Nothing Made of Ink: A discussion of seven poems by Lisa Fishman

January 11, 2023

AL FILREIS: I'm Al Filreis, and this is Poem Talk at the Writer’s House, where I have the pleasure of convening three friends to collaborate on a close but not too close reading of some poems. We'll talk, maybe even disagree a bit, and perhaps open up the verse to a few new possibilities and we hope gained for some poems that interest us, some new readers and listeners. And I say listeners because poem talk poems are available in recordings made by the poets themselves as part of our Penn Sound archive Well, poem talk has gone back on the road. This time it's a homecoming of sorts, as we are here in Chicago, Illinois, at the Poetry Foundation. The people here at the Poetry Foundation have been our partners in distributing poem talk since our very first episode back in 2007. And special thanks to the staff here Noa Fields, Caitlin Cassidy. I think we should put our hands together for Noa, is here, who's been so fabulously helpful. Also, Caitlin Cassidy, Ydalmi Noriega, and others who have helped us put on this special episode before a live audience. And speaking of a live audience, yes, we have a live audience and let's let them express their presence here for this recording by putting their hands together to make some noise to welcome our poem Talkers. (CLAPPING) Thank you. And indeed, I'm joined here in Chicago by Laynie Browne, who traveled here from Philly as part of the Writer’s House ModPo Team, whose most recent book, amazing book, highly recommended by this person here who's speaking, "Translating the Lilies Back into Lists." That's the title of it, published by Wave Books way back in the summer of 2022. It's a new book, and among whose many other books is a collection of essays on the poet's novel, "The Poet's Novel as a Form of Defiance." Also 2020. You were just a little productive, Laynie. And "Periodic Companions" of 2018, who teaches creative writing at Penn and is the coordinator of ModPo, our open online course. And by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague, a poet, critic, theorist, editor, whose books... Editor, yeah, I guess we have to think about. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I feel like that one's more true than theorists. Theorist is this nice. 

AL FILREIS: OK, do you wanna be a theorist? 


AL FILREIS: Ok. Poet, critic, theorist, editor, whose books of poems include Oil and Candle, Jazzercise is a Language, did you know that? Losing Miami, and most recently, Madness, published by Nightboat Books in March of 2022. And who has long been associated with the Kelly Writer’s House in Philadelphia and with ModPo, and who is currently a resident of this windy, supposedly windy city, not today. And a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. And by Lisa Fishman, a teacher and poet and a lot of other things, I'm sure. Theorist, critic. Gabby, you set the biographical introduction bar high. Among whose books are, 24 Pages and Other Poems, 2015, Flower Cart, 2011, and others. And recently Mad World, Mad King's, Mad composition published by Wave Books in 2020. He teaches at Columbia College here in Chicago and lives in Orfordville, Wisconsin. Did I say Orfordville, right? 


AL FILREIS: It really does sound like a small town. How small is it? 

LISA FISHMAN: It's 1,200 people. 

AL FILREIS: It is Orfordville, of course. 

LISA FISHMAN: And if you drive through? 

AL FILREIS: Yeah, absolutely. And is a dual citizen of the US and Canada. Lisa, this is great. Thank you for doing this. 

LISA FISHMAN: Thank you so much. It's great to be here. 

AL FILREIS: It's good to see you. We just met yesterday. 




AL FILREIS: This is your sixth poem talk. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I think that's right. 

AL FILREIS: And we think we're kind of stipulating that it is a record, but we're not sure about that. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: We'll have to-- 

AL FILREIS: We're gonn get a lot of hate mail. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Hundreds of episodes. 

AL FILREIS: Hate mail from someone who's been on a lot (LAUGHS). 


AL FILREIS: It's always good to see you, Gabby. Thank you. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Good to see you. Welcome to Chicago. 

AL FILREIS: Thank you so much. And Laynie Browne. Hello, my friend, my colleague. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Hello. Happy to be here. 

AL FILREIS: Well, today we four have gathered here at the Poetry Foundation to talk about seven very short poems in Lisa Fishman's aforementioned recent book, Mad World, Mad King's, Mad Composition. For viewers and listeners who are able to follow along in the book, it will help to know which seven they are. They're mostly untitled, so I'm gonna mention the first lines. It's just easier to find them. Many people have heard on page 51. Others could tell the difference on 65. Two poems have sent a point. That's a hard one to read. Good luck, Lisa. Have sent a point. And who will confess that, on 73. Taking a sick day to remember Mr. Fishman on page 149. A line through a forest, on page 150. And finally, steering wheel in the field. All hyphenated on page 163. Usually at the start of a poem talk episode, we play a recording of the poet performing the poem from the Pen Sound archive. But today we have the poet with us. So here now is Lisa Fishman, herself performing these seven poems. 

