Patty Seyburn

Against Weltschmerz

Today I am relying on the 7 Greeks for solace.
The 7 Greeks, and leftovers: broccoli, soggy
chopped salad and half an avocado. A serpentine
gesture of olive oil and three drips of soy sauce.
This is delicious. My husband says he dated
a girl who said “Dee-lish!” in high school and
this made me love him more. I hope she is
thriving. Archilochus is a favorite. And I think
Diogenes and I would have spent many hours
at Sid’s bar on old Newport Boulevard, in Costa
Mesa, before pest inspectors rightly closed it.
“I have come to debase the coinage,” he wrote.
If you do not find that funny, we probably
have no basis for friendship. That is not a threat.
I am not the only friend out there, and we each
offer a different range of trills and bird-songs.
You know I am fond of the common loon.
Its eerie aria not for everyone. Archilochus
disapproves of Thracian up-dos and claims
the fox’s eleventythree tricks don’t compare
with the hedgehog’s one trick. I like hedgehogs,
the Greeks and leftovers. On this day,
I believe the world-weariness will fade,
much as dew fades. I am also fond of dew,
how it is reliable and ephemeral, all at once.


The gas-gauge arrow, my current amour
as I fill and refill in one of two cars –
which side? I glance; it tells.

Perhaps pairing the octagon to stop –
shape to idea, that took a mind
capable of “deep work” – trending

term for being able to sustain
attention. Adam insists he thought of
pump toothpaste before the marketers –

Julie says, sushi earrings, a brief fling
in urban markets. Whoever thought
of putting a small cabin with pretend

doors and windows inside a fishbowl –
I like how you think. As for marriage –
it must have been novel, at first –

we choose to stay together? Human
practice devised by some king
posing as divinely chosen,

history says, to create family alliances.
Somewhere farther back, though, after Lucy,
after homo habilis, homo erectus,

after the Neanderthals – some homo
sapiens came up with a plan, predating
Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” – perhaps

the most persuasive argument. I do not
wish I had invented the practice – utility
not the measure of a man, Plato says,

it’s what we do with power. Short of a cure
for disease, I would rather have invented
the ladle, enabling the distribution of soup

with minimal fuss, and perhaps the vase
so you can bring flowers inside
to admire them whenever you like.

My Hamartia

will be more flaw than error
which critics quibble over since
we can’t ask Aristotle for a point
of clarification like in Robert’s Rules
of Order, and my flaw may not be
considered tragic though it has
given me and mine some grief.
Though Greek in name, my hamartia
bears some resemblance to the pre-
Hellenic leader of my faith — mister
strike a rock instead of asking it for water —
though that is only a pretext for why
Moses could not cross over into
the promised land — he remembered
being a slave and remembered being
a master and neither would suit
this new pursuit of justice
and righteousness, treacherous terrain.
Not all memory is useful. My promised
land is one of memory, with small baskets
of Danish and a kidney shaped
pool with two high dives that I
would try on the last day of vacation,
to my brother’s frustration.
I am not high-born, royal or noble
(catsup on eggs, bit nails, poor posture,
ant instead of aunt, worship of coupon)
as many who suffer the hamartian fate
though Gatsby was an imposter
and Victor Frankenstein’s means
would not seem the issue — more
the wanting to be God problem.
I, too, want to be God, think I may
be God, though I don’t wear the robe
well, being capricious, occasionally
lazy and overly fond of those who
laugh with me. Also, I find immanence
elusive. Shakespeare’s band of protagonists
are flawed soup to nuts but we don’t
have much in common—even Shylock
and I don’t see eye to eye despite
splitting an order of manna in the desert.
Our just desserts: isn’t that at the heart
of hamartia? Wherever you go, there
you are and you eat what you get or
you eat what you catch? My fatal flaw
is like a cliched answer to the interview
question: what are your weaknesses?
I work too hard stay too late don’t
leave until the project’s done but spun
to look pleasantly obsessive. My hamartia
wants Achilles’ metaphor because it’s all
purpose—any given day your error
can be that heel and it absolves you —
after all you were dipped by your mother
to protect you — she needed somewhere
to grip but since sandals were in fashion,
there was exposure. My hamartia comes
from archery — the arrow that misses
the bullseye— but when missed consistently,
one must consider the source: a bow
that never quite fit the hand and an arrow
inserted improperly that almost
by accident, on occasion, gets to the heart
of the matter. My hamartia is not knowing
whether it’s better to forget or remember
and so when each begins to happen
I am miserable. Moses laughs at my hamartia.
I tell him it’s not nice to laugh at
other’s suffering. Your indecision
blights you like locusts on crops,
he says, plagues his best source of
figurative language. If everyone starves,
don’t look at me. You are not so
nice for someone stuck in the desert,
I mumble with all my heart.

