You’re on the Air

You’re on the Air

“You played Madonna?!” My patient Shira is an expressive, wonderfully cocky, and very hip Yale sophomore. This is her opener as she strolls into my office. “Yes,” I say, watching her settle into the black leather recliner across from me. She looks horrified. Shira likes to feel that she’s “in the know” about trends, pop culture, and especially, music. She’s derisive and unimpressed that a Madonna tune has appeared on my radio show. It’s too “average.” It’s “retro.” She’d probably play obscure, indie Brooklyn bands if she were the DJ selecting music.

Shira and I are in uncharted territory. I’m a psychotherapist who hosts a weekly music and interview show on the radio. My musical tastes, the questions I ask guests, what makes me laugh, and what fascinates me—it’s all out there in the ether, for anyone who is listening. My “celebrity” is quite minor, but I work in a provincial, psychoanalytically influenced New England community, and the attention I get seems to induce a frisson of anxiety in some of my colleagues. “So,” they say, eyes widening, “you’re on the radio? Do, um, do your patients know? Do they listen to your show (horror of horrors)? How do you handle that?”

I understand their curiosity. Therapists face new challenges to their privacy these days. Even before most patients have stepped into the office, they’ve consumed unfiltered information about us via the Internet. We’re being googled. This phenomenon has forced more and more therapists to recognize and cope with many aspects of ourselves already being public—privacy no longer really exists. The delicate and important balance of public versus private has preoccupied us since Freud’s notion of the analyst as a blank screen onto which fantasies will be projected (a methodology most useful for psychoanalysis, but not for psychotherapy, which is what most of us practice). Throughout our careers, we calibrate how much to reveal about ourselves (or our own feelings) to each individual. The basic paradigm—for us to reveal less—remains useful. Although we ask for great revelations from the patient, if we contributed all our personal details, associations and vulnerabilities, the therapy process would degenerate into comparisons of experience. There is a concept I learned while taking boxing lessons: “finding your range.” It means that you need to be just the right distance away from your opponents—not so far away that you can’t reach them when you need to and not so close that you will be overly vulnerable and swallowed up.

Clinical techniques have expanded; contemporary theorists studying the uses of therapeutic self-disclosure have gone on to explore ways that authentic, in-the-moment feedback (and in some cases, information about the therapist) can especially benefit patients who struggle in relationships in which no one has provided “mirroring,” or ever questioned their own particularly distorted beliefs. We make careful decisions for each clinical pairing.

For therapists practicing in a small town, things are already claustrophobic. My colleagues talk about running into patients at the local pool, the gym, or around town. (I’d rather a patient hear me on the radio than see me in a bathing suit!)

Sometimes those “collegial” reactions to my radio activities make me feel that I’ve been slapped with a subtext—that I must be doing something wrong. I worry they think I should pack myself back into analysis to examine my own narcissism. So when my peers appear a bit shocked, it helps when I reflexively clarify that it’s not a radio advice show about mental health problems. I’m not immune to bouts of anxiety, so I’m attempting to reassure myself, tooNone of us just live in our office chairs. Patients begin to stitch together their quilted portraits of us as soon as they see our parked cars in the assigned spaces (old Honda Civic? Brand-new Saab?), view our décor (Paul Klee reproductions? Primitive sculptures?), experience our sense of humor (or lack thereof), and learn where on the Cape we’re vacationing or that we don’t like to travel. This information does not have to be considered unfortunate “leakage.” It is inevitable real-world information, and we have a reliable tool for the complexity of this issue. We can explore what each detail or nuance means to someone—and we can accept that we function in a dual capacity—both symbolic and real.

With some patients who do hear me, it can be, as with Shira, an opportunity for them to directly express aggression, envy, or criticism. Shira and I had been working together for seven months, talking about her struggles in relationships. Her offhand comment about Madonna was the first time she had challenged me directly, even just a little. I admire her critique of the Madonna tune. Many college-age patients are such perpetually “good students” that they treat therapy as if it were another class. They’re fearful of making a mistake and want to please any authority figure. Shira’s challenge is a welcome contribution that is a healthy expression of her own tastes and individuation.

I listen for any feelings or fantasies about my “other dimensions,” if and when they come up, giving room and space for anything someone needs to express. If I bring it up (“So on my radio show I interviewed so-and-so”), there’s usually a dynamic in the relationship that causes me to go there, some way in which the patient makes me (and often others) feel invisible or unimportant. Occasionally I’m thinking that there needs to be some idealization of me for the therapy to work, and that hosting a radio show gives me some gravitas. I could swear that recently, after I casually mentioned an author interview I did on the air, a patient who had not known about my radio life began to listen to me more closely, as if my wisdom suddenly deepened. And sometimes it just slips out because I want to be . . . more real, as multidimensional as my patients, or because my own countertransference compels me to say, “Hey, I’m cool.” The gratification of occasional admiration is like a cool drink of water to a parched throat.

I give so much to my patients—I am laser-focused on every word they say, attentive, warm, compassionate, and hard working. I quietly tune myself to patients’ melodies, and each hour begins with someone else’s song. As clinicians we are trained to suppress automatic reactions, modulate our responses, wait for the best moment to speak, assess potential effects and timing of interpretations, and listen. We restrain the impulse to shift the focus to us; that goes with the job. I’m not alone in sometimes wanting to burst through the confines of the psychic-midwife role, and say “Hey, over here! On the diving board! Look at me! I have some special things going on outside the office!”

Sometimes patients want to impress us with their creative efforts, and maybe this occurs with me a bit more often because of the radio show. Recently a new patient, an artist and musician, placed a CD of his original music on my desk as he was leaving the office. He mumbled, “Heard you like avant-garde music . . . and maybe you did radio once?” The CD, forlorn and unprotected without a sleeve or a clear reason for being there, sat unheard on my desk for the next week.

“Yes,” I said at the next session. “I do radio.”

“Actually, I know that. I listened to a few of your interviews. I am your biggest fan now!! I tried to find the music shows, but the computer archive of past shows wasn’t working right.”

A wish to help him find the shows flared briefly, like a firefly in the darkness. I suspected he would enjoy them and imagined how nice it would be to get that ego gratification. But that was not the point.

“The CD you brought in . . . I think I should give it back to you . . . because I . . . we don’t know yet . . . what exactly does giving this to me mean to you?”

He thought for a moment and, with spontaneous honesty, said, “I want you to, um, like me, I think. I want to impress you.”

I’ve worked with this issue of having a public life outside therapy for multiple decades and decided long ago that radio was too important a part of my creative life to give up—whatever the lingering biases about a therapist not having too big a personality. It stretches back to my childhood in the early 1960s, to a field trip to WGBO’s studios in Newark, New Jersey. Seeing the creativity involved in producing a radio show, watching the DJ establish an on-air intimacy and using multiple aspects of the “Self” to do so, I was immediately smitten with the idea of being an on-air host.

For me, like for many kids, radio was a soundtrack to my emotional and social life. In grade school, I followed AM radio, with its Top 40 hits and fast-talking disc jockeys. My best friend and I would lie in bed, talking to each other on our princess phones, writing down the Top 10 being counted down. The Righteous Brothers, Petula Clark, and the Temptations eventually gave way to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the more intimate and intense experience of FM and public radio, with its non-commercial zeitgeist. From Newark, I heard radio hosts on the New York stations WBAI and WNEW and found comfort and solace in their late-night voices. They talked. They talked a lot. And if Allison Steele, the “Nightbird” of WNEW, chose to play an entire album side of a Procol Harum record—so be it. Their voices were comforting. So I understood when a patient said, “Last week, when I wasn’t able to come in for my session, I knew I could hear your voice on the radio, and it was very soothing.”