LISA FISHMAN: Many people have heard a cat speak once and perhaps other animals as well. This proves animals can use words. They just choose not to do so for their whole lives in most cases. They're like monks who've taken a vow of silence with such dedication, we imagine they don't speak. Others could tell the difference between the tones of bees from different hives, Carnelian and Italian, but I couldn't. Each of us held a queen in a box and lowered her down to the top bar hives (UNKNOWN) and made for boxes of bees into four hives, equals four queens, 12,000 bees and all. I hadn't planned to help. I felt dropped in the orchard by accident because of the bees vibrational hum. Have sent a point from out so far. The tide returned to deep and in and slipping on the slick steps down to water. I salt scattered, fell. Who will confess that in a bad time, some riven and arriving stone sounds clear for the waves. Go back to beginning with a breaking over the rocks. November 1st, second or third. Take a sick day to remember Mr. Fishman studying French in time to be 80 March 10th. Get skiing out in the orchard. Hear a birds drawn out of sleep. Spruce staying spruce, birch becoming birch. It isn't one thing I'm looking at. I mean, it's nothing made of ink. A line through a forest can follow a coastal line. Seven breaths later, startle a bee in the orchard. Out of the grape, it was startled. Before now time turns around. The breadth of a hare or a bee's leg now. Steering wheel in the field is an imaginary flower. On the bent down path of foxtail and weeds. Joyous to find a rusted out car there, I was 14. 

AL FILREIS: Lisa Fishman reading her poems (CLAPPING). Lovely, Beautiful. Thank you, Lisa. OK, we're gonna play... We're gonna gamify this because we've got seven poems to talk about. I'm not sure we can do that in the time allotted. So if we miss one, I'm sorry in advance. But I think I'm a seasoned moderator convener. I think we can get to seven. So here's what we're gonna do to gamify it. Gabby first, you're gonna pick a poem of the seven and then Laynie and then Lisa, and then I will just go from there. So what's the one that's on your mind, Gabby? 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I like the last one a lot, Steering Wheel in the Field. Let's do it. 

AL FILREIS: (CROSSTALK) for the readers? 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Well, you know, it's funny, when it was in text form, it was just way less clear to me, It's grammatical structure, right? So we have steering wheel in the field line break, and then I could imagine it would go is an imaginary flower on the bent down path of foxtail and weeds joyous to find a rusted out car there. I was 14. Or joyous to find a rested out car. There I was, 14. So in this particular way, all these poems are written where they're very condensed. There's very little punctuation. We've got a real sort of ambiguity about the direction we're taking, and I think this poem kind of launches that forward. 

AL FILREIS: Beautiful way to start. Laynie. It might take a while for some readers who are not familiar with names of flowers, but informal names of flowers often have that ring, steering wheel in the field. So for those of us who care about flowers, we kind of know right up front that this is kind of a somewhat mistaken name for a flower. And it turns out to be part of a rusted out car. So we've got the human made thing in nature. And this young person is sort of encountering that. You wanna go from there with that? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Yeah. Well, I love the juxtaposition of what we would see as kind of ruined or junk as animate and treasure. And also this idea of imaginary travel comes up for thinking about a child coming, but not a child, a teenager coming upon a rusted out, not physically moving, but we can imagine traveling. 

AL FILREIS: Yeah. Yeah. Lisa, I was 14. So I do a lot of work with survivor testimony and often it ends when there's a sudden, big and typically traumatic moment of revelation for a young person. The last line in the testimony, not to elevate this too intensely, but the last line is often, I saw this thing. I was 15. I think that's literally a quote from Elie Wiesel. I was 15. So am I wrong that this is a portrait of the poet or at least the speaker as a 14 year old telling us something amazing and revelatory that happened. And if that's the case, what the hell happened? 

LISA FISHMAN: You are not wrong. 

AL FILREIS: Oh. (LAUGHTER). That's good. Got one. 

LISA FISHMAN: Enjoy it. What the hell happened Is fairly straightforward in a way, I suppose. However, it's fused as far as the car goes. It is fused with something that I do with my students periodically. I like to have us invent names for imaginary flowers. And a lot of this book actually is made of things that I've done in the company of my students and with students in the classroom. 

AL FILREIS: Do we have any current or former students in the audience here? Is this true? Wow. Is this true? Can you let the record show. there's waving going on. Interesting teaching. Cool. Let audio listeners only understand that they are nodding and that that's true. You're not making it up. 

LISA FISHMAN: Thank you. However, it's fascinating to hear you make an echo that you're hearing with what you called with survivor testimony, which I'm not going to say more about, but there's nothing around this particular narrative. But the time of this is-- 

AL FILREIS: So are we think that this 14 year old went out away from society or to be alone and encountered a manmade thing, junky, almost like a Williams poem. Like, oh, a rusted out car that could work. And there was some kind of revelation about the juxtaposition. 

