Special Feature: Josh Medsker

Red Wolf Journal caught up with Josh Medsker, who writes poems somewhere in New Jersey. If you’d like a taste of his work, you may find it here and here.

joshmedsker

How and why on earth did you end up pursuing poetry?

I don’t really know. I’ve been writing poetry since I was in high school. In my senior year, I started thinking that writing might be a legitimate path for me. I had a little luck early on, actually! In our freshman year of college, my best friend Chris submitted a poem of mine to the literary magazine at his college, Alaska Pacific University, without my knowledge. And it got in! That was nice. But I was also obsessed with music, and that took over my mind for a long time. My folks were beside themselves and urged me to go into journalism, because it was more stable than a life in the arts.

I floated along during the 90s, doing music writing… for my own punk zine in Anchorage, and then later, after I graduated with my journalism degree, for the local weekly newspaper. I’d been writing poetry, and short stories, the whole time, but frankly it wasn’t even worth talking about. Bad, sub-Beat trash. I burned a lot of it in my parents’ backyard.

Journalism was where my talent truly was, at the time. Then I got the memoir bug, writing about my crazy travel adventures across the US and abroad. That was very satisfying, but I didn’t necessarily want to pour out my whole life story.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago, in my late 30s, that I essentially gave up trying to write fiction and really gave poetry another shot. I’ve always struggled to keep a whole story in my mind all at once, and poetry just seemed natural. I can start and finish a piece quickly, and then go back and edit it with some confidence.

Since it’s safe to say poetry doesn’t pay the bills what’s your day job?

Ha! Exactly. I’m an English teacher at West Side High School in Newark, New Jersey. It’s a tough school in an even tougher neighborhood. Every bad thing you can think of with inner-city life, these kids have seen it or experienced it personally. It’s exceptionally difficult, but I love it. I feel like I have a good rapport with my kids.

Do you do any poetry related stuff in class and if you do what’s the response been like?

Oh, absolutely. We are reading Chaucer now. Just finished selections from Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf. The language was a little tough for the kids to get into, but I tried to ramp it up a little bit, do a dramatic reading. I think they liked the hack-and-slash aspects of it! They seemed to.

Tell us about your first poetry book—what’s it about, what led to it, what you hope should be our takeaway from it and where we can get it.

It’s called Cacophony, and it’s a poetic exploration of the life and work of H.P. Lovecraft. The title and direct inspiration is from the album by Rudimentary Peni. They’re a British punk band. Really dark and moody. One of my long-time favorites. Anyway, they did their album as a tribute to Lovecraft, and I did my book as a tribute to them. I’d been curious about Lovecraft for a long time, through my love of Stephen King, and science fiction, fantasy, and horror in general.

As far as how the book got started … I don’t know if Red Wolf readers know, but from July 2015 until August of 2019, I did a poetry project called Medskerpedia. I wrote a poem a day, based on each entry in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Anyway, one of the entries was “Cacophony”. I wrote a poem based on one of the songs on the album. It was so enjoyable and came so easily that I just kept going. Fifty-five poems later I had a whole book. It pretty much came out as a whole piece. It was very quick.

Each poem has a drawing with it, done by my old friend Aaron Morgan, a fine artist from Seattle. His work is really dark and he’s also a big Lovecraft fan. We have known each other since our days in the punk scene in Anchorage, in the early 90s. We’ve been collaborating for about, dang, ten years now! I was beyond excited to do such a long-form project with him.

As far as what I want people to take away from it, I want to give them that unsettled feeling you get when you read Lovecraft’s work, and that WTF moment you will have if you listen to the RP album. When I was writing this book, the darkness and Lovecraft’s ideas about “cosmic indifference” just kind of enveloped me. It was spooky. That idea that humans are essentially insects in an overpowering, uncaring universe was very powerful to me.

Why are you so moved by Lovecraft and how do your poems express the themes surrounding the man?

