the ghosts of the House of the poem–introduction by Krysia Jopek [September 21, 2019]
With startling, provocatively-nuanced imagery and surprising, precise language–Carolyn Gregory’s poems invite readers to participate in the experience of the poem; offering with each poem, an interactive and subjective artistic catharsis. The poetic “leaps” from sentence to sentence, line to line, image to image, word to word–offer the reader a journey in language that affords both pleasure and pain.
I greatly enjoyed collaborating with Carolyn on ghosts & spectral images–poetry & poetics by Carolyn Gregory. Please enjoy!
Getting Lost on My Way to the Optometrist
I sat down on the sidewalk, fallen from too much walking. The students going by thought I was homeless though I only needed a bench to rest.
One long block blurred into the next, drifting past apartments and construction. Where did the office move? The numbers were not saying. Eventually, two BU students called the doctor for a location. I blessed them as they helped me cross the street.
When I finally arrived breathless, the assistant showed me her Whipple procedure for pancreatic cancer. The scar crossed her whole stomach though she is still here, three years later.
Gris Gris King
old and feathered mime
of unknown origin,
you rambled with the old
trolley cars and arches,
smiling like a savvy catfish
though you picked up a needle
nightly to fill in
the Bourbon Street in your heart.
And oh, those horns, kept blasting
in the cajun club
with your gravelly voice,
the memory of golden feathers
flying over your shoulders
as you sang about going back home
with the chorus backing you up,
your giant size filling up
a whole brick wall.
Re-Born (from Les Poemes Fantomatiques)
My name is Barbara, and I was supposed to drown on that ship with four lit masts, owning the sea at night with grandeur. Diphtheria took us out as we turned in our graves after death, wrapped in the banners of another country with no drum roll, signifying grace might come.
I was lucky. The porpoise mothers carried me ship-side to my abandoned boat and helped me into it; the golden measure of lights overhead. The animals and I both had souls and knew I would not harm them as I entered my death ship, fully awake again.
Ghost Enters the Knots
The door in the floor would not let her leave, keeping the knots tight in the woods where trees had fallen down in heavy thunderstorms. She had come here of her own free will to see the purple loose strife and kiss dogs as they gathered, but her strength was limited. The other ghost told her to be aware of the fathers nearby; how they were offering their power. She still could not twist her body through two large knots without suffering.
This was a day trip away from her boat and the sea but it offered little nurturance. Lying down and watching the large white clouds gather overhead suggested passage; offering help.
Ghost Sails through the Marble Cathedral
She knew she had to leave the first world because there were constant gunshots and the dead. In the woods, once she had come back to herself, she tied on a pair of wings that would help her fly away and also swim in clear water.
She said goodbye to the other ghosts as she set her GPS for Chile and the Marble Caves where she would swim all day through the columns and tunnels among bright fish. She could even pray in a blue cathedral where no guns live.
Frida in Red
In her finest red,
she sits in an old wooden
chair, holding her banner
Removing the old contraption
holding up her spine,
red and gold embroidery
adorn her like a pope.
The broken body lies behind,
scarred by surgery,
She has brought out
the sun above the eroded hills,
vigilant and ready
for another paintbrush.
He took the Seven Seals and prophets,
turning them to glory for himself,
made wives of other men’s wives,
siring children in a compound
made of stone.
They had Bible Study daily.
With an acoustic guitar,
he was their homespun prophet
while inspiring the fear of fire
in their hearts as they hung
on his words.
When the guns started
and the walls of his kingdom
they stayed with him.
He saw the truth at the end
of the world and divine light stayed.
Glass broke, tanks crashed through walls,
a fireball washed through
where children burned beside their parents,
lost to blind faith.
Swimming with Dr. Sacks
When I swim at the pool,
I dream that Dr. Oliver Sacks swims
next to me, praising my backstroke.
His smile winsome,
happy in his crawl across the laps
as he remembers the flurry of
nearly rubbed out by sleeping sickness.
Tey beat gravity and time,
unwrapping their ancient cocoons to dance
and even swim like Dr. Sacks,
no longer fighting stasis or catalepsy
but throwing their arms in clear strokes;
their hair waving behind themin seaweed fronds,
no palsy or sleeping allowed today!
They no longer bellowed, cursed or bent
into plastic shapes as they glided by
in smooth symmetry, led by the doctor
through the lanes
to thrive like newborn orchids
with legs and arms and brains.
Dr. Sacks and I shake hands vigorously
as we leave the pool.
