I met Kristen Renee Miller at a meeting of Third Coast Translators Collective. There Chicago-based translators gathered and exchanged their works through their discussions. I was invited to a corroboration workshop with the TCTC and RHINO Poetry.
After the translation workshop, she showed me her art and I was stunned. All her works were original and yet relatable to current our society - - like the animated review from RHINO Poetry Review (Graphic Issue Vol.2). She used her creative technique to show her review message, "...A...B...C...of...How...we...were...wrong...wrong...wrong..." with erasure of poetry from the book, Wilder.
Along with publishing her debut translation collection, SPAWN (Book*hug, 2020) by Ilnu Nation poet Marie-Andrée Gill, she writes poems, creates visual & animated art, & works as a managing editor at Sarabande Books. She is one of the most amazing and respected poets I have met.
Reading Claire Wahmanholm’s Wilder in the Apocalypse
By Kristen Renee Miller
I first read Claire Wahmanholm’s book of apocalypse poems, Wilder, unforgettably, on March 11th, 2020, the same day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. I was somewhere in the airspace between San Antonio and Louisville at the time—flying home from the conference for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which controversially kept its annual event on the books despite an increasingly grim outlook, a public outcry, and vast dropouts from members, exhibitors, and attendees.
For those of us who did attend, the conference maintained a furtive, conspiratorial feel in the hollowed-out convention center. Even at the height of conference hustle, it was impossible to shake the feeling of sneaking around someplace after hours, someplace abandoned, a modern ruin. The initial giddiness from superficial perks (room upgrades! no coffee lines! no wait for anything!) had long since dissolved into a heady sense of unease.
In the previous days and weeks, we’d been conditioned to doubt the evidence of our own senses concerning the virus (are we in danger? are we imagining things?), an ambivalence for which AWP was a tidy play-within-the-play. Did exchanges in book fair aisles feel hushed because of some shared sense of transgression, or only because we weren’t shouting over fifteen-thousand other people? Was the lighting in the exhibitor hall dimmer this year, or were we imagining it? At night we gathered at hotel bars and toasted the event ironically, hubristically, as co-conspirators: Uncanny Valley AWP. Last-Chance Saloon AWP. Zombie Apocalypse AWP.
Enter Wilder, which I borrowed on the plane from my seatmate and colleague Joanna and inhaled in a single leg of the flight. Wilder finds humankind mid-apocalypse in an imagined near future. In dreamy, gorgeous abecedarians, fabulist prose poems, and erasures of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Wahmanholm describes a frighteningly plausible apocalypse. Yes, there is the environmental blight, the wildfires, the extinctions; yes, there is the ruin left by wars; there, the plagues ravaging those left. What leaves the strongest impression is the complete bewilderment of those who remain to witness it all, the chorus, the book’s collective “we.”
“Which of our wrong things had been wrong enough?” asks the collective voice in Wilder—the same question we conference goers and non-goers were asking ourselves and each other (mostly on Twitter) in early March: Which of our individual choices are responsible for this? Which of our collective choices? And what of the visible and invisible move-makers completely outside our control? Embedded in every exchange was the same shared sense of doom, the inevitability of The Worst. Already we had become Wilder’s chorus.
My animated review, which can be viewed in RHINO Reviews issue 3.3, is my attempt to encapsulate in just a few lines Wilder’s dreamy dread and Wahmanholm’s inventiveness and exquisite craft.
Starting with Wahmanholm’s abecedarian “Beginning” as a source text, I created a seven-part erasure poem* that unravels and rewrites itself as it careens (a little too fast) toward an inevitable “vanishing.” My previous visual poems have been individual images or image series, meant to allow the eye to linger, to wander. In this animated piece, however, I wanted to hurry the eye ahead at a pace a little faster than is comfortable to recreate my experience reading Wilder in the apocalypse: that slippery sense of the bottom dropping out, that hypervigilance that makes you afraid to blink.
*For those interested in the technical stuff, I made the animation using the Markup editor on my iPhone. I recorded the video with the iOS Screen Recorder and edited it with the mobile app Vixer. I’m sure there are far more professional tools for this sort of project, but I liked the slight imperfections of my method and the tactility of swiping the lines out one-by-one with my finger.
