Featured SwEP author: Jennifer E. Hudgens

Swimming With Elephants Publications would like to reintroduce you to Jennifer E. Hudgens, author of Girls Who Fell in Love with War. Jennifer was born and raised in Oklahoma City. She has always danced to the beat of her own drummer, just ask her mom. Using poetry as a means of expression and survival, Jennifer lives poetry. She watches the sky the way most people watch television. Jennifer is terrified of clowns, horses, and animatronic toys. That damned Snuggle bear is secretly trying to steal souls.

Girls Who Fell in Love with War is Jennifer’s first full collection of poems. She has plans to release a couple poetry chapbooks and her first novel in 2016. Jennifer promises the novel is quite murdery. She is also working to bring more diversity and light to the amazingly talented poets in the Oklahoma Poetry Community.

Jennifer is currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of Central Oklahoma with plans to teach high school students after graduation. She teaches creative writing classes for the Oklahoma City Arts Council and is a pretty rad substitute teacher.

Jen genuinely hopes you like her poems. If you don’t, that’s okay too.

Recently, she released a collection, Paloma, with Blood Pudding Press. So it goes…

You were the only one who believed me when I said what he did hurt

You were the only one who knew I was burying myself in too much fat and flux

Paloma kickstarts with 1996, a punk rock war-cry of nostalgia and a final lingering note of sadness. This, like many others in the collection, is a poem that resounds with everything oh-so-90s; but make no mistake, this is meant in the best possible way. A mixed tape soundtrack that plays like growing up, it sets the tone to whom this collection is dedicated– as much funeral dirge as it is love song for a sister and friend. The final line of the first poem rings melancholic: “Who’s gonna take care of us strays now?”

It is this echoing theme of finality, of trying to grasp the concept of loss, that carries on through the entire collection, questions of mortality and suffering scattered like the ashes of the departed, asking the question specifically in Lauren Kate is Dead: “Where the hell is this better place people are always talking about” and present in lines like:

How is it life if we aren’t suffering
Pain keeps us still {here} latched to gravity

With each poem thereafter comes a chapter of both closure and reawakening old memories; Paloma is remarkably bittersweet in the tug-of-war of saying goodbye to somebody who can no longer hear you, and Hudgens’ voice is so clear and combative against adhering to traditional standards. If nothing else, it is clear that Hudgens proves to be anything but a traditional poet; she rocks the reader’s thoughts, with gruesome details suggesting unkempt murder, encouraging one to further unravel the mayhem behind a sudden loss. Nonetheless, this proves to be a beautiful read, a true work of dedication and memory even with scattered wishes to be unseen, like that found in Bizarre Love Triangle:

You always saw me
I’m trying not to be seen

And isn’t that so like loss, and how we process it? Loud as bombs, but in the quiet, in solitude, trying to process in peace, even if the death was anything but peaceful. But with this thought, I wonder at the intention of the book title: Paloma– a name that means peace, it is perhaps, with this offering, the dearly departed (because judging by Hudgens’ words, Lauren Kate was, indeed, so very dear) may be at peace, too.

Overall, as with all of our SwEP family, I can only offer heartfelt recommendations to reach out and read more of Jennifer Hudgens’ work. You can purchase her full-length title, Girls Who Fell in Love with War, published with Swimming with Elephants, on Amazon, and keep an eye on her wordpress for more news directly from the author.


Elegy for a Star Girl Review by Amanda Cartigiano

A Review of Elegy for a Star Girl

by Amanda Cartigiano

Each poem in Elegy for a Star Girl is categorized into three elements of existence: The Other World, The Here and Now, and Transcendence, and each poem is a combination of life experiences, Science Fiction, and space. These poems illustrate great depth within the soul, body, and mind, and the illuminating language and imagery express the universe as a metaphor. Life is questioned and answers are hard to find. Life is a journey that must be experienced from above. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes and Noble today.

A Review: You Must be This Tall to Ride

You Must be This Tall to Ride

by SaraEve Fermin

A Review by Kevin Barger

The first time I remember seeing the words that make up the title of SaraEve Fermin’s book, You Must be This Tall to Ride, I was probably around eight years old. My parents had taken me and a couple of my friends to the state fair and I stood in a line with tickets in my hand for what felt like hours to be able to ride this massive pirate ship that rocked back and forth like it was being tossed around by waves at sea. It was basically just a giant boat shaped swing, but it would speed up and go higher and higher until it eventually would flip upside down and go around in a circle a couple of times before slowing back down and stopping. I remember pretending to be a pirate and saying “Arr!” a bunch of times while standing next to my slightly older and slightly taller friend. I remember getting up to the gate, standing beneath an outstretched wooden hooked pirate hand, and being an inch or two too short to ride. I remember my friend barely reaching it and the excitement in his eyes as he was let in the gate–and I remember the crushing disappointment I felt as I stood outside the fence watching him rock back and forth scared and laughing and turning slightly green.