To My Daughter: a prophecy

77 betrayers will stand by the road
but your guardian angel is hot
like men from Marvel’s Chris vault
enough to make the stranger’s eye distraught
and all the short words that take a long time to say
like fail
will become soothing lozenges or better yet
chaise longues at the pool when you fell
asleep on me, your ear (nicely formed from your father’s side)
to my heart. I did provide your decisive chin
that ends your face as if to say, enough,
, the same tone my mother spoke Yiddish
reserved for those in the know.
She would know what to do
with sadness
but I was not grateful enough for her to live
so long. That’s the truth
I have to live

I tend to love what murmurs
and words with spit in them like ferkakte
and words with a hill to ride over
like crepusculo
and spatulas because they flip things over
so you can see the other side
and know there is another side.
My strongest features are my philtrum
(from Greek for love charm – it makes me
a mammal) and
my fovea – “that small depression
in the retina where visual acuity is highest” –
other than that, I can’t see for shit
so it’s funny that I offer you visions –
mine, usually jeremiads.
My accessories are yours; yours better.
Your hair has aventurescence.
My mother said, pull back your hair from your

Shayna punim
She was right
I am right
You and I will look back and say
You and I will look back and say

Do you think I have a crystal ball?
Do you think the tarot explain their poses
for me?
I have but a soupspoon of instincts,
have received death phone calls
with no inkling of anything amiss –
Hello? I singsong – have shown up
to find affairs rearranged, vaults padlocked
and weeping and prevailing winds
no clue. My parched palms host broken paths – I think
I have exceeded their drifts.
You with two braids cradling your head
like scales of justice –
they keep you balanced between
mercy and righteousness – no cruelty –
you know I am fond of cruller and compote,
words whose origins declare
we have drunk foreign libations

But thou, my babe
don’t forget to pack
your abacus – so many simple,
ancient calculations – how much
one loves, has loved, will love

best verb to conjugate
a verb is a verb is a verb
Down the road, dead leaves crackle
in a contraband blaze
only five percent contained but the right direction.
I tend to love the lesser doxologies,
can only devote so much time
to praise – I have children to raise.
Your guardian angel’s cheekbones
slice the night in two, reserve
the latter half for clemency
while birds hurl themselves into our clerestory
windows – they are so clean.
Remember days that begin with your peace lily
proffering a white bloom streaked with green
and your small globe that loves light
revolving slowly, not
needing to be told.

Patty Seyburn has published five collections of poems: Threshold Delivery (Finishing Line Press, 2019); Perfecta (What Books Press, Glass Table Collective, 2014); Hilarity, (New Issues Press, 2009), Mechanical Cluster (Ohio State University Press, 2002) and Diasporadic (Helicon Nine Editions, 1998). She is a proud professor at California State University, Long Beach.

Editors’ Notes (Posit 29)


Welcome to Posit 29!

As we find ourselves heading into a third year of the “cruel ongoingness” (Jared Stanley, Air is Normally Invisible) of this pandemic in which “we / are all held captive” (Burt Kimmelman, Cicadas, July), we’re grateful to offer this exceptional selection of poetry, prose, and art as a salutary and substantive alternative to doom-scrolling and despair. Much as we may feel like “[t]he chaos wheel is gaining momentum” and we are “cage mates together / in some psychodrama” (Barbara Henning, Naked), the rich variety of work in this issue offers enough wisdom, resourcefulness, and creative mastery to make even the worst of our “world-weariness . . . fade.” (Patty Seyburn, Against Weltschmerz).