LISA FISHMAN: Yes. I think that that feels true to me, and the feeling that it has this sort of almost magical quality. Because, first of all, how would a car even get to this particular spot in the landscape? There's no roads to it. And a fascinating car from the fifties, so it was this really interesting object. And just sitting and going back to the ground, just becoming part of everything growing around it. 

AL FILREIS: Wonderful. OK, Laynie, pick another poem. There are six left. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: I'm gonna pick, Others could tell the difference. So the first one that we read, that's on page 60... No, sorry. Not 65. 

AL FILREIS: 65, 66. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: 51. Many people have heard of cats. 



AL FILREIS: They threw us for a loop there. 51. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: I need to put my glasses on before I speak. 

AL FILREIS: Oh, this is the prose one, but the cats talking. 


AL FILREIS: Alright. I knew you'd pick that. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Of course. Do you want me to say why? 

AL FILREIS: Please. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Well, we have so many assumptions about animals. So why is it that we associate intelligence with speech or not just speech, but the power of speech, but speaking as opposed to we have the power of speech and also silence can also be a way of communicating and intelligence. 

AL FILREIS: Remind our listeners and also our live audience what happened here. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: What happened here is there is a statement that animals, which I think is radical, that the assumption that animals don't speak is incorrect. Actually the truth is that they can't speak, but they don't-- 

AL FILREIS: They hold it in. They took a vow of silence. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: They don't choose to like a monk taking a vow of silence. 

AL FILREIS: Have you ever thought that, Laynie Browne, about a pet or an animal, like they can speak. I wish they would, but they've taken a vow of silence. I must respect that. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Right. And then they also do speak in ways that don't include language. 

AL FILREIS: Gaby, you're a cat person. Does this ring a bell? 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: A little bit, yeah. I mean, what I like about this poem is the association of discipline with animals. Discipline is a weird human thing, we assume. It's like a weird mark of a certain kind of human enlightenment or something like that. And so I like the idea that animals are all hyper disciplined creatures who aren't stumbling as low as us to be constantly noise making. It's a nice twist on the on a symbol image. I like how straightforward and kind of twisted it is. 

AL FILREIS: Lisa Animals in poetry. Can you say something on that topic. 

LISA FISHMAN: Well, they're everywhere, even when they're invisible, right? And ostensibly inaudible. Yeah, it just occurred to me that how do we know they don't even speak as we do. We just don't hear them. They just do it when we're not listening. 

AL FILREIS: And why is that good for a poet or for poems or for poetry? 

LISA FISHMAN: I think perhaps it has to do with listening to what you can't hear as well as what you can hear, and without trying to fill it in, right? Not to make something up or impose some speech or language onto the space of where there is not speech or sound, but to be aware of it and of its possibilities. And you could kind of stop right there with the possibilities. The possibility is that you don't know what's in that space. 

AL FILREIS: That's quite brilliant. That's really great. So silence is not inability. Silence causes people to assume an inability. It's actually a choice. Silence is something that the people around us and the animals around us might be choosing. Alright, Lisa, you get to pick one. This is weird. 


AL FILREIS: That's supposed to be a laugh line, people. (LAUGHS) The poet has to choose a favorite. 

LISA FISHMAN: I'm gonna go with have sent a point from out. 

AL FILREIS: Oh, that's the hardest one. 

LISA FISHMAN: And that's page 73. 

AL FILREIS: Oh, I'm glad you picked that one. It's even hard to read. 


AL FILREIS: Would you read it for us and then say what you want. 

LISA FISHMAN: Yes. Have center point from out so far. The tide returned to deepen in and slipping on the slick steps down to water. I salt scattered fell. I like that it's hard to read. I like that every position of every single word tells you how to read it. And I like having to listen or just listening for what the poem is telling us to hear and how to say it if you follow the form, if you read it with that. 

AL FILREIS: Why are you so interested in the relationship between water, I'll say sea? I'll say sea, right? Water, sea and land. You like that convergence? Yes? 

LISA FISHMAN: Yes, of course. It's a the place of where different elements are coming together. And that space of both things being there at once together. And then there's the human in this landscape who can enter from one to the other and can enter by accident, as in the poem, which where it's a falling. 

