I am happy to announce that my first chapbook, Weaves a Clear Night, is now available from Flying Trout Press. I wrote this chapbook one summer after taking two poetry workshops the previous semester. As gratifying as that was, two workshops at once forced short poems that I could present to others within a week. Once the semester ended, I wanted to write something that required far more than brevity and clarity, but something that scuba diving calls “going into the blue.” That is when you go so deep and far, you don’t see the sun on the water’s surface anymore. Just the vast blue around you.
So, I began work on this chapbook that subverts the myth of Penelope and gives her a good, old-fashioned affair. I wrote a section a day (first draft at least) for a month and required myself to not only use a different form with each section, ranging from open form to blank verse to a very loose cywydd, but to also write in different mental states. This meant that sometimes I set my alarm for 3 A.M. and wrote in that sleepy state. One day, I stayed in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and stared at Rothko to get ideas for line breaks. Another day, I only read Lorca in Spanish. Does this create “truer art?” Of course not. For me, however, I wanted to allow myself the full indulgence of a long poem.
Here is the book description:
Set in modern-day Appalachia, this chapbook in seventeen sections imaginatively recasts the myths surrounding Penelope’s fidelity to Odysseus. Lyrical, meditative, and deeply sensual, the poems follow the emotional isolation of a woman poised between two men, neither of whom can be a part of her daily life. The “you” in this collection is a secret love, the “he” is Odysseus, and the “son” is Telemachus. Despite the absence of the lover and the husband, their presence surrounds her. The result is a poetic narrative where memory and future fears disrupt the very existence of a physical present. Highly imagistic, Pence’s writing displays precision, structure, and grace along with depth and narrative ambition.
The “poem” is in seventeen sections, so it is a bit difficult to take out one section without the meaning being lost somewhat. I’ll post here the last section about a family taking a hike at summer’s end, which is fitting for the month of September.
The river’s surface stretches out the trees,
blackness where one tree passes
into another. Each branch a lover
to whom wishes are whispered.
Not with words. But by leaning
against each other, then pulling away.
There, across the way in the warbled
river currents, a family streaks out like a sunset:
pink, blue, yellow, and white
t-shirts. The pink streak shrieks,
Don’t push me in,
wanting to be pushed in.
The air stiffens, stops,
right before the release of the splash.
All softens back to black and green shadows
and streaks of too-bright colors
from this family, and another one,
and the next one, too, still on the ridge,
the father holding a blackberry cane aside
to allow the son at the end of this line,
to pass without snagging. The father
remembering another time, another self,
and the red, dashed line of briar skipping across skin.