Surprising Details- “The Garden Room” by Joy Katz

I’ve had a theory for quite a while now that one’s home reflects the living done there. As a Christian, I believe that our actions and lives have spiritual effects beyond just ourselves. And I think it’s reflected in the spaces we spend the majority of our free time.
I think if we paid close-enough attention, we could feel peace, strife, love, boredom in the homes of people with whom we spend time.

Perhaps this is a bit too metaphysical for a Saturday afternoon, but I couldn’t help but think of this as I read Joy Katz’s chapbook, The Garden Room this morning.

The book is a series of 29 poems and one introductory poem that all have to do with interpretations of physical objects within a house. Poems include “Color of the sheets.”, “A desk.”, “A ceiling.”, and “The Unmade bed.”

Rich with metaphor and personification, these poems inspire me as a writer to view ordinary objects through a creative/unusual eye and revise…revise…revise until the language is absolute perfection.

One of my favorite poems is “Color of the walls.” and I love the imaginative personification that colors the last couple of stanzas. Here’s my favorite section:

“the teapot must remain serious, the table may not approach.
Archaic torso turns away into the corner.
The rugs occupy themselves with the story of their making,
Chairs, in quorum, decide upon the nearness of
important things,
like capital punishment. Good chairs.”

As one of the more whimsical portions of the chapbook, I love these lines ability to build a sort of rapport between the reader and the house, so then later on we can hear what the house has to teach us in poems like “The Made Bed.” that immediately follows:

“It makes us believe we are clean, too.
It breathes slowly, evenly, like Gandhi.
If this is true, then what kind of mind must I have?
Surely not disordered.”

I walk away from this chapbook amazed at the power of language to transform the way someone views ordinary common things by stepping away from the crutches of common metaphor and belief. That is something I would love to adopt as a skill into my own writing.

I strongly urge you to pick up a copy of this lovely book. It’s delightfully unpredictable, and its figurative language gets underneath your skin.

To peruse her lovely website, visit joykatz.com.

I also encourage you to spend some time thinking about how your life is influencing your context, positively and negatively. A little self-reflection never hurt a writer.

Keep pushing yourself to write surprisingly and thoughtfully about the often overlooked. It may lead to some incredible work.

May your words come smooth and Writer’s Block stay far away,
Abigail Joy

Snapshots of Grief–Matthew Leavitt Brown’s Glory Glory

I just completed Matthew Brown’s chapbook Glory Glory this afternoon, and I am absolutely in awe.
Don’t get me wrong, I love poetry and often find myself moved by a lovely poetic phrase, but rarely am I stunned by an entire project as I am by this one.

The entire chapbook follows one couple, and travels from remembrances of their relationship beginning to little nuances of their married life to the wife’s sickness and ends with her death and his coping.
(Sorry–spoiler.)
I don’t feel bad spoiling that a little bit though, because the beauty of this narrative poetry is not in what exactly happens. The beauty of this chapbook is how you feel exactly in the moment with the couple, often time with very brief and ordinary snapshots of their life together.

Several poems are even descriptions of photographs, which I thought was a really smart way to capture a moment…by literally describing a captured moment.
The entire chapbook is very visual in the way that photography is.
The wife is often described not by her name, but by the way her curls fall around her face in several poems.
The absence the husband feels after the wife passes away is stunningly captured in one of the poems by the way he finds bunnies while pulling weeds and “without thinking I/called your name once, almost without making a sound, then again,/louder, with my head turning back over my should towards the empty/house.”
He does not just say he misses her, he shows it in an absolutely lovely and heartbreaking way.

Another of my favorite aspects of this chapbook is the way it cycles.
Their is a poem at the beginning, before the reader knows of the wife’s illness, where the husband describes coming home to his wife. It ends as such:
” Your eyes gone wet from corners.
Our song playing in the back room.
Our roses blooming the front yard.

My hands around your belly.
Your smile a lasting penance.
I wiil find you. Always.”

It’s absolutely lovely, and promising.
One of the last poems of the chapbook is in response to this one. It ends as such:
” Your eyes, clear and wide cold blue, gone wet from the corners.
Your soft smell in the kitchen, our song playing in the back room.
A soft whistle in your breath, roses blooming the front yard.

