Swimming with Elephants Publications

an independent, not for profit, publishing agent focusing on supporting the working author and non-profit organizations


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Wil Gibson just can’t quit…

…being phenomenal.

Of course, such a grand sweeping word as phenomenal fails to do Wil Gibson’s work, in his most recent published collection, any justice whatsoever. It’s my belief that a simpler word might better suffice, if only for the phenomenal simplicity of what Wil’s words make you feel. An oxymoronic statement, maybe, but it’s just that — the beautiful simplicity — which Wil brings to both written and performance poetry.

It’s his most recent publication with Swimming With Elephants Publications, Quitting smoking falling in and out of love, and other thoughts about death that draws close that beautiful simplicity. As life-changing as an arrival to a safe haven, or a departure from the only place you’ve ever known, reading this book was like coming home, wherever home may be. With a broad array of landscapes and cities throughout the United States mentioned, I felt a strong sense of connection to place in reading. It was, undoubtedly, a journey; more than that, it was a pilgrimage.

For that reason, this book needs to be savoured (like a cigarette, if you will, or five after you’ve quit for the umpteenth time). Not to say I didn’t have the urge to rush through each part and eat it all up, but I found it most enjoyed as a slow read, taking the time to dog-ear pages and underline phrases that struck me (and as I say to many writers: sorrynotsorry for dog-earring books, for lack of post-its to use as markholders, and for marking up your books — this, to me, is a testament of love for the work put in, as I find connection to it).

The contrast and connection between each section was so well-constructed, from a writing and editing standpoint, I could certainly see the love that was put into this book, too. From the numbered poems and the slow stream of falling in love over and over again in the first part, The part where I fall in love and a bunch of people I love die to the numbered days in the second part, The part where I quit smoking and more people I love die that are almost comical at times in their display (days 16-18, especially; any smoker or former smoke can certainly relate to the feeling of fuck you that Wil puts so adequately on the page), a conversational tone carries throughout.

Thinking back to when I first heard Wil perform, it’s that conversational tone that holds him as one of my most highly recommended poets for anybody first entering the slam/performance poetry scene; I believe there’s something unique in drawing your audience in without the grandeur of the typical “slam voice.” Instead, Wil’s poetry has always offered this drift back to something reminiscent of the “original” spoken word artists of the Beatnik movement. But there’s that modern touch of artistry in his work, too.

It’s in The part where I fall out of love and more people I love die where Wil’s artistry as a written poet really shines. With unexpected construct like the poem titled simply as Purple, to the constant self-recognition of using cliches to his best ability (and the simple notion of the necessity of cliches), there’s a heartwrenchingly beautiful notion presented in the level of vulnerability that Wil provides in the third and closing part of his collection. Here is vulnerability as a lover, as a smoker, as a writer, as a human. And isn’t that what writing really needs to be? Vulnerable conversations, the shared recognition that we’re all cliches, we’re all just quitting something to start again, that we’re all falling in and out of love with ourselves constantly; Wil’s poetry reminded me that we’re all on a phenomenal pilgrimage through life, and we’ll get there whenever we damn well please (and maybe quit smoking, eventually).

In parting, I would tell anybody skeptical not to be swayed by the ominous title of Wil’s most recent book; instead, let it be an offering that allows you to feel absolutely, phenomenally, simply… human.

You can find Wil’s book on Amazon and Goodreads, along with other books in the Swimming With Elephants Publications family. And don’t forget to keep up with him on his website and Instagram as he continues to tour and scatter his words across the country.

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All Things Grow… even in the crisp autumn cold.

Lately I find myself in a transition phase of recognizing where my own trauma and anxieties end and I begin. This poem, “All Things Grow” by Lydia Havens, performed with Kate Noel, at this summer’s National Poetry Slam in Denver, paid tribute to that transitional phase; and while I didn’t get a chance to see the poem performed in person, I read reactions to it left and right and, upon reading it (and seeing the video), felt a growth inside of myself.

