Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oriana Ivy

Oriana Ivy is the winner of the New Women’s Voices Prize in Poetry 2011 from Finishing Line Press, which published her winning chapbook manuscript, April Snow, last year.

Oriana, born in Poland and who came to the U. S. when she was 17, is a well-known poet and frequent reader in the San Diego, California area (where I recently heard her read poems from April Snow and other poems).  In addition to being published in The Best American Poetry 1992 (her poem chosen by Charles Simic, guest editor, with David Lehman, series editor), her poetry has appeared in American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Poetry, New Letters, Prairie Schooner, Nimrod and many other journals and anthologies.  Oriana leads the San Diego Poetry Salon, teaches poetry workshops and writes an outstanding poetry-and-culture blog (

Oriana writes deeply absorbing poems, rich in images that startle with their steely exactness.  In her new chapbook, April Snow, poems mainly inhabit the Central Europe of her memory, the post-war Poland of her girlhood.  Here are keenly observed moments rendered with abiding warmth (toward family, loves and nature) and honesty (about history and her own past).  Her language, at once elegant and nimble, amplifies the craftsmanship of these poems.

Here are my two favorite poems from April Snow:


One day in the street my grandmother
stops before another grandmother.
Both stammer: "It’s you –
you – in Auschwitz – "

Turning to me: "She and I shared
the same blanket.  Every night she said,
'You’ve got more than I'
and pulled, and I pulled back,

and so we’d tug across the bunk – "
And the two grandmothers laugh.
In the middle of a crowded
sidewalk, in old women’s dusk,

widows’ browns and grays,
they are laughing like two schoolgirls –
tears rain down the cracked
winter of their cheeks.

On Piotrkowska Avenue,
on the busiest street,
they are tugging that thin blanket.
They are pulling back.

Sudety Mountains, Silesia

Mornings glittered like panes of ice.
Near a villa that legend whispered
Hitler gave to Eva Braun,
I found, abandoned in the dormitory,
a book of poems that didn’t rhyme.

Sun flamed the long candelabras
of icicles about to crash.  I copied
phrases: a caterpillar of smoke.
My cousin Ewa astonished everyone,
solving math problems for fun.

Arms locked, slipping on the ice-glazed road,
we walked past the villa of Eva Braun,
high-school virgins secretly wondering
what it was like to be Hitler’s mistress.
I had another secret:

alone in the white forest I knew
the poem of winter had no words
unless they were crows,
stitching the mountains with crooked seams.
I was fourteen.  The future flashed

as though a careless angel
opened the wrong door in time.
Later, thousands of miles of clouds 
away from Warsaw, I found it
again – poetry after Auschwitz.

With a murderer’s hands
I caressed a woman’s breasts
One could say anything, then:
beauty didn’t have to be beautiful –
news to me who grew up with

rhyme of silence and meter of lies.
When does the future begin –
a caterpillar of smoke
slanting white winter sky –
the spruce lost in stars of frost,
snow deeper and deeper snow.

previously published in Quarterly West

Click to see book on Amazon.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

April: not the cruelest month but a poetry-filled month

April is National Poetry Month.  This celebration of poetry began in 1996.  (In Great Britain, since 2000, National Poetry Month is observed in October.)

It’s a month-long celebration of poetry readings, podcasts and just plain reading poems on your own each day.

One of our past feature readers, Gail Dendy from South Africa, shares two of her poems online, as an audio recording.

Click to hear Gail Dendy's poems

Also of note is Poem in Your Pocket Day, April 18, 2013.  The Academy of American Poets suggests that, on Poem in Your Pocket Day, you select a poem you love, carry it with you and share it with others throughout the day.

Here are some easy ways to celebrate:
Hand out poems in your school or workplace.
Start a street team to pass out poems in your community.
Add a poem to your email footer.
Mail a poem to a friend.
Post a poem on your blog or social networking page.

Here is one of the poems I love and one of the candidates for the poem in my pocket this year:


We lie back to back. Curtains
lift and fall,
like the chest of someone sleeping.
Wind moves the leaves of the box elder;
they show their light undersides,
turning all at once
like a school of fish.
Suddenly I understand that I am happy.
For months this feeling
has been coming closer, stopping
for short visits, like a timid suitor.

Jane Kenyon