AL FILREIS: Gabby, Laynie, either or both of you, can you speak to the difficult. I would almost say, contorted syntax here. Gabby was referring to it in respect to another poem. I fell is the final predicate or final subject predicate pair, but it's I salt scattered fell, which I took to be almost possibly a hyphenated compound adjective and therefore classical in an HD sense. I salt scattered fell, sounds like borrowing from the Greek. Is that what's going on? Why is Lisa doing this? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: I feel like there's a an acknowledgement of the speaker being not separate from the elements, and that is reflected in the syntax. And this poem makes me also think of this parable of a girl made of salt who wants to find an answer about the depths of the ocean and runs into the ocean and dissolves, right? So there's both kind of a danger of disillusion, but also an acknowledgement that there's not any separateness to begin with. So that that surrender is kind of part of this flow of being human and being part of the world. 

AL FILREIS: And because of the falling. Sorry, Gabby. And because of the falling and it's slippery. So this person, this speaker, it's an I, the speaker is doing something that's likely to get them into the sea. Be careful. Gaby. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Yeah, I was actually just gonna track what Laynie was saying at a grammatical level, right? So we have sent a point from out so far. There's a kind of a slightly larger space between so far and the tide, which is a little hard for listeners to hear if you don't know the poem in front of you, but it's a slightly enlarged space which might be replacing others that have sent a point from out so far that the tide returned. But then when we get to deepen in, which seems to dramatically follow, the tide returned and slipping, we're now starting to merge onto the tide and the eye that falls, right, because the slipping would follow into fall. But there's no sense at which the tide returned to deepen in and slipping on this slick. We have no division there between tide and eye, it all gets really sort of merged in the way that Laynie is talking about. But it's happening in this very condensed, almost imagistic poem. 

AL FILREIS: Almost imagistic was a phrase just used. I referred to HD, and so now I'm gonna take my turn to pick a poem. And I'm gonna pick the one that's right below that one on 73. It's our fourth poem, and say something that could be totally wrong in an influence sense. This poem is the HD poem, I think. And that's appropriate. That's why I got excited when Laynie suggested that we would talk about you while visiting Chicago. You're are Chicagoans, so that would make sense. Except right here where the poetry magazine has its offices, why not do an HD poem? So, I'm gonna read it again and ask Lisa to start. I might say a couple of HD things about it and see if you will confirm or deny, and whether HD is hovering anywhere. First of all, it begins with a classic HD rhetorical question, who will confess that? And HD questions are always rhetorical, like I know the answer and I'm about to tell you. Who will confess that in a bad time. Some riven and arriving stone. So I'm assuming riven and arriving are modifying stone. I could be wrong. Some riven and arriving stone sounds clear for the waves. Go back to beginning. With breaking over the rocks. So again, HD really interested in people or a subhuman subjectivity on the land dealing with the sea. We have the whole question almost, HD's not influenced by Whitman, but HD was interested in some of the same questions asked about the ocean being our origin. And then we have this social phrase in a bad time, which could refer to economic bad times, hard times, socially or psychologically, a depression, right? In a bad time and time being a human interval, then we face an ocean, reminding us that the waves are incessant and it causes us to think about time in a bigger sense. And breaking, smashing, reveting, that's not a word, is an HD thing, because she wants to break apart this human idea that time is something that you could be depressed about in the last two weeks 'cause something didn't go right for you. OK, how far off am I? And would you like to elaborate on the claim that this is an HD poem? 

LISA FISHMAN: Well, I'm happy about the claim. I welcome it. I'm sure that she is hovering here by accident, right, or with me being unaware of that. The awareness that I felt as the poem emerged was Stevens a bit. And so, of course, there's some kinship and divergence there. But I loved hearing you hear the poem in relation to her? Very much. She's important to me. The A, the article, the indefinite article that precedes breaking, I wanted to play a little bit with that as alphabet letter, the beginning of the alphabet as well as what then initiates-- 

AL FILREIS: Oh, my God. So a verb is breaking over rocks. 


GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: (CROSSTALK) The letter with a. Yeah, that makes sense. 


AL FILREIS: Wow. There's a lot of poetry going on here. A lot of poetry history. You've got Stephen's. There's Bukowski in there, and HD, too. Wow, wow, wow. Laynie, Gaby, your thoughts on this before we move to another poem? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Yeah, I was thinking about one way that I would connect this to HD is that it's elemental. So we have the question who will confess that in a bad time? And the answer is the elements will confess it for the speaker. So the human speaker doesn't need to make the confession. It's reflected in the landscape. And then thinking about the letter A that also makes this a meta poem about writing. So we start with the alphabet again. It's not the first time this has happened. We turn to the alphabet and start again. 