Many of the pieces featured here directly address the experience of living during this pandemic, whether to “sketch out / this prison” (Rodrigo Toscano, 21st Century Odyssey), or to remind us of what persists, or might emerge, beyond the bars. But more importantly, all of these works illuminate ‘how we live now,’ even as they remind us of the inspiration, and sometimes hope, that can be found in what is all around us: “postcards // of French women smoking long cigarettes” (Glen Armstrong, Cherry Cola XVI), “[f]og – when the car light hits it just so” (Dennis Barone, Copious Notes), “the beauty of pigeons” (Barbara Henning, The Beauty of Pigeons), “a little treat, something bubbly but uncaffeinated, something with tropical packaging” (Elise Houcek, Whose Shirt Was Surely Fleece), “a vee of geese/ push[ing] south” (Jill Khoury, chronic lyric: corrosion), “white trees, forest- / dark trunks to no end” (Burt Kimmelman, Mid-February at the Parapet), “’Rent Me’ / billboards // on a ghostly interstate” (Richard Peabody, The Show Me State), planets which “touch on the lip of the horizon” (Jared Stanley, Air is Normally Invisible), Greek mythology (Holly Wong’s assemblages), the properties of light (Al Wong’s installations and videos), organic forms (Tamar Zinn’s canvases, Adrien Lürssen’s cyanotype erasures), and even the “dozen discourses // . . . vying / for your attention” (Rodrigo Toscano, 21st Century Odyssey) – as well, of course, as language itself, from “Aureole. Aurora. Antibody” to “Wreath. Zodiac” (Maureen Seaton, Corona) – not to mention “words with spit in them like ferkakte” (Patty Seyburn, To My Daughter: a prophecy).

Glen Armstrong’s Cherry Cola series documents how the themes of childhood and the strangest and smallest bits of the past – “the crawl spaces, / attics // chambers for squirrel bones, baby hair / and broken Christmas ornaments” – still play upon us in the present. In both form and content, the poems brilliantly and seamlessly shift time for the reader, as well as for the narrator and “sister” who, as in a gently haunted house, are the childhood characters who find themselves grown up and grown older, living still in the enthusiasms of childhood; living perhaps, as “[c]ircuses . . . [which] think of themselves as yesterday / while arriving tomorrow / night.” This time shifting has advantages: “Sister hears the trailers that unfold / into wonders, hears the / elephant / dreaming,” and the caring relationship between the siblings continues, preserving hope, even in the face of the foreboding future: “Hope or the way you have to think in order to go on.”

Dennis Barone’s lyrical and elegiac prose poems from his forthcoming Field Guide to the Rehearsal grapple with the frustration and wonder of the human condition, as well as the inspiration to be found in the “millions of facts in the night of knowledge.” These powerful, understated pieces remind us that “everything has to start: blue water in the oceans, for example . . . and endless charts that correct error and a fragrance that perpetuates gospel hours.” At the same time, we are “[g]hostlike,” “the batteries that hammer our steel in the shadow of an abandoned factory.” Barone also takes “copious notes” on the full range of poetic muses embedded in living, from the quotidian details of inanimate objects like a “coffee-mug with no coffee,” to the lyricism of the everyday: “a voice speaking and the listener not yet ready to hear it,” or “scarecrows. . . lift[ing] their faces to the moonlight.” And, in addition to the wonders of the imagination, like “a meeting with the speaking tiger,” there is the dialogue of art itself, such as “Wallace Stevens in winter” or “a melody: oboe concerto” by Bellini to sustain and be sustained by this accomplished poet.

