Poet Eloise Klein Healy published A Wild Surmise: New and Selected Poems and Recordings earlier this year. Gertrude’s Allison Tobey had the honor of reviewing Healy's work for issue 20 of Gertrude. The full text of the review appears here.
First, I need to come clean: I am not an impartial reviewer. I have been admiring Eloise Klein Healy and her work since before I was accepted into the MFA program at University of Antioch, Los Angeles, and Healy, if you don’t know, is the founder of this magnificent program (no, that is not hyperbole). I’ll put it all on the table here: I have placed her on a pedestal—even though that is the last thing she would want. Eloise Klein Healy is my Sappho. Her voice is wise, imperfect, lyrical, strong, brutal, kind, but, above all, unflinchingly real.
A Wild Surmise: New and Selected Poems and Recordings is Healy’s newest book of poetry, released just this March by Red Hen Press. It includes work from all seven of her previous collections, as well as about fifty pages of brand spanking new poetry. And, yes, it does contain recordings. Throughout the collection, selected poems include QR Codes (those black and white mottled squares we now take pictures of with our phones), and this adds a whole new layer of what I call brilliance. I recommend reading through the book in its entirety and reading it again start to finish with your smart phone in hand. Mind you, that previous statement is actually coming from a person who still doesn’t know how to use her phone and was kicked off Gertrude’s Twitter duty because she couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on, but I mean it when I say this technology goes with Healy’s poems like, well, the proverbial bread goes with the proverbial butter. It’s just plain exciting how many new things pop from each poem with Healy’s steady, reflective voice as a guide.
The journey begins with a poem from Healy’s 1976 collection, Building Some Changes, called “Furnishing.” In one of the final stanzas of this poem Healy writes:
I have seen things coming at my head
like this. I have been transfixed, watching
the object arriving like a cow at slaughter watching
the mallet descend, but judging, judging all the way.
I have seen the pieces of an action
slowly coalesce and grind to a halt
like the plates of California locking
far off underground months before a quake. (83–90)
Healy’s poems aren’t always about disaster, but she approaches every subject her poetry broaches with the same intense focus and fearlessness. She carefully breaks down, piece by piece, the once indescribable.
This collection of poetry follows the progression of a poet’s voice for almost four decades and, somehow, Healy’s voice is both fluid and static at the same time. Maybe it’s because the heart of Healy’s voice is always a constant, but as the collection progresses this voice dares to keep pushing into new territory. Healy is not a poet content with being safe. A primary example is Healy tackling her own mortality in her newest set of poems. For instance, in the poem “Looking Up at the Ceiling,” Healy, now in her late sixties, stares death right in the face. Here is section three of this poem:
You can guess where this thought is going, can't you?
It’s shifting a mile off underground.
My death is building itself out of incidents
starting with my birth, my various broken bones
and system failures of one kind or another,
the little slippages that barely register in a life.
Richter-wise, they’re nothing more
than a bad edit in a movie
or dropped syllable in a voice-over.
In the mirror, there’s someone working her way
back to sucking her gums like a baby,
twisting the hair on her head in little circles with her fingers,
a shiny drop of something like the ocean
running down her chin. (20–33)
Healy’s directness gives you the feeling she might be sitting next to you, perhaps sharing some tea or, better yet, a pitcher of margaritas. But that’s neither here nor there; the point is that just as Healy confronts the imperfections of life head on, she invites her reader to do the same. Healy doesn’t sugarcoat things; she tells it like it is, and sometimes it can shake you to the bone. Yet, when it’s all said and done, Healy still renders as beautiful whatever she describes. This is true whether Healy is addressing flowers, a beloved pet, or “the little slippages that barely register in a life.”
I’ve been paging through A Wild Surmise since early March. My deadline for this review was the beginning of April—it’s now mid-June. I’ve written plenty of book reviews in the past, and I just kept thinking that somehow I’d be able to find those perfect words to describe Healy’s poetry but, alas, I have to admit defeat. But I will say this: if you want to be inspired, whether as a writer or just as a person—read this book. I’m going to write some damn poetry.
Come join us at Portland's IPRC from 6:30 - 9:30 for a celebration of our 20th issue!
Dorothy Allison describes herself as a feminist, a working class story teller, a Southern expatriate, a sometime poet, and a happily born-again Californian.Her novel Bastard Out of Carolina (1992) was a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award, won the Ferro Grumley prize, and an ALA Award for Lesbian and Gay Writing, and became a best seller and an award-winning movie. Her novel Cavedweller (1998) became a national bestseller, a NY Times Notable book of the year, a finalist for the Lillian Smith prize, and an ALA prize winner. It was adapted for the stage and became a movie. Stories from her collection Trash (2002) were selected for both Best American Short Stories 2003 and Best New Stories from the South 2003. Awarded the 2007 Robert Penn Warren Award for Fiction, Allison is a member of the board of the Fellowship of Southern Writers and is currently working on the novel She Who, Is.
