"Eve" by L. Folk

Monday, February 27, 2017

Letter from the Editor, The Compassion Anthology

We’re naming this edition of The Compassion Anthology the Student Edition, but it could very easily be called the Millennial Edition, because most of the writers and artists published here are Millennials. This begs the question who, exactly, is classified as a Millennial? I’ve heard the term used in conversation, on the news, but I'm a little unclear as to where they fall on the time line. I know they come after the Gen X’ers (my generation). I know that they preferred Bernie Sanders to Hillary Clinton, or anyone else, for that matter. Many articles have been written about their attitudes, their consumer choices, especially since they are now the largest generation, having surpassing Baby Boomers. They have been dubbed the “selfie” generation, accused of entitlement, laziness, idealism, and lacking in social etiquette. But really, who are they?

Philip Bump from The Atlantic cites researchers Neil Howe and William Strauss with the correct definition: a Millennial is an individual “born between 1982 and 2004.” And it has been proven, surprisingly, to some, that Millennials are compassionate and may very well be the most empathetic generation thus far.

E.J. Dionne, author of Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent claims Millennials are “the generation most comfortable with racial and ethnic diversity, most open on matters such as gay marriage, and most welcoming to new immigrants.” Sanjay Sood, Director of UCLA’s Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment, and Sports says Millennials are more opt to work for companies with a message of concern regarding social issues or the environment.

I have been teaching for nearly seven years in diverse community college classrooms, classrooms with people of color and LGBT individuals, and not once have I witnessed an instance of bullying, racism, sexism, or any type of intolerance in general from my students. The personal essays I’ve read indicate how close Millennials are to their own pain—the pain of failure, grief, disillusionment, and how they are working to transcend these. They are, by and large, a hopeful generation, despite what previous generations have bequeathed them (a lackluster economy, rising college costs, global warming, etc.).

Moreover, Millennials have an unflinching willingness to work together. This is demonstrated clearly in the image above, a large-scale reproduction of Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by North Shore Community College students in Jim Chisolm’s Basic Drawing classes fall semester, 2016. To create this mural, students collaborated on color and the post-Impressionist technique of Pointillism; the project included research, preliminary sketches, and synthesizing visual concepts. Jim has been doing these mural projects in his classes for the past seven years and says they are “real life experience[s] that [he] is sure [students] will recall for many years.” You can read how these mural projects have been life changing to students here.

In this edition, we're publishing images of postcards for the Art for Aleppo Postcard Show  an exhibit designed to raise awareness and funding for the people who suffered the atrocities of Aleppo. Curators Carla Goldberg (former anthology artist), Russ Ritell, and David Link will be accepting submissions until April 15, in case you’re interested in submitting. All postcards submitted will be displayed at Catalyst Gallery in New York opening night April 22. The powerful images shown here are taken from postcards created by some of the students in my Composition II, Intro to Lit class.

Also included are the themes compassion for self, as in the essay “Coming Out” by Eddie Marshall and the poem “Survivor” by Dan King; compassion as a chain reaction, as in Ishita Pandey’s “Carry Forward the Compassion”; and compassion as the night sky, a theme in both poem and postcard image by Olivia McCormack.

I welcome you to celebrate the creative power and promise of Millennials—what difficulties they have transcended, what they have learned, what they care most about, how they interpret the world, and what they wish to give. If you have any questions or comments, please do drop us a line.


Laurette Folk, Editor The Compassion Anthology


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Every Artist Is a Cannibal: Thoughts on the Creative Process

It always begins with some agitation, like a grain of sand in the oyster belly of my brain. I have some idea of what I want to do, and the struggle is mainly to find the time. When I begin, there is always anxiety, especially with painting, because I am still insecure with the medium. With poetry and prose, it's like diving. I hurl myself into it, despite the critic on my back, always comparing, whispering, berating.