Nick Blinko, the lead singer for Rudimentary Peni, is also schizophrenic, and a lot of that mental confusion comes through in his lyrics. It’s also a big theme in Lovecraft, people losing their way because of unknown or unknowable forces working on them. Blinko wrote a great autobiographical novel called The Primal Screamer, which I read, absorbed, and whose themes I expressed in these poems. He talks about his illness, his obsession with Lovecraft … It’s a great book.

In Cacophony, I tried to present Lovecraft as a multi-faceted man. I mean it’s not straight biography, but there are certainly biographical aspects to the poems. In some of the poems Lovecraft is the narrator. In some of the poems the Great Old Ones like Cthulhu are the narrators. I’m the narrator in some of them. It’s all over the place, in an interesting way I think.

Lovecraft was a deeply flawed man, and I try to tackle that racism, nativism and xenophobia of his. There was some wiggle room in some of the RP lyrics—some of them were pretty baffling and didn’t make a whole lot of sense—so I took the opportunity to make some political statements. That was another thing that really fascinated and confused me. Here’s Rudimentary Peni, a group of committed anarchists, associated with Crass and all those folks … doing a tribute album to Lovecraft. His stories are incredible, but when you hear some of the statements he made … yikes. I do understand, though, that he was a product of his times. I wanted to put in my own two cents without derailing the whole book on a tangent. I think I pulled it off.

What’re your future plans to conquer poetry?

I have another manuscript finished, created from the Medskerpedia project, and I’m getting ready to shop it around. I’m taking a break until January, though, so I can focus on teaching.

I’m also going to do Medskerpedia II! Every day I will write a poem, using a random word from the Oxford English Dictionary. And as a further constraint, I’ll be flipping to a random page in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. It should be fun! I tried to start it in September, right after I finished Medskerpedia I, but it was too overwhelming. I got about ten poems in and realized I was stretching myself too thin. So, I’m resting my poetry brain for a minute.

When I get back into it, I’ll also be working on my verse play about the friendship between early-20th Century Midwestern poets Vachel Lindsay and Sara Teasdale. Lindsay was madly in love with Teasdale and there was a lot of tension between them because of that … but also a mutual love and admiration between them. I’m very excited about it.

Hmmm doesn’t Josh seem like a guy who’s out to conquer poetry … If you’re interested to buy a copy of Cacophony, it is available here.

PDF Release of Borrowed Poetry, Fall 2019 Issue 15

Borrowed Poetry Fall 2019 Issue 15

We are pleased to announce the release of the Fall 2019 Issue.

The poets with work in the Borrowed Poetry edition are:

Jonathan Beale
Gabriella Brand
Misky Braendeholm
Kersten Christianson
William Conelly
Tim Dunne
Lisa Fleck Dondiego
Jo Angela Edwins
Linda Goin
Sue Mayfield Geiger
Christopher Hileman
Diane Jackman
Ron. Lavalette
Barbara A Meier
Lisbeth L. McCarty
Annie Morris
Kevin Oberlin
Stephanie Pressman
Debi Swim
Alan Walowitz
Martin Willitts Jr,

You may download a copy of the PDF release here.

Borrowed Poetry Fall 2019 Issue 15

You’re invited to submit to our new issue, titled True Love. Read submission guidelines here. You may also find us over at the other site at Red Wolf Editions. Happy writing!

Irene Toh
Editor
Fall 2019

Patina Means It’s Timeworn, by Debi Swim

Patina Means it’s Timeworn
by Debi Swim

Old age is a greened penny
minted with a long ago date
that then was bright shiny copper
worth more then than now
now it won’t be picked up from
the hot asphalt of a parking lot

but soon it will be polished up
shine once again and placed
upon satin in a box and people
will come by and remember
all that penny used to be worth
then close the lid and bury it

with only a label etched in stone
what was will never be again. Amen

Process notes
My father-in-law is dying in quiet indignity at the age of 95. I came across the poem “To Waken an Old Lady” by William Carlos Williams and that led to this.