Mark Burchard, originally intent on becoming a singer, discovered he had a natural gift for costuming after he auditioned for the New York City Opera and found himself immediately consigned to their sub-basement wardrobe department in 1971. He became the men’s costumer for the original Saturday Night Live, and quickly graduated to film. His filmography of over 70 feature films and television series includes Dirty Dancing, Carlito’s Way, and The Prince of Tides. At present he is delving into the worlds of poetry, fiction, and memoir. Burchard’s work has been published by The Battered Suitcase, WestWard Quarterly, Kerouac’s Dog Magazine, Do Hookers Kiss, The Stray Branch, andSkive Magazine, and appears in the anthology Back In Five Minutes published by Little Episodes, UK. Burchard is a regular contributor to Audience Magazine, and his photography has been seen in The Stray Branch, The Battered Suitcase, Audience Magazine, and WestWard Quarterly. His filmography can be found at IMDB.com.
Paige Cohen is an MFA candidate at The New School and an associate editor at the Lambda Literary Review. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in PANK Magazine, BuzzFeed LGBT, Writer’s Bloq Quarterly, andT(OUR) Magazine.
Samantha Craggs lives and works in Hamilton, Ontario. She has been published in various print and online journals, including Room, Mslexia, and The Quotable. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was a finalist in the 2011 Toronto Star Short Story Contest.
Michael Cuglietta is a Florida writer. His work has appeared in or is slated to appear in Toad Suck Review, The Gettysburg Review, The Hawai‘i Review, Deep South Magazine, andSaw Palm. While he does not have an MFA or an English degree of any kind, he does have a license to sell health insurance, life insurance, and variable annuities. He can be reached at cuges57@yahoo.
Joshua Herren is a queer scholar, writer, and arts lover based in Philadelphia. He recently graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in art history and American history. His honors thesis, “Furious Acts: AIDS and the Arts of Activism, 1981–1996,” won the Rose Award for Outstanding Senior Thesis, given to just 10 students across the university. He plans to go to graduate school with the hope of studying queer cultural history.
Genevieve Hudson writes, teaches, and makes her home in Portland, Oregon. Her work has recently been published in Tin House (online), Word Riot, Monkeybicycle, Knee-Jerk, Thought Catalog, The Collagist, NANO Fiction, and Portland Monthly. She recently received a Fulbright grant to live in Amsterdam, where she will conduct research for a collection of short stories based on Dutch folktales.
Bud Jennings completed NYU’s graduate creative writing program and writes mostly fiction. He finished a first novel last summer and recently had a creative nonfiction piece in Superstition Review. His fiction has been published in Educe, Christopher Street, Between C&D, andStuff (Boston). An excerpt of his novel appeared in Coloring Book: An Eclectic Anthology of Fiction & Poetry by Multicultural Writers (Rattlecat Press). Jennings has received support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Blue Mountain Center, the New York State Writers Institute, and Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center. He lives in Salem, Massachusetts, with his husband, Rick. Look for his artist page on the Massachusetts Cultural Council website (www.massculturalcouncil.org).
Alyse Knorr is the author of Annotated Glass (Furniture Press Books). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in RHINO, Sentence, Puerto del Sol, BLOOM, The Minnesota Review, andThe Southern Poetry Anthology (Texas Review Press). She received her MFA from George Mason University and is co-founder and co-editor of Gazing Grain Press.
Raymond Luczak’s poem “Fireflies” comes from his book This Way to the Acorns. He is the author and editor of 15 books, including How to Kill Poetry (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the Midwestern Experience (Squares & Rebels, 2012). His novel Men with Their Hands (Queer Mojo, 2009) won first place in the Project: QueerLit 2006 Contest. Luczak is the editor of Jonathan, a gay men’s fiction journal. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Find him at raymondluczak.com. (VIDEO)
Freesia McKee is a feminist poet. Her work has appeared in Ishaan Literary Review, Testimony, The Boiler Journal, and other digital and print venues. Her poem “at the inaugural meeting of the divine savior holy angels gay-straight alliance” was nominated for the 2012 Best of the Net Anthology. Originally from Milwaukee, Freesia has recently moved back to her hometown and works for an arts nonprofit and in urban agriculture.
