Astral Redux

Astral Redux

There are spoken infirmities and spilled lips
cloaked in the growl of rusted foliage
and mutiny in the eyes
and in the ears and in the yawns
of faces wrinkled into disrepair and rage
                furious mold glittering on the clown’s tongue
                               under the streetlight a tail without a dog
world offenses
and the disjunction of its judges
cannot undo any of this
yet the boy who painted the evening sky
an orchard eager to implode
dropped the little dipper of his big idea
when he banged his head on the moon
and gravity was tilted back
and conciousness slid off the table
               so that arm in arm we took a wormhole through
                              and beyond the astral plane
                                             at times colorless
                              but peopled by a stampede of puddles
               families of stamps and envelopes
we heard the machines and taught them thoughtlessness
suspicions arose as a sparrow hit the window
the honey stood with the consistency of a clay pillar
the swagger of a lily endured by sages
the monk lighting a cigarette at the memorial
I’m remembering what was left
                of the ribbons in the murder room
                              and of the knife-shaped intruder
                                             that came through the keyhole
now both puppet and ventriloquist
hang by the cat’s cradle of the universal grid
a breeze expired on a blade of grass
to regard you with funereal indifference
as over the coined eyes of an unremembered uncle
who burned out in the exit lane
              I kick the heads off the dandelions saying a prayer
                             to dispel the sound of inner oceans
                                            undictated by this or that
                             indiscretion or assault or melodramatic arrival
I have my duty and know my name among the garden
traveling the beet to its root and back again
arms centrifugal in and out of time
going the course of nature in the wake of the worm
minding my own business hunched over
a scythe left and right at the big man’s knees
splitting the boulder to which I fastened my libido
my back a collapsible antennae my head a radio in the stars
my sleep patterns repeating in the rapids of sleep
               where will you be at midnight among the pranksters
                             conniving under the armored skirts
                                            whistling a tune?

by Ryan Dowling

Catachresis and Dylan Thomas

Catachresis is a Greek word meaning the misuse of language. However, from a poet’s perspective, it might be better understood as a way of reinventing the use of language.

Examples of catachresis include modifying words in an illogical manner, e.g., when Pablo Neruda writes of “insulted iron,” and “a tongue of years different/ from time.” Or a unique compound word, e.g., when Sylvia Plath describes a sea as being “many-snaked.” Or a word that transgresses its grammatical properties, such as an inflexible noun being used as a verb, e.g., “She light-bulbed a bright idea.” This list is not exhaustive.

It is often difficult to interpret the exact meaning of a catachrestic word or phrase. At worst, catachresis is a slush of bombastic nonsense. At best, it produces a dream-like, disoriented or hallucinogenic effect; and it often plays a hand in surrealist poetry. Note that it is sometimes the byproduct of a writer choosing words based on their sound rather than their meaning, thereby straining language to the effect of music.

Despite being a fastidious craftsman who often wrote carefully rhymed and metered poetry, Dylan Thomas’s application of language is anything but formal (and is rife with catachresis). Early critics tended to find him inaccessible and “drunk on language.” However, readers continue to acknowledge the unique force of language he employs throughout his oeuvre.

How many examples of catachresis can you find in this poem?

from Altarwise By Owl-Light

First there was the lamb on knocking knees
And three dead seasons on a climbing grave
That Adam’s wether in the flock of horns,
Butt of the tree-tailed worm that mouned Eve,
Horned down with skullfoot and the skull of toes
On thunderous pavements in the garden time;
Rip of the vaults, I took my marrow-ladle
Out of the wrinkled undertaker’s van,
And, Rip Van Winkle from a timeless cradle,
Dipped me breast-deep in the descended bone;
The black ram, shuffling of the year, old winter,
Alone alive amoung his mutton fold,
We rung our weathering changes on the ladder,
Said the antipodes, and twice spring chimed.

by Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

The End of the Road

The End of the Road

You must have taken Highway 1 from the junction
at British Columbia and the Yukon, the Takhini
hot springs at Whitehorse—you must have been reborn
through a tunnel in the Rockies and turned left at Tok,
where a waitress in a plaid apron, tasseled mukluks
and beaver furs poured syrup thick as tree sap
over sourdough pancakes, and you eavesdropped
on two bush pilots, heard the forecast in their dispute:
cross-winds of tenacity with a spat of rain—
then down through Anchorage, Alyeska, Anchor Point,
shoulder to shoulder with a mountainous dawn,
until, round the overlook, you saw the arch of the Spit
cast out like a rod toward Halibut Cove, and the blue crush
of the Grewingk Glacier into Kachemak Bay.


by Ryan Dowling

Seamus Heaney and Regional Poetry

Regional Poetry is poetry that hones in on a specific location in the world. This location can be as small as a village and its surroundings or as broad as an entire province or territory, such as the American Southwest.

Regional poetry also tends to focus on the idiosyncrasies of that location, including its native inhabitants, geography, culture, wildlife, history, etc. Many of the best regional poets have lived there for a significant portion of their lives.