The garden gone petal pink, my hands around your belly.
Holding true your poise, your smile a lasting promise.
When you come back, I will be waiting. Amen.”

The second is not only eerie and stunning, it is expanded, as if in death, the wife is speaking more to him than she did when she was alive.

I know I would love to write poems that converse with one another in such a way, to encapsulate a life so wonderfully.

This chapbook is crafted purposefully from image to language, to the deeply thought-out and constructed structure…all features of good writing that we should all hope to aspire to.

And it is definitely worth a read.

For more information about Matthew Brown’s work, to read samples of his poems, or to order a copy of Glory Glory, click here: matthewbrownpoetry.com

Keep capturing moments, friends. It’s one of the most beautiful things we can do as writers.
Blessings,
Abigail Joy

Canned Peaches and Pennsylvania Dutch

This week, I read Julia Kasdorf‘s 1992 chapbook, Sleeping Preacher. Yes, this book is one year older than me, but good poetry is good poetry, right? (Right! sounds the resounding online literary community.)

I read this chapbook at the recommendation of one of my professors, and I’ll admit, I didn’t dive into this reading with the poetic thoughtfulness that one should approach creative work.

But it caught my attention.

I would say the first thing the collection does very well is put you directly into the narrow and unique frame of experience of the poems’ speaker. In “Green Market, New York,” the collection’s first poem, you learn through an interaction between the speaker and an Amish pie maker that the speaker is living in New York City and is originally from a small community in Pennsylvania.

And so the scene is set. It seems simple, until Kasdorf begins to lay out the dirty laundry of her family in their small Mennonite community and grappling with how she deals with the alienation of living in a very modern and diverse city after growing up in the pastoral and very narrow Mennonite community.

This one poem sets the scene for the rest of the book’s theme, from the way the speaker approaches discussing her relationship with her husband to how she makes bean soup. Everything in her existence is permeated by her experience growing up Mennonite. What does it mean to reflect and integrate one’s past into their present? That’s what Kasdorf dives into in Sleeping Preacher.

So, what does this chapbook mean to my (and all of our) writing?

We read so we can have an eye for quality, for what makes writing good…

Here’s what Kasdorf does that makes this chapbook good. Like read most of it in one sitting without losing attention good:

1. She writes story, detailed but unpretentious.

After reading poems like “Grossdaadi’s Sale” and “Dying with Amish Uncles,” I feel like I understand her family and I can place members of my own into her story.

She details memories from her childhood without making them overly emotional or cluttered.

She’s an incredible storyteller.

She doesn’t mention how her mother “lovingly combs her hair, gently showing her/how to be beautiful from the inside out/a light to all.” (That was the most pretentious/overtly emotional fake poetry I could come up with on the spot, sorry.)

She tells the story and trusts that the story will speak for itself.

I know that I often need to remember that poets need to be good storytellers too.

2. Her poems work cohesively without having to be blatantly chronological.

Kasdorf has a good grip on where to place flashback pieces and where to place modern, reflective pieces. And they’re all mixed together, because life is complicated.

Memory mixes with current reality, and that’s what makes sense in human life.

3. She writes what she knows. What she uniquely knows.

Kasdorf was a Mennonite New Yorker. Not so many could say that. She knew her niche and wrote it well.

I’m not a Mennonite New Yorker. But I have unique experiences that not everyone has had. And I can learn from Kasdorf’s experiences and her reflection just as much as I can learn from my own life.

It’s okay to have a favorite flood subject. Poet Anya Silver, one of my favorite poets writing currently (read her chapbook The Ninety-Third Name of God– it’ll transform the way you approach faith and doubt in your writing) told my class this in a workshop we had with her last year.

Anya’s flood subject is cancer. Julia’s flood subject is Mennonite culture (at least in this chapbook), and I have my own. I fluctuate between brief interactions with strangers and the intricate heartbreaks and victories of romantic relationships.

It’s okay to write what you know. I know that I’ve had my share of bad relationships in my past, and I want to write about them. That’s okay. And your flood subject is okay too.

Write it from every angle. Fill a notebook with work about one single idea. Make it your own. It’s okay.

Your knowledge about what you care about could be exactly what someone doesn’t know they need yet. But they do.

Read Sleeping Preacher by Julia Kasdorf if you get a chance,

and write stories about what you care about.

Keep writing, keep reading.

Abigail Joy