AL FILREIS: Lovely. Thank you. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Well, Lisa, you've really enliven those last few lines for me. I'm gonna be annoying and say another person that's not in the room, which is... I was thinking a lot about Eileen Myles just about 10 minutes ago, and I'm thinking about them again. And that's in part because Myles is interested in a really kind of condensed grammar and a really kind of twisty. They sounds more kind of conversationalist, right? The kind of New York cool. But there's that still kind of twisted grammar. When we were talking about I was 14, I was thinking about six, this Eileen Myles poem that just repeatedly says I was six in this really perverse way. That was really fascinating. And I was thinking about that the weird thing of putting your age in a moment in a poem, which is so anti moment, and I really like this section. I think there's some really interesting work and it feels... The reason I agree with the HD thing is I feel like there's that kind of images impulse, a kind of density of the image, but a kind of spare quality of the rhetoric, so to speak. So that's why it seems to make sense. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Yeah, I think Lisa, HD was willing to be the perfect images, but also at the same time to be programmatic, to say something large. So who will confess that in a bad time is not an image of strategy, it doesn't follow the images manifesto. It's trying to make a meta poem out of something that could be a description of what happens when the waves crash. 

AL FILREIS: Well, Gaby, we have three poems left. We're managing this. I want you to pick one, and Laynie will pick one. And then, of course, Lisa and I will be left with the only one we can pick. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: OK. So one we have not yet picked. So I'm gonna do what is on 149, for anybody following an email. 

AL FILREIS: Mr. Fishman. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Yes. Starts November first, second, or third. Take a sick day to remember Mr. Fishman. 

AL FILREIS: And I hear from Lisa that that could be considered a title November 1st, second, or third. OK, Laynie, or is odd because if it's a diary entry, it would not be so imprecise, typically. So it's not a diary entry. It seems like a note indicating a plan or intention. 


AL FILREIS: Like, November 1st, second, or third. I've got to take a sick day from work. In order to do what, Laynie Browne? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: In order to mourn, in order to remember. 

AL FILREIS: So mourn or pre mourn, it's not clear in the narrative, probably mourn to remember Mr. Fishman. The poet's name is Fishman. And this person is 80, so we're gonna say it's an uncle or maybe a father. OK, let's say father. So I'm a little confused, Laynie, by the timing because the father either was going to turn 80 March 10th, but March 10th would be some months ahead of the intention to memorialize. Also, there's a problem of spring and winter here, so we're really... I mean, I'm like a terrible close reader because I can't get over it, Lisa. Skiing in the orchard, and there's a bird drawn out of sleep, which sounds like spring. So that sounds like March. That sounds like Dad's birthday time. So I am totally confused. Can you help me, Laynie? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Sure. I think that morning changes time so that it's not linear. I mean, we could imagine many things, but the way that I imagine it is that the speaker needs to take some time for reflection now as soon as possible. Maybe it's October, maybe November for a second or third are possible days that the speaker could take. 

AL FILREIS: Why would the child of a deceased parent need to take a sick day months before the birthday that commemorates a big year. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Because grief arises when it arises. It doesn't necessarily wait for the spring or for the death memorial or the birth memorial. Or maybe it's an important date. Maybe it's the birthday as opposed to the death day. Maybe there's a memory that day. Maybe there's other reasons why that date is... It's also around the Day of the Dead, actually. Actually that is the Day of the Dead usually is early November, the first few days in November. So it could be connected to that seasonal turning also because, oh, this is really important in the book. So the book is so much in the elements and things growing and seasons and plants. 

AL FILREIS: So you mean Lisa's whole book? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Right. And so it's the end of the point of the wheel of time where we're moving from fall into winter. Leaves are disappearing. The energy is going down in the roots. And it's traditionally a time to connect with the other world. 

AL FILREIS: That's fantastic. Gaby, what are your thoughts about this kind of mourning? 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I think to the question of whether it's sort of spring or autumn or what there, it isn't one thing I'm looking at as our turn away. So I do think that kind of thinking in multiple levels is a kind of grief state or a state commissioned by grief. I also think that grief requires time and somewhat unconventional and somewhat not always commissioned ways. I always say to people that my dad's death adversary is like totally unpredictable. It might be like the most boring day or I might completely miss it, or it might be like it is the day to day. It can have a sort of quality, and so I like the flattening of time. But for me, what's really interesting here is the term at the end that we get a very different stanza from what's come before us, which it isn't one thing I'm looking at. I mean, it's nothing made of ink, which again, has this kind of doubled sense, right? I don't mean to explicate all your double sense of that probably being very teacherly about it. But I mean, it's nothing made of ink which is on nothing that is made of ink, or it's nothing made of ink, as in we got to get outside of talking about ink to get to this thing. 

AL FILREIS: Ink meaning the writing. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Yeah, right. So it's unclear if it's that we are really dealing with ink or we are actually getting away from ink. 