Debi Swim writes poetry in West Virginia, mostly to fabulous prompts. Blog: https://poetrybydebi.wordpress.com/

To All the Dogs on the Bank, by Debi Swim

To All the Dogs on the Bank
by Debi Swim

There’s a dog howling
I walk through the house
looking out windows
trying to see where it is
I can’t pin down its direction
silence
I relax
then the howling begins again
somewhere in the trees
but the trees are all around
and I can’t decide if it is
from the housing development
on the hill behind poplars
or the house to the right
hidden by maples and pines
where a dog is kept tied up
or behind the house
where sometimes
dogs chase after the deer
through the trees and underbrush
baying and howling
like the hounds of hell
then I remember
the dogs
buried on the hillside
and across the road
beloved little dogs
life cut short by cars
one by illness
one by my permission
eighteen years old
with so many things wrong
but all I can see are brown eyes
that loved me, trusted me,
and he lies in a favorite
blanket, snug, turning
back into dust
maybe that was goodbye
or a howl of outrage
or a greeting to the other dogs
that romp and run these woods
on phantom paws
and I wish I could be buried
on a bank between the woods
and howl my delight
or outrage
and run on phantom feet
through the woods and underbrush.

Process notes: “A Dog Has Died”, By Pablo Neruda
The last dog we will probably ever have died in Dec 2018. He, and other dogs we have loved, are buried on our property. I love that they are near.

Debi Swim writes poetry in West Virginia, mostly to fabulous prompts. Blog: https://poetrybydebi.wordpress.com/

Look Here Too, Pamela Alexander, by Barbara A Meier

Look Here Too, Pamela Alexander
by Barbara A Meier

Next time you post that fruity paper sculpture picture-
you know matte white with golden phallic swirls
your scalp all gleamy like candied apples, neanderthal ridge
like a mounded fruit basket,
next time you post across my page with your slender folding fingers
reaching with hers in Warrior one on Coronado Heights
wearing arty turtlenecks like fruit baskets wearing cellophane,
I may just vomit a bit in my mouth,
next time I see you in flowering lotus, origami creases,
those spirals held in place with Elmer’s glue,
you could answer the questions in my email sent 4 years ago.
Your silence in the Cloud is as loud as your buddha sitting on your shelf.
If you can’t at least give a reason for silence- like
“I’m not interested in you anymore.” or “Long-distance relationships just don’t work.”
don’t be trespassing on my facebook page with Down’s syndrome girls draped around your shoulders like a bouquet of grapes on your vine,
or holding HER hand in “fruited plains” of sunflowers.
I won’t seek you on the web- your flat dimensional imprint hiding in my hard drive –
my life is 3 dimensional, fat and meaty.
Time like fruit ripens
becoming compost with fruit fly mists,
soil to bury you in my dreams.

inspired by “Look Here” by Pamela Alexander

Process notes: “Hell hath no fury as a woman scorned”. I am at the Southern Oregon Writers Conference listening to Carolyn Miller talk. She gives us copies of Pamela Alexander’s poem “Look Here.” Wow. We analyzed the poem and I made a connection to my last experience with a relationship with an ex-boyfriend from Highschool. It felt good to rip and tear him up with words. I did not want the ending to have the hope implied at the end. I just want him to know I am just fine without him.

Barbara A Meier has spent the last four years living on the Southern Oregon Coast. She retired from teaching this summer and hopes to find time to travel and write. She has a Micro Chapbook coming out this summer from Ghost City Press. She has been published in The Poeming Pigeon, TD; LR Catching Fire Anthology and The Fourth River. https://basicallybarbmeier.wordpress.com/

The Wrack, by by Barbara A Meier

The Wrack
by Barbara A Meier

I came to dig through the wrack.
The blades are the experiences.
The stipes are life.
I came to see what was salvageable
and how many pneumatocysts are intact.
I grip the shaft of my shovel, tense my muscles
and scoop anticipating.
This is the life I live for:
the wrack and not the sand.
Pieces of vegetation, not the ocean.

