Speechless

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Gail Wronsky Student Work

 

Professor Gail Wronsky, author of Dying for Beauty (Copper Canyon), teaches in the English Department of Loyola Marymount University.  The students in her 2004 intermediate level class chose their own favorite poems from that workshop experience.

 

Gail Wronsky’s Instructor Statement

 

My workshop-teaching strategy has mainly to do with dislocating the students, disorienting them, displacing them, so that they cannot rely on whatever comfortable strategies or structures or habits of voice they've relied on in the past to get through a poem.  This is the only way they'll make real discoveries.  My belief is that the brain can't help making sense, finding logical connections, moving in some previously learned rhetorical fashion from idea to idea, or place to place, or image to image, even in a poem, and that if you do move logically or sensibly you will not arrive at anything new but instead will arrive at something others have already arrived at, or you yourself have discovered before.  We must, as Hamlet says, "By indirection find direction out."  Or, as Emily Dickinson has it: "Tell the truth, but tell it slant."

 

Some of my disrupting exercises are based on Surrealist games like "The Exquisite Corpse."  Some involve making group assemblage poems.  Cutting and pasting lines from different poems into one poem.  Some involve imitation exercises in which students are asked to write exactly like another poet, someone not at all like them in temperament or aesthetic sensibility.  Sometimes I actually travel with students to odd spots like the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City and have them write poems made up entirely of things they've seen there.  I use constraints.  I invent forms.  I am not interested in whether or not the poems my students write actually say anything (we can't help saying something); I'm interested only in whether or not they take imaginative risks with language and image, that they create something for us to hold up against the tsunami onslaught of cliché we're all crushed by daily.


Bernadette Escamilla
THE SILENT PARTNER

 

At night, in my room, a poem sings to me like a lost bird in an endless sky,

 

A poem about sticky childhood summers, secular sisters and forgetful sighs.

 

In my room are sprinkled truths and elaborate lies and meanings that I never connect
when I write this poem at night, with the moon, my tummy and my brain.

 

And in my room the voice of my father shakes out from the page and through me he
          has his way with my words.

 

And in my poem he sprinkles like dirty confetti his bitterness with the world –
with a dash of silence and pieces of abandonment.

 

As I write this poem, he talks back to me telling me all the things I never admitted I
needed to hear.

 

He pulls up a chair, in my room and not in my room, and we chat but not as father and
daughter but as adults.

 

And we talk and dream out loud about life and the heart and his kidneys and my liver and all our slow and silent transgressions.

 

And I ask my father, my father in the poem that is, all the questions the silence accumulated over the years.

 

We laugh and we cry and it’s the first time I see him without his marionette mask.

 

He is out of his snow globe of life that includes his pharaonic chair and his television eyes.

 

We are in my world now, and in my world the glass is shattered and in this world the glass does not make my hands bleed.

 

So we talk and then we don’t talk and we sit and don’t talk and then we just sit until the night sky bleeds into the hands of the morning.

 

And then like smoke in the rain he is gone and the room is empty except for me and
these pages and the shadow of my father’s voice.


John Fox
ALMOST MEANINGFUL NONSENSE

 

Always catching my breath
In the land of the upside down firmament,
When the ecstasy of a nose on a rose
Concludes with a mosquito’s kiss
And an owl’s afternoon cry.
I picture a frozen moment,
A frame,
Spheres of bronze, hovering;
It has an elfish presence,
Awkward,
Yet comfortably safe.
I scream to revive my loving hate,
It doesn’t make any sense at all,
But neither does rotating a drinking glass with hope to gaze upon the other side of water,
Or attempting to comprehend what it is to be a forty-six year old woman.
If I speak, I’m
Silenced.
When I cry,
I’m lettered with tiny smiles,
“Have a nice day.”
Why can’t I love?
Because love is always cuddling close to anguish,
Pain, sorrow,
Whatever may be deemed the opposite of love.
But opposites attract,
So cliché,
I wear my heart on my…
Shoulder
(I bet you thought I’d say sleeve).
My narcoleptic tendencies guide me toward a concave dent in the earth,
So that I may inquire about what is
Not.
Not what is or what is told,
But what cannot be defined in coherent language,
Like
The pale purple on the backside of a wandering beetle
Or why the edge of t he world is just the beginning again.
Cry, my owl, just cry,
Because the mark of the mosquito hurts like hell.
I live in the land of the upside down firmament,
Always catching my breath


M. Rae Freudenberger
VASE: AN OBJECT STUDY

 

Round, like the absence of sound when the white tipped
wolves breathing black water smoke glide after you deep
in the broken night; never catching but always close.