AL FILREIS: Return to Lisa here. It's nothing made of ink. Could be the gesture of getting outside, taking a sick day, not writing. Getting outside in order to memorialize Dad. Because even though this is the result of ink, the memorialization itself, the elegy, it's pointing at a gesture of getting away from poetry. Wow, wow, wow. Before I turn to you to help us with that last gorgeous stanza, just an incredible elegy. I just wanna point out, in a pedestrian kind of way, that spruce staying spruce because they're non deciduous. So that would just happen right through the winter from October all the way to March. But birch becoming birch. So birch has to become birch again, and that would be March, not October. So I feel like this is a March poem. This is a dad's turning 80 poem. Birthday poem. But I love the idea that the sick day is required so much earlier. OK, Lisa, we've said a lot. You must be just all ready to say things. But can you help us with the last fabulous stanza especially? 

LISA FISHMAN: First, I want to just Laynie, thank you so much for revealing to me why it felt important. This is one of the few poems in the book that has a title and that the title is the dating or the not set dating, but different possibilities because of the connection to the cyclic seasonal experience that you were talking about. That feels so right to me. The last stanza with nothing I've always haunted by the nothing at the end of the snowman. 

AL FILREIS: This is totally a snowman poem. I mean, you got the spruce, is in there. 


AL FILREIS: Steven's the snowman. We've got a juniper shagged with ice. 


AL FILREIS: And spruces in the distance. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: You know that Al has that poem perfectly memorized. 

AL FILREIS: That's not a challenge. I'm not going recite it. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I know. I'm just saying. 

AL FILREIS: But you're hearing Stevens and nothingness. 

LISA FISHMAN: I am. And it is something there and something not there. And the doubleness that you, of course, we're hearing utterly too. And it has to be all, it has to be unsettled in all of those ways. Yeah. 

AL FILREIS: The book is full of poems, much like six of the seven. This is an unusual one among the seven that we picked. It's a personal poem. 

LISA FISHMAN: Yeah. And it's a poem that wouldn't have made it into many... I wouldn't have put it into a book, typically, in the way that I typically make my books or put them together. So this book has a lot of such poems, perhaps to its peril. But in this case, it's not anything I would ever have included. And then the way that this book happens kind of gave that permission for this one to be here. 

AL FILREIS: Nice. OK. Laynie, we have two more poems to talk about. You pick one of the two, and we'll see if we can make relatively quick work of the two remaining, because I wanna have time for gathering paradise and so forth. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: OK. We did not do others could tell the difference on 65. So why don't we go there? 

AL FILREIS: OK. Lisa, would you be willing to reread that one bottom of 65? 

LISA FISHMAN: Of course. Others could tell the difference between the tones of bees from different hives, Carnelian and Italian, but I couldn't. Each of us held a queen in a box and lowered her down to the top bar hives Andy made. Four boxes of bees into four hives, equals four queens. 12,000 bees in all. I hadn't planned to help. Felt dropped in the orchard by accident because of the bees vibrational hum. 

AL FILREIS: I think I'd like to direct us partly in the interest of time to the last stanza, because we have now a first person pronoun revealed. We have a group of friends apparently doing some bee-ing. What's the word for that? 

LISA FISHMAN: Beekeeping. 

AL FILREIS: Beekeeping. Well, they're sort of volunteering. They're helping out the beekeeping. It seems like the speaker knows about bees but isn't on the inside of beekeeping society. 


AL FILREIS: I hadn't planned to help. Felt dropped in the orchard, Laynie Browne by accident. Why? I mean, this is so right up your alley, Laynie, I think. What kind of accident is this? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: I feel like this whole short poem that I keep coming back to the question of what is listening and how are our ears tuned and also what is being useful. So the obvious thing would be, well, we're keeping bees to have honey and to repopulate our world with bees. But this is not about the bees as producers of honey, but what happens by their vibration, and how does that tune humans? 


GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I was gonna say, this poem feels like, I don't know, if it's like when you don't really quite get an animal and there's other people who totally get it, and they're totally used to it. I'm like, that's me with horses. There's people who really get horses and do horses. And I'm just like, no, that's like a mythical, gigantic creature, right? So there's like a little bit of that magic of distance. Others could tell the difference, but I couldn't, is basically how this starts. And so feeling dropped in the orchard by accident, I think it's a happy accident. It's a sort of like I'm here because it's here. I'm here because I'm here and I'm surrounded by this hum, which is a pretty kind of magical thing. We're also in a very pro-bee time. We need to be pro-bee. Bees are cool. And I think this is a poem that kind of thinks bees are really cool. 

AL FILREIS: Bees are kind of... They're sort of poets. They're certainly musicians, but they might be poets. 

LISA FISHMAN: And dancers. 

AL FILREIS: They dance. Yeah. Lisa a quick thought on that last stanza and the first person pronoun. 

LISA FISHMAN: You know, the way you were just saying, Gabby about it's just where I happened to be. Wasn't going there. 

AL FILREIS: Like bee the finale of Z. 

