At the Words at WAM event last month, we entertained ourselves by making some anonymous black-out poems with pages from romance paperbacks. And guys, you made some superb ones. This week, these poems are our inspiration. I’ve picked three gems here to begin, and you can continue the fun with the remaining poems, in this album.
Thank you to everyone who came to our fourth
Words at WAM on February 18th!
Much gratitude to WAM, the stupendous WAM Collective, featured readers Paula Cisewski and Peter Bognanni, musical guest Charles Asch, and the rockin’ Hazel & Wren staff members Timothy Otte, Aaron King, Jessica Mayer and Taylor Trauger.
Extra-special props to our awesome open mic-ers: Mark East, Russ Van Heel, Walter Horishnyk, Sun Chi Som, Michael Penfield, Mary Lee, Jesse Green, Ali O’Reilly, Thorwald, Jake Skillings, Claire Fallon, Eric Komosa, Monika Hetzler, Zach Simon, Autumn Wetzel, Toby Grace, Anne Piper, Jacob Maybe, and Maddie Chicoine.
For the first time ever, we were able to make it through the entire open mic sign-up list! Huzzah! It felt so good to not have to turn anyone away.
Fantastic night all around!
Oh No Everything by Brett Elizabeth Jenkins (Pockets Press 2015)
Editor’s Note/Disclaimer: Aaron, one of our Hazel & Wren staff members, published this book. I, however, was not involved in publishing it at all, and I dig it. So there.
As the cover suggests, this chapbook has a medical theme running through it’s veins. Doctor visits, pills, and bodily discomforts resurface again and again within these poems. This furrowed brow reaction towards the world of medicine lends itself to the other main theme of this collection: anxiety. There is a poems titled “List of Fears” which is just that. Anxiety also translates into hypochondria, which comes to life in the poem “Web MD”, which begins:
Symptoms: pain on the left side of the body in what feels like kidney
or possibly ovary. Strange feeling in the chest, like someone very s mall
has lassoed me around the sternum. Increased output of farts. Heaviness
in legs, especially when karate kicking walls in the house. […]
There is a constant analysis of symptoms and worry generated by the results of the analyses that builds anxiety while reading this book. Yet Jenkins adds levity to the otherwise tumbling rollercoaster of anxiety with her use of dry humor as seen in “Web MD”, and most of the other poems. She walks the line between an unstoppable current of worry and spit out your coffee giggles, which makes the panic attack-inducing lines digestible.
The symptoms listed throughout are treated in various ways; some through pills, but sometimes through pursuit of zen. Jenkins lines seem to fight back and forth for real estate between quiet poetic moments and dry humor poking fun at anxiety. This battle comes to live in the poem “To Get To Zen” which begins:
you must first lose your
shit in an elevator
in front of a man you do not know.
but ends in poetic thoughtfulness:
Breathe as deep into your bones
as Houdini might have
Forget what you know.
Or, at least,
These poems almost veer into self-deprecating humor, but Jenkins manages to not go too far, and balances it out with humor and genuine thoughtfulness. This idea of balance reoccurs throughout; we see the full spectrum of emotions, including extremes — but we also come back to moments of balance, however brief.
The question of or, in the case of the poem “Leave of Absence”, ridicule of God is another sub-theme within this chapbook:
Yes, I have been trying to find a way
to tell you I have the Stigmata. I have been
going through our company hand-
book and there is no section on miracles.
I know, my insurance representative
is likely to be stumped. […]
Jenkins’ writing style is straight forward and conversational, which lends itself to her matter-of-fact humor, as well as her matter-of-fact medical analysis. It doesn’t get more straight forward than in the poem, “Telling it Like it is” (which again touches on the idea of God as a question mark):
I probably won’t even be thin (there, I said it!),
and I don’t know if God is real.
I am suspect of anyone who is certain of anything,
and I obsess over whether or not I remembered
to lock the door while I’m in bed at night,
but I don’t get up to do anything about it
because I’m lazy and so I must convince myself nightly
that my life is not really that important.
Jenkins uses her poems to explore questions: How do I pull my shit together? Am I going to die? Is my life important? Is God real? We sit with Jenkins’ questions until we begin to realize that they’re strikingly similar to our own questions. The chapbook feels like a coming to terms with the unknown, with living with these giant question marks lurking in the corners of our minds. It’s a struggle, but it’s one we’re all in together.
Nab your own copy and meet the poet at the OH NO EVERYTHING launch party next Fri, Mar 6, at 7:00 pm at Boneshaker Books. There will be readings from Jenkins herself, plus Paula Cisewski (one of our featured readers from last week’s Words at WAM!), Katie Rauk, David Bayliss, Kristin Fitzsimmons, and Erica Anderson-Senter. To top off an already festive evening of poetry, there will be birthday cake and beverages, in honor of Jenkin’s birthday.
I haven’t acknowledged the weather at all this season. Perhaps I hoped it would come and go in a quick and painless manner this year, or maybe I was afraid that looking in its direction would somehow goad the beast into a further fury. Today, though, I’m in the mood to look it straight in the eye. Winter: hello, you.
Saul Leiter, Snow, 1960. Photograph.
Andrew Wyeth, Spring, 1978. Tempera on panel.
Todd Hido, #6037, 2007. Photograph. www.toddhido.com