As a wild child of the 1960s, I didn’t get my career trajectory in shape until I was thirty. I had a long moratorium in my twenties after dropping out of college. In other words, I was floundering. At twenty-five, I became involved with a non-commercial radio station in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I was also back in school, doing some writing, and alternately working as a typist, editor, secretary, or whatever I could find. Hosting a show became the centerpiece of my week. This was the pre-CD era, so like a Sherpa I schlepped some of my own vinyl collection up the three flights of stairs. I always wanted something new to play, some spoken-word oddity that might create the perfect prelude to a piece of music; thus I always needed a range of choices on hand. William Butler Yeats seemed to go with Patti Smith. The French poets wanted to be punctuated by punk rock. On this station, we could be as experimental as we liked. When a segue worked, I felt powerful, excited, fulfilled! I studied hard and passed the Federal Communications Commission licensing test, which involved computations of wattage and power output and the memorization of obscure regulations I would never need. That was a happy day. I started out with shows on Tuesday and Thursday nights, from 11 p.m. until 3 a.m.

Several years after becoming a radio host, I went off to Smith College to study clinical social work. Making radio a career didn’t seem feasible—I wasn’t a commercial type of host, and I was clueless about how to negotiate my way toward National Public Radio. I had no mentors, which is not a complaint, more of an explanation and a disclosure—I often felt I had to blaze my own way, to my disadvantage. In contrast, life as a therapist made a remarkable amount of sense. I’d always been fascinated by psychology and human behavior. I’d had my own experiences in the patient chair. I’d been reading Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, and I very much wanted to do meaningful work.

During my time at Smith, I took a break from radio to focus on my studies. My internships at Clifford Beers Child Guidance Clinic and Yale University Department of Mental Hygiene were intensive. After a second fellowship year at Yale, I started a private practice. The early years were extremely stressful. In an effort to anchor myself, I carried a collection of meaningful totems—a book by a beloved author, a special rock in my pocket, my favorite mug—as I went back and forth to the shared office I rented by the hour. I typed up my notes from the clinical sessions religiously—patient said/I said—as if they were epic novels.

I’d been in practice for around five years when I realized I missed radio. I returned to the station and pre-produced a weekly segment about the AIDS epidemic that another DJ aired on his show. It was a gentle way back in. Then I took on a weekly four-hour Saturday night music show.

Decades later, in that sly way in which how we spend our time determines the shape of our lives, I am still doing radio, and I am still in private practice. And I’m still struck by how often I evoke that curious or puzzled reaction from colleagues. Does assuming the role of a therapist mean you give up your passions? Die a slow death of the spirit?

Over the years, my on-air persona has developed. Around five years ago I began interviewing authors, celebrities, musicians, and activists. The book I published in 2010 (Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind) connected me to many other writers who wanted to talk about their work. The book itself is a memoir about my midlife involvement with the world of boxing and the history of Jewish boxers. During my on-air conversations with boxing writers and famous trainers I became freer about revealing aspects of my own history. I used humor, I was self-deprecating, I could often be silly. I spoke with emotion about the music I chose and what it meant to me. I talked about films I’d seen that week and books I was reading.

I am always a bit self-conscious on the air because of my profession. A patient might be listening, so I hold back on sharing what I do on the weekends, where I walk my dog, or very personal things that have happened in my life—I try to focus on pop culture and information. I feel embarrassed if I make a mistake and a bit of profanity in music goes out over the air. If patients are listening, I want to do a good job and not be a sloppy DJ. When I do wander into a personal anecdote, I withhold anything that I imagine might be too wildly disturbing or disruptive to a listening patient. Of course, it’s impossible to completely control what might be disruptive to different individuals!

Being a psychotherapist and radio host does involve keeping a close eye on all the balls in the air. I’m sure I drop one now and then, but most of the time the juggling does not pose unmanageable complications. I believe as therapists we can work successfully in the postmodern age with new theory-bases and approaches to the increasingly more public aspects of our identities. So I continue to lug my bag of tricks up the stairs to the studio each week and present new Icelandic rock, electronica, or poignant tunes by singer-songwriters. I can promote the works of brilliant authors, which I love to do.

Coming to the end of a music show recently, I recall Shira’s dismissive reaction to my playing Madonna. This particular morning (I’m now doing two hours every Thursday), I’m not playing Madonna—I’m ending with Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill.” What would Shira think of that choice? I wonder, as I start packing up my radio bag full of CDs. My bag is lighter now that there are more alternatives to vinyl. I’ll just have time for lunch before I go to my office and spend the afternoon seeing patients. I remember the first time Kate Bush’s debut album arrived in the studio, how thrilled I was by her strange, ethereal voice and complex musical arrangements. I put down my bag and leap out of my chair just as I did then, and find myself twirling around the studio. Her five-octave vocal range is transporting. I raise my arms.

At least one of the virtues of radio is that no one can see me dancing.

This essay appeared in the anthology How Does That Make You Feel:
Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch,
ed, Sherry Amatenstein, Seal Press, 2016.

Binnie Klein maintains a private psychotherapy practice in New Haven, CT, and is a Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University.  Her memoir, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press) came out in 2010. She has a weekly show at WPKN-FM (and wpkn.org), Thursdays, 10 am until Noon called A Miniature World

My Boxing Body

My Boxing Body

My Venus of Willendorff belly is flopping as I lurch forward and try to make contact with my coach’s punch mitts, brown cushions around ten inches wide; up by his shoulder height they make him look like an angry bear coming out of hibernation. John’s boxing nickname was “The Punisher” --physically he’s a cross between Bruce Willis and Tony Soprano. I am a fifty-five-year old Jewish psychotherapist and spend my days in a leather recliner, quietly tuning myself to the complex themes of other peoples’ melodies, and each day begins with someone else’s song. But not when I am boxing; then I am edgy, tough, ageless, and loud.

“C’mon baby, that punch wasn’t sexy. Put your hips into it. Jab, one-two, blow to the body, blow to the head. There ya go,” John is saying to me.

“The Punisher” is teaching me to crouch like a Ninja, slip and weave, keep my hands up, and send force up from my heavy legs into my middle and out through my arms, using my body in ways I never thought possible.

It’s a surprise to feel so exhilarated by my own body and its abilities. My body. What a drag it’s been – what a disappointment! Sometime it just seemed like a necessary over-sized backpack for my brain. My body has been, um . . . sensitive. Asthma and allergies as a teen-ager, life-long irritable bowel syndrome that started at twenty-one after a particularly pernicious GI infection involving salmonella while living in New York City (not even after exotic travel), migraines and chronic headaches forever. Not to mention the dark cloak that swathed my whole family with a swirl of odd feelings, anxieties, phobias, and panic attacks. At times we’ve been like throwbacks to Freud’s hysterical patients who couldn’t lift an arm after seeing a snake or became obsessively aware of their tongues in their mouths.

So it’s utterly new to feel my power, hear the propulsive sound of my own grunts, and feel such a delight in making this kind of physical contact. My body is bringing me joy. I’m also blinking desperately because my eyeballs are sweating. That’s how serious an initiation I’m enduring – my eyeballs are affected.

I’m tightening my core, I’m keeping my knees bent, I’m bouncing back and forth on my feet, and I can barely breathe. I never before participated in contact sports or athletics of any kind. I have not ever dominated a younger sibling, stood up to a bully, play-wrestled with a brother, or felt my own physical strength in any way. During particularly passionate fights with lovers, I have wiped a counter clear of a dish or two, and once I tore the buttons off a man’s shirt, but I’ve never hit anyone, and the thought of it, well, the thought never occurred to me. It just wasn’t an option.