LISA FISHMAN: Well, in a way that speaks to the presence of where I happen to live. I happen to live on this farm and there happens to be things like beehives and orchard. So because it is around me, it sometimes gets into the poem, but it isn't ever an intention to write about the beautiful farm thing. It's just where I am maybe at that moment. And I felt a connection to the way you were talking about feeling the moment in the poem to the whole, in a way. 

AL FILREIS: The seventh and last poem that we chose is also a bee poem. So this works out. And then I'm gonna ask each of you to offer a final thought on this selection of Lisa's poems. And then we're gonna do gathering paradise. So it's gonna be fun. Alright. I'll read it. A line through a forest can follow a coastal line. Seven breaths later, startle a bee in the orchard, out of the grape. It was startled. Before now time turns around, the breath of a hare or a bee's leg now. Laynie there's two uses the word now, I wonder if you would riff or buzz on now, or hum or now. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: So we have in the middle, we have before now and then at the end we have now. So we have a certain amount of time before now and then we're in the instant and the language in between those two nouns, I feel like it's trying to describe the smallest, infinitesimal, tiny. And there's a tenderness there, like unfathomable the breath of a hair, or a bee's leg is so tiny. And that's connected to this concept of the now. 


GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Yeah, I almost feel like I wanted to say the same thing. I love a good, microscopic, surgically precise kind of poem. I think maybe 'cause I can't write them, but I like the time turns around, then we have this indented the breadth of a hair. That's by the way, B-R-E- A-D-T-H. as in the width. 

AL FILREIS: And we have earlier seven breaths. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: We have seven breaths B-R-E- A-T-H, no D inhalation. It's a really kind of meditative poem, I think. And one that arrives in a very kind of quiet way to say now, that last it almost feels like at the end of a kind of minuet when it just started done then you know that like last little Mozart in kind of being, that feels like the stylistic thing is here. 


LISA FISHMAN: I feel like that now, there's this tension in the book. Another line elsewhere is something like and you haven't stuck to the fact that now is a redundant word and do we ever need to say no, for example, if you're using the word is? I don't know. But it's, of course, a larger question about what the present is. 

AL FILREIS: Yeah. I mean, I think that a number of the poems in this book could be called Climate Change Poems. Forgive me, it's a category. And you're not a categorical poem by poem. You're not a categorical kind of poet. But we have to think urgently about the bees. And your micro focus is one way to help poetry do that. Final thoughts. So something that you came here today wanting to say about the wholeness of the selection or of the book that you haven't had a chance to say. So, Laynie, do you have a final thought? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: I do. I wanted to say something about the overall form of the book, because I think it's so amazing the way that there are so many fragments. I don't know the number of fragments. So many tiny poems that this book is constructed of. And it's put together so artfully in this flow. It's really incomparable, formally. 

LAYNIE BROWNE: Lovely. Thank you. Agreed. Gaby, final thought? 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: I think there's a little bit of envy for the cat. That the cat doesn't have to talk very often. These are poems that I think want to ring out in what isn't said and have a kind of condensation that maybe begrudgingly has to talk to get it on the page in the first place. Like there has to be some amount of language to even arrive there. And so I think that cat that we started with is sort of the little like, I wish I could be that little poet. (LAUGHS). 

AL FILREIS: And only speak when you want to, once. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: When you need to be fed. 

AL FILREIS: Lisa, this is odd. You're the poet and we've been talking about your poems, but do you have a final thought. 

LISA FISHMAN: Right. Just to add on to that. Only speak when you can't hear me. I only speak when you won't know that I'm speaking. It's a vexed book. It's haunted by Laura writings, Renunciation of Poetry. And so that's another way of talking about the envy of the cat. And so it's a kind of messy book, very different from all of my others. Thank you for describing it as you did, Laynie, 'cause it could also be described less charitably, in it's formation. Yeah. That's all I have to say. 

AL FILREIS: Well, my final thought is just to note my reaction to having read this book three times, twice to try to find how we would ever pick just a few poems out of it. And then the third time, just to get the whole sense of it. And I found it to be at first a book that's trying not to be overtly emotional or sentimental, to say the least. But it is those things. It is very powerfully emotional. We talked about the fact that when you mourn a parent, it's gonna happen all year, and that you literally need to take a sick day, which is just a terrible irony. Presumably because when we lose a parent, mostly it's due to illness, sickness and you need a sick day. I just found Mr. Fishman to be just a great character. Good old Mr. Fishman, who didn't get to 80, I'm guessing. But not so overtly emotional. I think of William Carlos Williams taking hikes in the Meadowlands and finding crap and shit and thinking this is a reason for poetry, that the joy that the 14 year old found in the rusted out car that she as a speaker turns into a flower is a reason for poetry in itself. That joy, that pleasure. And it's a way of saying that what we have invented in this world and in way of used to ruin the world is not gonna mess with a 14 year old sense of natural joy. Well, we like to end punk talk with a minute or two of Gathering Paradise, which is a chance for us to spread wide our narrow dick and dony and hands and gather a little something poetically good to hail or command something or someone going on in the poetry world or the movie world or the dance world, whatever, whatever. Laynie did you have one? 

