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ARCHIVE -- CHARGEUSSE

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Solidus Online



Stephanie S

You did not kill anyone

Radnóti, they killed you. Don’t you remember the single cloud, the single shot, the ruffled sheep forever dumb in the field where you lay? You were never the brute of a child you believed you were. Your mother and brother did not die for you— you the insignificant lover of folktales, you the dawdler in the thickets with the sparrows, or even you the ponderer of the immense, white sky. They died for the brute of truth you became.
Miklós Radnóti— who loved a country so fiercely, you forced her to say her name, demanded she sing it to the foamy skies. Miklós Radnóti— whose poems outshone the complacent angels of your wrong history, outshone the glint off the guns in the Balkans, and outshone the gristle that can be found at the center of some men’s hearts. Radnóti, do not twist and turn in the worm-laden roots of regret. Do not call out to that chipped, stone angel of time who howls nothing but silence in your ear. Dance Radnóti! Dance to the music you hear every time we read your poems aloud. Bow Radnóti! Take a bow, for we lift our glasses to you. And rest Radnóti. Rest in those small silences we observe each time one of your steely truths penetrates our collective heart.

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Lorca, it is true this city is

an endless cement snake, and there are days we do not know if we walk its streets or if it is coiled around us. And yes, still we walk, and some of us run— run under the tornados of pigeons, run past the multiple mirrors of ourselves, run through the paper tumbleweeds that catch at our ankles. And we turn— turn our heads from those sad prisms of sunlight that fall and shatter on the street corners, turn our faces from the children whose eyes follow us, turn our ears from the frost tipped words of the homeless. Lorca, when was the last time any of us dreamed of your lush Andalucía Mountains, or heard song fall from ripe skies? Perhaps you are right, we are no friend to apples or sand. Cowards everyone of us. Letting the violent silence of money have its way with us— with our children. Letting the cracks in the sidewalk dictate our dreams. Letting the shopping carts of the homeless punctuate our journeys before they begin. Are we lost Lorca? Have we let the reptile in? Are our souls slouching toward its tongue? To tell you the truth, I am afraid it has already swallowed our future— not so unlike the way those men of hollow chests, stitched eyes and silent guns took yours. And when all is said and all is done Lorca, how will we find the ditch into which it has been thrown?

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Mourning Poem


(for Adrienne Rich, after Mourning Picture, and the painting by Edwin Romanzo Elmer, Mourning Picture, 1890)

The subject of this piece is not mute,
not rigid; she has died
and gone to language.
See how she has placed her doll
in its wicker pram here,
her father’s grieving hand there,
and I’m afraid she has left us
sitting darkly under such dull lilacs,
each shaft of grass surrounding us
now visible. I’m afraid she has broken
that faint web of dew that binds
us. Left us to call in our own
summer clouds, gather our own fallen
leaves with their vain-like skeletons,
left us to feel the noonday presence
of light in our own homes. Yet,
she has left us such explicit
instructions. Instructions to go,
go to Chicago, go to PA, or San Jose,
go to Boston or Boca Raton – just go.
Simply take the train, even if the train
only travels as far as Baptist Corner.
Just take it. But take it knowing
the silk spool we all carry in our lap
unravels. Take it knowing
that silk spools eventually run empty,
that silk spools inevitably run bare.

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Interview with Devin Wilkie

DW: I see from your biographies online that you teach English and Creative Writing at NHIA. Do you find that the teaching experience influences your writing at all, and if so, how? Does working as a nurse influence your writing?

SS: I do teach at NHIA and at Hesser College currently. I think teaching helps with life in general, as teaching is really learning. I have taught now for 14 years on the College level, as well as taught poetry workshops for children and seniors at various times. When I teach Creative Writing, or courses about Literature as I am doing now (an American Women Writers course), I am engaged in what I love to think about most! And I am inspired by the writers I am teaching as well as my student’s ideas and reactions to them. I learn much from my students. I learn about my own writing from their beginning writings. I learn how to ask questions about Literature and ideas by listening to their questions. So teaching certain subjects does influence my work. Also, I am fond of inventing creative exercises for them to do. I invent these as prompts for learning forms, getting the imagination going, looking deeper into other writers, studying line breaks, etc. And I never assign an exercise without trying it out myself first to see if it is a good learning tool and what exactly one can learn from it. I have had several cases where my own exercises have turned into poems for me. Those have been wonderful surprises! I used to love to teach English Composition as well. But those courses are becoming standardized now. The small technical and Proprietary colleges are under the pressure from State and Federal forces for accreditation, and they are under pressure from Corporations to model their programs based on Corporate needs. These politics afford little creativity in classrooms, and unfortunately little opportunity to inspire students to take a look at the Great Literature and ideas of our past (and present!). The bulk of students enrolled in these classes are there to ready themselves for the workplace, a better job, and more money. They do not want to think about the deep themes that run through our lives and Culture! I find this tragic. But Colleges are no longer the luxurious place and space to explore one’s self or grow in. In this Culture, most education has become a commodity, and most students want more money for the money they are “investing”. And who can blame them? They too are victims of our current economics. I am retired from nursing. I was a Licensed Practical Nurse for 26 years. I am just getting to some of the questions I have around those experiences. I tried to keep my nursing aside from my writing, as I felt people have a right to privacy. I never felt comfortable creating out of tragedies that were not my own. I have very few poems that are inspired by my nursing work.