 

Clear, transparent, apparent…who the hell knows. You
squat in my sight existing only in distorted reflections. There
because of what’s around you and the shadow that licks your
under-over side, casting a glow on the corners of your smile
where your lips turn up.

 

Empty now, you smear muddy memories of being stuffed full
of roses and lilacs and kisses and hands and fingers and salted,
mirthful minutes in the criss-cut hours of the morning when sunrise
is crumbly and over-baked.

 

I look at your not so solid emptiness and I miss him.  So, you slip
through my fingers like a fish-tailed lie and splinter on the cement
below. I smirk at your lonely pieces. “Now you taste what I taste.”
I walk away in triumph, leaving blotchy, bloody footprints behind
me that, like breadcrumbs, will lead me someday back to you.

 

This class provided me with the unusual opportunity to view my poetry as the reader and not as the writer, which was an opportunity not to be taken for granted.  I had the chance to witness how people interpreted my work and why they saw it that way.  This allowed me to get at my own weaknesses in transferring my voice to the page by highlighting where the missed step in my communication was and how best to prevent that from becoming a habitual pitfall in the future.—M. Rae Freudenberger


Daniel Galligani
THE CATARACT – I

 

I.

Waxing by such movement
Of light,
Whether forced

 

Or intimately followed by
Ghostly stroked waters and
Pardoned hags or say we shooting stars, as yet

 

A collapsed lung for
Its Swiss cheese idol, swallow
Hovering pressure, bought

 

For spite—
I negate,
My coarse horse heart has wheezed

 

Victories. Segregation.
To never breathe for beating
My conflicted marrow of more Morse code: I

 

Had only envisioned how
Shallow, figuratively
At first, left

 

In a guppy’s bar—
Bottom-feeders,
Groping dreams more

 

Crushed than
Eden’ last image of
Noble peace, but

Worse—the taxing
Dint of bearish whistles, to
Let me go on

 

The border-line white,
Red,
Still red

 

II.

 

Flooded blood of flight up
And down, shaken; stirred by
Her falsities or my own departure

 

Long traveled in solitude; or I
Only burrowed in fathomed
Partnership? I

 

Have always seen it.
Deny, as I see on TV
My life awry; ingeminated.

 

Forget the purges of perdition.
I have seen no truth of
My disguised garden.

 

We cast tubes. Image
Me as flawed, less the
Living disappointment

 

As not cold whispers of
Being warned,
Breathing first

 

For only my mother;
Coalesce my hell with
Brainwash static fuzz.

 

Freeze my pessimism with
Naivety, like hunger.
For this moment breathes

 

Godless, hell-struck by fathomed heaven, neither
Stroked by the wind, nor waned by light; caged
Between eternal life.

 

(This form was adapted from Carl Philips’ “The Deposition”)


Neva Galvez
2729 #11 WONDERLAND

 

Dust settles in a layer on top of the lid of a shoebox
Under my bed of a recently new room
In this house on the hill.
Burned are the candles—
Hung are old pictures
As the familiar contents of my room are arranged in a different pattern

 

And old and new habits take form in some pattern.
I like to hide things deep inside a single shoebox
And Cut myself out of pictures.
Some old girl in this new room.
I have a habit of lighting candles
And then waiting until the wax gathers around the pillars in a little hills.

 

There is a detour that led me a different way up the hill.

 

A road that I didn’t know about.  Some cut pattern
That was as invigorating as the smell of a freshly lit candle.
In my back yard I was planting flowers and in digging holes I found a shoebox.
It was a coffin for a hamster.  Their four walls of a new room.
Its decayed dusty body settled in my mind in still-like pictures

 

As I thought of the dogs we buried.  Somewhere similar pictures.
It is 2:00. Everywhere I look the sun is lucidly grazing over the houses on the hill
And different curtains hang in windows of a different room
That exhibits the focus of another person’s life pattern
As we stuff our lives in these houses that are like a shoebox
And our time passes in waves like the licking flame of burning candle

 

I recently got a lavender candle
From the guy I wish I had pictures
Of. Whose pictures I couldn’t bury under some pile in a shoebox.
He lives in a house that also sits on a hill.
I know the way to his house like I know the lines on the faces of my knuckles that carve a fleshy pattern
And the doors that open and close in my four-chambered room.