Thwack! My glove makes contact. My god, it feels good. I do it again, remembering to snap my jab right back after I throw it. This is . . .it’s . . .thrilling. I’ve never made such a profoundly clarifying sound with my fist before. To say that while I was growing up my family lacked a certain . . .athleticism . . .would be an understatement. Although in the 1950s and 60s President Kennedy put the nation on a physical fitness kick, in my home there was no concept of “fit,” except as it applied to clothing, and because we didn’t do sports, our obsessive interest in food made matters worse. My sister and I loved nothing more than to laze around watching television while consuming entire bags of Wise potato chips. I emptied boxes of animal crackers into large bowls and assembled them by size, eating the panther, the bear, and the lion first, and working my way expectantly up to the gorilla and hippo. My mother, though not the most inventive of cooks (I ate my first fresh mushroom in my twenties), could whip up a mean Duncan Hines sheet cake. Late at night my father would inhale a salami sandwich on rye with Gulden’s Spicy Brown mustard over the kitchen sink. His traveling salesman tales were punctuated by detailed descriptions of the sumptuous meals at restaurants that he put on the expense account when he entertained the jobbers. “They had a spread, my daughters…” he intoned wistfully, while we listened with rapt attention to lurid tales of deli meats, chopped liver, cocktail shrimp, blintzes, and chocolate cheesecake.

Although my father had been a track star at Thomas Jefferson High, I never even saw him walk fast. My parents both seemed worn out. Newark’s Weequahic High School had an award-winning basketball team, but I never knew anyone who played on it. (Philip Roth’s Portnoy reminds us of the classic cheer of the era: Ikey, Mikey, Jake, and Sam/We’re the boys who eat no ham/We keep matzohs in our locker! Aye, Aye, aye, Weequahic High!) In the 1940s, Roth and his buddies were still fleeing from anti-Semitic violence in the streets of Newark, especially perpetrated by kids from non-Jewish schools, and still Roth said, “I could no more smash a nose with a fist than fire a pistol into someone’s heart.”

My friends and I did play hit the penny and stoopball with the pink fuzzless tennis ball called a “Spalding” on the Newark streets but it’s not the kind of activity that produces sweat. For mysterious reasons, the Spalding sporting goods corporation took the ball off the market in the late 70s, but I’ve heard it’s being reissued. I’d like to feel one in the palm of my hand again; it holds the memories of games like “A My Name is Alice” that involved standing in place, reciting a long alliterative poem while crossing one leg over and under the bounce of the ball in sync with all the letters of the alphabet – a game for a poet, a game for a girl standing still. That was my sport.

Still, a longing remained. I could not give up on the fantasy of being more like the active girls. I peered through the slats of the venetian blinds in our den, with its view of the playground next door, and watched mournfully as the popular girls played softball. I wanted to run fast, hit hard, and wear a cute uniform. These girls seemed to know something about life I didn’t.

I wanted to move comfortably through space without feeling unsteady. Later, in high school, I read Simone de Beauvoir’s journals, in which she described having a body so strong and hungry for exercise she could barely satisfy it. She took monstrous hikes, packing a tidy little bag of plums as her sensuous reward which she savored on a picturesque bench in the French countryside.

***

I certainly never knew any boxers. In the 1960s, I marched against the Vietnam War and considered myself something of a pacifist, just like the cooler-than-cool boys in high school I coveted, who professed a fierce pacifism when I quizzed them on fantasied scenarios of danger. No, babe, I don’t think I could defend you. Peace, baby, they droned while trying to master Woody Guthrie chord progressions on acoustic guitars draped with embroidered straps.

“No one’s got any balls anymore in this nation,” my coach John often says. “It’s the worst for men – they get babied, and then they just look to be mothered.”

Thug philosophy, I think, simplistic but oddly compelling.

By the end of a boxing lesson, my sweat smells like a mixture of bitter oranges, aluminum, and old pastry. I walk over to the window ledge where I keep a collection of fluids –– and encircle a bottle of vitamin water with two giant gloved hands, like a clumsy baby. Water spurts everywhere and dribbles down my chin. John laughs, and tells me not to worry; it’s a dirty sport.

Like Roth, I grew up thinking Jews were the pale scholars, heads buried in books, funny, warm, sensitive, but definitely not outdoorsy, not physical. Jules Feiffer spoke of his “great desire to grow up” because of his understanding that “adults did not have to take gym.” A Jewish triathlon, as the joke goes, consists of “gin rummy,” then contract bridge, followed by a nap.” Woody Allen has infiltrated our collective psyche as the most influential Jewish comedian of the post World-War II era, and his persona and jokes highlight his physical vulnerability and meekness.

Yet a little known fact is that there was an impressive contingent of Jewish boxers in the early twentieth century, immigrants who struggled with the dilemma that faces all oppressed groups. Am I too much of this thing that makes me who I am? Or am I not enough of it? Artist Charles Miller, whose portraits of Jewish boxers (Benny Leonard, Barney Ross, countless others) are highly prized, says he paints these “anti-heroes” to “put blood back in their bodies again.”

When I started boxing in my mid-fifties, the country was having one long, rapturous and unending love affair with youth, and I felt sour, bitter, and dry. I approached my naked body in the mirror cautiously, like a wolf sizing up its prey, eyes narrowed, not in lustful need for food, but in….terror…. and then, it could only be confronted in sections, like a cafeteria plate (peas separated from the mashed potatoes), as each day brought a new pocket of dimpled and sagging flesh. I turned the bathroom fan off when I showered, letting the steam create a mercifully diffuse and hazy reflection in the mirror. While reaching for the toothpaste, I might glimpse just the delicate curve of an underarm, the slight indentation of a waist, and retain the sensuousness of an Impressionist painting

The slide from “miss” to “ma’am” happens gradually, like watching your dog age. You don’t notice all at once the increasing droop of the jowls, the dotting of white in the fur, the hesitation at doorways, or the occasional melancholy stare, as if he is remembering a carefree jog through a field. It all proceeds in tiny increments. One day your sweet pup is fourteen, and you are mopping up accidents and patting his head with the tender feeling of rehearsing how to let go. “Ma’am” urged me further into static waters, having waded in unknowingly, to join the aunts, grandmothers, and other desexed entities.

When I boxed, my body surprised me – it assumed unfamiliar positions eagerly, as if it were agile and strong. I felt myself bigger than life. I’d walk in the woods, in a state of happy ignorance, feeling strong, powerful, quick-footed; an animal primed to pounce if need be. Spotting a lone man near the lake, I’d think, Could I take him? Where would I start? What punch would I use? I’d stand in line at the bank, push my cart at the grocery store and size people up. Not only was it somewhat absurd, I had little to back up my fantasies.

My body began to have a double life. I had the sturdy, eager, and uncomplaining body of the training, and the after-hours body, with its plump, fleshy passivity, and its mundane aches and pains.

The first time we officially spar, John gently moves my hair back behind my ears and places the helmet onto my head. I’m being crowned, but in a dark and claustrophobic way. He starts tightening the strap at the neck. My head is now outlined in black, cheeks protected, nose and mouth poking through. I steal a glance in the mirror. It’s not attractive. I look like a chubby devotee of S&M.

Soon I find myself up against John’s body, pounding him gracelessly on his middle. I want to just lean onto him and collapse. I understand now why referees often shout “No holding!” The fighters are basically embracing each other to grab a moment’s rest.

“No! Too close, get back!” John yells.

