“Hey, what’s up with the story?”

I have never been a prolific poet and I can’t write a long poem to save my life. In grad school, my poems got shorter and shorter. I was only too happy to cut cut cut. It was as if I’d taken Imagism to an extreme. After grad school, I don’t think I wrote for almost two years.

Two years ago, I decided to try and write a long piece. A year later, through weekly blogging, I accomplished my goal. Essentially, the experimental novella that I ended up writing was a series of smaller pieces strung together. I haven’t been able to determine if the novella itself is any good, but I am still proud of myself for finally writing a longer piece.

It wasn’t easy—there were many times that I wanted to give up, but my friend, Eric, wouldn’t let me. Whenever I had a lapse in posting, he would always hit me up, Hey, what’s going on with the story? He was a writer, too, so he understood.

Six months ago, Eric died. I didn’t know for almost two weeks. We had not seen each other for years and he had relocated to a different state with his wife and kids. However, we had always maintained a fondness for each other and reached out through email every now and again. When I started my project, our correspondence became much more frequent. The novella I wrote takes place during a critical period in my life, a time during which Eric and I had been very close.

I had emailed to confirm his mailing address so I could send him the finished product. His wife emailed back: I’m sorry, I didn’t know how to tell you—Eric passed away.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask her what had happened. At that point, I was on the floor not able to breathe correctly; I couldn’t imagine what she must have been going through.

I know he was proud of you, she wrote.

After the initial shock, I got the strangest impulse—I started submitting poetry to literary magazines again. I hadn’t regularly submitted since grad school. I went on a streak. I told myself I was doing it for him—because he had been proud of me, proud of my writing.

In the first few weeks of grieving, I looked through everything I could find—old paper journals, notebooks, hard drive folders, old email accounts. I was looking for him.

I even reactivated an old Instagram account so I could reread our chats. It was a profile I’d created for my pen name and I gave up on it after getting frustrated. After reading our chats, I decided to give it another try.

I’m glad I did because I reconnected with another old friend, a photographer, and now my photographer friend and I regularly hang out again. Our conversations about art and my pledge to post daily have generated some serious creative energy as of late.

If Eric and I had never met, I can say with certainty that my life would have turned out differently. And now, even after being gone, he somehow still manages to help me.

an ekphrastic poem

Gillian Anderson Winser London, 2018

Her silk white blouse is not
mere ornament; its icicle cream
sheen not mere vanity,
but a wet mirror

revealing our desire.

Her pearl knobs
for shoulders, hair
of vanilla lightning,
and face of feline architecture

all conspire to remind us
of the princes and queens
we’ve lost.

Open at the cuff, a pale wrist.
Not bloodless.

— Shannon Phillips

Photo: Winser London

 

Favorite Poems

Recently, I attended a poetry workshop in which we were asked to prepare a list of 20 of our favorite poems. The exercise was challenging, but rewarding. Below is a list of SOME of my favorite poems.

The Ache of Marriage Denise Levertov
Bad Usage Tony Barnstone
Couscous by Suzanne Allen
Even as I hold you by Alice Walker
The Flea John Donne
From the Telephone Florence Ripley Mastin
Fuck by Tamara Madison
Gravity Donna Hilbert
In a Station of The Metro Ezra Pound
Litany Billy Collins
the lost women Lucille Clifton
My Tattoo Mark Doty
نوم by Zeina Hashem Beck
One Boy Told Me Naomi Shihab Nye
Ode to the Belt Sander & This Cocobolo Sapwood Matthew Nienow
Ode To The Cat Pablo Neruda
Review #347 for the California Exotic Novelties Butterfly Kiss Vibrator on Amazon.com Rachel Mennies
Samurai Song Robert Pinsky
Sex Without Love Sharon Olds
Tattooed Girl by George Hammons
This Is Just To Say William Carlos Williams
Umbilicus Karen Pojmann
Unfinished Letter to Death Connie Voisine
Unknown Girl in a Maternity Ward Anne Sexton
View at 4 A.M. Sarah Thursday
Why are your poems so dark? Linda Pastan

My new chapbook

My new chapbook is out from dancing girl press, and I am really excited! However, I am going to be honest: it’s a book for the bedroom. Maybe some of us don’t need that right now, and maybe some of us do. Either way, the editor, Kristy Bowen, makes beautiful books, and I am beyond lucky that she’s published mine.

Support indie presses!

“Why are you studying Arabic?”

I get asked this question a lot since I do not work for the government, I did not marry an Arab, and I am of European ancestry.

Before answering this question, I should answer, Why a second language?

First, I write poetry and through the process of learning another language, I hope to obtain a deeper understanding of my own language. I also have a master’s degree, but not a second language. I met the language requirements for college and grad school simply by showing up to 4 years of high school French.

Secondly, I teach English. Since studying a new language, I can now better relate to my students. I also have a stronger idea of what they need to do in order to achieve their language goals.

Lastly, I believe everyone should have a second language (or more!) – for two reasons. One, the world is becoming increasingly globalized, and two, language-learning is good for the mind.

So why not Spanish or Mandarin? Why Arabic?

I can knowingly say that many of my creative pursuits can be traced back to U2’s Achtung Baby. I was 15 years-old, a critical age, when I first discovered the album. Shot in Morocco, the music video for “Mysterious ways” features a belly dancer. It was that video that first ignited my interest. A few years later, I took a “belly dancing” course at a community college and began to love Middle Eastern music.

Fast forward a dozen years and I quit my cushy admin job and became an ESL instructor at a school where I ended up meeting many students from Saudi Arabia. And the camaraderie of their culture inspired me.

So why Arabic?

Why else?

Because it’s beautiful.

Edit: Since I wrote this post, I have read a great deal about cultural appropriation, and what I can say is that I am still listening and learning. Also, please forgive my 15 year-old self for exoticizing. To this day, I still have to contend with her from time to time.

list love

spine, dreams, tattoos, squid, bite marks, practice, garlic, polar, gender, hips, tomatoes, shoulders, hands, fairy tales, cleavage, backs, neck, skin, jaw, scruff, collar bones, manicures, pedicures, fishnets, elegance, wet, ease, chocolate, honey, velvet, felines, pomegranates, swagger, charcoal, stilettos, words, wrists, erotic, sounds, alliteration, dresses, race, apples, dance, corsets, pale yellow roses, antique pink, myth, sketches, zippers, tears, curls, blood, grace, coyote, titles, teeth, expression, margins, taste, androgyny, etiquette, context, ribbon, poems, figs, names, archetypes, milk, dynamite, delicate, tension, knives, moon, couples, awareness, peanut butter, lace