Sadly, Hannah Stone is stepping down as Co-Editor here at Algebra of Owls. She has done a fantastic job during her tenure for which we are very grateful, and wish her all the best with all her other poetry activities.
Our current batch of submissions (the window is closing on 30th June) wlll see me and Nick Allen joined by Leeds poet Mark Connors as guest editor, who has stepped up at short notice to fill the breach. We will be looking to firm up the appointment of a permanent second Co-Editor in July.
Finally, my own choice as best of the best is Anosmia by Kitty Coles.
Any Editor (or this one, certainly) that has to read hundreds of submitted poems every month is going to be delighted by work that is slant. Of the five senses this poem could have been written about she chose smell which is far from an obvious choice, and it piques the reader’s interest immediately because of that (the novel Perfume by Patrick Suskind also benefited greatly from the sheer originality of the book’s premise).
There is also great use of language and imagery, but perhaps best of all we are allowed to observe the interplay between husband and wife which comes across as utterly authentic and intimate. And by using that interplay she shows and not tells. Much better than a lazy poem where we are simply instructed by someone writing a poem how it feels to lose your sense of smell – that would bar a reader from participation in the poem relegating them to a passive mode which, usually, would make a poem uninteresting to read.
In short, she nailed it.
I ask my husband to describe my new perfume
(because I have no sense of smell)
and he reports it stinks of princesses.
He has told me that earthworms reek raw meat red
and the blossom clustering the prunus
is sweet, scented the way cold petals feel.
Incense is twilight and Christmas stirred together.
The sea’s like white salt tastes but often
mixed with a lugubrious undertow of dirt.
The cat’s like a clean coat, a certain crispness,
and snow’s bouquet is nothing but it makes
a faint increase in every other fragrance.
When I was sickest, he said that my flesh smelt
like tree-roots washed by rain but, nowadays,
it’s pale and yielding like buttercream.
Kitty’s poems have been widely published. She is one of the two winners of the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize 2016 and the winning pamphlet, Seal Wife, has just been published. Her website is here.
My other co-editor has singled out How to be Deposed by Elya Braden. This was a zeitgeist poem, picking up on the #metoo movement in a very inventive way. It was the Editor’s Choice winner picked by Antony Dunn (whose original comments are here).
Topicality is problematic unless you have a pretty quick turnaround with submissions, and usually we find that our normal one-month windows and fast processing allow for the odd one to creep in, with the scope for occasional poems that verge on the political (and I would argue this does).
I would probably not have singled out such a poem as they sometimes have a short shelf life, but Nick did, which does not surprise me in the slightest.
How to be Deposed
Apply two coats of waterproof mascara.
Floss until it steadies your hands. Sit down
while you sheath your winter legs
in ultra-sheer pantyhose, Nude #2. Remember
the time before your ninth deposition,
teetering in your hallway in a twisted
tree pose, you wrenched your back,
flailing like a netted trout.
Do not bat your eyelashes at your lover,
I mean, lawyer, until you two are alone
in a taxi fleeing the scene.
Don’t shriek when plaintiff’s counsel
accuses you of sleeping with
the defendant. Try to forget
that co-counsel’s son carpools
with your daughter. Count the lines
in the wood grain of the
conference room table. Hum
in your head to the rat-a-tat
of the stenographer’s flying fingers.
Breathe. Wait for your lawyer’s objection.
Later, when he asks: Was it true?
don’t slap him. Don’t place a straight razor
near your bubble bath. Leave
your pearl-handled revolver at home,
tucked under your monogrammed hankies.
Remember you don’t have a revolver…
or hankies. Remember all the dimes
you earned ironing your father’s hankies.
Try to forget his shadow in your doorway.
Try to forget his hand over your mouth.
Try to forget the sticky touch of your brother’s
beanbag chair on your bare thighs,
your brother’s threat: I’ll tell everyone what you did.
Try to forget his needling question:
Does it feel good when I touch you here?
Elya Braden, a former corporate lawyer and entrepreneur, is now a writer and collage artist living in Los Angeles where she leads workshops for writers. Her work has appeared in Causeway Lit, Forge, Linden Avenue, poemmemoirstory, Serving House Journal, Willow Review and elsewhere. You can find her online at www.elyabraden.com.
While the re-launch submissions roll in (which we will be selecting from at the end of June) I asked my two co-editors which of the poems that had picked up either a Readers’ Choice or Editor’s Choice Award in the past were their favourite poems.
I’ll start with Hannah Stone’s choice, which is I Help My Husband Sleep by Karen Greenbaum-Maya. The subject matter is common ground, which makes it that much harder to write it well, especially when you are up against wonderful canonical poems such as those written by Sharon Olds about her father. This one touched all three editors profoundly, and I seem to remember Brett Evans over at Prole really liking this too.
I Help My Husband Sleep
Your head rolls onto my shoulder, crushes
my hair so it rasps in my ear.
I smell your silver hair,
Einstein-wild from hospital sweat,
waxy under my hand.
Me almost under you, offering myself
as a better bed, compressing
the single-use egg-crate mattress.
I’m here to let you let down.
Stop fighting your eyelids’ pull.
Burrow your heavy head into my breast.
I’ll hold on while you take up your dreams
like a tired dog who feels the grass
under his paws, twitching in his sleep
at the flicker of abundant rabbits.
I lie braced in the narrow bed
that keeps me from cradling you enough.
Karen Greenbaum-Maya, retired clinical psychologist, German major, two-time Pushcart nominee and occasional photographer, no longer lives for Art but still thinks about it a lot. Kattywompus Press publishes her two chapbooks, Burrowing Song and Eggs Satori. Kelsay Books publishes her book-length collection, The Book of Knots and their Untying. www.cloudslikemountains.blogspot.com