Merry Xmas, Headless Mama Returns, & Stranger Things

“O burst O pop O clank
O fuck my swollen bell of  brain. If no candles light
when we scratch the match, has God forsaken?”

(You can read the whole poem here, online at the POETRY Foundation).

Stranger Things Xmas lights Ouija (2)

As a mama poet, I struggle sometimes with feeling less important or relevant or current than if I were writing about other than my experiences raising my children & healing my childhood wounds as I usher my loves through this world, & together we build altars & lay to rest old wounds as we raise the dead into this living & our arms to whatever praise we can find.

I know deep in my heartgut that mama poems are damn important and culturally/socially/emotionally relevant, and I’m so grateful, always, for readers who see/feel the truths my family & I offer in my work. But sometimes when the accolades seem ever evasive & the funds dry up, I forget. In my exhaustion & fear & dailiness, I forget.

This month though, I’ve had the deep joy of publishing my newest work “Headless Mama Returns [Xmas 19 Redux]” in POETRY, my dream magazine, and recording the poem & process for their podcast (you can listen to it at the POETRY Foundation, here). I’m listening to it now, & hearing venerated, respected, wonderfully empathetic poet & editor Don Share talk about the ways in which my poem short-circuits the cultural detritus surrounding our myths about the holiday season & gets to the necessary marrow of mothering — well my mama heart couldn’t be any brighter, even through trauma-induced & seasonal depression, even through difficult suicidal ideations & the deep physical and emotional pain of chronic illness, the Universe/God has reminded me of the importance of my work here, & I couldn’t be more grateful.

Thank you, all, loves, & I hope you’ll take a listen & share. xoJenn

p.s., I discuss STRANGER THINGS in this podcast, as this poem was inspired by my investigation into the Upside Down of this show I adore, which I liken to duende & the underbelly & the hero’s journey — & I’m teaching this, my favorite workshop, online this coming January 2020 through The Poetry Barn. xoxo

LANDSCAPE WITH HEADLESS MAMA by Jennifer Givhan

LANDSCAPE WITH HEADLESS MAMA COVER (400x608)Available from Pleiades Press.

Also available from Amazon.

Contact Jenn for a signed copy.

Landscape with Headless Mama is a poetry collection by Jennifer Givhan that explores the experiences of becoming and being a mother through the lens of dark fairy tales. Givhan describes the book as “a surreal survival guide.” A poet with strong roots in the desert southwest, Givhan incorporates fine art and folkloric influences from Latin American culture into her poetry. Drawing inspiration from Gloria Anzaldúa, Frieda Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, tattoo artists, and comic book heroes, among other sources, this is a book of intelligence, humor, deep feeling, and, above all, duende.

“Pardon me, but I’m shivering a bit at my core.  These are restless, storm-hued stanzas, revelations of our dark cravings and hapless, woefully imperfect attempts at  perfect love. Here are the dreams even our dreams won’t reveal, flaunting wild edges and endings that nudge the soul, each fusing of  lyric and lesson as potent as a backhand slap. And Mama watches everything. Mama sees it all.” – Patricia Smith

“The landscape of poet Jennifer Givhan’s searing first book may be that of the desert southwest, but is lush with language, thick with a personal symbology and unsparingly true. If Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo wrote poems together, that book just might be Landscape with Headless Mama. The women in Givhan’s poetry are a fierce crew. They fight, are flayed and are teenagers at the fair. They catastrophize, hallucinate, hula and struggle with this damnable world. These are true border poems, restlessly crossing between the real and the surreal, the loved and the used up, the fertile and the infertile, and the hungry and the sated. Jennifer Givhan is a dangerous poet in all the necessary ways.” – Connie Voisine

“What’s living without fear of getting lost?” That’s only one of many empowering moments in Jennifer Givhan’s auspicious debut. Her “blood magic” ink delivers the hard truths that kick-start the healing of the “splintered cactus” that hurdles the path of a woman’s journey. Landscape with Headless Mama blossoms with the “strange alloys of sadness” that devastate motherhood and femininity, and then nurture their wounds back to vibrant life. – Rigoberto González

