this hair is braided, long
my spin on my opposite
without it I am seen and with it
I am touched without my consent
all things men can grab with impunity
my skin is dark,
big brown eyes and thighs
I talk to strangers on the bus
and when they say God bless you
I don’t tell them
God is what they call babies left at fire stations
and women afraid to eat and walk or be heard
these lips draw attention, moving
but I don’t think my representatives speak my language
they think I don’t belong
because the letters in my name are in a strange order
and I’ve grown fat and dull off food of the land
they have bled dry of life and filled with poison
my hands are raw from bootstrap strings
and my feet are flattened
the constant pulling up has made my palms bleed
and these aren’t even my size
they were made for a man, I have so many blisters
I am cold from the open road
but I’m still hot and wet inside, and with so many people seeking warmth
I cannot yell or they will hear me
Avi-Yona Israel is a writer living in Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in The Seventh Wave, Esthetic Apostle, and Capulet Mag.
Interview With The Poet:
CNP: The first thing that caught our attention with this poem was the title, especially the "lysistrata" reference--it gives the whole piece such an enormous sense of scope. How did this poem come together?
Avi: Well, I wish there was a grand lead-up, but one day I was re-reading Aristophanes (I am a nerd but I also studied the Classics in college) and it struck me how much I wished that movements were more practical. We fight with each other on the most abstract of issues and wield crazy international documents and Congressional bills and such - what happened to just plain old blue-balling?
CNP: A sentiment I'm sure many people would agree with in this current political/social climate
CNP: Haha! Yes. I had to look the play up and thought it was such an amazing concept, so thank you for teaching us about that!
Avi: No worries, I live to reduce complicated concepts even further to arcane mythology.
It's part of my charm.
CNP: A stellar quality in a poet. A poet friend of ours once explained poetry as this continuation of mythology; the current writings and retellings of history from the, I suppose, "common" lens. Your poem certainly has that feel--it made me recognize this side of our society that I only see abstractly and just laid it out bare. What is your writing process like? Do you start with a concept and whittle away at it, or do you discover the meaning as you go?
Avi: Dear lord, I wish I had a process. For me, a creative idea comes on like a weird, emotional breeze. It washes over me and I'll run off a bus, sit in the middle of a stairway, hide in the bathroom, even put out a perfectly good cigarette and just start writing on anything - my hand, receipts - sometimes I don't write anything for years, other times i'll write for days on end. Usually the only essential elements are confusion, delusion, frustration, and desperation. It's like an old-fashioned, you can switch up the ingredients only so much before it's just a different cocktail, you know?
CNP: How true that is. I struggle to find any order in my writing method, but I think that’s part of the magic.
Avi: Yes, that's what it is - magic! But everyday magic like cooking or the internet.
I don't know how the internet works, and it haunts me.
CNP: So did this poem come about piece by piece, or did it flood all at once?
Avi: It definitely came all at once. Very rarely do I go back to a poem after I finish it. For me, writing is a very sensory experience and if the lighting is different, the smells in the air, the background noise - it brings a new energy into the poem that I might prefer separated.
I'm getting better about engaging more in the editing process. It's a slow climb and struggle with my pride.
CNP: I can relate to that, almost too much. I hardly ever edit.
Avi: I've even had a friend quote a line back to me, and I'm like "what jibberish are you speaking?" but it's my own nonsense that I long forgot.
CNP: Of course, in this case, it worked out well. This poem has a very finely crafted feel. But it's also so conversational, especially when you read it. Was that a conscious thought while you were writing, or did you discover the voice after the fact?
Avi: I think it's my natural style of engaging any question. I started my higher education as a philosophy major and there's something essential to me about the construction of comparisons and the examining of ideas from multiple angles. the poem is pretty much my internal dialogue as I played Devil's Advocate with myself.
CNP: Interesting. Thats my area of study as well, and I've found it to be so critical to poetry. Not that you have to be a philosophy nut to write good poetry, but that I think poetry just natural expels/explores those fundamental questions. Of course, that could be me projecting my own interests onto the poems, but what can you do?
Avi: I think that's very true. In a way a poem is a delicate system. There are sounds and shapes, levers and weights, all of these parts that have to come into some form of balance. Haha, I love to project. Let's be friends.
CNP: Ha! Well we are off to a good start! Poetry.. philosophy... projection...
Avi: The 3Ps
CNP: I'm curious about a formal technique you use in this poem; there is very little punctuation, in fact there are only a handful of commas, and they all come in the middle or near the end of a few sentences. Was that planned or was it a form that discovered itself through you as you were writing?
Avi: Hmm. Well, that's a two-part answer. I'm an e. e. cummings kind of girl, in that punctuation marks are essentially just extra letters and they only require standard use if you want your sentence to have an obvious, standard interpretation. I like to use commas as pauses, and periods are just the literary symbol for walking away from an idea.
The other part is that I think using punctuation in a certain way keeps your reader from getting ahead of you. It ensures some theatre, leaves time for a slow reveal.
CNP: Fascinating. I love that idea; not letting the reader get ahead of you. Someone once told me about using cliches and idioms in poetry, essentially if you can guess where the sentence is going then its not a good sentence. I'm not sure I agree, but I love the sentiment of it. I'll have to rethink my approach to punctuation--Lately I have only been using it to mess with my syntax and grammar. This approach feels more... authentic? deliberate? I'm not sure, but I do like it.
Theatre certainly rings true with this poem; both with the reference in the title, and the conversational feel of the poem. Now I'm reading it more like dialogue, which is more appropriate I think with your gorgeous reading. I'm reading through your poem "big idea" from The Esthetic Apostle and am now noticing a similar use in punctuation there.
