Fill in the Blanks with Lennart Lundh

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After realizing that only women had been featured so far on Fill in the Blanks, I was happy to get some responses from Lennart Lundh, a generous and vital member of the Chicago area poetry scene who I met two years ago at the launch of my first book. Len’s poems, which you can sample here, are diverse in form and subject, but all touched with a tenderness and palpable sense of longing.  His extensive bio is listed below, and many of his chapbooks are written during National Poetry Month to raise funds for cancer research. Find out more about Len as he fills in the blanks.

If I could have written the inauguration poem for any former US president, I would have chosen Dwight Eisenhower because he’s the first President I remember, taking office when I was four.   
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The light source that would best describe the impact of my writing is that of the full moon, since it illuminates things we’d miss seeing in the night. 
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If I could start my own cable network, it would feature readings of works by poets and authors both living and dead, and interviews; the cartoons of Crusader Rabbit, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and The Animaniacs; and the works of Ernie Kovacs, the Marx Brothers, and Robin Williams.
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When people tell me to grow up, my first inclination is to tell them I’ve already triedand failed several times. 
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A sense of humor is the best gift I have ever received.
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Lennart Lundh has been published as a poet, short-fiction writer, photographer, and historian since 1965. He served a blue-water deployment with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready Group Bravo in support of Marine Corps operations in South Vietnam during 1968 and 1969. In late 1970, he was discharged as a conscientious objector. Both events continue to influence his life and writing.

Len and Lin, his wife of forty-seven years, have three grown daughters, six grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter. The space in their northeastern Illinois home that was once filled by the daughters is now given over to dogs, cats, and an awful lot of books, music, and movies.

To find Len’s books of aviation history, search his name at the Web pages of Schiffer Publishing (www.schifferbooks.com) and Squadron/Signal Publications (www.squadronsignalpublications.com), or at http://www.bookfinder.com.

Examples of his short fiction can be found in the archives of the original Liars League (www.liarsleague.com); Arachne Press’ 2013 Weird Lies anthology (www.arachnepress.com); and Issue 6 of Jet Fuel Review (www.jetfuelreview.com). A chapbook of short stories is due from Writing Knights Press in December.

His poetry can be found online in venues such as Poetry Storehouse (www.poetrystorehouse.com), The Lake (http://www.thelakepoetry.co.uk), and Postcard Poems and Prose (postcardpoemsandprose.com). In print, his poetry and photography can both be found in several of the Squire anthologies produced by Writing Knights Press (www.store.writingknights.com). WKP is also the publisher of three of Len’s six chapbook: Four Poems, Pictures of an Other Day, and So Careless of Themselves.

Three self-published chapbooks (Poems Against Cancer 2014, Poems Against Cancer 2015, and Fifth April 1973) are available by contacting Len at lenlundh@aol.com The annual Poems Against Cancer volumes are written during National Poetry Month to raise funds for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which sponsors research into childhood cancers, and all proceeds from sales of them continue to go to the Foundation.

There are readings of several poems, and the full text of an interview done for Arachne Press, on YouTube. And, if that’s not enough, there are scores of other print and online venues that have included his work over a period of fifty years. Perhaps Len’s favorite among the print journals his work has appeared in is The Binnacle, published by the University of Maine at Machias, which has the sensibility, look, and feel of issues of Poetry Magazine from back in the Seventies.

Len keeps promising to create a Web page, but so far has managed not to. Find him as Lennart Lundh on Facebook, or contact him at lenlundh@aol.com.

A fortnight and odd days

The past two weeks have been a bit of a blur. My 30th wedding anniversary brought a long-awaited vacation last week which was wonderful but quick, and productive curriculum work at school this week has made this one go VERY quickly with little time for contemplation or writing. Plus I had a birthday. But I am now old enough where that is not a big deal. Or too big a deal. Never mind. *shakes fist *Get off my lawn.