The seaweed flies swarm upward toward my face,
disturbed in their feeding, attracted by the rotten smell of kelp.
Their maggots gorge on gelatinous fiber eating away at membranes
of memories stored in gas-filled bladders.
I spread the kelp on the dry sand shelf, nudging it,
But the shovel is not enough–
My hands need to feel
The putrescence of life.
it coats my hands
as the flies invade the nose,
the mouth, the ears.
It makes a bed when spread to sea,
a mattress to bear my weight
green strands grow from my sides
Medusa hair of kelp.
It’s hard to see where my life
begins or ends on the high tide line.
The ocean nips at my ankles.
Between the wrack and rock
below, above the wave
the harvest continues.
The sand, the kelp, the shovel
Begin again in a Book of Death
where my name is written.

inspired by “Diving Into The Wreck” by Adrienne Rich

Process notes: Southwestern College, Winfield, KS, 1979. Mrs. AD Cope, one of my college professors, introduced me to Adrienne Rich. She became my favorite. 30 years later I picked up my pen and decided to write poetry again. At loss for where to start, I decided to use “Diving Into the Wreck” as my model. The subject matter- divorce and being alone.

Barbara A Meier has spent the last four years living on the Southern Oregon Coast. She retired from teaching this summer and hopes to find time to travel and write. She has a Micro Chapbook coming out this summer from Ghost City Press. She has been published in The Poeming Pigeon, TD; LR Catching Fire Anthology and The Fourth River. https://basicallybarbmeier.wordpress.com/

Let August Be On Woodrat Mountain Rd, by Barbara A Meier

Let August Be On Woodrat Mountain Rd
by Barbara A Meier

Let the dust of a gravel road
mask the reddest of red poison oak,
Twining
the Douglas fir, reaching for sun.

Let the yellow jacket suck
the juice of a rotting plum like a drunk
nursing his bottle. Let August be.

Let the chrysalis on the milkweed fall
beneath the blade of the county tractor,
the Monarch disappears. Let August be.

Let the ghost of my dogs, pull me up
the road, tangling their leashes, tongues lolling.
Let August be.

To the Bud can in the starthistle, to the buzz
of the junction box, to the beat of a heart.
Let August be.

Let it be as it comes, as it will always be,
life sliding down. Summer whining
in the cicadas, so let August be.

inspired by “Let Evening Come” by Jane Kenyan

Process notes: I discovered Jane Kenyan about 2 years ago. Poetry was at a hiatus in my life for the past 40 years about. I started to write again at 58. I have 40 years of poets to catch with. One of the magazines I submitted to recommended reading Jane Kenyan. I knew I had to try her style. I’d been playing around with August a lot and not really finishing anything. August to me was a cruel month. My Dad died in August, summer is dying in the madrone trees shedding, and poison oak turning red and yes time to report back to work. (teacher) The greens are tired and dusty. It’s hot. It’s dying.

It is what it is and I let it be on my walk up Woodrat Mountain Rd.

Barbara A Meier has spent the last four years living on the Southern Oregon Coast. She retired from teaching this summer and hopes to find time to travel and write. She has a Micro Chapbook coming out this summer from Ghost City Press. She has been published in The Poeming Pigeon, TD; LR Catching Fire Anthology and The Fourth River. https://basicallybarbmeier.wordpress.com/

Woman Cursing the Coast, by Kersten Christianson

Woman Cursing the Coast
by Kersten Christianson
After Miroslave Holub’s “Man Cursing the Sea”

From the top of Harbor
Mountain, woman shakes
her fist at the outer coast.

Ridiculous water, you carry
the world’s sorrow from loud-
mouthed sea, bawling in its loss,
to arrogant sky. Between the both
of you: mist, drizzle and rain,
enough to drown the sugar
sweetness of granulated sun,
to drench the silken dress
of Himalayan poppy blue.

Ocean, you petulant child,
scribbling each day new lines
along coastline, markers
on the wall, uncapped,
left in disarray.

And so she shakes her fist,
while sky pewters and forest
songbirds issue their last
twitters for the day.