The Vanity (after Jeremy Mann’s painting, “The White Vanity”)
Gazing into the mirror over her vanity,
he pouts a bit like Bridget Bardot,
her dark hair flung in a braid
over her shoulder to look casual
Handmade lace frames strong arms,
a green and red bandanna around the hips
like peacock feathers
she will show off when some man
picks her for the first dance
at the town fair.
All the beautiful bottles of cologne
and fancy rouge,
the small mirror pointed toward the large one
full of magic and insouciance.
Inside the mirror, pale green and misty
as youth will make it,
this girl does not see her other half
whose teeth are gone in back
with gray and thinner hair
standing near the closet
who has danced with many men
at this fair or the next,
acquiring more cologne, darker mascara;
her vanity well-painted
beneath the carved Chinese lamp.
Queen of the Verdi Club
The ladies with lorgnettes and poodles adored her,
fêted with mushrooms and crudités
for every popular concert she sponsored;
creating tableaux vivants
in flowing gowns and wings.
She was lavish in praise,
taking music seriously in her forties;
soprano hostess and friends
with Caruso and Toscanini.
Many knew she had a tin ear,
flatting at every interval with poor diction,
singing St. Saens and Mozart out of tune
with most everything
while offering her embrace of
an soldiers and aristocrats;
wearing a diamond tiara for every song
at the Ritz-Carlton;
her face framed by chandeliers
of pure gold light.
poetics–Krysia Jopek interviews Carolyn Gregory [September 2019]
When did you start writing poetry seriously and why?
2. When were you first published and where? Individual poems and books.
I was published in the high school literary magazine, Indian, and then went on to publish in Fred Wolven’s Ann Arbor Review and Generation after college. Published steadily thereafter in the Midwest.
3. Do you write every day? How often do you write and what is your process typically for writing poetry? What time of day, where do you sit, do you listen to music and if so, what specifically?
I write three or four times a week often in solitude at various times of day. I like to write at home in my living room where there’s adequate light and nature nearby. I have written outdoors before in the large arboretum near my home and on trips to new places. Listening to jazz or classical music frequently encourages new work.
Regarding revisions, some poems take years to write, and some are written quickly and revised within a week. It varies.
6. What do you think of the publishing “industry” for publishing poetry now vs. before?
Regarding the publishing biz, I don’t think highly of it. Too many MFA clones of writing programs, studying with academic poets, does not lead to a wide range of exciting new voices! Poet Bill Matthews told me many years ago at the Aspen Writers Conference that it was better to study something other than poetry; maybe like ceramics, to then write good poems. This advice has stuck with me over time.
7. How do you decide a poem will be a prose poem or one with conventional line breaks? How are these genres different for you and for the poem, in your opinion.
9. Is being active on social media necessary for a contemporary poet. Why or why not?
10. I know from facebook and seeing your lovely posts, that the visual arts are important to you. Can you speak to the relationship of the visual arts and literary texts? Who are your favorite artists? How often do you go to museums and art exhibits? I’ve also read posts about you meeting your many friends [love that about you!] out for shared, healthy meals as well as at museums to view art, paintings mainly, I think.
11. I have to admit that I am jealous of your regular swimming! I really should be swimming regularly for my severe arthritis. How often do you swim and what does this activity do for you, in the various aspects of your life? Do you compose poems when you are swimming?
Swimming is a wonderful activity which I try to do two to three times a week. I do long swims because they are relaxing, good for undue anxiety, and swimming, for me, levels out emotions. I have sometimes written poems while swimming, including “Swimming with Dr. Sacks” that I wrote in honor of that daily swimmer! I also very much enjoy hiking when there is time for it.
12. Lastly, who are your favorite poets–and the poets, writers, artists, composers that have influenced your writing?
Carolyn Gregory was born in Rochester, New York and graduated from the University of Michigan. After living in Ann Arbor for many years, coordinating several poetry series in the community, she now lives in Boston, Massechussetts. Her poems and essays on photography have been published in American Poetry Review, Seattle Review, Cape Cod Review, Bellowing Ark, Main Street Rag, Wilderness House Literary Review, Off the Coast, Yankee Review, Moving Out, South Florida Poetry Review, Pikestaff Review, Primavera, Geensboro Review, Calyx, Midwest Poetry Review, Wayne Review, Cypress Review, The Journal of the Photographic Resource Center (Boston University), and numerous other literary journals. Her first poetry chapbook, The Wait, was published in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and a second, The Rope Singers, was published in Cleveland, Ohio. Her first two full-length books of poems, Open Letters and and Facing the Music, were published by Windmill Editions in 2009 and 2016, repectively.