Inspiration is necessary for invention, the first part of the creative process. This is the temptation, the coaxing that makes everything possible. Yes, you must have faith. Yes, you must be courageous. Confident. Some people can't get past these  requirements. But what really fires the mind is work that's already been done, work that has some element you seek for your own. When I wrote A Portal to Vibrancy, I wanted a sense of immediacy in the voice and a banquet of images in the prose. I kept Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye always nearby and would read a few pages to get the rhythm, the style in my head. I suppose it's a kind of stealing (Every artist is a cannibal, Bono says); you're stealing someone else's fire to galvanize yourself.

Once I've put something down on the page, the canvas, I look for clues in the work itself of what it wants to be. This is sort of like seeing the sculpture in the stone. You've got to believe it's there. With the painting pictured here, I wanted the ethereal white of the table cloth to be prominent. This painting actually started out as a pastel I created from a photo in a gardening book. I agonized over how I was going to capture the flora in the backdrop--all of those damn leaves! I tried a more impressionistic approach, but that didn't look right. I had studied Matisse, his simplifying things with large blocks of color. I spray-fixed the drab pastel and then pulled out the paint. The white acrylic felt right. I colored the backdrop a haze of burgeoning green, the green of late spring, the green that says the Earth is alive again. This felt right too. I had abandoned my ideas of realism for the feel, the dreamlike style of something deeper. By refusing to embrace detail, I traded craft for simplicity, arduous work for flair.

What I have learned in being a creator is that I am less focused on product than I used to be. Ego likes to clutch at its own gifts to itself. I clutch less. I have faith that the statue in the stone will, step by step, be unveiled. It is an exploration, whether it be a poem, a novel, a painting, a stroke, a sentence. You just stay with it until you get it right, and when you get it right, it's a notch on your belt. Empowering. This is what keeps me coming back.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Eve, Reimagined: A Review of Megan Merchant’s In the Rooms of a Tiny House

Megan Merchant’s new chapbook In the Rooms of a Tiny House by ELJ Publications has language so rich and vibrant, it will leave you awestruck. Merchant expertly reimagines the Adam and Eve myth in this collection; in lieu of Eden, we have a tiny house, a dollhouse perhaps, a metaphorical fish bowl where we can observe Eve loom large as loving partner, shameless adulteress, and eager mother-to-be.

In the first and eponymous poem, we peer in and see objects: an oblong afghan, a holy book of poems, an uneaten apple, and “a drawing of the eight-armed sea/chewing fingernails off the dead.” Eve is a woman in love, an intuitive woman who is certain love will be fruitful: “she feels good news licking/the soft linen in her veins.” In “Every Day Is Spring,” and “Burning Barrels,” Eve is learning to be and do, a newlywed in every sense of the word, trying to find her place in the house, explore who she is as woman—an unfettered sorceress who “boils a tin of apple-white and ambrosia, soaks the seeds,/ paints constellations on the bedroom wall in alphabetical order.” And yet, she is childlike, a new being with a curiosity for the world around her, “dreaming of fireflies trapped…the wavelength of pale light/ glowing from their soft bodies.”

In “Pitted” and “Making Room,” she is morphing, expanding; “Her ribs are cracking wide against/ the walls of the tiny house.” The pregnant Eve no longer fits the tiny house, so she leaves, “takes a man with hairy legs and oaky/ breath home from the bar” in the poem “Open All Night.” Eve isn’t aware of what not to do; she is naïve and fallible, as her legend dictates, but unlike the dire repercussions in the original myth, this doesn’t matter, because “Adam forgives her.”

 The serpent appears in “Nesting” as the rope in a tire swing, but Eve pays it no mind and “snaps her fingers/ to a song/ she learned/ from the men/ who camp across/ the river.” Her motherly instincts take effect in “Passing Down Knowledge” as she surmises what she will teach her child (“[h]ow to hold the moon in a bucket of water/ [h]ow to speak to strangers in questions only/”); she plans what to do after the birth, how she will make the child clean and “wash as much sin from its skin—the curdled filth/ that smells like her.” At this point, we see that Eve is not so naïve; she has learned somewhere along the way that she is bad. Merchant expertly portrays here the primordial and fallible Eve that lives in every woman’s psyche.