Barbara Henning recounts the experiences of the poet living in the city, literally living the phenomenology of what she sees, hears, and experiences, written into clear moments of conscious existence. Like the drama of a breakup unfolding in real time “[a]t the table next to me in Veselka’s,” in which the narrator “overhear[s] a couple arguing. You idiot. This judgement of me and you tell me now?” Ambulating within and around her living map, the poet notes the reality of the metaphysical: “in a secret, dark, ambiguous language the trees in Tompkins Square, my big old friends, spread out.” Henning writes the events of life with uncensored honesty; aging and the ills that come with it, the shock of a diagnosis, then the mind’s instinctive turn to the visual and concrete, so much easier and more comforting to ascertain and inventory: “Hello, I just found out / I have a heart abnormality. / Three teaspoons and six handles / of dessert spoons.” And yet, Henning shows us we are timeless beings, too: “In the mirror, my lips look young / and swollen like orange segments.” Henning’s characteristic ingenious and beautiful enfolding of simple statement and stark emotion encompasses the very spirit of poetry, its pathos and wit. Her voltas bring to mind the familiar perception puzzle of woman and vase: “The century’s turned and I’ve / lost my remote control.” Wandering in Henning’s city of the mind, we find the depth in what we daily see and hear, and a hoped-for connection to a life profoundly lived.

The pathos of Elise Houcek’s prose meditations on our frightfully narrowed pandemic lives is leavened by their sharp and sparkling layer of irony. This suite of poems takes off from the non-events of pandemic life: grocery shopping as “a date idea,” a walk past a stone lion guarding a small white house “in this frenzy-ornamented town,” and the “deconstructed tableaux” inside the closed eyelids of a narrator lying in the “Saturday morning casket” of her bed, contemplating the possibility that she “would never return to work again.” These poems open out from the specificity of our myopic historical moment to illuminate universal challenges of identity itself, reminding us that “the real beauty” of the word for a certain failure is “not its clicking into this particular question but its clicking more generally.”

With lyrical musicality, Jill Khoury’s poems distill chronic illness’s saturation and domination of the sufferer’s psyche – evoking not only the isolation it engenders, but the courage it demands. In pure o, the poet’s wordplay and prosody give voice to a consciousness locked in a harrowing inward spiral of doubt, the “i myself in blame only / this self- / appointed pointed i.” And in these three chronic lyrics, we get an intimate glimpse of how pain can commandeer a life, becoming, seriatim, the architect of its “brutalist masterpiece . . . dollhouse;” the companion “lay[ing] across me like a crust — / dissembling, our easy husk;” and its fate – a hyena “pac[ing] by the front doorstep / . . . scent[ing] an abundance of gifts.”

With tanka-like quiet and perception, Burt Kimmelman’s short and intense poems capture the beauty of nature, and more. With their seeming simplicity of attention to ocean, snow, and wind at a particular time and place, these poems reveal the disquieting and impersonal (as the gods are impersonal) essence of nature, and the delusion of our apparent indifference, that “we no/longer care for/the dark blue sea.” Because we are human, we want to believe that somehow, benevolently, “The snow bounds, / binds us / to our pact” offering “stillness / to catch us when we / fall,” although the question is, rather, do we have the strength to endure among the “white trees, forest- / dark trunks to no end.” Perhaps, in the end, we are not really the actors on our surroundings or the engineers of our fate, relative to the “sun in morning / trees, summer heat” by which “we / are all held captive.”

Adrian Lürssen’s cyanotype erasures from Rudyard Kipling’s A Second Rate Woman produce visual artifacts of resonant calm and glowing beauty. Their spare and lyrical texts are salvaged from the yellowed pages of an old paperback, allowing rips, creases, and ragged edges to enhance the fractured glow of the few words left to float on cerulean grounds. The minimal texts Lürssen extracts are quiet and intense (“The City / silent and I / open;” “first / to speak / but / their / teeth / un- / earthing”), layered over the ghostly shadows of vegetal forms which bring to mind lithe aquatic plants swaying in limpid blue water, as well as starry night skies. Created in the midst of the pandemic, these works extract ineffable beauty from a historical moment as freighted and problematic as Kipling’s text itself. In this poet’s hands, the notion of erasure takes on new interest. Like swords into ploughshares, Lürssen’s excisions of Kipling’s texts answer a moral imperative, even as the act of salvage and the loveliness of its artifacts is optimistic.

