Upcoming Readings & Events. . .

My newest poems just emerged in this recent issue of Fourteen Hills; I was lucky to read “Oakland” and other poems about the SF Bay Area rent crisis along with many other talented poets in this issue last week at Alley Cat Books in the Mission.k_a
Kevin Simmonds, a long time friend and fellow poet, convinced me to interview him last winter, and the collaborative conversation we ended up having is now featured at The Conversant. I’m grateful to Kevin and to Ching-In Chen for making this happen.

I’m also excited to read with several talented lady poets at Orinda Books on June 10th as we celebrate our new work just launched in an anthology of women’s writing just out through Quaci Press.  Join us in the east-east bay to hear poets including Raina J. Leon, Heather June Gibbons, and Tereza Joy Kramer.  Of Remembering the Days that Breathe Pink, editor and Dancing Girl Press poet Nicole Borello describes, “Like the evolution of the church veil, women’s experiences have been covered, silenced, unveiled, and then partially veiled again. Through this spirited collection of poems, prose and lyrics, we discover the true elements of our world and how it impacts the female soul. Filled with an entire cast of compelling characters that delivers each act with riveting language, Remembering the Days that Breathed Pink, recounts the days of innocence, desires, fears, motherhood, curiosities, and observations. This anthology is a diverse collection of women’s voices that exposes both the complexities and the inner balance of the female journey.”

I’m also thrilled to be a reader and curator for  The Hundy series, Wednesday June 22nd.  Many thanks to poet Zack Haber for asking me to part of this an evening at E.M. Wolfman!  I am honored to read along side inspiring poets Valerie Witte and Donna de la Perrriere.



Lone Glen POETRY & MUSIC: Duncan, Jackson, & Field

Join us on Saturday June 4th at 7:45 for an inspiring Lone Glen night of poetry and music as we celebrate the emergence of spring!  We are delighted to host writers Aja Couchois Duncan and Stacy Nathaniel Jackson as well as musician Amber Field.  Lone Glen is a quarterly reading, writing, and performance series dedicated to supporting all artists and art forms in the Bay Area and beyond.  Find us at 3132 Harrison Street, Oakland, and look for the door on the side of the house that will lead you to the garden and our performance basement space.  Please bring a friend, a beverage or snack (if you have the means), and an open mind!  You can learn more about Lone Glen at http://loneglen.wordpress.com/

Aja Couchois Duncan is a Bay Area educator, writer and coach of Ojibwe, French and Scottish descent. Her writing has been anthologized in Biting the Error: Writers Explore Narrative (Coach House Press,) Bay Poetics (Faux Press) and Love Shook My Heart 2 (Alyson Press). Her most recent chapbook, Nomenclature, Miigaadiwin, a Forked Tongue was published by CC Marimbo press. A fictional writer of non-fiction, she has published essays in the North American Review and Chain. In 2005, she was a recipient of the Marin Arts Council Award Grant for Literary Arts, and, in 2013, she received a James D. Phelan Literary Award. Her first book, Restless Continent, is forthcoming in the spring of 2016 from Litmus Press. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and a variety of other degrees and credentials to certify her as human. Great Spirit knew it all along.  http://ajacouchoisduncan.blogspot.com/

Amber Field is a performer, teacher and healer featured in San Francisco Magazine’s Best of the Bay for yoga music. She has performed and taught at Esalen, Wanderlust, Hollyhock, the Yoga Journal Conference, and universities and retreat centers around the world. She specializes in world fusion music and plays didgeridoo, djembe, Arabic tambourine, esraj, harmonica, piano, and sings like an angel. Amber delights in helping free people’s voices. Her latest album Serendip is now available. www.amberfieldmusic.com

Stacy Nathaniel Jackson was born in Los Angeles and attended Ramona Convent College Preparatory School for Girls in a former incarnation of his life.  Stacy holds a BAFA in studio arts from the University of Southern California, an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.  He is a Cave Canem fellow and was the recipient of an individual artist’s grant from the San Francisco Arts Commission in 2011.  Author of the chapbook Camouflage (MaCaHu Press, 2010), his poems, plays, and visual art have been published in Black Arts Quarterly, Lodestar Quarterly, Enizagam, and New American Writing among others.  His painting and sculpture exhibition history includes Los Angeles City Hall, the University of Arizona, Cal Poly Pomona, and NoDa Artist Network in Charlotte, NC.  He is a Director of Finance and Administrative Services at the University of California, San Francisco and serves as an Assistant Secretary of the UCSF Foundation.  Stacy is currently working on a full-length poetry manuscript exploring African American women in the military.  Currently living in the Oakland Hills, you can find him at www.snjackson.com or on Twitter at Mr. Stacy@stayseajackson.