You Must be This Tall to Ride reflects that sort of crushing disappointment of having to stand outside while watching the world go on around you. Here, though, having to stand apart is due to physical and mental illnesses requiring medications and surgeries. Split into two parts, it’s the poetry of the caged–the shaking of the bars. If you are not prepared it will wound you in the most beautiful of ways. Fermin does her due diligence, though, and prepares us for the journey ahead with the first several poems. She lets us know that, no matter how bad things seem, light can be found in the darkest of places. She lets us know that, even though we will be caged with her, there is beauty and love and laughter here. In the first poem, “After you think you are going to die and instead live…” she paints a picture of her lover who

…will preempt your every stubborn refusal
with a reason to live.
He will hang your wind chimes,
install a new showerhead so you are safe after surgery,
pay the stylist to fix your hair after you’ve cut it off to spite your face.

In the second poem “This is How I Own You” Fermin seems to define what the rest of the book is about stating:

Call this coming clean. Call it my start over,
my claiming. These scars. This drawer of
medication bottles, watch me fantasy them
into hope. Into holding on.

This is a fight song, and one of my personal favorite poems throughout the collection. Fermin reminds us to embrace what wounds us and celebrate our own survival. It’s a call to heal through bleeding. It’s a reminder that no matter what we have our breath. That we are all a “maker of star magic.”

The first half of the book also deals a lot with family. These are some of the darkest poems in the book, highlighting highly complex strained relationships between a mother and daughter and siblings. These are the poems that will wound you if you are not prepared. Here we see glimpses of the interplay of addiction and abuse and illness. We are told of the pain of having an absent father. We are told of the guilt felt for not being able to cure an addicted mother. In “For My Sister, The Youngest, Earnest Apologies” Fermin apologizes for these interplays even though she is just as much a victim of circumstance as her sister:

Sorry about the cops and EMTs that huffed and puffed outside the door like a bad fairy tale, sorry you knew the smell of hospitals well before you knew the smell of a classroom.

But, again, through these dark poems are moments of love and laughter. In “We Get Ice Cream, 2013” we see a family that, if only for 30 minutes, can ignore their demons just long enough to laugh. In “Sia Explains How My Mother Loved Me Like Singing” we see what motherhood should be with lines like:

Tough girl, pulled the thorn from
all your bad days, uncovered a better
version and a waterfall hook.

If the first half of the book deals with the external, of being caged and examining the people outside and the effect they have, the second half deals with the internal. These are more cerebral, focusing on the “I” instead of the “you.” In “But What You Could Be” the speaker asks what would happen if she got rid of everything she sees as a flaw. In “When I Tell Him ‘I Think of Dying Every Day’” we’re faced with the reality of fighting depression:

What I mean is,
I swallow these pills because
I love myself too much to let go,
I love the dark and sharp and red
because I enrage myself enough but
don’t know how to let go.

Music plays a big part in this collection with song lyrics peppered throughout along with quotes from tv shows like [H]ouse, m.d. and Doctor Who and authors like Stephen King. No one plays more of a role than enigmatic singer Sia, though, whose music is the subject of three poems. “Sia Teaches Me How to Fight My Way Through a Panic Attack and Get to the Bus on Time” is a semi-found poem brilliant in how it perfectly mimics the stuttering kind of speech one might experience during a panic attack:

quick step/ stop paying attention to everyone else/ I don’t care if you don’t look pretty/ us what you got left/ teeth/ giggling eyes/ a wig/ your entire range

The second half, while dealing a lot with mental illness, are also where poems of healing are found. Fermin showcases the moments when we have realized that life is never going to be perfect, but we strive to make it as good as it can be anyway. “How To Be Something Other Than” highlights this process by focusing on the little things only to learn to surrender:

…To cry with the door
open, to cry with abandon. How to learn
to love a plum again, to taste it sweet
and still warm from the tree. To surround
yourself in something other than damage
and yourself.

This is the message of You Must Be This Tall To Ride. That we will all continue to grow. That eventually we will be tall enough. That even if we don’t conquer our pasts or various demons completely, we have the capacity to live with them in ways where we can at least contain the daily damage they do by turning to face them–by surrendering to the fact that they are there.