In Richard Peabody’s punchy, plain-spoken poems, the stagnation and provincialism of “Banana Republican” American culture is juxtaposed with the synthetic, and ultimately transcendent power of art – not least the poet’s own. Peabody’s sharp, spare, unflinching observations of a culture in which “every highway / . . . is a runaway truck ramp” deliver a complex critique tempered by appreciation. These poems take us on a road trip that yields not only a “one-way ticket / to Biscuitville” but also a “walk / through / Gabor Szabo’s / dreams.” In Peabody’s clear-eyed but undaunted view, Susan Rothenberg’s abstract yet recognizable, moving yet mysterious canvases offer a critical answer to the “[w]hirlwind / in the distance” that it is “[a]s necessary and / ephemeral as that.”

Maureen Seaton’s poetry contemplating the subject of death is “astonishingly open.” The very aliveness of her approach, its humor, gratitude, and compassion, gives us a new way to understand the commingling of our pasts with our certain, inescapable future. This poet’s joie de vivre and insight, with the aid of the muse, help stitch it all together, from the youthful freedom of inspiration, the “words straight from the horizon where light begins // where if you wanted / to be quiet w/a hat pulled over your ears // or wrapped in a silence / even multitudes could not pierce // you couldn’t,” to desire: “the scrappy nuns warned us / from our biblical beginnings / that messing around with boys / would be the death of us /and they were right, oh God! / Now here I am, tarnished / as a sad old silver gravy boat” – all the way to the present. In Corona, a tour de force combining definitions with quotations from an early British 20th century novel, Seaton’s insight and contagious optimism delight and inspire, even when “the world simply continues to be witless in ways that involve the dying and the dead.”

In Patty Seyburn’s supremely well-wrought verse, insight and humor emerge organically from a sparkling amalgam of erudition and colloquialism, intellectualism and humility. In these poetic pep-talks, a hyper-educated yet down-to-earth narrator is “relying on the 7 Greeks for solace. / The 7 Greeks, and leftovers” to cheer herself up. That she loves “spatulas because they flip things over /so you can see the other side / and know there is another side” should come as no surprise, as Seyburn wields her prosodic spatula with sly grace, dazzling agility, and impeccable timing. Juggling references to Archilochus and broccoli, Plato and pump toothpaste, Marvel comics and homo habilis, fovea and shayna punim, these sure-handed constructions master volta after nimble volta, striking the bull’s eye of irony and insight (without a hint of hamartia).

Jared Stanley’s dreamlike evocation of the uncertainty of our world right now, in which “snow melts in the gaps between pavers” with “a faint scent (cool) / born in peacetime, fooled by permanence,” reflects our disorientation with the pandemic, the myriad effects of climate change, and our efforts to cope. Although we do what we can, and what we hope will work, “teach[ing] the kid to eat tubers and avoid roads,” these poems remind us that “it won’t help when things get serious.” And they do: “On Saturday my son lost his sense of smell” / it had no public meaning.” We are as helpless as “lungs in Pompeii, lungs in plaster.” But Stanley’s poems offer a prayer, a wish, that catches the shimmering beauty of the world and gives us hope, “crack[ing] the window enough to let him / glide through on a hairstreak’s back.”

Rodrigo Toscano’s new poems take a grave yet playful giant step back to reveal the universal nature of the social and psychological predicaments of our times. These poems “sketch out this prison” of our 21st century, pandemic-shrunken lives to expose the ways that ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ From sexual politics to aesthetic camps, Toscano looks backwards and forwards in time at the “constraints / and liberties,” the “ends” and “means,” the “rituals” and “vying” and “vanguards” that have been “retrofitted / jimmied / just enough to /make relevance.” These humorous, hard-hitting poems hold a mirror to our species, forcing us to confront the “sentiments, sediment / surfeit of silly stances” making us so “frisky-frightened” of ourselves, and what we have wrought.