Nicole Piasecki grew up ice-skating on lakes and ponds throughout the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Soon after completing her undergraduate writing degree at Adrian College, she moved to Colorado to enjoy the beautiful scenery and attend graduate school. In 2005, Piasecki earned an MA in composition and rhetoric from the University of Colorado Denver, where she now teaches a variety of undergraduate writing courses. She continues to hone her own writing craft by participating in intensive workshops at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. Recent publications have appeared in Shadowbox Magazine andThe Statement.
Samantha Pious is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and a resident of South Salem, New York. This fall she will be entering the graduate program in comparative literature at the University of Pennsylvania. Pious is translating the work of Renée Vivien.
Patrick Samuel received his MFA from Columbia College Chicago, where he served as co-editor of Columbia Poetry Review. He resides in Chicago, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, kill author, Juked, BathHouse Journal, Columbia Poetry Review, andBloom.
Sheena Sauls is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Arkansas at Monticello and managing editor at A Moveable Press, a nonprofit organization committed to preserving those voices that have traditionally been silenced in literature and otherwise.
Timothy Schirmer lives in a lovely little corner of Manhattan called Alphabet City, where he’s happy to walk down the street with his headphones on. His writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Adirondack Review, Bluestem Magazine, Jenny, Interrobang!?, and now in Gertrude. He is currently applying to MFA programs around the country. He can be found at timothyschirmer.com.
Noel Sloboda’s work has recently appeared in Redactions, Harpur Palate, Rattle, Kestrel, andModern Language Studies. He is the author of the poetry collections Shell Games (2008) and Our Rarer Monsters (2013) as well as several chapbooks. Sloboda has also written a book about Edith Wharton and Gertrude Stein. He teaches at Penn State York.
Danez Smith is a Cave Canem Fellow living in Madison, Wisconsin. He is currently a college advisor at the University of Wisconsin, where he received a BA in May. He’s been writing poems since he was about 10 and calling himself a poet since he was 15. He is hoping to one day understand what that means, preferably before the age of 80. So far on that journey, his work has been published or is forthcoming in PANK, Anti-, Southern Indiana Review, decomP, The Collagist, and other fine journals.
This is Tammy Stoner’s last issue as the Fiction Editor of Gertrude. She is to have ended her 6-year run with a fabulous video interview (Gertrude website) with Dorothy Allison. (VIDEO)
John Tavares has been published in Blood & Aphorisms, Filling Station, Whetstone (Canada),Broken Pencil, Tessera, Windsor Review, andPaperplates (online). He has also had a dozen short stories and creative nonfiction pieces published in The Siren. Born and raised in Sioux Lookout, Ontario, he’s the son of Portuguese immigrants from the Azores. His holds an honours BA specialized in English literature from York University.
Mitchell Untch is a 2011 Pushcart Prize Nominee and Atlanta Review Poetry Finalist; finalist for the 2012 C.P. Cavafy International Poetry Prize and finalist for the Janet McCabe Poetry Prize (judged by Li-Young Lee); and a Paumonack Review 2012 Semi-Finalist. He has been published in The Los Angeles Review, New Millenniem Writers Contest (Honorable Mention, 2011), The Monadnock Anthology, Nimrod Intl., The Wisconsin Review, Out of Ours, The Aurorean, The Unrorean (Broadstreet),Jabberwock Review, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Blood Orange, The Coachella Review, The Hawai‘i Review, Confrontation, Kestrel, Quiddity Magazine, The Booth Journal, The Fourth River, Sierra Nevada Review, South Dakota Review in both Spring and Fall of 2012, Solo Novo, upstreet, Lucille Clifton Commerorative (Squaw Valley), and Natural Bridge. He is soon to be published in Prism, U.S. Worksheets 1 40th Anniversary, Issue 2013 Southern Humanities, Georgetown Review, and ABZ Poems. He is an emerging writer and currently studies and lives in Los Angeles.
Renée Vivien (1877–1909) was one of the first modern European women poets to write and publish openly lesbian literature. Although born in London, she spent most of her childhood in Paris and made her home there upon attaining her legal majority. Her poems twine sexual, artistic, and existential preoccupations together.
Terry Wolverton is the author of 10 books of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, most recently Wounded World: Lyric Essays About Our Spiritual Disquiet. She has edited 14 literary compilations. Wolverton is currently working with composer David Ornette Cherry to adapt her 2003 novel in poems, Embers, as a jazz opera. She is affiliate faculty in the MFA Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles and can be found at terrywolverton.com.
