretical" nature of the political conversation that's addressed in the poem.  The characters of the poem don't really have any stake in the political ramifications of the conversation. 

“What the poem is truly about, then, is the American political landscape.  We go to war as a country, yet nothing truly changes for most Americans.  Whether we are pro-war or against, we still live our lives unaffected.  And in a way that's what the poem speaks to.  There's a kind of frivolity to the whole 'scene' that implicates everyone in the poem.  The true horror of political domination in the world is framed against the backdrop of a party so that the characters in the poem all seem impotent and Dionysian.  

“I don't know exactly how I ended up with the end words, but the poem was a lot of fun to write with "goatee"  "sloshed" "traps" and "girlfriend" cycling in again and again.  Though the poem ultimately expresses a serious message, there's plenty of humor in the mix.  At least I'd like to think!” 

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Where the poem comes from: Dustin Brookshire

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I first met Dustin Brookshire online when he contacted me a few months ago after hearing one of my poems read on Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac. He invited me to add a brief essay to his blog feature, “Why I Write,” and I was delighted to be there among poets I greatly admire like Dorianne Laux and my friend and mentor Patricia Smith. Most recently the featured poet is Alan Shapiro, whose essay is fascinating.

In 2008 Dustin founded LIMP WRIST magazine and Quarrel, a blog focused on poetry revision. He has been featured at poetry readings in Atlanta and Savannah and his work has been published in numerous online magazines as well as in Atlanta's DAVID magazine. Besides writing poetry and thinking up provocative poetry projects, Dustin serves on the Atlanta Queer Literary Festival Committee, and is a political activist who tries to keep elected officials on their toes.

As part of my series on poems' starting places, Dustin talks about his poem, “Stuck,” which originally appeared in O&S:

“I am working on a project with Robert Walker, a poet and graduate student at Virginia Tech.  We share a love and a passion for the work of Denise Duhamel, and we send each other lines from Denise’s poems.  Whatever line is sent must become the first line of our own poem.
 
“’Stuck’ starts with a line from Denise Duhamel’s 'Mille Et Un Sentiments': “I feel like I may be repeating myself, that I’m totally stuck”  While I obsess on many things in my life, I find myself severely stuck on two topics: my parents' use of the “f” word during my childhood and a sexual assault by an ex-boyfriend.  Both topics can be difficult to write about, whether it is because of reliving the incidents through words or simply for the fear of how my poetic voice sounds through my words.
 
“Ostensibly, it seems as if ‘Stuck’” comes from Denise’s line, but as Denise once said, “As poets, I think we all write from a deep wound.”  And, for me, that is exactly where “Stuck” comes from—a deep wound.


STUCK
 
I feel like I may be repeating myself, that I'm totally stuck
on the words of my mother and father, You're Fat.
Father:  I've never seen a fat person who looked happy.
Mother:  You don't want to be like your grandmother.
Don't tell your father I said that.
   I haven't even told
my new therapist about my calorie counting parents.
We're stuck on the rape. How I'm stuck with anger.
How I'm stuck on not crying about it.
I tell her I tear up when I think about it, sometimes.
She tells me tearing up isn't crying, isn't release.
Then I become stuck on changing the topic.
You see, I have a way with being stuck,
stuck between forgiving and forgetting.
 

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