This Is the Homeland
Ahsahta Press, May 2015
Mary Hickman’s first volume of poetry begins dazzlingly with “Joseph and Mary,” a poem carved out of Joyce’s Ulysses. Whether this was done by dramatic erasure or by mosaic-like re-arrangement of fragments is hard to say, but however it was accomplished, it enchants. Hickman’s distillation of Joyce’s novel carries a distinct flavor of Stephen Dedalus, a Stephen who has perhaps changed genders, but is still a shape-shifting intelligence in exile, looking for a body it can call home.
The body may be the homeland named and claimed in the title. Names of the body parts appear frequently—forearms, hips, glands, knees, feet, spine. The poems sometimes invoke yoga (“The Locust,” “Woodchopper”) or chiropractic (“Spinal Twist”) or even the operating table (“Twelve hours his chest / cracked & / died”), but somehow our best efforts to name and claim the body leave an elusive remainder. “This is the homeland,” the final sentence of the first section of “Territory” confidently asserts, but by the end of the second section the poem is asking, “What land is this?” In This Is the Homeland, the body is both the only place we will ever live and a mystifying, unknowable other.Continue Reading
Having grown up within various loops of the Bible belt, sex was not often a topic of conversation during my childhood—unless it was in the state-mandated sex ed class in fifth-grade (traumatic!), or the late-night whispers of slumber parties (distraction while someone’s bra was getting frozen). Had the idea of sensuality ever been mentioned, it probably would have been even more taboo.
College, however, turned things upside down, bringing in new ideas and people. Among them was a boy who sent me a Galway Kinnell poem and asked if I thought sensuality was impossible.
I never had an answer for him.
James Crews’s poem, “My Father in the Rustling Trees,” appears in our Winter 2012/13 issue, edited by Ladette Randolph and John Skoyles.
This poem was written during my first winter in Lincoln, Nebraska—where it’s hard not to hear things in the endless, unbroken wind that blows across the plains. I hadn’t lived alone in years and as the anniversary of my father’s death approached again, I found myself remembering him more vividly than I ever had before. “My Father in the Rustling Trees” took me eleven years to write, and it’s the first thing about my father I’ve ever published. The elegies I’d written up until then (and there were many) veered either too far toward the sentimental or were mired too much in bitterness for a grief that only seems to get stronger with each year. In spite of that, I see this as an angry, tender, joyful piece. It came fast (though not easily), and I sat at my table speeding through dozens and dozens of drafts, as if compelled by some outside force to finish it. This poem is also one of my most honest: Days before he died, rather suddenly at 43, my father asked us all not to be sad when he passed—he made us promise. And though I could not honor his request, it has kept me in pursuit of an elegy that refuses the maudlin and excludes all self-pity, aiming instead for selflessness. As D. H. Lawrence once said to explain he had little to do with the work produced: “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me.”
The Literary Boroughs series will explore little-known and well-known literary communities across the country and world and show that while literary culture can exist online without regard to geographic location, it also continues to thrive locally. Posts are by no means exhaustive and we encourage our readers to contribute in the comment section. The series will run on our blog from May 2012 until AWP13 in Boston. Please enjoy the eighteenth post on Nottingham, UK by Éireann Lorsung – Andrea Martucci, Ploughshares Managing Editor
Nottingham is situated in just about the center of England—which isn’t to say the center of Britain, as it’s pretty far south when you count all of Scotland in. Hedged in by Lincolnshire fens to the east and the Peak District to the west, Nottingham huddles in the liminal space between north and south. It’s just two hours from London by train (six from Edinburgh, counting transfers), and these proximities give it a funny kind of ambition. It’s a city that wants to be something on its own terms, not the terms of the metropolises nearby. The proliferation of publishers, writing programs, courses, readers, writers, events, and support for all of the above that exist in Nottingham and the surrounding county (Nottinghamshire) attest to this ambition.