 

In secret at night he comes to my room
As we light each candle
And I watch our shadows, each a pattern,
Flat ghosts of pictures.
Someone build the skeletal structures of these houses on the hill
As early mounds become like a shelf holding the body of a shoebox.

 

Ghosts are the pictures.
Burning are the candles.
Until our bodies are buried and covered with a lid in something like a shoebox.

 

What I really liked about the intermediate poetry workshop with Professor Wronsky was the experience of reading the works of different poets such as Carl Phillips and Larry Levis and trying to imitate their style of writing.  I found that in the process of imitation I was able to recognize patterns or tendencies in a writer’s style that made their voices unique.  This prompted me to further examine my own writing and notice the choices I was making in creating a voice that was my own.  I was very fortunate to be in a class with such a talented group of poets.  I feel like I have learned a lot from this experience and want to thank Professor Wronsky and my classmates for all that they taught me. —Neva Galvez


Louisa Jackson
PENIS VISION

 

What do I watch women with men’s eyes?
Eyes that scorch the silhouettes of these sirens like a branding iron.
I mark women with the stain of male vision,
Deciding on their terms,
     The Man
That is, whether or not they are beautiful.
How insidious this sight is,
Carving out the pulp and purity of this fruit that is woman,
Only to see her shell.
We see her in pieces,
A cute ass, a nice rack, an inviting pout—
No care in assembling the other pieces,
The puzzle, the sum of her parts.
Women, my sex, me, woman
Competing against women for men’s eyes—
eyes that are already our own,
Penis vision.
Perpetuating skepticism in our beauty,
Doubting it, tearing it down
Like a piñata that is just too good to stay hanging.
I tear her down, with men’s eyes,
Seek to reveal her imperfections, so that I
Also woman, feel better about myself.
But,

 

My woman’s eyes cannot deny
Her beauty.

 

This workshop was awesome in that it brought together a classroom of people, diverse in their poetry aesthetics and style, in a comfortable environment to share and comment on poetry.  It is so interesting in this kind of environment how different each individual’s interpretation or understanding of a poem can be.  It was helpful to me to hear the range of responses to my works, because they pointed out problems or dimensions of my poems that I had not even considered.  Poetry workshops are intimate and make many people – me included – feel vulnerable; however the process of getting used to reading poems in front of an audience, as well as receiving criticism, is an important process for the writer to go through. —Louisa Jackson


Katharine Lallos
ROAD CONSTRUCTION AHEAD
30 Years of Marriage and not a Rest Stop in Sight

 

It has a nice ring to it…
your voice that is.
The cracked hollow jangling of a retired bell,
rusted and overused.  No longer
gleaming in summer’s translucent haze, now a
testament to storms long passed.

 

It always rained too much for you to take, and
when you dried, your touch was the scratchy feeling of
ancient cotton, accompanied by the all too familiar
Woolies that graze cool skin.  The sweater never thrown away.

 

I guess you were always too good for fabric softener.

 

You stare at me, a corpse fresh from the oven.
Warm but still staring passively ahead,
eyes glazed over like the filmy
soup skin in your cheap cup of stale regret and murky

 

hope.  Noodles bobbing in high sodium and high stakes.
You inane outbursts of thin lipped
cynicism are nothing to worry about.

 

You were always a risk taker.


Marissa Mark
POET AT SEVENTEEN

 

At 17 I fucked in secret shadows, not many
but one.  This scenario not too dark
to expose in its vagueness. In the fog
of this world it seemed clear to me—
and to whom else could it matter?

 

In another realm my promiscuity, pregnant
with a problem, was spilling into conversation.
Details never trusted to those it might offend.
My secrets stayed safe for then with some
who knew only of a silhouette.

 

Sometimes I found myself frightened only by my leaking
delinquencies, fighting to fall asleep at
night by my insistence of
kept promises.

 

The sex was only the beginning
of a fight I’d lose from the start.
When the fucking stopped being sweaty
and thoughtless and slipped into slow
and sensual and our eyes…
I tossed it out like trash.

 

And then tried to destroy it while
echoing the other me
to the other world I never left nor lived.
I ignored that he won me with one fuck-turned-love.

 

At 17 I was swallowed;
Chased down and drowned
By a love I never wanted.