I believe that’s the true meaning of poetry: feeling yourself grow and flourish in the moment, alongside another person, because of another person’s experience and words. I think there’s something especially enchanting about poems like that, and furthermore something enchanting about Lydia — they have this remarkable talent of being explicit and raw and shaping it into something beautiful, something that… grows, far beyond the usual expectations of what one thinks of when they walk into a poetry slam. And that might be one of my very favourite things about Lydia Havens as a writer, too: they are so far beyond the typical slam artist. Instead, they are the true definition of a poet. In a few brief words, they are walking, talking, magical, lizard-y poetry themselves.

“All Things Grow” by Lydia Havens, performed with Kate Noel

bless every poem about trauma,
& struggle, & loss i have written
thus far, for getting me this far.
bless all the space they needed to take up. bless them for knowing
when to step away.

bless all the songs i cannot
listen to anymore because
nostalgia & association will be
the death of me. bless the fact
that i am not dead yet. bless
the fact that i don’t know
where my abuser is anymore,
and i am okay with that.

it doesn’t mean i’ve forgiven him,
but it does mean i’ve forgiven myself.

bless my mother for believing me.
bless my mother for driving me
to all the psych wards, then picking me
back up after discharge. bless
my mother for believing in me.

bless my friends for carrying me home.
bless my friends for making me a home.
bless the city of Boise. bless all the light
it gives us, even at night. bless all
the rivers, even when they want
to overflow. bless the scars on my arms
that faded, and the ones on my face
that didn’t. bless all the ways i spill
like metal secrets against the floor.

bless the glitter always on my hands,
and the becoming. bless the way
my hair is growing out. bless the meds
that worked until they didn’t. bless the way
i never stopped working.

bless the fact that once, i thought
i didn’t know how to write a happy poem.
so bless all the cliches i am learning to love
because i like being a happy person
more than i like being a good writer.
bless vulnerability. bless bravery.
bless whatever it is i’m doing right now,

because everyone that’s ever hurt me
has tried to make me quiet—drown me
in the frantic water i just learned how
to endure. this is not a survival song.
this is the song I sing because I’ve survived.
the opportunity for the joy i have always deserved,
because i have always deserved to take up space.

that’s all. that’s all.

(text posted with permission)
You can visit Lydia’s website, here, and further support them by buying their book, “Survive Like the Water” and, of course, watch the video performance of “All Things Grow” again and again.
Don’t forget to follow them on instagram for magical selfies, and on twitter for more updates about poetry and their life in Boise.

 


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Prayer on the way to the grocery by Sarah Allred

Prayer on the way to the grocery

by Sarah Allred

is she in there
would they let me enter
can they smell my expatriation, my absence
the reek of logic and earthy pleasures
would I dip my hand
in that confusingly municipal
basin of hallowed water and
dredge it across my body
in quarters and
would I remember to genuflect and
would I find the comfort
she gave at fourteen:
slightly left of the altar
the byzantine magdalene
not who we are supposed
to supplicate to but
the mother instead,
the mother I still crave


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143: The Silent Note-Writing Game

michael jarmer

The Silent Note-Writing Game

I don’t know how we landed on the idea.
Perhaps chaos of the 9 year old variety
inspired me to propose a game in which
we must be silent and can only communicate
through written notes to each other
back and forth on a shared
piece of paper or two. He loved it.
And in the last few days, months after
the first time we played, he’s saying,
Daddy, let’s play the silent note-writing game.
And so, tonight, sitting in a dark room
at his desk under a lamp, we take turns
writing and we have a silent conversation
on the page. There is talk tonight of
how fun this is, and questions about why
sometimes I don’t want to play, an agreement
about how anything, no matter how fun,
sometimes requires the right mood, the right space.
He asks me why I write like I do, all left-handed,
with improper pencil placement, upside-down…

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