I did manage some reading and a little drafting over this two week period:

  • Finally read Donna Taart’s The Goldfinch. Although there were parts of it that I enjoyed quite a bit, there were also large chunks where I was disinterested or didn’t care for the plot turns. Worth reading, but not the masterpiece I was expecting after reading some of the rave reviews. Loved the characters of Hobie and Boris much more than the main character.
  • Received my Big Poetry Giveaway win from Susan Rich over at The Alchemist’s Kitchen: Susan Elbe’s A Map of What Happened. Set in Chicago, this poetry volume is rife with strong and resonant images and emotional impact, especially for this Chicago area native whose father could have been a character in some of these poems.
  • Needing a kick in the pants to draft, I have been creating word banks from the Verses app on my phone. This little app is like magnetic poetry tiles that you can remix over and over. You can move the words around the screen or as I do, (since the screen is so small), make lists of them in your notebook and write from there. I particularly think one of these word bank drafts has some promise.
  •  I received this book as a gift from the family of one of my students at the end of the year. I have been using it for morning pages, and the little pull-off quotes at the bottom are being saved for a future project. I love it. Take a look.

I am anxiously awaiting the results of both a chapbook contest and an open submissions period for a different chapbook at a different press. I have several subs out to journals, and I am preparing for a week at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival coming in early July. Iowa City has become a writing home to me, and I am looking forward not only to my class with Arda Collins but also to my favorite writing haunts and uninterrupted quiet time to work.

Summer has finally arrived. And as a bonus, I get to watch men with amazing legs play the beautiful game almost every day of the week. What’s not to like?

Telling Stories and Timehopping

Some weeks ago, younger colleagues at work introduced me to the Timehop app for my phone. It shows me what I posted on Twitter/Facebook on the same date in prior years. It was interesting for me to read over the last week how deeply engaged I was in the character of the Pioneer Wife around this time last year, using my winter break from school to do research and revise the drafts I had been compiling throughout the fall. I still do not know what the trigger was for that series – I know which poem came first, but not why it was a pioneer woman. But that obsession turned out to be a fruitful one, as the Pioneer Wife turned into a suite of poems that became a chapbook published by Red Bird Chapbooks in the spring of 2013. 

This winter break, I find myself similarly ensconced in one particular world, but this time I know the trigger. About two weeks ago, watching an episode of Michael Palin’s travel documentary about Brazil, I was reintroduced to the Amazon’s pink dolphins, which we were lucky enough to glimpse in Peru several years ago. On the show, his guide shared some local myths about the dolphins, which sent me back to my travel journal and then to the computer for a refresher course. I found the idea of mythical creatures who turn into humans at night to seduce women fanciful and clever. But some research revealed a dark side to the myth, that it may have been created to explain pregnancies from incestuous relationships that were common in isolated river villages. 

I found myself rooting for there to be a human girl and a dolphin that actually fell in love. Finding no such story on the internet, I decided I would write it. As of right now, there are eleven poems in very rough draft form. They speak in the voices of five different characters (the girl, the boto/the dolphin, her mother, her father, a narrator) with a story about two-thirds told. I like them as a suite of poems (similar to the Pioneer Wife), but I may play around with the idea of a fragmented narrative structure for fiction, as well as perhaps a series of poems that are connected by prose sentences or hyper-flash fiction sections. 

I have been sharing some lines from these poems on Twitter (my feed shows up to the right here on the blog) so that next year, if the Timehop app is still a working thing, I can look back and maybe find a new topic to strike my fancy. It feels good to be writing, to be telling stories, to be reminded that sometimes these deep dives are the ones that surface pearls.

Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue

Sally Rosen Kindred’s Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl Press) could be seen as just a book of persona poems based on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. However, the more time I spend with the chapbook, the more I see that this is a book about desire, about the dark sides of fancy and childhood, about how little parents can really do for their children and how much. It is about claiming who you are as opposed to who others want you to be. It is about how nothing – not even the things that are supposed to – will last.

The collection begins with “Tinkerbell Thinks About What She Wants” (full text here in diode), one of my favorites in the collection.  After the beginning with a Barrie epigraph that explains Tinkerbell’s common position as a mender of pots and kettles, the dismissive short i sounds in the first lines make clear what the fairy thinks of her position and her name –

“Tink. Tink. Makes me sick, the lick

of their soft calls, this flighty work:”

Toward the end of the poem, she expresses her desire for Peter, wishes she didn’t need his “pretty mouth to/tell me over, make me more/than a sliver of a dead child’s laugh.” But the highlight is the ending, full of the spunk and fury we expect from Tinkerbell, but in a much more mature way:

“Kiss me kettle-hard: yank

 my sorry ass from Never.