Hope and promise is greatest when the child is born in “The Promise of a New Day”; Eve knows that this day will “be the only perfect one.” It is the demise of her ripened body (“Purple-streaked skin droops over her belly,/ a plum wilting) that sets the tone of disillusionment; life will be tainted from here on out for her, her child, and Adam. But she faces it like a seasoned woman, the intuitive sorceress who knows what she must do, what she will do to reclaim herself: paint “her body with clay” and “stand under the ripe moon.”

By reinventing myth, we can better understand it, make it our own. I believe Megan Merchant wholly succeeds in doing this with her new chapbook.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Circe’s Cabin (from Totem Beasts)

The duke and I stumbled upon her cottage in the woods with the front door open. We went in, delighted by the cozy living quarters decorated with colorful textiles and marble statues, Buddha stones, shrines of goddesses, stained glass, and damask curtains. We settled on a duvet on the floor and the duke, with his multi-colored eyes and ebony hair, read from Sappho's lost book of poems. The poems were printed on papyrus and turned to dust in his hands, but with every new page we marveled at the secret words until the sun set and the lights began to flicker across the bay.

Afterward, we went out to the deck; half of it was falling into the water, its wood curved like a cascading wave. There were others now, figured on neighboring decks, gossiping, raising their glasses, seemingly content as the water lapped at the banks. Inside, more people had arrived and sat on the couch with drinks in their hands (they let themselves in). Dogs were chasing each other around the fireplace; lovers were eating muffins in the breakfast nook dropping crumbs on the floor. Then she arrived. She was not ageless; she was not beautiful. She was surprised to see us all there, taking advantage of her lair. I told her I would make it right; I told her I respected her. I commenced cleaning the place of its crumbs, dust, dog hair, and shattered glass. She was bewildered, senile, out of sorts—stunned. I frantically went about grabbing the dust, hair, and shards of glass in my hands, but it seemed futile; it was everywhere. What was she to do now? The lord and his mistress were renting the place for a getaway. I looked after the duke but he had disappeared. I told the others to get out. A man fell from the roof and broke his neck. Another was eating an orchid on the front porch.

When I found the duke, he was arm in arm with the crone and she leading him to her bedroom. After a few moments, he came out squealing and snorting and disappeared into the woods. 

When they arrived I had the place spotless and vacant, save the crone who hummed softly as she braided her hair in her chamber. The man with the broken neck had been airlifted to the nearest hospital. The lights across the bay had gone out. I opened the door and they were young and dark; the lord wore an oversized baseball cap and a medallion, the mistress, sweatpants with LOVE printed across her ass. They ignored me, thinking I was the maid, and went from room to room, commenting on the place, happy to be alone at last.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Totem Beasts

Happy to say my book Totem Beasts will be published by Big Table in 2017. Here's the eponymous poem, appropriate for this time of year (collage at right is the book cover).
           There are no ghosts in this house.
                        No hem of a muslin dress
            draped over a riser.
                        No Emily Dickinson archetype
            figured prominently at the banister.
                        No face in the naked glass.

            The boreal firs, always a regiment,
                        are noble, melancholic as the
            tide bathes the sedge. 
            We listen for what the hayfield says.
                                                We wait
            for totem beasts, but no coyote parts these
                        fallow fields.  No moose.  No
            osprey in wake of wind.
                        Quotidian, these crows, those gulls.

            I am filled with pale green air.
                        My sister's child thumps in Utero.
            Clouds snuff the sun, the sacrament, the
                        fiery heart.
            Night comes.

            I sit quietly inside myself.
                        My father bows his head here,
            the lines echoing around his eyes.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Promise, A Poem for Loretta (1997)

I bought three bunches of fresh asparagus
the other day
stored them away in the drawer of the fridge
when they spoiled a day later
I told myself it had nothing to do
with God hating my guts.