yesteryear & monkey year summaries

Quaci_PressSo much happened in 2015 that my breath seems to be returning only as spring remains an aloof glimmer.  I left a beloved job and began a new one.  I gave birth to a daughter, a new chapbook, and wrote my first political poem, too.  There were readings I was lucky to be part of and several I hosted– the latest with some incredible poets (Angela Hume, Donna de la Perriere, and GilAliceBluelian Conoley!) for the half decade birthday of the Lone Glen series.  My poem “Waiting”found a home in the final issue of alice blue, a journal I will miss, while “The Last Word” appeared in the 20th anniversary edition of VOLT.  In the year of the Monkey, I look forward to reading my newest work about motherhood and gender on behalf of local Quaci Press, a small publishing house that’s putting out an anthology of ladies’ writing this winter.  I’m grateful too that Fourteen Hills has chosen to take on a poem called “Oakland” that responds to the Bay Area rent crisis.  Now in the middle of writing a review and doing an interview of two other poets I admire, I know 2016 is going to be another inspiring year….

Come celebrate 13 years of MONDAY NIGHT journal!

MondayNghtOn February 19th, 7:00 pm, Monday Night journal is celebrating thirteen years of print publishing and its new step into cyber space. I’m excited to read from my poems in the (print) Issue 13, along with contributors Lyndsey Ellis and Caroline Goodwin at E.M. Wolfman’s eclectic bookstore in Oakland. It should be a colorful evening with plenty of back issues of the journals to peruse and enjoy.

Excited for Lone Glen XI with Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr!

Home_1Celebrating the spirit of collaboration at our eleventh Lone Glen, we are thrilled to host poets Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr on the evening of Saturday, August 16th. Join us at 6:30 in our garden to hear both their individual works and a new, co-written poem. We will welcome you with libations and snacks, but please feel free to contribute! Find us at 3132 Harrison Street in Oakland.  For more info, go to loneglen.wordpress.com

It’s an Endless Summer!

PrintThanks to Samantha Giles and Small Press Traffic for graciously hosting over fifty poets on the longest day of the year.  It was hosted in the gorgeous garden of the hospitable Juliana Spahr.  It was lovely to see so many poets laughing together in one space and to feel community in the often-too-distancing SF realm.  Genine Lentine was particularly hilarious, and Owen and I hope to woo her as well as some others for Lone Glen this summer….I read a poem about Sisyphus and one about time (we only got five minutes).  This was my second year at Endless Summer….what an inspiring space.

Poety events to celebrate spring!

I am honored to celebrate spring’s arrival with these writers and artists:

2 April, 6:30 pm– A reading and panel discussion about art and poetry at St. Mary’s College. I very much look forward to reading with these incredibly talented poets: Brenda Hillman, Raina Leon, Kevin Simmonds, and Sara Mumolo.  Our discussion about the relationship between our books’ text and cover art should prove particularly interesting.

8 April, Tuesday at 7 pm– ImageA poetry reading at San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore with Raina J. León and Kevin Simmonds.  We will read from our latest work!  Thank you to Raina for spearheading this reading at my favorite bookstore.

9 April, Wednesday at 7 pm– A poetry reading at Berkeley’s Pegasus Books with poets Raina J. León, Valerie Witte, and Erica Lewis.  We look forward to gathering an east bay & SF crowd!

My response to Rene Char’s “Not Eternal nor Temporal”

stonelyreMy original post published thanks to Susan Scarlata at Lost Roads Press http://lostroads.org/blog/

Alexandra Mattraw on Rene Char’s “Not Eternal Nor Temporal,” translated by Nancy Naomi Carlson (Tupelo Press), originally published in Char’s “Le Nu perdu” (1971).

“O wheat in May, green in the shivering earth that has never known sweat.  A happy distance from diving suns of the ends of lives.  Low-lying under the long night.  Color glows, watered.  For vigil and last rites, two bedside blades: the skylark, bird who alights, and the crow, the spirit engraving itself.” – Rene Char

Most new parents would agree that the first six weeks with their newborns lured them into a ferocious battle with Time and Pain.  This battle, which usually boils down to one with Control (or lack thereof), can’t be won by the human sufferer in any linear sense.  I believe poet Rene Char also knew a version of this truth.  In the midst of dawn surreality, before the new day has broken but after the fan humming comfort of post dinner drowsiness, a mother awakens. Her heart tightens, her eyes widen in terror, and her disembodied physical self moves to the yowling bassinet, her will dominated by a biological imperative that has nothing to do with human law or Time blinking rudely in iPhone glow.  An hour or so later, after the sh*t, piss, nursing, blood, vomit, drool, swaddling, rocking, and crying (by both parties), she lays her tiny beloved back down with the most tender and careful of gestures, realizing that one wrong move could destroy the moment, startle her baby awake, ruffle her tired husband, and begin the cycle all over again. Yet later, mother and father learn the pointlessness of judging any moment as a static entity over which they can exercise control.