LAYNIE BROWNE: I do. I wanted to recommend a book that is the letters between Rosemary Mayer and Bernadette Mayer that is just out from the Swiss Institute. You may be familiar with the poet Bernadette Mayer, her sister, Rosemary Mayer, the late Rosemary Mayer was an amazing visual artist and writer. And this is the first time this correspondence is published. So it's beautiful. 

AL FILREIS: Great recommendation, Gaby. Gathering Paradise. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: Yeah. I want to shout out a book that's not out yet, but I'm hoping with the delay of our poem talk release and also just excitement, that that will be fine. Which is that Nightboat Books is doing a collective David Melnick, who I think is the best poet nobody knows about, who is kind of gay experimentalists of the 20th century. Wrote four relatively small books and then was just like, peace out, I'm gonna live in my house and not talk to any of you ever again. And they're all really good and super mind blowing and super weird. And I still have no idea what to do with them. And I've been reading them for a long time. So a collected is exciting. 

AL FILREIS: Fabulous. Lisa, Gathering Paradise. 

LISA FISHMAN: OK. So because I'm not sure if there will be an opportunity for this to come up when we're talking about Gabby's poems later this afternoon, I wanna recommend a poem. Poem by Aimé Césaire, Macumba Words, which some of my students should recognize from our first course packet. It dovetailed with my reading of your book, this particular poem, the Kumba Word, translated from French by Clayton Eshelman and Annette Smith. And I'm not even sure that you can access it electronically. But it's in the Jerome Rothenburg volume one of poems for the Millennium. 

LISA FISHMAN: Do you know the poem Gabby? 


LISA FISHMAN: OK. So anyway, Macumba Words. I just want you to go to paradise with people and be in paradise with that poem. 

AL FILREIS: That's great. Fantastic. So Lisa has just broken the fourth wall of Poem Talk by saying what I don't mind saying, which is that in this same space, in a few hours, we're going to be talking about poems by Gabby, from Gabby's book, Madness. So listeners to Poem Talk can find that. It will have been done and edited and should be available through ModPo and on YouTube. 

AL FILREIS: And that's a great setup. My Gathering Paradise is in fact the aforementioned book, Madness. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: We've got a lot of mad things today. 

LISA FISHMAN: I notice that. 

AL FILREIS: Yes. And these poems were written by Gabby, but not really. They're poems by Luis Montes Torres. Gaby wrote them, but these are Luis's poems. And so when I ask by shouting out this book, Madness, and asking Gaby to read one of Luis's early poems, I wanna make sure that you know, this is not Gabby's words, but Luis's words. And would you would you be willing to read an early Luis poem in the in the park? 


AL FILREIS: It's kind of a steamy poem. (LAUGHS) Sorry about that. 

GABRIEL OJEDA-SAGUE: In the park. Pretend with me, waving our arms, tangling our tongues in the middle of the park, designed, unfortunately, just for this. I would like to whisper to you if you do not believe me, I am in control. You don't need a phone pass by me. This is a tree. We're pretending. 

AL FILREIS: Well, that's all the cats choosing not to use their words. We have time for a bone talk today. Talk at the Writer’s House is a collaboration of the Center for Programs and Contemporary Writing and the Kelly Writer’s House at the University of Pennsylvania and the Poetry Foundation. Thanks so much to my guests. This is a good time to put your hands together. Laynie Browne (CLAPPING). Gabriel Ojeda-Sague(CLAPPING). And our poem talker and poet featured today, Lisa Fishman, (CLAPPING) 

AL FILREIS: And to Poem Talk's directors and engineers today on video, Zack Carduner in the back of the room, and Chris Martin, who on audio had a harder job than you realize. Chris Martin right over here, (CLAPPING). And to Poem Talk's editors, the same, Zach Carduner. And once again, we ask our fabulous live audience to register their appreciation of our poem talkers by putting their hands together again, (CLAPPING). Next time on Poem Talk, I'll be back in Philadelphia, joined by Kate Colby, Jonathan Dick and Bethany Swan to talk about a poem called Long Light, by Hoa Nguyen. This is Al Filreis, and I hope you'll join us for that or another episode of Poem Talk. 

Hosted by Al Filreis and featuring Lisa Fishman, Gabriel Ojeda-Sagué, and Laynie Browne.

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