An American Werewolf in London

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“Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness.”

-Allen Ginsberg

The train that galloped up to the platform this morning, normally crammed with humanity, was empty but for the discarded newspapers lining the window ledges. I thought I had missed the memo about the start of the zombie apocalypse. Turns out the kids have gone back to school, and the tourists have gone home. So I spent some time on my morning commute thinking about the similarities between poets and werewolves.

Culture, like poetry, is so often about what gets transmitted between the lines. It is not, I decided, the bankers and CEOs who normally sit across from me on the train who hold the most cultural power. What we learn on our mothers’ laps goes deep, to a visceral level. What gets passed down, mother to child through generations, forms the culture of a people. Mothers, therefore, are also “unacknowledged legislators” creating and replicating the very “operating system” of a society — its culture.

Moving from California to London certainly feels like I have switched operating systems. Apart from the obvious fumbling as I seek to find where they’ve moved the new buttons and menus, this shake-up gives me the opportunity to discover what is universal among computers — er — people. Contrast is one powerful way to heighten perception and uncover commonality in the quest for what is essentially human.

I have also discovered, however, that poets are not entirely human. Continue reading…

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Cadences by Kitty Jospé

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Kitty Jospé’s debut collection Cadences is a chapbook with a mission: all proceeds from its sale go to the charity Women Helping Girls. Fittingly, the collection touches on mother-daughter issues (including the “in-law” variety). In particular, I am drawn to the way poems juxtaposed in the second section unfold like a map of the emotional landscape of daughterhood, and one daughter in particular coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

In “Pulling at the Dark,” the younger daughter is doing her math homework upstairs when her mother “stomps into the rain-slicked night / slamming the door / so it shivers in its frame, / her head screwed tight with a quart of Jim Beam, / her hands held out as if to tear off headlights —  // Stop bugging my house, she roars / with a rake of rigid fingers as if to dig noise, like dirt, / out of the night.” The daughter goes out after her, and observes rough tenderness as, “The policeman grabs her, / pulls the sleeves of the wool sweater down / so the handcuffs won’t bite into her wrists.”

Next, in “Visiting Day,” the daughter visits the presumably older mother in an institution where she “tells me it’s not safe around there and Rita has absconded / with one of her sneakers and Claire stole the sheet of paper / where she was making words out of NOTICE. / I had a whole list —  / ice, tone, tin, tine, tic, ten, cent, once.” The daughter enters the mother’s world of word-making, picking a different sign and, collaboratively, “we start making words from it, / hinges for a story, / once, text, note, lonely.”

It seems for Jospé, words are just this — hinges for a story, keyholes into rooms. Continue reading…

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