Avi: Haha, thank you, I appreciate that. I feel a similar way about music - most songs have the same four chords or whatever and you only need to listen to a verse to tell essentially the path of the whole song. I prefer to be a little jazzy about it. Like, hey! made you look! That's one of the reasons that I liked your idea to record a reading as well. Poetry is music, not in an abstract way either. It just is music.
CNP: "hey! made you look" is such a wonderful treat for the reader, as well as the writer. I've been floating around with this idea of doing a little series of poems all based around an idiom that is used/written incorrectly.
Avi: Ah, yes. I think most thoughts are run-on sentences. I wasn't even done with the thought when the poem ended, so too much punctuation seems presumptuous.
Yes! Did you read Amelia Bedelia books as a kid?
CNP: They are, aren't they? A never ending stream of run-on sentences.
I'm afraid to say I have not
Avi: Homonyms are incredible. That's all I'll say.
CNP: Haha, I did not expect to end this interview with homework!
Avi: Hey! Made you look! Haha. But yes, poems are always part of something bigger. They aren't just the words that are on the page, they are the words that aren't, the places where we didn't have to pause. Poems are just little bites of mindfulness.
CNP: I do love that quote: "poems aren't just the words on the page, they are the words that aren't". We received an enormous amount of social/political commentary poems (which wasn't too surprising), but I think your piece really stood out in that it never tells the reader how to feel, or gives a direct moral/ethical lecture. And then, my god, that ending.
Avi: Yeah, the ending ended the poem for me in a very real way. Every once in a while i get overwhelmed at the catch-22 of being a woman, or just being a person who seeks to be acknowledged. It's like you save for a yacht your whole life and then just find out you're sea sick. Damed if I insist on being reckoned with, and damned if I stay in silence.
CNP: And then you just live at the dock, pretending.
Avi: Yeah or you walk into the ocean. Whatever works.
CNP: Your poem does a great job exploring that catch-22, and I must say I was blown away by your expansion of the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" idiom.
Avi: Yeah, that whole thing has always pissed me off. Like, the people who came up with that shit had their boots shined by other people. Go fuck yourself. Sorry about all the swearing, haha.
CNP: It’s fine. I'm sure our readers will appreciate the rawness of this interview.
Avi: God I hope so.
CNP: Will you expand on a particular line for me?
Avi: Yes, of course.
CNP: The imagery throughout the poem is visceral and clear, but the phrase "my spin on my opposite" trips me up a bit, but in a really good way.
Avi: Well I feel like black women are always held in opposition to white women in a weird way, like it's noticeable when my hair is long, and I get the question "is that your hair?" in a very frightened but honestly curious way.
I mean, obviously it's not my hair. Sometimes it's neon green, haha. But it is a symbol of youth and innocence that I think black women are almost excluded from by definition. So, do I want people to notice me or not?
CNP: Ah! People can behave so strangely about other peoples bodies. I caught a dualism reference, but I figured there must be something deeper happening that was just out of reach for me, first because its just a clever phrase, and second, because you give out a tiny chuckle when you read that line.
Avi: Well it's ridiculous that we are treated as opposites, but there can definitely be that insinuation.Really we're all fucked in some way or another, let's not come up with arbitrary divisions. That was the chuckle.
CNP: I will never hear that chuckle the same way again.
Avi: Really? Try thinking of a witch's cackle, that's a fun remix. Haha.There's always use for some kind of laugh.
CNP: Its true. How else to respond to something so ridiculous but to laugh. Which I think adds a nice little layer to this poem in general; wishing that movements were more practical. So what else can you do?
Avi: In regards to making movements more practical?
CNP: Any ideas? Besides blue-balling? Although I do believe that would be an effective movement.
Avi: I mean obviously I find that to be a delicious first choice, but I think that the real 'movement' behind any action has to be something that actually moves us. I think we have a hard time figuring that out for ourselves, first, because other people are always telling us how to feel, and two, because we can't always recognize when we are being affected. With the constant bombardment of distractions, in the form of sex, booze, rock n' roll, vacations, Snapchat, who would want to stop and see what the world looks like when everything is still? I think to control any new movement, we've gotta stop the momentum we're stuck in.
CNP: Interesting paradox; to move forward we have to stop for a bit.
Avi: Listen to other people. Fear yourself. Remember things you'd rather forget.
We all need a place to belong, but we won't ever be safe in our chosen place if we don't look to see what's behind the other doors.
CNP: I think theres a direct parallel there to the power of poetry; poems being these little snapshots asking you to slow down and consider them.
Avi: In many ways, I think that explains why so much poetry is befuddling and florid and dense - the author wants you to get lost in it. For me, I want you to slow down, but you don't have to dig. Just take a second glance. Nothing is being hidden from us, we only hide from everything.
CNP: Wow, thats an excellent point. I think I find myself guilty of that oftentimes, over-complicating my writing, for who knows why? To make it seem more important, or grander, or more intelligent; or maybe even as a defense mechanism.. like you said, a way to "hide from everything". Now I'm going to have a bit of an existential crisis, thank you.
Avi: I told you, it's part of my charm. You only have to interview me, I have to be me.
Trust me, it gets tiring.
CNP: Ha! Well I'm glad your out there, looking under rocks and showing us what's under them. I’m afraid were about to run out of time. Any thoughts you’d like to impart before we go?
Avi: Well, I guess I'll just give everyone some homework: I was looking at Rembrandt's "St. Peter in Prison" this morning and it shook a couple of things loose. Try to see something everyday that does that, whatever will do it for you. That's the first step to slow down.
CNP: Amen to that. I think thats a wonderful quality about poets, always looking around for things to feel about.
Avi: Haha, we really, really do.
CNP: Well, thank you so much for joining us, and being a part of our inaugural issue! We are thrilled to have you.
Avi: Thank you so much! This was a great conversation, keep me in the loop with all the great work you're doing.