Viewing Al Wong’s sculptures depends on our experience of moving through opposites like dark and light, as separate entities that make a whole. In his video, Fire on the Line, the element of time gives us a further dimension. Instead of the slow moving of time we associate with the pandemic, and the longing that it be over which makes it seem even longer, the movement in Wong’s light sculpture explores another aspect of time; its ineffability and changeability. We can suddenly apprehend a brightness like a butterfly or a falling star, brief delights that are somehow part of the whole. Throughout the film, we are held by the interplay of opposites: shadow and substance are interchangeable, sound is evocative, although it gives no clue to its nature, and we are invited not to analyze but to experience iterations of movement and color, luminous canes of light. We see and hear rhythms separately, but time makes them whole: a ritual chord of music, the shapes of light and darkness that make strangely compelling suggestions of icicles, wind, a fountain, a waterfall becoming fire – elements that embody both presence and absence. It is this harmony that Wong asks us to notice and delight in.

Holly Wong’s vibrant, dynamic multimedia works embody a synthesis that is as optimistic as it is ambitious. Uniting a wide range of visual elements and cultural referents, the interconnected multiplicity of her constructions evokes the living, breathing energy of communities, and even worlds. Suggestive of petals, vines, hair, muscles, and scales, webs, grids, nests, wings, and flames, Wong’s interdependent forms swirl, flow, and spiral outward and upward, unfurling from their energetic centers to float and reach, grow, and become. The delicacy of her interwoven forms reveals the power of motion, the strength of flexibility, and the resilience of porosity. Intertwining the organic and the geometric, vivid color and black and white, wind and water, flowering and flames, Wong’s creations synthesize the resonance of their mythological and cultural referents with her visual and tactile imaginative fertility to harmonize the past with the future, adversity with hope.

Tamar Zinn’s paintings and drawings come from personal meditation where breath provides the opening for the spaces in the work. In the drawings, line is the delicate boundary delineating separate moments, while always moving and exploring the space of the canvas. In the paintings, unnameable colors range from subtle to shimmering. Not depictions, but suggestive of clouds or stormy weather, the shift of these forms evokes the feeling of evanescence, while the forms themselves create the soft and mutable “lines” of the work. Formally, Zinn’s paintings touch on the glory of a Turner sunset or seascape, but untethered, as if they are the free and drifting presence of a dream.

Thank you for being here.

Susan Lewis, Carol Ciavonne, and Bernd Sauermann

Patty Seyburn

The Important Parts

Head, shoulders, knees, toes

The first mention in The Milwaukee Journal, July 18, 1961: troubadour-teacher Janet Novotny, who played an accompanying accordion (making it hard to breathe from the diaphragm), traveled from playground to playground.

There is a tavern in the town.

Phrenology studies the relationships between a person’s character and the skull’s morphology. Austrian physicist Franz Joseph Gall (1758 – 1828) was the father of the science. Aristotle thought the brain a secondary organ.

When the cop pulled me over, I cried on the shoulder of the road.

There is a ——- in the town.

We do not kneel in daily prayer. “Nor shall you install a kneeling-stone in your land, to bow down upon it” (Leviticus 26:1). Visiting Jimmy in Joliet, I kneeled when I went to Easter-mass. I ate lamb-cake. His grandmother muttered something in Polish that earned her a shushing. It did not bother me.

The most generous conjunction: she’s in love with me, and I feel fine.

There is a ——- in the ——.

When you ride a longboard, and the tail is in the wave, you can walk, side-stepping, out to the front, and put your toes on the edge. Do it slowly, or you’ll end up in the soup. Watch for men in grey suits.

I could not see the board, was diagnosed by Dr. Magder (of blessed memory) in his office, just over the Canadian border in Windsor. We took the Ambassador Bridge and sometimes, the tunnel, which threatened endlessness, each time.

——- is a ——- in the ——-.

Tommy, can you hear me? Can you feel me near you?