Bop! He hits me on the side of my head. Whoosh! Arms are moving past me. He’s moving from side to side like a beast of prey, sizing me up, I try to mimic his moves, and feel idiotic. I bring my left hand out in front of me and throw it higher and more in the middle. The punch mitt was always out to the side. I look at John’s eyes, his nose, and push forward. He slips expertly. I’ve hit nothing.

“Again, again! Jab, jab one-two!”

John is not only asking me to hit him, he is reaching out and hitting me. I feel the impact, it’s never very strong, but I’m definitely being buffeted by something coming at me. John. John is coming at me. I have to be careful now. The stakes are higher. I’m trying to remember everything he ever said – protect yourself at all times, keep your hands up, cover your face, keep your right leg back, don’t drop your hands, snap back the jab, keep your composure. Breathe.

“Keep jabbing! See what’s out there!”

“What do you mean? See what’s out there?” I gasp.

“See where I am. Find your range.”

Range? It’s all meaningless. I can’t get at him, whether I’m far back or close up.

Clang! Ten-second warning. My reprieve is on its way. I leap up, move towards John. “Here we go! See what’s out there!” John is batting me about.

Suddenly I’m ready, and I jerk forward a bit as if to jab with my left and then bam! I’ve thrown my right and hit John right on his nose, right in the middle of his face.

“Good! That’s it, baby, nice. You faked me out.”

Giddy with my success, I start flailing and try for a left hook on the side of his head. He ducks. I’ve almost spun myself around in the process.

“Never turn your back. Never. Or you’ll wake up in the locker room.”

I’m dazzled. I hit this man. I have made contact. It feels amazing.

Clang! The final bell. John removes my headgear. I am dripping with sweat. We embrace, and I’m crying.

After the lesson I pack up and drive down to the Milford Shopping Mall, where I often go after boxing to have a snack, browse at Borders, or occasionally go to a movie. This time I set up my laptop in front of the fireplace at Panera’s, eat some lukewarm pumpkin soup, check my email, and within several minutes, I am drifting off to sleep, thinking about how I’m often too cerebral, cognitively flooded, introspective, dreamy, ambivalent, paralyzed by nuances. When John teaches me to slip, weave, block, and feint, what am I literally doing? I’m getting my head out of the way! I’m leaving obsessions behind and entering a state of flow: all things immediate and with consequences.

A buzzer goes off signaling that an order is ready, and I awake thinking I’ve got another round to go. I hope I wasn’t snoring. I know I still look the same, like a pleasant middle-aged woman enjoying a bite to eat, but I have a victory stored deep inside me that only John and I know, and I’m going to nurture it and savor it, and it’s going to grow.

I can feel it inside, flexing its fingers and toes like a tiny baby, moving into my future.

***

So when people hear I’m boxing and say with a mixture of curiosity and concern, “Oooh, how can you do that?” I wonder, how can they ask that?

Compared to the grotesque excesses of the larger world, boxing is an elegant containment of aggression, a stage for dramas both universal and exquisitely personal, and I’ve come to love its clarity.

Most surprisingly, it got me out of my head and into my body, and there, in my body, I got smarter again.

This essay is adapted from Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind, SUNY Press, 2010 and appeared in Seneca Review, “The Lyric Body Issue,” Spring 2010.

Binnie Klein maintains a private psychotherapy practice in New Haven, CT, and is a Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University.  Her memoir, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press) came out in 2010. She has a weekly show at WPKN-FM (and wpkn.org), Thursdays, 10 am until Noon called A Miniature World.
 

Shirley: a Novel

Shirley: a Novel

I sat on my bed, against the pillows, and I began to wonder what the house knew, what it had watched, whether it believed in me more than Fred or liked us bot the same? How did I measure up to Sally, or she to Shirley or Shirley to Stanley? I floated somewhere between relaxation and sleep, and I felt the pulsing of the house’s life begin to shrub inside me as if we shared a single heart. Not that the walls spoke, nothing so insane, but I could feel the history of footsteps treading its floors. The slamming of doors, the rumpled bed linens, the broken glasses and books left abandoned by bedsides, the arguments and the laughter, the spilled drinks and worn socks and burnt stews and crumpled pages. I smelled flowers and semen, vomit and sweat, the sour scent of cigarette smoke, the achy sweetness of bourbon in the bottom of a glass come morning. History, the history of lives here lived, our history. The thought was comforting, like the monotonous churn of the waterwheel down in the village reservoir, over and over and over so that crashing water lost its violence, became its own continuing momentum—

thoughts into words into pictures and i closed my eyes. my brain calmed, slowed, foot soldier words aligned themselves in sentences nonsense thoughts i’d never thought such things and as i woozed and floated embryonic in the clock-ticking electricity humming heat rising silence i began to know, to know—

i know who i love, i dreamed it, dreamed the words, was i waking or sleeping, i know i know

stanley—i said to him—stanley, stanela

but i was dead, how was it so, that i was dead and i was her and so i told him, stanley listen

when i was alive, i told him, and we were happy (decades of this, and weren’t we very?), we made a vow that whichever of us went first would be cremated, and i sit in a jar on the dresser in our bedroom, keeping an eye on things.

was i waking or sleeping, i dreamed. i dreamed i was shirley, i dreamed i was shirley. i knew i was shirley i was. shirley

“you, you’ll remarry,” i told you. “men do. you won’t like to be alone.” there was no dig in this (i fucked dylan thomas on our porch, did i ever tell you? there was a party, and all our friends drunk as lords inside and it was winter. too much gin and i took him to the porch, where he grabbed icicles off the roff and tickled my neck with the cold end, then licked my frozen skin. and me, he lifted my woolen dress and drew down my tights, and yes, he fucked me, stanley, on our very own porch with you inside and some eager undergraduate stroking your shoulders as you held forth. but dylan thomas, stanley, dylan thomas—now that was a man worth holding against skin chilled and rubbery, dylan thomas—). i only wanted you to know i would not mind.

“don’t love her more than me,” i said, and you studied me, noting the brittleness in my tone, unsure whether i was about to lose my temper.

“impossible.”

Pages 195 to 197 of Shirley: A Novel
by kind permission of the author.
Copyright © 2014 Susan Scarf Merrell.
Published by PLUME, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

It Is Still Beautiful To Hear The Heart Beat*

It Is Still Beautiful To Hear The Heart Beat*

Artwork:
Supernova Angels for the Return of the Light
by Margo Berdeshevsky

It's 3 AM. The crows on one leg or none are already starving for infant nests. A few leaves hang on still. A prayer of godwits enters the dream from the upper left quadrant. No, I tell the dream-maker,

no, make it a lamentation of swans. The times demand it. Instead, I’m given an affliction of starlings tearing the leaves that remain as they fly, and the dream is ruined. What’s real is in bed with me,

mounts me, slides in like a husband entering with the unquestioned privilege of his sexual entitlement. Drowsy, I open my thighs to him, to it, to the day. To my habit of saying “Accept it, I’ll

die tonight,” each night when I pull the quilts for sleep, so that I can practice belief. The next day is new. Always. Fair or fetid, bring with me only what I dare to remember. Opening new eyes, there is

the baby in her crib, her shape nothing I wanted. Waking is waking. What’s real is the child with her badly sculpted brain, her damaged possibility of dream. What’s real is our day in a diseased year and

the baby has come out wrong. Blame it on the chemicals. Blame it on the sting of the genus Aedes aegypti, white stripes on her legs, a marking in the form of a lyre on her upper thorax. Say that she

comes at dawn. What’s real is I was another one of the harmed, the infant, more so, but less harmed than the worse harmed than we.

Awake, it is still beautiful to hear the heart beat, I repeat. A prayer of godwits hovers at my door.