The most common effect regional poetry has is that of revelation, often bringing to light a relatively unknown part of the world. However, it’s important to note that while regional poetry can pay homage to a location, it can also cast a location (especially its people) in a negative light and bring unwanted attention.

In the following poem, Seamus Heaney writes about a town in Ireland called Anahorish, where he attended primary school. Note that it isn’t an epic poem; he doesn’t chronicle every nook and cranny. Heaney only offers a few select snapshots, a few specific details, and yet it’s enough to evoke the town’s mood and character.

The town was made famous after him.


My ‘place of clear water’,
the first hill in the world
where springs washed into
the shiny grass

and darkened cobbles
in the bed of the lane.
Anahorish, soft gradient
of consonant, vowel-meadow,

after-image of lamps
swung through the yards
on winter evenings.
With pails and barrows

those mound-dwellers
go waist-deep in mist
to break the light ice
at wells and dunghills.

by Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

Mixed Strains

Mixed Strains

“It’s cold in here,” she says.
“I live alone,” says he.

“And your walls, they are so bare,” she says.
“They’re not what I’m looking at,” says he.

“Am I your first guest?” she says.
“You are my first choice,” says he.

“You don’t mean you…” she says.
“Of course, I’d never…” says he.

“May I have a drink?” she says.
“I’ll make it double,” says he.

“I don’t want to give you the wrong idea,” she says.
“How could you give me what I already have?” says he.

“Let’s skip the liquor and go to coffee,” she says.
“Shall we go all night?” says he.

“I have to work,” she says.
“I’m being a jerk,” says he.

“Oh, please don’t say that,” she says.
“You may leave anytime,” says he.

“Why do you behave like this?” she says.
“Why do you make me like this?” says he.

“Maybe I should leave,” she says.
“Oh, don’t say that,” says he.

“It’s cold in here,” she says.
“I live alone,” says he.


by Ryan Dowling

Poemland by Chelsey Minnis

Poemland by Chelsey Minnis

I wanted to bring to light a poet who has been dormant for the better part of the last decade. Given her irreverent attitude toward poetry, she is perhaps exactly where she wants to be: out of the spotlight. Nevertheless, I think Chelsey Minnis holds an important place in the tradition of subversive literature, and does well to challenge our ideas of poetry: its purpose, its application, its presentation, etc.

It’s rare that a poet has the audacity to provoke her readers with mockery, and then to turn and say to them, “Isn’t this why you bought my book of poems?” But it’s precisely because Minnis puts her literary transgressions center stage and refuses to sugar coat them that she’s able to pull it off. She isn’t handing out moral lessons or sentimental portraits; she’s bringing us poetry like a “whip brought to you on a tray,” and asking us to accept a challenge.

As such, she has garnered somewhat of a divisive response to her writing. Initially, I found her crass. But something stuck with me about her, and I gave her another chance. Soon, I found myself impressed by her inventiveness and her mastery of voice. I also began to find the flippant attitude of her speaker genuine and often humorous. She’s doing a lot more than meets the eye at first glance. Stay with her, and you’ll find yourself in on her elaborate little joke, instead of on the end of it.

The last book she released was “Poemland.” Note the stylized title within the frame of the barcode, stamped over the background image of pink fluff.


Image result for chelsey minnis poemland

Here are some excerpts from Poemland (2009):


“It is like picking up a white telephone and ordering champagne…

And a blood drop licked off an apple…

I don’t see why I must be so terrifically sorry…

With this book I have made a very expensive joke…”


“This is a long boring attack.

How can you fail to pretend to be encouraging and reasonable?

Ridiculous achievements of life!

This is when I talk and talk boringly into a tape recorder but point to my vagina…”


“My selfless vengeance will never be appreciated!

I’ll chop your head off!

And I’ll carry it around by the hair…

And you just sit there smiling and playing the piano with your prosthetic hooks…”


“This is when your hair sticks to your lipstick and it is so cuckoo…

You close the bedroom-dividing curtain…

Gold smudges…and a gemstone powered engine!

A great devalued thing is a plain life…

But I like it like a venus-fly-trap pried open with tweezers…”


“I want to sit very calmly with my bangs curled…

But my pet monster has bitten my hand!

Life makes me sad.

So sad that I walk down the street etc.”

Drinking And Writing

Drinking and Writing

The slurred myth of poet-drunks
being superior to sober poets
is only bar-talk between bullshitters
after two in the morning.
I mashed that self-destruct button
for a whole decade and got no gut-feeling
other than a sick one.
I lost valuables and fell in the streets,
racked up regrets and grievances, woke up
on the bottom half
of a wheeling depression
after nights of bad sleep in a backwards dream.
Dionysus never imbued me with the wisdom
of the vine. I never
saw the point of the moon
after a jug of wine.
What I gained in courage
I lost in dependency:
Booze only inspired
poor spelling
and a trip to the pisser
every three lines.

by Ryan Dowling