Saya Woolfalk, born in Japan in 1979, is a New York-based artist who uses science fiction and fantasy to re-imagine the world in multiple dimensions (digital media, sculpture, installation, painting, performance and video). She has exhibited at PS1/MoMA; Deitch Projects; Conte,mporary Art Museum, Houston; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; the Studio Museum in Harlem; the Frist Center for the Visual Arts; and Performa 09. She has been written about in Sculpture Magazine, Artforum.com, The New York Times, Huffington Post, and on Art21’s blog. With funding from the NEA, The Institute of Empathy, her solo exhibition, ran at Real Art Ways from fall 2010 to spring 2011. Her first solo museum show, The Empathics, was on view at Montclair Art Museum in the fall of 2012. She was recently an artist in residence at the Newark Museum and the Simon Center for Physics and Geometry at SUNY Stony Brook and had a solo show at Third Streaming in SoHo, New York. Woolfalk is currently working on a solo show for the Alcott Gallery at UNC Chapel Hill (fall 2013) and Chrysler Museum of Art (fall 2014). Her work will also be included in group exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and MCA San Diego in the summer of 2013. She teaches at Parsons: The New School for Design.
Stephanie Woolley-Larrea lives in Miami, Florida, with her partner, three kids, dog, and an ever-rapidly-growing number of cats. Her poetry and prose have been published in Sentence, Connotations, Florida English, New Verse News, and others. She teaches middle school while trying to find time to write and seek publication for a historical novel and a non-traditional memoir.
Stephen Zerance is a recent MFA graduate of American University. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Prairie Schooner, Bloom, Knockout, Chelsea Station, Gay and Lesbian Review, Worldwide, and MiPOesias. His poetry has also been featured on websites such as Lambda Literary Review andSplit This Rock. He resides in Baltimore.
Arisa White is the author of two poetry chapbooks and the recipient of multiple awards and honors. Her first full-length collection Hurrah’s Nest, nominated for the 44th NAACP Image Award, made some of Gertrude’s editorial staff fall in love and want to know more. Her second full-length collection, A Penny Saved, was published by Willow Books. Gertrude’s Elizabeth Simson had the honor of interviewing Arisa for issue 19 of Gertrude. We hope you enjoy what we discovered.
Elizabeth Simson (ES): This is your first collection. How long have you been writing? Talk a little about the journey to creating this book. Poets sometimes ask us about the process of gathering poems for a manuscript. How did you select and order the poems for Hurrah’s Nest?
Arisa White (AW): I’ve been writing for over a decade. “Follow” was written as an undergrad at Sarah Lawrence. I was in a workshop with Thomas Lux. (I enjoyed staring at the slouch socks he wore with his tapered jeans.) After class, Thomas came up to me and said that if I ever needed anything—needed to talk—he was there for me. He thought it was me in the poem. He told me to get out of it. I was upset he thought it was me and equally moved by his caring. As I pulled together the poems of this collection, I had to honor the fact that these were true stories. I couldn’t escape them or separate myself from them.
I continued to write poems, without thinking about them as part of a collection, while taking Cave Canem workshops in Manhattan and in graduate school at UMass Amherst. A variation of Hurrah’s Nest was my thesis project. I sent the manuscript off to contests and publishers after grad school and received rejections. I reflected on what was working, what wasn’t. I got feedback from editor friends and asked non-poetry people to read it to see if it appealed to them, if they had questions about clarity, narrative arc, etc. Using all that feedback over these past four years, I deliberately put all my family poems together, narrowed it down to a time period, chronologically ordered them, and soon I could see what was missing, what wasn’t said.
“Disposition for Shininess” is one of those poems added to give it volume, to give my voice the rage and confusion it needed to create a fully complex emotional experience for the reader. “You smellin ya’self gal?” is the last piece I wrote for Hurrah’s Nest. (I was at Hedgebrook in 2010 and it came to me—I think subconsciously I wanted the challenge of writing lyrical prose—and I enjoyed writing it; I could hear my brothers’ voices so clearly. I laughed so much while writing it.) I needed the prose form to ground the collection, as well as be a narrative fulcrum to which all the other poems could refer.
In thinking about how to open and close the book, it made sense for me to begin it with a poem that uses my siblings’ names. The opening poem is somewhat an epistle to my youngest brother, chronicling the experiences he was not a part of. Then the closing poem addresses another brother, who is older, proposing the need to revisit and unearth the stories and beliefs that have shaped us, so that we are not limited by those stories and beliefs.
When Virtual Artists Collective accepted the book in 2011 for publication, I asked my siblings for permission to use their names. I sent them the manuscript and hoped that they approved of what I wrote. It was so great they said yes, quite immediately after I sent them emails. As I look back, it makes sense that this is my first collection—in some ways it is a tribute to the art making that my siblings and I would do when we were little. We created together, and I still keep them close when I create.