Kristen Renee Miller’s work appears in POETRY, The Kenyon Review, Guernica, The Offing, and Best New Poets 2018. She is the translator of SPAWN (2020), by Ilnu Nation poet Marie-Andrée Gill. A recipient of fellowships and awards from The Kennedy Center, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and the American Literary Translators Association, she lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where she is the managing editor for Sarabande.
Gomez's visual poetry book will be out soon this October from Pleiades Press. This press accepts visual poetry collections. Their submission guidelines are on their website. It is really fantastic to see that they publish all interpretations of visual poetry.
When I read Gomez's book, I immediately thought that he beautifully dissects his poems—each phrase deforms into image & word—like a cell dividing into multiples and creating new life. These fragments become a solid block, like a new identity throughout his book. It was really amazing to observe his works.
Then, I become curious about how he creates his visual poems. His work is digitally processed (unlike my graphic poems), but there are still earthly vibes in his poems. When I obsess over something or someone, I cannot resist learning from them. Gomez kindly replied to my question, "How do you process your visual poetry collection?"
Geographic Tongue began as a series of black & white word-only poems. Most of my visual poems start out that way. But sometimes you work a poem and put it aside wanting to return to it with fresh eyes.
What happened is that a lot of these pieces mutated in hibernation. They demanded images, colors, lines, and shapes. It became quickly apparent that I was wasting my time attempting to pigeonhole them into monochrome.
The more I gave up traditional text the easier it became to discover the true body of each piece. Some poems no longer needed a transition—they emerged fully formed as their true, colorful, dynamic selves. Now almost every poem I write has a visual twin. It has become easy to identify what form the poem needs and deserves.
At the same time I was writing Geographic Tongue I was also writing the poems in another collection, Arsenal with Praise Song, which arrives in January 2021 from Orison Books. That book confronts very violent imagery, mutilation, death, and similar themes, but there are no visuals in it.
Perhaps Geographic Tongue is respite to that work. Not that it lacks involvement with some tough themes. But there is something gentle and conciliatory in color and shape. Everything the reader sees in Geographic Tongue is a result of discovery. Visual poetry is a new thing for me and so the collection shows efforts of newness.
There are few collages here, few poetry comics. Nothing was painted or drawn with my hands. Everything was constructed in virtual space, and with a mouse, although I dislike using ‘virtual’ because the digital space is just as real as the space we take breath in.
My guiding principle was aleatory: to give the poem whatever body it needed. The result is a mix of different textures and tones.
Rodney Gomez is the author of Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress, 2018), Ceremony of Sand (YesYes, 2019) and Arsenal with Praise Song (Orison, 2020). His work appears in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, North American Review, Pleaides, Denver Quarterly, Verse Daily, and other journals. He is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In 2020 he will serve as the Poet Laureate of the city of McAllen, Texas.
Picture credits from The Indianapolis Review
The following essay was inspired by Hyejung Kook's zuihitsu 随筆 sentence. The original exercise was about 10 minutes, and in the RHINO Poetry Forum, all poets shared their lines from 5-second paragraphs of the 10-minute exercise. You may try this exercise even though I am a trained professional, you can still try this at home.
"A Cat Sits On a Mat"
This is the first sentence ever I wrote in English. Probably, I wrote it more than one hundred times. My first English teacher was introduced by my sister’s kindergarten friend from East Asia (I do not remember where his family came from) and his mother taught us English twice a week in our cookie-cutter apartment in Japan.
A cat sits on a mat.
It was British English--I noticed it later when I started my exchange student life in Indiana--so my sister and I learned British English pronunciation, but shortly after, our new English teacher came from Australia. My pronunciation is somewhere between Japanese—British—Australian—American Mid-west, but I realized my spelling of the color, “grey”, is in British English.
In her class, we first practiced the pronunciation of ABC as /ə/ /b/ /k/. We drew, “a cat sits on a mat” in our notebooks. Usually my sister took longer than I did. Soon, I started decorating the cat and mat. My first cat had a bow tie with a new cat wearing a silk hat. There was a flower vase on the mat.
It is clearly no longer, “a cat sits on a mat”.
I drew food—chopsticks, bowls, and tea cups. I added furniture around the cat (and more cats). Eventually I designed a whole house for the original cat that sat on the first mat. Some colorful cats lied on the floor.
A blue cat sits on a mat.