DW: Do you have a particular writing style, theme, or element that you prefer to use over any others, or one that you consider "better" for you?

SS: Not really. I know I am not a writer who works well with traditional form. I like to experiment with language. And I consider myself still learning how to write, and I have many questions around Creativity in language and in life. So I am open to styles. I do not believe any themes are taboo in Poetry, so I too am open to whatever themes I am inspired by, or am trying to work out in my own life. I use poetry as a way of trying to interpret the world around me. A way to form and answer questions about how I am perceiving my world. So I am happy to discover whatever I discover in poems, and I love to create and find different forms to express that discovery in.


DW: I can see in "Mourning Poem" and "You did not kill anyone" responses to art, poetry, or other poets. From where do these responses come -- that is, what is your process for creating/discovering a poem or for choosing a topic?

SS: This is a hard question! Who knows what truly inspires one, or makes them question. These pieces were written because I was so deeply affected by the poets who they are based on. Adrienne Rich was a huge influence on me when I began to seriously write. I was so saddened by her death. Yet, I did not feel the acute grief I experienced when a good friend of mine recently died. When she died, I went to my favorite book of hers (The Will to Change) and re- read her poems again. For weeks I walked around sad. But I kept asking why I did not feel as empty; I did not feel that a black hole in the universe had just opened up, and my life was headed for it, which is how I feel about losing my friend. So I began to write about her death with those questions in mind. That poem is my answer to those questions. Rich is not really gone in my life. Her words will never be gone from my life. My life will be what is “gone” in the end. With the Radno'ti poem, I was absolutely struck with his work. I was almost in shock after reading his poems. They are so beautiful. When I read his biography, I was so hurt by his circumstances, his life, and by the psychological upheaval I perceived him to have died with. I could not understand him dying with so much grief, without coming to peace with that grief. I could not understand his life being cut so short. I could not understand why we treat others the way we do. This poem is my (possibly pathetic) way of trying to reach across death and console him. It is a tribute to him.


DW: Do you have a favourite place to write or a favourite place or person from which you gather your inspiration?

SS: No. I used to write in coffee shops. I liked the noise, and the feeling of blocking it out. My life has become very busy. I do not have time to go to coffee shops. I write by hand on a pad of paper or in my journal. So I write in the car while I am traveling, and I also write at my kitchen table when my house feels a wreck to me. I like to write with a sink full of dishes staring over my shoulder. And I like to multi-task while I write. Do the dishes, write a line, clean the cat box, write a stanza. These tasks help me think. I also like talking about poetry and sharing poetry with my husband. He is a very good poet, and understands problems and solutions that come up in poems. We share our poems and what we think we have accomplished in them. So he is an inspiration to me in the sense that I do not feel alone with the poems. I feel the work I put into them is appreciated and can be discussed meaningfully with someone. Not very many people know about the craft of writing poetry. And not very many people are interested in a poet’s small personal discoveries, or their philosophy of language. My husband and I have been blessed in the sense that we have had each other’s interest and support of our work and ideas. Indeed, it has been a 20 year romance of writing and reading. How many can say that? So a blessing it is!


DW: What advice would you give (or do you give) to aspiring writers?

SS: I encourage my serious Creative Writing students to read and write. It sounds bland, but it is the only way to learn. If you do not read language, you will not be able to discover its mysterious “rules” and workings. The miracle of how it works and creates our reality. If you do not discover these, you will not be able to tap into it, play with it, and you will never fall deeply in love with it. You will probably just have a series of one night stands. Thrilling, but not very sustaining I would imagine. I do not recommend writing schedules unless that feels right and is productive for someone. Each of us needs to find our own way and reasons for writing. Mine is not conducive to producing much work, so I never recommend my process if that is your goal. I encourage others to find what is the most meaningful for them. Above all, I encourage them to have fun. Writing Poetry is serious, yet it is terribly fun.


DW: How do you resolve the conflict of writer's block, if you have been faced with it before?

SS: I do not think about writer’s block. I either need to write, or I do not. The phrase, “Writer’s Block” strikes me as either a luxury vacation for a person that truly writes full time for a grueling specific purpose, or a misdiagnosed state of intellectual non-curiosity. Many writers I know complain of this. It makes me wonder if they have Creating mixed up with working a job. I think there are times my mind is not asking questions in an engaged manner. And I see these breaks in writing as my mind needing time to sift through it all and form the questions that are to come. I know they will come! I have been living with this a long time.

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S Stephanie's poetry and book reviews have appeared in many literary magazines including Third Coast, Birmingham Poetry Review, Café Review, Rattle, The Southern Review and The Sun. She has two chapbooks: Throat was published in 2001 by Igneus Press and What the News Seemed To Say by 2009 by Pudding House. She holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She co-edited the literary magazine, Crying Sky: Poetry & Conversation with her late husband W.E. Butts 2005-2007. She teaches at the NH Institute of Art and at Hesser College in Manchester, NH.