I am so deeply awake.

Previously published in Plume 

Margo Berdeshevsky, born in New York city, often writes and lives in Paris. Before The Drought, her newest collection, is from Glass Lyre Press, September 2017. (In an early version, it was finalist for the National Poetry Series.) Berdeshevsky is author as well of Between Soul & Stone, and But a Passage in Wilderness, (Sheep Meadow Press.) Her book of illustrated stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, received the first Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award for Fiction Collective Two (University of Alabama Press.) Other honors include the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, a portfolio of her poems in the Aeolian Harp Anthology #1 (Glass Lyre Press,) the & Now Anthology of the Best of Innovative Writing, and numerous Pushcart Prize nominations. Her works appear in the American journals: Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The Collagist, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Southern Humanities Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, The American Journal of Poetry, & Jacar Press—One, among many others. In Europe her works have been seen in The Poetry Review (UK) The Wolf, Europe, Siècle 21, & Confluences Poétiques. A multi-genre novel, Vagrant, and a hybrid of poems, Square Black Key, wait at the gate. She may be found reading from her books in London, Paris, New York City, or somewhere new in the world.
Her Letters from Paris in Poetry International.
http://www.full-stop.net/2018/01/26/interviews/devin-kelly/quintan-ana-wikswo-and-margo-berdeshevsky/

My Creative Process
Can you tell us a little about the origins of “No Modifier At All” and why you wrote it?
I believe these questions can be answered in the paragraphs below (emended from a piece I also wrote for its publication in the journal “Plume” (included in a section called The Poets Speak.” ) :
Was it before or after I read words of a Swedish poet who wrote between worlds, and in the boundary between them? I don’t honestly know or remember. Because I also have written between worlds, timelines being nonlinear for me much of the time. But also because I am often a poet who asks this question in her poems, and in her life: how close is death, how near is a god … these particular lines struck a chord.

*“It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
but often the shadow seems more real than the body.”

Tomas Tranströmer  
from “After A Death” in The Half Finished Heaven

And was it before or after the poem began to shape for me that the words I culled from Tranströmer became a title? Do I begin with a title or end with one. Either. Both.
In Robert Bly’s introduction to The Half Finished Heaven, he says of the poet whose words I’d read that even as a very young writer Tranströmer was aware that the dead “wanted to have their portraits painted.” And I had—been thinking about infants who were dying or twisted by the Zika virus, about their helpless, stung-in-the-dark, or fucked and infected mothers.
Did I think of these other words? “And what is empty turns its face to us  /and whispers  / I am not empty I am open…” Yes. Before, or after. I don’t know which. Time is often nonlinear to me.
Was I, in the poem that was in the process of becoming—becoming such a woman with such an infected infant in her crib, in my imagination? Or such a woman opening her legs to the man who would infect? In my somewhere in the dark—musing, that is what was happening. And the fear I have for our world and what threatens us, tiny, unseen, until it manifests, was finding language. And Tranströmer seemed possibly to whisper. And the poem moved from fetus to infant in its crib.
At this moment, in early 2018, the first case of sexually transmitted Zika infection has been confirmed in Los Angeles County. The completed poem is one in a new as yet unpublished manuscript titled “Square Black Key,” a poetic hybrid, that marries my poems and prose and photographs. At the moment, the poem lives on page 59. And IT IS STILL BEAUTIFUL TO HEAR THE HEART BEAT.

What was your path to literature? 
I began my life with words as an actress, first. I was being raised in New York City, in the theatre world, and my first ambitions was to be an actress. So Shakespeare and Shaw and Tennessee Williams were all my early whisperers. I also wrote very bad poems in solitude, but I was developing an ear for the music of finer writing...and I knew I loved the best. Eventually, I knew that I wanted to follow a call to truths as best I could. And, in the guise of characters, I learned, that such a word as truth had many voices, not always my own. I learned to listen to other voices and to find my way to speak for them as well.

When did you realize you were a writer?
When I was able to stand in public and to speak my words aloud and to feel the quiet in those listening...
I knew that feeling as an actress when I was offering words spoken by another. But when I felt such a silence in the room in response to my own words, I dared to believe that I was a writer who had words to share that came from my own deepest wells.

Were you born into a family of writers or artists?
There were many shelves of books in my growing up home, and I was taken to the theatre and to museums and concerts in New York City, and later, in Paris. My mother was a woman who “wanted” to write, but I think she lacked the confidence to do so. She lived more in her head, and she had much she might have written if she had dared to do so. 

It was your mother who encouraged you to read books?
My mother read me three pages of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn each night before `I had reached kindergarten. I listened. I heard. And she played classical music on the radio. By fifth grade I had one British-born teacher who read us The Wind In The Willows aloud. I wanted her to never stop. I don’t remember what the first Shakespearean play was that I attended—but I knew I would read more and more. I loved the language. I wanted to speak those words aloud as well.

You've studied under some pretty remarkable teachers and schools.
I went to the `High School of `Performing Arts in NYC (after auditioning with a monologue from Shaw’s St Joan.) That school, later known as Fame High School in the film years on...that school helped to shape my esthetics. I learned how hard one had to work to dare to be a voice in one’s time. And I learned that both the beauties and the sordid both were elements to be deeply studied and communicated without prejudice or compromise or inhibition. To be an artist of any kind, I was learning...meant being very naked in public. And eventually, I studied acting under Lee Strasberg of the Actors’ Studio, and learned more profoundly what it mean to risk vulnerability (sometimes too much so.) But again, my esthetics were being shaped, and would continue to push me, and to guide me further.

Which books do you remember most fondly?
A Child’s Garden of Verses, Milne’s When We Were Very Young, Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland & Alice Through the Looking Glass, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Sturgeon’s More Than Human, Eliot’s Prufrock... and more...and more...

Which writers, teachers, friends supported you on your path to becoming a writer?
I first heard an interpretation teacher at Northwestern University, Lila Heston, read Gerard Manly Hopkins out loud. I fell in love with such poetry, such experiment, such holiness. The science fiction genius, Theodore Sturgeon was a writer who whispered to me that I could also write fiction, and remain a poet. He showed me how a passage in one of his stories was written in perfect iambic pentameter. I never forgot that. As I mentioned, Strasberg was my teacher in the art of acting. His guidance toward telling the truth of one’s being— was signal to me.

I never graduated from a university, although I attended two, Northwestern and NYU. But I am in many ways an autodidact. My reading is both eclectic and voluntary, and in some ways, I am still pleased about that. The freedom I have felt to explore and to invent my complex paths in literature makes me a bit different I suppose. And I am still, still, still...learning. I still have much to learn. Why not?

Are you a teacher?
I have taught in the “Poets in the Schools” program in America, when there was still an NEA grant to support that wonderful project.

What works do you recommend to your students?
Everything. Read. read read.

What do you hope your students take away from your classes? What advice do you give them? Be brave. Be a little braver than you imagined you might ever be. Stand up to be counted in these times. These times are more devastating in so many ways than we ever imagined. And yet, here we are. What can we do but to become voices in our time? I take such a challenge and I offer it.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you? · For you, what makes literature distinct from all other art forms?
I am also a photographer. I very much like seeing the world through the metaphors that image offers me...both in language and in shape and in form and in light.

What are you working on now?
I am increasingly drawn to multi-genre work. Not being forced into one box or one shelf.
I have a new hybrid manuscript that is looking for a home, it merges my collaged photographic images and poems and short prose, all reflecting one another in a variety of looking glasses. the title is “Square Black Key.” And until it is between covers...it is still clay in my hands and words in my heart...so `I am still working in it.
Also, there are new poems in my notebooks, some are more baked as edible bread than others.