When a man looks at your mouth, either lean in or back away from the bar.

——- — a ——- in the ——-.

My favorite perfume blogger trumpets a brand called Herr Von Eden in slate-grey flacons, and their three new scents: Euterpe, “the pleasure giver”; Eros, the god of love, and Eclipse: absence.

Hasbro made a game called “Go to the head of the class,” which has entered the rheumy realm of nostalgia.

——- — a ——- — the ——-.

My brother dislocated his shoulder playing basketball in high school, making the socket an unreliable home.

My daughter tore her Medial Collateral Ligament, a band of tissue on the inside of the knee, connecting the thigh-bone to the bone of the lower leg.

——- — – ——– — the ——.

We are, in tissue and bone, broken and flawed.

The debate rages: whether eyes are soul-portals, or, infinite in extremity, toes.

——- — – ——– — — ——-.

Aspirational Animal Spirit

I am a fan of the great families
particularly the swan, Anatidae

(sub-family, Cyninae).
The mating for life, overblown—

one will take up with another
if one dies or if a “nesting failure”

occurs. The black swan particularly
mean, your fingers are appetizers

and a Ph.D. in gliding. Middle name:
surreptitious-stealthy. The rara avis

even has a theory: something about
anomaly. It never picked up steam

and when we pleasure-boated past
in a Colorado pond, I straightened up,

elongating my neck, mimesis overload,
though there is a swan-neck deformity

of the finger I may soon suffer
that will cause me to beckon you


Patty Seyburn has published four books of poems: Perfecta (What Books Press, 2014), Hilarity (New Issues Press, 2009), Mechanical Cluster (Ohio State University Press, 2002) and Diasporadic (Helicon Nine Editions, 1998). She won a Pushcart Prize for her poem, “The Case for Free Will,” published in Arroyo Literary Journal. She is a Professor at California State University, Long Beach. She grew up in Detroit.

Editor’s Notes (Posit 15)


It is a bittersweet pleasure to introduce this magnificent fifteenth issue of Posit, coming as it does in the wake of what feels like an avalanche of national and global upheaval — both natural and human-made, toxically entangled as those categories are. But also: coming out on the heels of such a great loss for anyone interested in contemporary poetry. I’m referring, of course, to the death of John Ashbery, one of the greatest and most beloved poets of the past half-century. Although his loss hits hard, I find consolation in detecting his influence on so much of the poetry I love — and publish.

This issue is a perfect case in point, notable as it is for the singularity and variety of the voices it assembles — an aesthetic capaciousness which owes no small thanks to Ashbery’s paradigm-shifting work, which demonstrated by contagious example the extent of what is possible. Which ranges, in this issue, from the sizzling imaginative fertility of Will Alexander’s monumental monologue to the analytic calm of Robert Okaji’s meditations; from the poignant crises of Louis Bourgeois’ beautifully drawn protagonists to the understated humor of David Lehman’s and Stephen Paul Miller’s riffs on Frank O’Hara’s famous Lana Turner poem; from John Beer’s tidal flow of verbal riches to Charles Borkhuis’ razor-sharp yet deadly serious wit; from Patty Seyburn’s evocative experimentalism to Aliesa Zoecklein’s equally evocative lyric odes to love and loss.

To quote Mr. Ashbery, all of the work in this issue offers “what we need now:” these “unlikely / Challenger[s] pounding on the gates of an amazed / Castle” (“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”). So I hope you’ll honor his passing by reading, or re-reading, his work — and theirs:

the revolutionary heat and devastating light of this fragment from Will Alexander’s tome, The Ganges, the “supreme toil” of its “treasonous instruction” in the voice of an Untouchable, that “remnant outside a palace of hoaxes” banned “to exclusion voiced through tainted opinion,” with its grim echoes of the meanness and menace in our contemporary political landscape;

the rhythmic fluidity of John Beer’s “The Fictive Hour,” “split[ting] the feast of [its] intentions” in wave after melodic wave, enacting the sensitive pursuit of meaning embedded in the quiddity of the moment becoming “the mother of itself;”