Somewhere I’m skin without wings.

Somewhere my name means tough as light.

Several of the poems in the collection deal with the issue of mothering – Wendy as mother to the Lost Boys, Wendy’s mother, Peter’s mother, and the mothers who now share this story with their own children. The descriptions of mothers are sometimes longed-for, barely-remembered ideals:

“and the warm wind of her moving in

off the edge of the bed, to hover

by cool sheets and bring her hands

down on your face

like rain? We were safe there,”

            from “What Wendy Darling Tells Her Brother”

and sometimes tinged with a hint of menace or sadness:

“This is having a mother:

being drawn down, filled

with the amber breath

of clarinets, promises warm

as their terrible weight.”

            from “Peter Dreams – “

In “Wendy Darling Remembers Falling” (full text here at diode), the memory of the mother is far from idealized, making the mother almost ineffectual. As Wendy recalls falling down slate stairs, she also recalls her mother’s hands, desiring

“the leather of her warm fingers in my hair,

even the smooth-glass drag of her ring.”

What she gets is quite different:

“because all her hands had done

was find her lips

and rest against them

as I slapped and slid my hard way

to her shoes: their refusal,

that alien brown shine.”

Kindred gives voice not only to Tinkerbell, Peter, and Wendy, but also to a lost boy tasked with Tinkerbell’s autopsy and to Tiger Lily, whose character actually has a voice in these poems as opposed to in the story. But two of my favorite poems in the collection are not character poems at all. They are poems that use the story – the reading of it to children and the world it creates – as commentary about parenting.

In “One Ending,” the speaker reflects on how stories (both written and lived) can always have different endings. In an epigraph from Peter Pan, Kindred shows how the lost boys stand chastened in front of Mrs. Darling, hoping that she will have them. The speaker, reading to her son, reflects:

“The boy in my lap

who holds my thumb to the page

is called adopted, too. Have his hands

been on that island?”

The boy tells her he can remember a time before she was his mother, a time of mushrooms, flags, and red tigers. When he wakes later to a nightmare, she comforts him:

“holding him warm to my skin,

and tell him hard that he’s home.”

But we don’t end so easily –the next lines bring back the uncertainty and menace of mothering:

“That’s one ending.

There’s always another one,

with tigers red

as mouths, their soft paws smearing

the sides of the house

that is his sleeping body…”

And in “To Mothers Reading Peter Pan,” the speaker asks mothers if they will be able to read the story:

“knowing no children live on this island

without wishing their mothers cold

knowing the waters are filled with fathers

who swam for home but missed the reedy shore

and may appear

only as the bitter ends

of pirates sharpened by sons

into tools

silver and weak.”

These lines to me are the heart of the collection. Children do make their parents into villains, and parents do fail in their children’s eyes. This poem for me questions how we make our children aware of the freedoms they have in the world and prepare to let them go while still keeping them safe:

“Can you wake

can you tell

so someday he’ll be free of you

as the spiders beneath this house

who weave their own names

from the silk of the island’s storms

coming in off your lips

Will you tell

Will you tell

Will your words help

him make land”

This will be a collection I will read over and over and over again. Its layers are worth exploring, and its language is cohesive and surprising. Get one for yourself and see – you will not be disappointed. You might even learn to fly.

still i rise, an earthly thing

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As of today, The Imagined Life of the Pioneer Wife is officially available from Redbird Chapbooks. I couldn’t be more delighted with both the outcome of the chapbook and the experience I had in working with Dana and Shelly on the editing and design.

The cover photo is by Jack Schiffer, and there are lovely historical botanical line drawings on the inside pages, which are ivory parchment paper (for you book and paper nerds like me). The book is hand-sewn as well, making the design fit the theme perfectly.

Thank you those who encouraged the PW poems in early stages (Molly Spencer, Rachel Bunting and Dana Guthrie Martin) and to those who I hope will enjoy them now that her story is complete.