Wish Upon A Star: A Review

Wish Upon A Star

an unauthorized intimate reflections with Walt Disney

A Review by Katrina K Guarascio

wish-upon-a-star-1_origWish Upon a Star, an unauthorized intimate reflections with Walt Disney
, presented by Enchanted Rose Theater, written by Andy Mayo and directed by James Cady, is a humanizing take on a legend of entertainment. Set in a screening room in 1966, Vernon Poitras portrays Walt Disney who, while conducting a video will of sorts, takes the audience through the details of the building of the Disney empire and his own childhood.

The concept is based on a rumored movie that Disney made weeks before his death, where he speaks to animators and story men, not only to thank them for their labors, but also to urge them to create his final dream: EPCOT. Since the video was never found and is often denied, writer Andy Mayo takes it upon himself to create that video for us in this short play.

Poitras gave a wonderful portrayal of Disney in what essentially was an hour and a half monologue. Poitras looked and played the part perfectly requiring the audience to fall into his story without question. Despite being a one man show, the audience was held at attention, listening to his stories and feeling his trials and successes. He shifted with ease through the history of some of the most well known Disney stories, including Snow White, Steamboat Willie, Bambi, connecting with the audience and their own personal associations with the Disney catalog. By the time the transition to a more personal history of the man came, Poitras had hooked the audience making the character alive, visceral, and engaging. Truly, it was a wonderful performance.

mickey_apprenticeOne of the most memorable parts of the story was when Disney spoke of his creation of Fantasia, particularly the episode entitled The Apprentice. He claims that in the story he was the sorcerer, “Yensid” (Disney spelt backwards) but through his story, he realized he was not the great wizard who mentored Mickey and cleaned up his mess, but instead Mickey himself. He states is frustration, “Turns out I’m not the sorcerer, just a damned mouse.” He claims to be “a phantom of myself” entertaining a very universal and human feeling, How many of us have lost ourselves trying to become someone else?

While watching the performance there were some questions that roamed my mind. Not being a Disney historian, I didn’t know what aspect of the play were factual and what may have been incorporated for entertainment factors. Did Disney really hate Cinderellla? Did he really think of Fantasia as his masterpiece? Where the stories of his own childhood, telling stories of a youth that was cold, difficult, and so very relatable, true or simply for entertainment purposes? Where these stories based on facts? An internet search might answer all these questions, but as I left the theater I found myself completely uninterested in fact checking. The purpose of the play was not to give a Wikipedia biography of the man. It was to connect us as human beings. The great character became someone that reminds people of their own difficulties, their own exhausted efforts, their own happiness.

download-1While listening to Poitras speak, he became less the infamous Disney and more the common man filled with simple regrets, different personas, dreams, and disappointments. He was my grandfather talking about his childhood paper route. He was my fellow artist disappointed at the failure of a project he cared so much about. He was a man who thought he was one thing, but turned out to be something else.

If writer Andy Mayo’s goal was to humanize the character whilst filling his audience with positive memories, he was successful. Set your history books and internet searches aside for this one and listen to the story of a legend who was really just a man.

See Wish Upon a Star at The Cell Theater (liveatthecell.com) December 2-3, 9-10 at 7:30 and December 4th & 9th at 2:00pm. Rated PG for adult language.

Book Review: GNARLY

There is beauty in breathing razorblades and exhaling a painted sunset as delicate as it is too much to behold; that’s what Danielle Smith accomplishes in her first publication, GNARLY. And “gnarly” is the perfect description of Smith’s words as she takes you for a rollercoaster through first loves and heartbreaks, all playing out like a soundtrack under the visual madness of a New Mexico skyline. Smith has lit a match that burns just as bright as one of those remarkable sunsets.

And she manages to set the reader on fire, too, turning your heart into the campfire that might light the night as she whispers in your ear bittersweet-everythings; because this is the human experience. It is raw, gritty, soiled, messy, gnarly. From the truth showcased in teenage romance, in poems such as Minerals and Freckles, to the raw and heartfelt honesty of (His) Tie Dye and Making Nothing Out Of Something, Smith manages to take the reader down a new route where so many have tread before. She’s just wearing new shoes and holding a machete, fierce as a bleeding heart, to bushwhack her way through the bramble of her own thinking.

Her book reads like an indie record, but you want everybody to hear this one. Other poems, like Super 8, showcase true artistry, peppering the reader with hidden messages like whisper-kisses, finally ending on the “title track”, Gnarly which is everything and nothing you’d expect upon reaching the end: all madness, all frantic, all knees knocking, lip biting, nail scratching grit.

Overall, both deeply touching as it is a shock that such a young voice could carry so much wisdom and experience.

Her book, as with all Swimming With Elephants Publications, can be found online on Amazon and goodreads, where you can leave a review for this up-and-coming brilliant poeta.