And then she treks
down the mountain,
and returns home.

Here is my poem in response to Miroslav Hold’s poem, “Man Cursing the Sea.”

Kersten Christianson is a raven-watching, moon-gazing Alaskan. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing (University of Alaska Anchorage), has authored two books of poetry – What Caught Raven’s Eye (Petroglyph Press, 2018) and Something Yet to Be Named (Aldrich Press, 2017) – and is the poetry editor of Alaska Women Speak.

Horse’s Skull With White Rose, by Lisa Fleck Dondiego

Horse’s Skull With White Rose
by Lisa Fleck Dondiego

Dress form,
torso pinned by light,
awaiting drape of satin,
fitting shape for bodice
of wedding gown—
or classical bust of goddess
smooth as alabaster,
head knocked off by time or vandals,
loss addressed by living rose,
softening death,
resurrection of elegant
skull’s creature, long-dead,
Easter bonnet perched,
warm breath not yet fled.

georgia-okeeffe-horses-skull-with-white-rose-1931

Georgia O’Keeffe, Horse’s Skull with White Rose 1931

Notes on Horse’s Skull with White Rose
This poem is a response to Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting of the same name. I have “borrowed” from O’Keeffe in the sense that I have tried to interpret her subject in the same spirit that she did, and set myself the same goal: for observers to see new life and beauty in a creature which hadn’t been alive for many years.

Lisa Fleck Dondiego’s poems have appeared in The Westchester Review, Haibun Today, and in several anthologies, including Red Moon Press’s yearly anthology and in the Contemporary Women Writers of the Hudson Valley’s A Slant of Light. She has taught for 9 years in the Learning to See workshop series at the Greenburgh Library in White Plains, NY. Her chapbook, A Sea Change, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. She lives in Ossining, NY, with her husband.

Joseph Cornell’s L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode, by Lisa Fleck Dondiego

Joseph Cornell’s L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode
by Lisa Fleck Dondiego

       You don’t make art, you find it. You accept everything as its material.
       —Charles Simic

On a layer of red sand beneath glass:

broken piece of comb,
frosted slivers
for reflection.

Porcelain doll’s arm,
broken at elbow,
for fitting her into his frame.

Plastic rose petals
for throwing at her feet,
preserving her beauty.

Three miniature tin spoons
for measuring out sand grains
in her hourglass.

Twelve cork-stopped
apothecary jars filled with spirits:

crumpled tulle, blue
celluloid, bone fragments,
for curing all ailments.

Metal chain, rhinestones,
sequins, pearl beads,
for seduction.

He labels the jars:

“Grasshoppers and locusts.”
“An instrument to measure the Nile’s waters.”
“Sphynx.” “L’emeraudes de Cléo de Mérode.”

In one jar, Cleopatra’s needle is threaded.

In another, his Queen’s entombed,
dancing on yellow sand,
a pinned butterfly
that no one may touch.

gniwqtbytesyu8ksgxgi

Joseph Cornell, L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode cours élémentaire d’histoire naturelle, 1940.

Note on Joseph Cornell’s L’Égypte de Mlle Cléo de Mérode
For this poem I scrutinized Cornell’s box of that name, and borrowed the materials he used in it, which he had gathered from his many scavenger trips to junk shops in New York City. I more or less “scavenged” these same materials from him, and in writing about them, borrowed their arrangement as well. As a person who suffers from claustrophobia, I found an additional benefit – that I was able objectify and deal with my claustrophobic fears by exerting complete control over my materials, as Cornell had before me.

Lisa Fleck Dondiego’s poems have appeared in The Westchester Review, Haibun Today, and in several anthologies, including Red Moon Press’s yearly anthology and in the Contemporary Women Writers of the Hudson Valley’s A Slant of Light. She has taught for 9 years in the Learning to See workshop series at the Greenburgh Library in White Plains, NY. Her chapbook, A Sea Change, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2011. She lives in Ossining, NY, with her husband.