Do you have a recently published or forthcoming book or project you’d like to share?
My newest published book is BEFORE THE DROUGHT from Glass Lyre Press, which can also be found on Amazon.
I am admittedly proud that it is in the world right now. I feel it to be a book for the cries and whispers of our time. And I hope it will be widely read.

What are your hopes/concerns for the future of literature?
We need it (literature) as we need one another...more than ever before, I believe. We need our many voices. In harmonies, and off-key! Our many and maybe conflicting wisdoms. We need to listen to one another. And we need to refuse to be dumbed down.

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
I used to hate graffiti when I saw it defacing beautiful architecture. Then one day I saw the colors and the yearnings of its perpetrators...the yearnings to be seen and heard outside of the venues of the establishment. And I began to accept it. I feel similarly about many changes. Acceptance is one path to enlightenment. Even the acceptance of modes we first have deemed unacceptable. Many of the new technologies are inspiring, and some need to be learned. I use a computer for my image works in ways that a darkroom never allowed. I taught myself Photoshop and use it as I once did a darkroom, only more. I type and retype and file in ways that my old shoe boxes of poems never allowed. I collage and steal from myself to include in another and another page. There are reasons to fight the big stores and online sellers, and the loss of the beautiful and cherished small bookshops. Self-publishing is a mode that some follow. I prefer to be published by those whose other choices I know and respect as editors. But that’s me. There are as many reasons to open ourselves to something new. I hope to hell there will be another springtime...
Once upon a time, printing was new! Once upon a time, paintings of the “profane” were not allowed. Only the sacred dared show its face. Once upon a time...I was new. (Maybe `I still am. )

Considering the current state of the world, what are your hopes for our future on this planet? What are your views on the importance of creativity and the humanities?
I am not optimistic about our chaos, our wars, our marches toward illiberalism or fascism or racism or our inhumanity to one another. I cannot be so. And yet, I write. And yet I walk in the river of a life. And yet I make my small drops into the huge seas and call them poems, and call them cries and whispers for being the best “Margo” I can be, today. If we fail, we fail together. If we save ourselves, it will be because more of us have dared to create something finer, kinder. I don’t always or even usually know if or when prayer is effective. but in my own silences, I pray. And with my poems...I whisper, or speak, or shout, as I can. I was born with such a yearning. I hope such a yearning remains with me until I die.

No Modifier At All

No Modifier At All

None. No one is not connected to someone else in the city who was hurt that night or dead. It is

the no-degrees of separation or escape. Or times we’ve been borne to. Everyone knows someone

who knew at least one in a city of millions. Open terraces under streetlamps and a fingernail of

moon. Tables of friends. A concert by The Eagles of Death Metal and autumn and blood and no

breath and the young. The rifles and a will to end something. Paris, for lovers . . . I open my door to a man I’ve been calling all this week—to fix my door. Hamid, thin as a pencil, flaming as a showgirl.

A face from the projects. A face from the once-upon-colonies. My lock no longer works. These are days when one thinks of closing doors. He stands in my hall, eyes like tunnels and sewers that bend

under the city. Last Saturday there was a carnival bulging in those tunnels. People vowed to dance and to wear costumes and to live unless they die. I wore silk. Rented gowns, and feathers, and masks.

You had to be invited. Steps, underneath our city. I wore red. Who are you, someone whispered in

the dark. I don’t know, is anyone’s reply. . . I’m so sorry I have not answered you earlier in the week, Madame.

My sister. The baby one. She is —, was one of— in the café. She came to the birthday for her lover. Her name was Djamila. I had photographed candles and flowers left for the murdered in front of that café, the day

after. I remember that name. Djamila, I tell him. His eyes are sewers, tunnels. He cries. I cry. Destiny, he mumbles so softly I am not sure I have heard. He pulls his satchel of tools into my hall to repair

my door. There is a noise somewhere, that is too loud. We are strangers. He has come to fix my door. Holding one another, until it is over. No modifier, at all.

for the Paris massacres, November 2015

This poem appears in Before the Drought from Glass Lyre Press, 2017

 

Margo-author-pic-b+w.jpg

Margo Berdeshevsky, born in New York city, often writes and lives in Paris. Before The Drought, her newest collection, is from Glass Lyre Press, September 2017. (In an early version, it was finalist for the National Poetry Series.) Berdeshevsky is author as well of Between Soul & Stone, and But a Passage in Wilderness, (Sheep Meadow Press.) Her book of illustrated stories, Beautiful Soon Enough, received the first Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Award for Fiction Collective Two (University of Alabama Press.) Other honors include the Robert H. Winner Award from the Poetry Society of America, a portfolio of her poems in the Aeolian Harp Anthology #1 (Glass Lyre Press,) the & Now Anthology of the Best of Innovative Writing, and numerous Pushcart Prize nominations. Her works appear in the American journals: Poetry International, New Letters, Kenyon Review, Plume, The Collagist, Tupelo Quarterly, Gulf Coast, Southern Humanities Review, Pleiades, Prairie Schooner, The American Journal of Poetry, & Jacar Press—One, among many others. In Europe her works have been seen in The Poetry Review (UK) The Wolf, Europe, Siècle 21, & Confluences Poétiques. A multi-genre novel, Vagrant, and a hybrid of poems, Square Black Key, wait at the gate. She may be found reading from her books in London, Paris, New York City, or somewhere new in the world.
Her Letters from Paris in Poetry International.
http://www.full-stop.net/2018/01/26/interviews/devin-kelly/quintan-ana-wikswo-and-margo-berdeshevsky/

My Creative Process
Can you tell us a little about the origins of “No Modifier At All” and why you wrote it?

The inspiration was clear. I was living in Paris during the 2015 massacres, and I felt a call and a need to speak of them, as a poet and as a citizen and as a mere human on the planet in these times. The poem was written quickly, pouring from my being. The title, while seemingly abstract, speaks to an event, a memory, a fact, that cannot be modified. Also, linguistically, I gave myself an additional tsk in the writing...to do so using no modifiers. That kind of control perhaps led to a tighter and more precise expression than I might otherwise have achieved. I have read the poem in public numbers of times since it’s initial writing, and since its publication, and always I want to say I wish the time had passed when I needed to read it. But of course, that is not true. The time is now. Still.

What was your path to literature? 
I began my life with words as an actress, first. I was being raised in New York City, in the theatre world, and my first ambitions was to be an actress. So Shakespeare and Shaw and Tennessee Williams were all my early whisperers. I also wrote very bad poems in solitude, but I was developing an ear for the music of finer writing...and I knew I loved the best. Eventually, I knew that I wanted to follow a call to truths as best I could. And, in the guise of characters, I learned, that such a word as truth had many voices, not always my own. I learned to listen to other voices and to find my way to speak for them as well.

When did you realize you were a writer?
When I was able to stand in public and to speak my words aloud and to feel the quiet in those listening...
I knew that feeling as an actress when I was offering words spoken by another. But when I felt such a silence in the room in response to my own words, I dared to believe that I was a writer who had words to share that came from my own deepest wells.

Were you born into a family of writers or artists?
There were many shelves of books in my growing up home, and I was taken to the theatre and to museums and concerts in New York City, and later, in Paris. My mother was a woman who “wanted” to write, but I think she lacked the confidence to do so. She lived more in her head, and she had much she might have written if she had dared to do so. 

It was your mother who encouraged you to read books?
My mother read me three pages of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn each night before `I had reached kindergarten. I listened. I heard. And she played classical music on the radio. By fifth grade I had one British-born teacher who read us The Wind In The Willows aloud. I wanted her to never stop. I don’t remember what the first Shakespearean play was that I attended—but I knew I would read more and more. I loved the language. I wanted to speak those words aloud as well.