It is within this swampy reality, where I quickly learned to be grateful for a glass of ice water (let alone a shower) that I reread this mysterious little prose poem by Char.  The title alone encompasses the exact paradox I continue to consider as a new mother and an amateur Buddhist.  How to embrace the moment and suffering despite the chains of our socially constructed view of Time?  As such, the “O Wheat” apostrophe here thrusts me into a different sort of meditation: How can I, through a radical acceptance, survive my human vulnerability without dwelling on that very frailty?

Char claims this wheat “[shivers in an] earth that has never known sweat.”  He personifies wheat that knows sweat only from the hot farmer’s dripping brow yet paradoxically “shivers” like an infant.  Doesn’t a body sweat in order to shiver and cool down in spring heat?  No, Char reminds us, Demeter’s wheat will never know pain or suffering, or at least, not through our chosen understanding of these categories.

I’m also interested in the rather obscure image of “A happy distance from diving suns of the ends of lives.”  Certainly, this emotionless wheat trembles (with fantastic, French Symbolist influenced synesthesia!), but only because of wind.  Unlike people, unlike prideful Icarus falling from the sun, wheat does not obsess itself with beginnings nor ends, nor with the horror of looming war, nor with the terrible grief of a colleague who passes, nor even with the joy resulting from a son’s first smile.  However, even this metatemporal wheat, united with nature (and all that stands beyond Time), grows old and meets its thresher, as will I, as will my son, greeting an inevitable “vigil and last rites.”  Of course, the curious difference is that the wheat, like Wallace Stevens’ Snow Man, moves within a song beyond thinking, “low lying under the long night” (Char).  The wheat grows through the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (Stevens).  I respect wheat that doesn’t fret about the existential is-ness of its plight.

Interestingly, the final sentence of Char’s poem also recalls his belief that “the truth is in the blade.” We are confronted with “two bedside blades,” “the skylark” and “the crow.”  Surely, a double-edged truth then.  Char teaches us that truth and beauty can only result in the coexistence of good and evil; life and death; empathy and violence.  In digesting Char’s symbology, I return to my postpartum experience in which my child was my skylark (symbol of daybreak/light/life), while my physical pain and resulting spiritual realignment led me to several deaths: my own childhood and idealizations about parenthood being merely two of them.

Char’s conceptual vision in these lines isn’t my only fascination.  I can’t help but note the striking musicality of Carlson’s sonically resonant translation.  She has preserved the aural essence of Char’s French as well as his poetics, inventing layered assonance and resulting internal rhyme; lulling alliteration; and a condensation that allows each image to sharpen its counterpart.  For instance, Char’s “O le ble vert dans une terre qui n’a pas encore sue, qui n’a fait que grelotter!” becomes “O wheat in May, green in the shivering earth . . .” In English, this long “e” assonance has always reminded me of the wet, fertile green rush of May.  The sound itself elongates in the throat and mimics a sigh of contentment.  This gorgeous lyrical pattern echoes throughout all the lines: “wheat,” “green,” “shivering,” “happy,” “diving,” “lying,” and “engraving.”  Similarly, the repeated long “i” fills us with a delightful brightness: “lives,” “lying,” “diving,” “night,” “rites,” “bedside,” and finally, “alights.”  The poem is endowed with a feeling of crescendo (“color glows,” a bird who lights and flies up in order to land/ “alight”) and decrescendo (“low lying,” “diving,” “watered,” “engraving,” etc.), with the appropriately woeful “O” assonance repeating as well.  In short, we are gifted with an explosion of song that comprises both sides of Char’s bladed and rather violent truth—one that Blake and Keats also new well— death and suffering (“the crow”) sit in the same temple with birth/joy (“the skylark”) and are wed as one “spirit” (Keats, “Ode on Melancholy” and Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell).

Perhaps, Char challenges us to encounter a vision of Time’s meaninglessness, teaching us to live each day with gentleness, with what I recently heard someone call a “circumcised heart.”  This open heart comprehends each blade life deals us as one incision closer to a fuller life— a higher consciousness.