Adding the word "blue" was the most exciting moment I still remember. My brain recognized connecting words with meanings. Despite not memorizing how to spell, I could say many colors and objects in English before she went back to her own country.
A cat sits on a mat.
In our first class, my nephew and nieces were repeating the same sentence with their crooked handwriting, but my nephew was quiet. He did not want to say the sentence nor draw it.
"I don't understand your gibberish", he despaired, crying. His eyes wide open and raw like a small animal gnawing. He left our dining table and went to the corner, holding his paper.
A cat sits on a mat.
A cat sits on a chair.
A cat sits on a table.
"Is it bad manners?" my nieces laughed in Japanese, so I laughed too. After the class, they kept drawing and adding things around the original cat like I did nearly thirty years ago. My nephew came back and slammed his paper on the table, showing a gigantic purple cat sitting on the tiniest green mat. Then, they started chasing each other.
This is a part of some graphic poetry workshops I recently held. I would like to share three examples of how we can approach and start creating a graphic poem. Once you start creating one, you will flow and feel sparks in your brain!
RHINO Poetry recruited about ten poets to highlight poems by our poets of color: poems of love, courage, anger, jubilation, and resistance with graphics until September 9, 2020. You may see the project through our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. The following graphic poems are from the project.
The assignments are to read and understand RHINO Poetry's published poems, then add graphics. There are several ways to approach this. Today’s quick exercise is to create a first sketch graphic version of your poem. (We will show it later during our workshop.)
#1) Decide which words become images or remain words. Maya Marshall's original poem is attached. The circled parts were translated graphically.
#2) Create collage.
#1) All words are on the paper.
#2) Images are also added.
Poem: "Dap" by Cheswayo Mphanza.
#1) Select the most vivid/heated phrase(s).
#2) Add images.
Poem: "Bull's Eye" by Luisa Igloria, Poet Laureate of VA.
Graphics by Chloe Martinez & her daughter, Amina.
Many, many friends ask me this question, so here are the magazines that mine were in. I also linked each to my published work. You may feel the magazine's vibe (what they are looking for).
North American Review
Glass A Journal of Poetry 1
Glass A Journal of Poetry 2
Jet Fuel Review
Drunk In A Midnight Choir
The Indianapolis Review
Glass Lyre Press - "Cochlea" (Chapbook of Art & Poem)
The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Graphic Literature - Essay Contributor with my graphic poems.
For the next two months, RHINO Poetry will focus on translation themes. Naoko Fujimoto (August) and Noh Anothai (September) will be navigators of the forums. They are open to the public, no translation skills required.
With Naoko Fujimoto, we are going to learn three genres of Japanese literature (Zuihitsu, Waka/Haiku, & Renga). After reading translation pieces such as those by Donald Keene, we will have a couple of writing exercises adapting Japanese writing methods.
NOTE: This is a part of RHINO Virtual Poetry Forum Outline.
Style: Zuihitsu (随筆)
Writer/Poet: Sei Shōnagon (清少納言)
Book: The Pillow Book (枕草子)
Section: The first four paragraphs of “Hateful Things” (にくきもの)
Translator: Ivan Morris
One is in a hurry to leave, but one's visitor keeps chattering away. If it is someone of no importance, one can get rid of him by saying, "You must tell me all about it next time"; but, should it be the sort of visitor whose presence commands one's best behaviour, the situation is hateful indeed.
One finds that a hair has got caught in the stone on which one is rubbing one’s inkstick, or again that gravel is lodged in the inkstick, making a nasty, grating sound.
Someone has suddenly fallen ill and one summons the exorcist. Since he is not at home, one has to send messengers to look for him. After one has had a long fretful wait, the exorcist finally arrives, and with a sigh of relief one asks him to start his incantations. But perhaps he has been exorcizing too many evil spirits recently; for hardly has he installed himself and begun praying when his voice becomes drowsy. Oh, how hateful!
A man who has nothing in particular to recommend him discusses all sorts of subjects at random as though he knew everything.
Writing Exercise 1:
Write a first draft of ten paragraphs of zuihitsu
Theme: COVID-19 Things
I am going to time each paragraph. When I say, “Move to the next paragraph”, you are going to start writing a new paragraph with a new idea within the theme. With the timed writing windows, you will have random lengths of paragraphs.