I've got a long line of misfortune, asparagus
is only the beginning
loveless, penniless, obsessive, wandering wanderer
I can't help but wonder;
sometimes you view everyone around you
and then scold yourself for not being them.

I remember her bad perms, her rosary beads
and her bumper sticker
Virginia is for Lovers
her Yugo and her Jane Fonda aerobics tapes
her futile attempts at love.
Who can explain her lessons unlearned? 
Her pity and pain
like a torch they burned, burned.

Years later
after she married and had a son
I watched her bones
I watched her shrink away
among kerchiefs and black wigs

when I finally want to live, she said, I die.

On the anniversary of her death
I wanted to go to church and say a prayer
for her and I wanted to tell God that I hoped
she was a little luckier in Heaven,
but when I got to the chapel, the doors were locked.

I got in the car, I drove
I saw storm clouds
asphyxiating the sun
your life, my thoughts, just a little further
and I'll find rain

but your rays pierced through
with the wavering sign of promise.
He told me you live in my heart this way

don't fade.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Mr. Baseball

 My father predicted David Ortiz’s success long before he was the homer-hitting Big Papi known to Red Sox Nation today. “I like this kid,” he’d say every time Ortiz was up at bat. “He’s got some swing.”

Now with Ortiz’s retirement, I can’t help but feel an extra pang of sorrow: Ortiz was the last of the great players my father followed before he died in 2003, just short of the memorable Red Sox World Series win, and it’s just another indication that the game is moving on without him, just like my life has moved on without him.

My father was Mr. Baseball if ever there was one. He read Ted Williams’ book The Science of Hitting like it was the Bible. I remember how he’d take his swings down in the basement at night after dinner, muttering his mantra to himself, “Think wrists” (this was also written on the concrete wall in chalk). Rumor has it that back in his heyday, the Cubs minor league team was interested in Dad. But his career as a baseball player would never pan out; he eventually retired his field of dreams and opted for a more practical career in engineering and a family. Later, he downgraded to softball, still needing his fix, and his marriage to my mother suffered for it.

Once he came home in his uniform after telling my mother he had to work late, and she locked him out of the house. After a long day with two toddlers, she had had enough. “Sleep with that,” she yelled and threw a baseball bat onto the front lawn. Years later when my mother went into labor with my sister, he was late and in uniform again. One of my earliest memories is of my parents zooming away to the hospital in my father’s Buick, my mother holding her big belly, my father in his pinstriped uniform.

Needless to say, Dad enrolled the three of us kids in baseball and softball and coached us all in the science of hitting until we were bored to the point of tears. There was that look in his eye, that focus; it was almost creepy. My brother had it the worst; as fathers are known to do, Dad began to live vicariously through his son and started grooming him for the majors when he was in grade school. He moved my brother all over the country in search of the right college team that could properly appreciate his son’s talents. To my father’s credit, however, when my brother finally told him he wanted to play professional beach volleyball instead, Dad eventually got used to the idea. His son came first. And although it nearly killed him, he started attending my brother’s volleyball matches and cheered him on despite having to let go of the dream once again.

My father’s passion for baseball wasn’t always a point of contention. I remember being comforted by the fact that while I was in bed, he was up watching baseball; the muted sounds of the crowd cheering, the crack of the bat, were soothing to me. He was a sentinel in the night, so to speak, and I felt safe.

When he stopped playing softball, he started to live vicariously again, this time through the players who had potential, like Ortiz. Now, I see that my father’s obsession for baseball added a flare to his life, a something that always kept him curious and engaged, and there’s something to be said for that when all the delusions of grandeur wane away.

What did my father’s passion for baseball teach me? Follow your bliss, but be practical. Live and play. Play and work. Hone your skills. Be a team player. Work harder. Play harder. I’ll remember this as Ortiz takes his final tour around the country and have to mourn my father all over again.