You've studied under some pretty remarkable teachers and schools.
I went to the `High School of `Performing Arts in NYC (after auditioning with a monologue from Shaw’s St Joan.) That school, later known as Fame High School in the film years on...that school helped to shape my esthetics. I learned how hard one had to work to dare to be a voice in one’s time. And I learned that both the beauties and the sordid both were elements to be deeply studied and communicated without prejudice or compromise or inhibition. To be an artist of any kind, I was learning...meant being very naked in public. And eventually, I studied acting under Lee Strasberg of the Actors’ Studio, and learned more profoundly what it mean to risk vulnerability (sometimes too much so.) But again, my esthetics were being shaped, and would continue to push me, and to guide me further.

Which books do you remember most fondly?
A Child’s Garden of Verses, Milne’s When We Were Very Young, Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland & Alice Through the Looking Glass, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Sturgeon’s More Than Human, Eliot’s Prufrock... and more...and more...

Which writers, teachers, friends supported you on your path to becoming a writer?
I first heard an interpretation teacher at Northwestern University, Lila Heston, read Gerard Manly Hopkins out loud. I fell in love with such poetry, such experiment, such holiness. The science fiction genius, Theodore Sturgeon was a writer who whispered to me that I could also write fiction, and remain a poet. He showed me how a passage in one of his stories was written in perfect iambic pentameter. I never forgot that. As I mentioned, Strasberg was my teacher in the art of acting. His guidance toward telling the truth of one’s being— was signal to me.

I never graduated from a university, although I attended two, Northwestern and NYU. But I am in many ways an autodidact. My reading is both eclectic and voluntary, and in some ways, I am still pleased about that. The freedom I have felt to explore and to invent my complex paths in literature makes me a bit different I suppose. And I am still, still, still...learning. I still have much to learn. Why not?

Are you a teacher?
I have taught in the “Poets in the Schools” program in America, when there was still an NEA grant to support that wonderful project.

What works do you recommend to your students?
Everything. Read. read read.

What do you hope your students take away from your classes? What advice do you give them? Be brave. Be a little braver than you imagined you might ever be. Stand up to be counted in these times. These times are more devastating in so many ways than we ever imagined. And yet, here we are. What can we do but to become voices in our time? I take such a challenge and I offer it.

What other art forms and disciplines interest you? · For you, what makes literature distinct from all other art forms?
I am also a photographer. I very much like seeing the world through the metaphors that image offers me...both in language and in shape and in form and in light.

What are you working on now?
I am increasingly drawn to multi-genre work. Not being forced into one box or one shelf.
I have a new hybrid manuscript that is looking for a home, it merges my collaged photographic images and poems and short prose, all reflecting one another in a variety of looking glasses. the title is “Square Black Key.” And until it is between covers...it is still clay in my hands and words in my heart...so `I am still working in it.
Also, there are new poems in my notebooks, some are more baked as edible bread than others.

Do you have a recently published or forthcoming book or project you’d like to share?
My newest published book is BEFORE THE DROUGHT from Glass Lyre Press, which can also be found on Amazon.
I am admittedly proud that it is in the world right now. I feel it to be a book for the cries and whispers of our time. And I hope it will be widely read.

What are your hopes/concerns for the future of literature?
We need it (literature) as we need one another...more than ever before, I believe. We need our many voices. In harmonies, and off-key! Our many and maybe conflicting wisdoms. We need to listen to one another. And we need to refuse to be dumbed down.

What are your views on the future of communication and how technology is changing the way we communicate, read, interact with the world and our imaginations?
I used to hate graffiti when I saw it defacing beautiful architecture. Then one day I saw the colors and the yearnings of its perpetrators...the yearnings to be seen and heard outside of the venues of the establishment. And I began to accept it. I feel similarly about many changes. Acceptance is one path to enlightenment. Even the acceptance of modes we first have deemed unacceptable. Many of the new technologies are inspiring, and some need to be learned. I use a computer for my image works in ways that a darkroom never allowed. I taught myself Photoshop and use it as I once did a darkroom, only more. I type and retype and file in ways that my old shoe boxes of poems never allowed. I collage and steal from myself to include in another and another page. There are reasons to fight the big stores and online sellers, and the loss of the beautiful and cherished small bookshops. Self-publishing is a mode that some follow. I prefer to be published by those whose other choices I know and respect as editors. But that’s me. There are as many reasons to open ourselves to something new. I hope to hell there will be another springtime...
Once upon a time, printing was new! Once upon a time, paintings of the “profane” were not allowed. Only the sacred dared show its face. Once upon a time...I was new. (Maybe `I still am. )

Considering the current state of the world, what are your hopes for our future on this planet? What are your views on the importance of creativity and the humanities?
I am not optimistic about our chaos, our wars, our marches toward illiberalism or fascism or racism or our inhumanity to one another. I cannot be so. And yet, I write. And yet I walk in the river of a life. And yet I make my small drops into the huge seas and call them poems, and call them cries and whispers for being the best “Margo” I can be, today. If we fail, we fail together. If we save ourselves, it will be because more of us have dared to create something finer, kinder. I don’t always or even usually know if or when prayer is effective. but in my own silences, I pray. And with my poems...I whisper, or speak, or shout, as I can. I was born with such a yearning. I hope such a yearning remains with me until I die.

Marooned Bells (for picture credits)

Marooned Bells (for picture credits)

VARIOUS forms of picture credits and where to position them.
Picture credits which are public domain, CC0 or which we have direct permission to use without linked picture acknowledgements should be inserted in the top right in italics. Unless there is a citation, and then it should go underneath the citation, e.g.

 "Quote by writer."
–WRITER'S NAME
Name of book or "Story", etc.


Artwork:
Red Rhythms by Margaret Garrett


If there is more detail, e.g., oil on canvas...you can include it, but it's not necessary.
Artwork: is chiefly necessary when the artist's name is not widely known and might be confused with the author of the story.

e.g. It's not necessary to use "Artwork" for Irises by Van Gogh
Unless perhaps the picture credit is a CC or Fair Use and appears far away from the image at the foot of the page. It's also possible for you to go in and name images on actual photoshop files since it's not possible to type photo captions under the principal/top image, but this takes a little time and maybe best to spend that time on other things. 

If an artwork is CC 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0... please give picture credits* at the foot of the page because we find the links required distracting.


Marooned on a couch brown raft -rocking lle-de-France
Sullen blackboard jazz blowin from across the navy New Orleans seas. 

Slo-mo angels doing somersaults on my torn red curtain reverie
in these broken Halloween bones and mask
I rummage through the ashes that crashed me into
this pink, new golden face dawn..

floating past jagged-edged icicles into the night melting
chocolate Clark Terry’s “They Didn’t Believe Me.”

Love lost is something we can never afford
head stuck on a starboard mast
crashing through storm waves painted in dead dreams. 

And feeling that familiar frost-bitten regret again- that we never
consummated the close quarters of then,,,what are regrets other than dead
sea gulls floating in a ghost soup sea.

*It may be best to include more public domain or CC images and to avoid using many images which are Fair Use. It's allowable, especially since we're a non-profit educational initiative, but they may have additional restrictions as to size, etc., so it just seems easier to choose public domain or CC.