In Jennifer Givhan’s Landscape with Headless Mama, the vivid truth of these poems evokes both the wince of pain and the head-rush of joy, the familial and the romantic disconnections we endure and those connections found in the same terrain that we, still, manage to cherish. If there’s a line in these poems that doesn’t surprise, I couldn’t find it; one never knows where the poem will take us. I found myself tracing “maps of the borderland into my body/ cliff dwelling, the taste of red brick on the tongue….” Each figure rendered, each voice conjured comes to life with their distinct journey, and Givhan continues to remind us of yet another truth: “There are other ways for the story to end.” Indeed, the possibilities seem limitless in this world she builds. If a collection of poems can be called a page-turner, this is what it feels like. – A. Van Jordan

Image

The Change

My poem THE CHANGE, a finalist for the The Jane Lumley Prize, was published in

H E R M E N E U T I C   C H A O S   J O U R N A L:

“When I was still small I began growing antlers 
as a stag grows antlers, as a girl grows
breasts.”

Read the poem below.

 

(And I love this prompt Tausha Johnson came up with for incorporating magical realism into our writing, using “The Change” as a model!)

 

 

The Change

 

 

When I was still small I began growing antlers

as a stag grows antlers      as a girl grows

breasts      My chest remained flat & the blood

didn’t come      but the velvet skin

sprang spongy behind my temples      No one at school

laughed at the antlers like they did when I’d grown

hair under my arms & razor-scraped my shins

to the blood-bright thrill of the locked bathroom door

Mom said she would’ve given me warm

water & lotion    if I’d let her in    The girls asked could I

pierce my antlers like ears or a nose      & if they

hurt      The boys asked were they strong enough

to break glass      crush tin cans      & how long

would they grow       The doctor

said to stick out my tongue & drink

peach tea from a soda fountain in the nurse’s

lounge so I could pee into a cup & prove

myself       Sometimes a female deer grows

a stub       He asked if there was any chance I could be

growing something else      I told mom

there was a boy but it didn’t mean anything

I couldn’t even use a tampon yet

Soon small red birds gathered & settled

as the velvet turned to bone      matured into branches

They were too heavy & I knew I had a choice

Mom scoured every myth      required

every curandera crack eggs

over my belly      rub sagebrush across

my forehead      chant & pray      One even told me

to sing      I could learn to love my antlers      or I could

wait      see if they fell off on their own        see how long

would they stay gone

 

(appeared in my book Girl with Death Mask, Indiana Review Press/Blue Light Books, 2018)

“Tasseography of Pregnancy After Miscarriage” in Drunken Boat

reading tea leaves“I keep trying to read the tea leaves greening
the lukewarm belly of the mug—”

Read and listen to the rest of the poem at Drunken Boat.

 

Love,

Jenn

My One-Hundredth Journal Publication up at Origins!

virgen de guadalupeI’ve been working like a madwoman sending out my poems into the world nearly as long as my son has been alive (I started submitting when he was one, so I mark my poetry career by his life, because truly, I’m not sure either would have been possible without the other–how the imaginary shaped reality, how I wrote my story into existence, realizing we could adopt after writing poems about being a mother and mourning the children we’d lost to infertility and miscarriage)… Anyway, all of that to say, since he’s been alive, I’ve now published poems in one hundred journals! Today my work went up at Origins Journal, marking this moment for my poems–and I’m so thankful. For the life that brings the poems, and for the poems that keep giving to my life.

“Your body is a knife—

both slicing point

& handle.” –from “Self-Defense”

 

Here are “Leaving Anthony” and “Self-Defense–Or What I Wish Mama Would Have Taught Me” up at Origins!

Thank you for reading!

Love,

Jenn

Mother Writer Interview with Michelle Otero

Performing “Mother Lode” as part of Hembras de Pluma 2015, photo credit: Alan Mitchell

Performing “Mother Lode” as part of Hembras de Pluma 2015, photo credit: Alan Mitchell

I’m so excited to share this conversation with fierce Latina poet/playwright/actor/activist extraordinaire Michelle Otero, who discusses her experiences as a writer and stepmother of two.