Charles Borkhuis’ grave yet bemused invitations to puzzle over “the truth . . . which withdraws from the slightest observation,” deploying the insights of meta-and particle physics in his signature precise yet playful demotic idiom to “thread the eye through an ear / and . . . wing it outward on a word;”

the tragicomedy of Louis Bourgeois’ Salingeresque tale of the clash of integrity with pragmatism under the pressure of social reality and, especially, of time;

Lauren Camp’s evocative lyrics lifting off from the springboard of the personal to touch the universal, rising from the “rant in my inbox” which “is many / fresh-fallen failures /masquerading as failures” to the desert clouds over a party which “plump / then conjugate / all the pleasure for hours;”

Robert Farrell’s aphoristic, incantatory meditations delving, like “a vehicle into a vehicle,” into works by Anscombe, Aristotle, Zosimus, and Hala Mohammed to propose that “[a]ll / things hang together even lives that meet their natural / ends;”

the sensitivity of Cal Freeman’s meditations on literary and personal heritage in which “no one knows / what to measure or how” in light of “the terrible affront and tacit / threat [our] presence constitutes / for every seen and unseen creature;”

David Lehman’s tribute to Stephen Paul Miller’s variation on Frank O’Hara’s “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]” — each as wryly gentle in their counsel as the charming original — Miller’s version literally raising the stakes on O’Hara’s by virtue of the weight of what’s at stake (“oh Hillary Clinton you’re going to lose get up!”)— while Lehman’s version hovers with understated complexity between empathetic optimism and doubt of a candidate who might or might not share the social ease of the kind of gregarious narrator who “want[s] to meet you / whoever you are;”

The contemplative focus of Robert Okaji’s koan-like meditations on perception filtered through the metaphorical and philosophical implications of abstraction, in which “[t]he images consume no space but the effect is of distance;”

Patty Seyburn’s richly elliptical and compelling investigations into the vulnerability of the human body and the mythography of swans, entailing “something about anomaly” and “mimesis overload;”

Devon Wootten’s delicious excerpt from Gimme the Pretty, enlisting the reader to partner its probing of the nature and value of its own endeavor (yes, poetry, but not only), achieving any number of “truly epic volta[s]” as it delivers “what [we] came for— / realer done right,”

and Aliesa Zoecklein’s elegant explorations of the grief and hazard embedded in the paraphernalia of the ordinary: the sequin dress of a former lover, the sustenance of a grieving survivor, the “convincing curve” of a swimming pool beyond which “there’s a gate-latch moment when the stranger arrives.”

Thank you for honoring these artists with your time and attention.

Susan Lewis


Welcome to the visual art of Posit 15!

Jodi Colella uses traditional needlework skills to create artworks that are referential to the great traditions she is working within while also building a commentary on her travels throughout the world. Her work speaks to the evolving roles of women in Western and Non-Western cultures as well her experiences of the natural world.

Brandon Graving, a master printmaker, uses paper in interesting and innovative ways. She casts it, creating three-dimensional sculptures that seem to defy gravity. Her mastery of printmaking technique enables her to push the medium past its known limits until the results defy categorization.

There is a palpable visual rhythm and rhyme in the graphic work of Francis Pavy. His visual interpretations of the music of his native Louisiana dance and jump off the page. His ties to Southern American folklore and culture are deep, and he expresses them in a distinctly contemporary way.

The complex sculptures of Lina Puerta present a delicate and beautifully crafted view of the confluence of the natural and manmade worlds. Her great sensitivity to the found objects she often uses and her skills in combining them creates a universe that is simultaneously natural and artificial—as well as beautiful to look at.

Umar Rashid has created a new history of the American Empire. Through his brilliant and subversive series of faux-historical painting and writings he imagines a national history quite different from that taught in school. His pictorial style riffs on many historic sources and the result is something completely original. A self-taught artist, Rashid has combined his keen intellect with a sly sense of humor and political outrage.

Melissa Stern