CC and Fair use images should go at the end of the story, like this:

Title of Artwork by Artist (CC 1.0)
Title of Artwork by Artist (CC 2.0)
Title of Artwork by Artist (CC 3.0)
Title of Artwork by Artist (CC 4.0)
Title of Artwork by Artist (Fair use)
 

Name of the Artwork, Artist’s Name (CC 1.0 or 2.0 or 3.0… Fair Use and link to appropriate page, see below)

Here are the links for easy reference:

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/1.0/
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

 

The Path of Empathy

The Path of Empathy

“When did the left foot stop walking with the right?
–FU SCHROEDER
Green Gulf Ranch, California


Head swollen, eyes still blackened and green
from injuries sustained in a skirmish—
I turn to meditation         

My body   this old dog
finds a spot to rest
it is my mind   that rattles
like a snake in a bamboo tube  

Is it not the same with war and peace?
Within   without
my country  your country
I’m right   you’re wrong
Hsssssssss

Many go to war two by two—
left foot   right foot
left foot   right foot
forgetting they are One.
Others—yogis
may cross the entire universe
without ever having left

Every day
I put one breath after the other
just as Someone Else  
puts the other breath before
Breathing out  breathing in–
the world becomes larger
the world becomes smaller--
continuously living  continually dying  

On stage   online   on website blogs:
message in a bottle—
see me  hear me  feel me touch me,
screams a disappearing world in high definition
while I  in my easy chair feed these pages
with bite-size impressions.

3,000 Burmese monks walk barefoot
in protest of their government
3,000 Burmese monks walk barefoot
with Jesus in the desert
walk barefoot
with Buddha in the forest
walk barefoot
with Moses on the mountain

The earth is moving
and still I sit
The mountains are moving- 
they are running beside the rivers
But I do not budge--
I hear but I do not listen
I am liquid says the snake your river flows within
I am skin
says the snake  you can peel me like a glove
I am  mindful
  says the snake  you must change 
tobe changed.

‘’When did the left foot stop walking with the right?’’
When did you stop becoming me?

There are many languages
but there is only one tongue
When I opened up my mouth and heard myself scream
I could feel the dry explosion in the squeeze of my throat.
I could taste the brain’s bitterness on the tip of my tongue
When I opened up my mouth and heard myself scream
a thousand consonants like stars flew in different directions.
Consonants gagged on spittle and yesterday’s dust
consonants gagged on consonants
and in no particular order

When I opened up my mouth and heard myself scream
I knew   then   that they would want to blindfold  all my mirrors
and question them until they cracked!
Soon    they are sticking bamboo shoots
under the nails of this sentence to extract its full meaning.
But I do not budge
I won’t give up the vowels

I WON”T GIVE UP THE VOWELS!!!

I   a large toad   growing larger on my cushion
transforming in mid-air… nightmare into dream
Eyes that stutter with all the old stories--
the history of my life
written across my bruised body in Braille  

Where is Kindness?
with her thousand fingertips
to trace the shadow of our suffering
and soothe its moan?
What have they done with Quon Yin?
with her thousand arms and cameras flashing–
eyes rolling in the palms of her Hand
eyes to record and to remember. ..
what we leave out!

3,000 Burmese monks walk barefoot
in protest of their government
while I    a large toad    a leap of faith
go hopping on one foot across the Universe
across the only One path I know—
the path of empathy

My mother (breathing out  breathing in)
rolled bandages in basements
with women who wore numbers on their arms

My father (left foot   right foot)
could never step into anyone else’s shoes
When he died…they had to cut off both his feet  

‘’When did the left foot stop walking with the right?’’
When did I stop…becoming you?

Antonia Alexandra Klimenko was first introduced on the BBC and to the literary world by the legendary Tambimuttu of Poetry London–-publisher of T.S. Eliot, Henry Miller and Bob Dylan, to name a few. After his death, it was his friend the late great Kathleen Raine who took an interest in her writing and encouraged her to publish. Although her manuscript was orphaned upon “Tambi”s passing, her poems and correspondence have been included in his Special Collections at Northwestern University. A former San Francisco Poetry Slam Champion, her works are widely published in journals and anthologies, among them:  XXI Century World Literature (in which she represents France), CounterPunch, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology, The Rumpus, Atlanta Review; Big Bridge, Levure Litteraire, The Opiate, Iodine Poetry Journal,  Strangers in Paris, Paris Lit Up, Vox Populi, Occupy Poetry (in which she is distinguished as an American Poet) and Maintenant: Journal of Contemporary Dada Writing and Art archived at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C and in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She is the Writer/Poet in Residence for SpokenWord Paris.

alexandra-Klimenko.jpg

MY CREATIVE PROCESS
Interview adapted from a conversation with Linda Ibbotson.

What brought you to Paris, city of writers, artists and musicians?

My brother. I hadn’t seen him since I was 11 years old and, finally, I was 19 and old enough to travel. I was grateful that he had chosen Paris, as Paris had always been at the top of my short list of places that I had longed to visit, and for the usual reasons— the light, the architecture, the culture, the community of artists.  The notion that even if you made but a modest living, you might enjoy the abundance of beauty and spirit.  I like to think, also, that it was fate. 
 

Which is your favorite café/ Parisian haunt?

For outdoor haunts:  There’s a place at the river’s edge on the Isle Saint Louis that I am very fond of. Also, the Jardin du Luxembourg.  Indoor: The light tiled Moroccan patio of Salon de The de La Grande Mosquee on sunny days, the shaded room of La Palette on rainy.
 

What motivates you to write and your influences?

The desire to transcend. To share and/or reflect beauty. To heal, to process an experience that might have been less than wonderful and to create positive energy from it. To connect with self and with others, to share thoughts and ideals which make us most human.  Writing encourages empathy as we imagine what it must be like to be in someone else’s shoes. I also enjoy the art of expression, trying to find the better messenger to convey meaning.  Poetry, like music, opens a portal to the mystery of understanding without our fully comprehending.  It brings me closer to Spirit.

And, of course, you never know who you might meet along the way. For instance, I was invited to a rather surreal soiree here in Paris where I couldn’t help but notice a charismatic artist with jet-black hair {and an unreasonably wide but charming moustache) wearing a satin pirate shirt topped off by a small leashed monkey sitting on his shoulder. He spoke to me towards the end of the evening. Told me he had noticed me…that I shouldn’t smile too much…that a woman must be mysterious.  Our brief meeting inspired me—years later– to write ‘’One evening, stand on the sky and learn to paint your world without a wooden frame. Then, climb into the painting.’’
 

Writers you admire and who influence your own poetic style?

I admire Michael Rothenberg, of 100 Thousand Poets for Change as a Living Poem.  He reached out to me when he heard I was ill and suggested I apply for a grant to Poets in Need, which I gratefully received. He reminds us that communion, communication and community can effect change and transformation in the world. As for writing style—Dostoyevsky, Rilke, e.e. cummings, Anne Sexton, James Wright.
 

What is your favorite line from one of your poems?

This is like Sophie’s Choice haha, as all of our creations are like our children.  Ok, if I must…
And, still the soul’s marrow
like my own bone’s thinning
moves through and beyond  

the fading bruise of my existence

Your goals and aspirations?

To get my collections of poems published. To finish my play, which I’m afraid is all play and no work right now. I had an opportunity to be published by the legendary Tambimuttu of Poetry London.  I even made a recording for him under the Apple Record label as he had gone into business with The Beatles at the tail-end of the 70’s.  The magazine was then called Poetry London / Apple Magazine. However, I decided I wanted to delay the publication in order to offer, perhaps, more inspired work and when Tambi died the manuscript was orphaned.  I only began to submit my work to journals in the last 7 years.  Now, as I approach 70, I do sincerely wish to find good homes for my poetic offspring.  I suppose it might help, haha,  if I sent them out into the world.