But I wish someone would have handed me The House on Mango Street or Bless Me, Última and said, “Your people write books too.” … We hold mothers to very high standards. My mom taught elementary school, raised five of us, cooked, and kept the house spotless. I hate cleaning the bathroom. I enjoy cooking, but the pressure of generating a new meal for kids who don’t like vegetables has sucked any pleasure I might derive from that experience. –Otero

Read the full interview here.

Thank you!

Love,

Jenn

Sewing Feathers and After the Miscarriage II in Waxwing

woman sprouting flowers

Mark Harless

The mother spreads her arms and waits — hoping

at the top of a hill — for a mend

in the empty break of sky.

–from “Sewing Feathers” (read the full poem in Waxwing).

We lived our first existence as if on an island —

the waving flag of a companionship

always sinking.

–from “After the Miscarriage II” (read the full poem in Waxwing).

Love,

Jenn

“Nocturne” & “Scientific Balloon” up at Four Way Review

Thedress landscapen I remembered: Mama wasn’t gone
but safe, in her bed, turning in sleep. It was I

who went away—from Chopin in the bones,
palms heavy with dates like dark

purple fingers reaching toward sand…

Read (and listen to) both poems at Four Way Review.

Bird Woman and Bloom

sacagaweaSacagawea emerges from the hedgehog cacti
in the lot behind our crumpling house
heavy with cradleboard & mistaken

for a token of peace…

from “Bird Woman

 

 

The boys next door are ignoring my son. burning tree
It’s playground politics, the fragile and shifting
power dynamics of these early friendships…

from “Bloom

Read both poems at The Boiler.

Madhouse of Spirits

Coil by Remedios Varo

Coil by Remedios Varo

I unwrap a bar of amaranth soap

and wash my own mouth

the way Mama used to do when I’d been profane…   

–Jenn Givhan

(Read full poem at The Collagist)

Blood is blood is

How does anyone
love inside skin?

Thankful to Menacing Hedge for nominating my poem “Blood is blood is” for a Pushcart. You can read and listen to the poem in full here.

Photo credit Menacing Hedge Fall 2014

Photo credit Menacing Hedge Fall 2014

Two Poems at Superstition Review

“TimeBrawleyTheater Capsule” and “Junkyard Halflight” up at Superstition Review.

“Small things come back in pieces.
That time of day I wasn’t afraid to close

my eyes. The white flies weren’t yet lured
by streetlamps; the air still held its damp menudo.
On one side of the house, the cemetery

where I buried a stillborn and a marriage
swollen with ditchwater; on the other side,
a landfill.” –Jenn Givhan

Two poems at Tinderbox Poetry

… my daughter and the girls in ballet-

costume pretend to fly in loops
around the red recital floor, believing

their outstretched arms make wings,
and with faces ready for takeoff,

they uplift in possibility.

–from “Searching the Skyline

How did you end in a river, his boxers for trunks,river walk
your skin for a bathing suit, the pitch
of your voices and the waves echoing a boned-
hollow of the absent music, laced
with regret.

–from “River Pitch

Tinderbox Poetry Journal

Reabsorption Elegy

Sculpture by Kenneth Paul Lesko

Sculpture by Kenneth Paul Lesko

 

Daughter, I won’t make milk for you anymore.
      The body retreats. It reclaims
miracles.

Published in Glint Literary Journal.

“Miracle of the River Pig” up at *Goblin Fruit*

My poem “Miracle of the River Pig”new river is live today at Goblin Fruit, and you can listen to me read it there as well!

It’s a grotesque and somewhat experimental poem for me recounting my experience in the Southern California desert near the New River. I began drafting the poem in Brenda Hammack‘s fairytale workshop with The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, while I was also reading Frank Bidart’s “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky.”

I hope you enjoy! Thanks for reading! new river 2


" — Selves like iridescent, 
shining, speckled
shit in the Río Nuevo
frothy foaming stinking desert river
desert in the new world — 
how old were you? fifteen & blessed 
as Santa María,
I’m that lucky pig in the river — 
cut my trotters,
strike my blue-butt,
handle me,
sell me at auction,
devour me."

--Jenn Givhan

Read the full poem here.

 

Previous Older Entries