 

This is the poem I am most proud of this semester, simply because it was the one that most resonated with my classmates and our teacher, Gail Wronsky.  The assignment was to write a poem entitled, or based on, Larry Levis’ “Poet at Seventeen”.  While many students wrote about high school or learning to write poetry, I decided to write about my experience with sex and love at such a young age.  This poem is very personal and has a distinct voice–and without the support of my class, students and teachers alike, I don’t think I would have had the courage to write and share this with a room full of people. —Marissa Mark


Daniela Montiel
NOBLE TORTURE

 

Longing for sun-filled days,
And endless drunken fights,
The poet at seventeen ceased
To be interested in much.

 

I must have been absent the day
they told us we could
“do anything we wanted”.

“Fried Rice or Noodles?”
Get your own damn kid a high chair
“Danena, aromatic chicken smile”

Tossed out in the interlude,
Discarding interest,
Easier when
You convince yourself you
Would have hated it anyway.

“Danena?”
my name is Daniela
“Daneana”
Victor, my name is Daniela.

 

Drinking myself,
But not in my own way.
Life’s prospects seemed to
Be taking everyone else out on dates
While he didn’t even return my calls.

 

Departure.

Replacement.
No one will notice.

 

Bleeding and seething with the moment that never was…
“My aromatic chicken isn’t crunchy enough.”
I really have to get a new job.


Natasha Papalia
THE CONCAVE ARCH

 

There used to be a well here.

 

From within blithe obsidian depths
A heart rumbled, thumping carefully yet consistently
            Echoing vibrating beats and miniscule ripples.

 

But vicious ivy slithered up the well’s walls
Strangling, displacing stones with vice-like vines:
            Often, its bloodthirsty roots sucked the well dry
            The veins in its leaves pulsing, consuming
                        Reluctant liquid lust.
            While other times it abandoned the opulent well
            Whose water became stagnant and murky
            While the ivy’s roots stretched and burrowed
                        To rape another’s watery grave.

 

Perpetual confusion: and the well’s water turned a rusty hue
            Like small eye drops of blood

 

                        —Methodically random—

            Dripping in, becoming diluted
Until their poisonous color permeated the pure serum.

 

Desiccation attacked the origin,
The thundering heart, its water dried
Between sanguinary war and treacherous foliage
            It couldn’t survive
All that remained were mounds of russet salt
The start sediment of too many bloodied tears
            And the resolved determination to unearth another well.


A. K. Scipioni
NIGHTFALL

 

Vespers seize the mourning dancer of
Texture and rope against a withering wall
While our skeletons grieve the winter of starlings
Like speech around the body:

 

Between the space of years wasted and your
Hollow eyes where the sharp agony of bones
Remains hidden, a furrowed sheath of age
Pulsates with tortured sobriety, and my quivering
Hand, spent from the clearing of twigs and leaves
Off your broken face lies beneath the stone of our ruins,
Buried like moss beneath a single vine.

 

Like sparrows carved on the grave of this air
We shake a voiceless pain from the moon with
One throat, bleeding a plumage of ash over
The quiet of night, fallen.


Katy Quinones
MONDAY MORNING LOVERS

 

On this day till inches-as-one-sigh
These are,
They weren’t as those that he can’t complete painting

 

Un jour: sifts touches, and separates notes
Near those staid move-on-the-dream
Tears. This, that

 

Quietude, and here she
Sought heavily, while he spied—
Eyes searching whole-with-whole by cotton hands

 

Once there, now gone sweet—

             And

 

                                             Blood linen, he’s
Left with it and pinned like
Those dancers                    they’d died from sleep
(too freely dissembled). Why presently she more constant
their

 

creature of nothings
her love for the prick de vous—
the once song repeats—odd, those ties…

wait before those colors erupt of fingers
—fingers from those dreamers—the fingery ones
the solo that crowded them

 

she had loathing for it
littered by the hips—this one portrait pissed
by stamps which deny the scattering
solely.  This will be distinctly named a name
they know: When

 

us              an hour  this moment           will we
                  where    she
wrote those hums                                   mais porquoi pas
             
don’t we pursue

—you?

 

              While she becomes this, he’d bask within
Their clumped solitude,
Either out

 

Deceive nay-away twice-fearful beneath
This near fuck we smell of.
The single purring—

 

That piece for mounted skin crying
Ravaged, as from the
‘us’ perpetuation. DUG it into his floor.