Tag Archives: A.E. Stallings

Review: ‘Archaic Smile’ by A.E. Stallings

‘Archaic Smile’ was the debut poetry collection by A.E. Stallings, an American who moved to Athens, Greece, a couple of decades ago. Published in 1999, it won that year’s Richard Wilbur Award and its opening poem, ‘A Postcard from Greece’, is perhaps my favourite of all her work. It is a sonnet with slant rhymes describing a car accident:
Hatched from sleep, as we slipped out of orbit
Round a clothespin curve new-watered with the rain,
I saw the sea, the sky, as bright as pain
That outer space through which we were to plummet.
Stallings lives in the modern world of cars and planes and thinks in terms of orbits and outer space; the Greece of this poem is not there yet – there is no guardrail on the cliff-sided road, the only warnings are the memorials to those who have died there, who
sliced the tedious sea once, like a knife.
Luckily, her car hits an olive tree on the edge of the cliff and they don’t go over.
We clung together, shade to pagan shade,
Surprised by sunlight, air, this afterlife.
And so the ancient world steps in to save her from rash modernity, and in this first poem she weaves the present and the past together, living as a pagan shade in a refreshed existence. And the rest of the book, and indeed all her work, carries on this integration of past and present.

The first section of the book is titled ‘Underworld’, appropriate for that near-death event, but mostly being poems such as ‘Hades Welcomes his Bride’ and ‘Persephone Writes a Letter to her Mother’ – there is a lot of Greek mythology in Stallings’ work, but filtered through a modern sensibility:
Death, the deportation officer,
Has seen your papers and has found them wanting.

In the second section, ‘A Bestiary’, she writes of her American experiences of animals and birds, in life and death and freedom and captivity, with her customary detached amusement. Take ‘Watching the Vulture at the Road Kill’:
We stopped the car to watch. Too close.
He bounced his moon-walk bounce and rose
With a shrug up to the kudzu sleeve
Of a pine, to wait for us to leave.
She observes that most other birds have to get in and out in a hurry, whether raptors or prey, and draws a lesson from it:
There is no peace but scavengers.

The third section, ‘Tour of the Labyrinth’, returns to Greek themes, but again weaving past and present, as in the reaction to an antique pot being broken. The final section is ‘For the Losers of Things’, echoing the sense of loss or near-loss in the rest of the book, but staying in the present – ‘Watching the News After the Tornados’ – or even the far future, with another of my personal favourites, ‘The Machines Mourn the Passing of People’:
The air now is silent of curses or praise.
Jilted, abandoned to hells of what weather,
Left to our own devices forever,
We watch the sun rust at the end of its days.

As can be seen from the excerpts quoted, Stallings is a formalist, and very comfortable with whatever form and metre is appropriate for the particular piece she is producing. ‘Archaic Smile’ is a superb collection, readable and rereadable, memorable, quotable. Her subsequent collections have been equally impressive. If there is a better poet currently writing in English, I haven’t run across them.

Photo of A.E. Stallings by Milos Bicanski

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 10, ‘Travels and Travails’

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but surely we’re going to get back to casual international travel again some day soon? The 10th chapbook in the Potcake series is now being mailed out from London, and I trust it augurs well for the happily peripatetic. As usual, the chapbook contains an assortment of the bright (D.A. Prince), the dark (Tom Vaughan) and the flippant (Max Gutmann), with everything in between, and all in rhythm and rhyme–and illustrated of course by Alban Low!

Returning poets are A.E. Stallings, John Beaton, Julia Griffin, Anthony Lombardy, Marilyn L. Taylor, D.A. Prince and Tom Vaughan; joining them are Amit Majmudar, Mike Cooper, Jean L. Kreiling, Ed Shacklee and Max Gutmann. (The links in the names are a mixture of websites, bios, and places to buy their books.) Most, but not all, of the poets are listed on Sampson Low’s webpage of Potcake Poets.

Let’s get everyone vaccinated so we can all start travelling again!

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 9, ‘Robots and Rockets’

I’m very happy to announce that the ninth in the series of Potcake Chapbooks has been launched into orbit: ‘Robots and Rockets’ is an SF issue (could you guess?) and has poems by five newcomers to the series: Bruce McGuffin, Juleigh Howard-Hobson, F.J. Bergmann, Julia Griffin and Geoffrey A. Landis – many already known outside SF through Light poetry magazine and other places. Returning poets are Maryann Corbett, Nina Parmenter, Marcus Bales, A.E. Stallings, Martin Elster and myself.

Copies can be ordered from Sampson Low for four or five Pounds or Dollars, including postage worldwide. Enjoy it! It is, of course, a blast(-off)!

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 8, ‘Houses and Homes Forever’

Home is where you hang your hat, as they say, but it’s more than that. It can be a place of endless work and frustration, or a place of peace and relaxation and deep, strong memories. Houses and homes are part of what makes us who we are.

These poems–all formal, of course!–are as usual in a variety of forms. They were authored by Potcake newcomers Melissa Balmain, Kate Bernadette Benedict, Kathy Lundy Derengowski, Nina Parmenter and Jennifer Reeser, and returning contributors Marcus Bales, Maryann Corbett, Ann Drysdale, Daniel Galef, D A Prince, A.E. Stallings and Tom Vaughan. And well illustrated, as always, by Alban Low.

For the price of a fancy greeting card you can, through the wonders of PayPal, get this 16-page chapbook online for £2.60 + £1.20 P&P to a UK or European address, or £2.60 + £2.20 P&P to a Worldwide address; the seven earlier chapbooks in the series are available as well.

An overview with photos and bios of all the Potcake Chapbook poets is here, all having a home in this big, rambling house.

Poem: “Hurricane Irma”

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma forecast

With islands as appetisers before the main course
Irma prepares to swallow Florida whole
With a sword-swallower’s brash control,
The fellatrix without remorse.

The circular saw of Irma prepares to slice the length of Florida…
But trim the east coast? Trim the west? Or just go forth
And cut a clean line up the center, south to north,
Right through the Magic Kingdom like some sarcastic orator?

And here comes Hurricane Jose,
Pursuing Irma like a barracuda,
A dog lifting a leg on poor Barbuda
To piss where the bigger dog pissed yesterday.

Meanwhile off Africa there forms a new farrago
As God prepares another bowling ball along the hurricane alley…
Can He slide one between Cuba and the Bahamas with this sally
And curve it in to take out Mar a Lago?

With the new hurricane season just kicking off, it seems like a good time to reflect on the hopes and fears we live with all the time: the fears of things going really wrong, the hopes that they will mostly go wrong for the people we dislike. Humans, what can I say…

This poem was first published in The Hypertexts, the massive anthology of poetry–predominantly contemporary, English-language and formal–assembled by Michael R. Burch. It’s an honour to have my own page in the company of some 300 contemporary poets from Wallace Stevens to A.E. Stallings… and others from Lorca to Blake and right back to Sappho.

“Hurricane Irma” happens to meet the preferences of The Hypertexts in several ways: casually formal, flippant about religion, and with a loathing for Donald Trump. A perfect storm, as it were, for inclusion in the anthology.

 

Poem: “Implants and Biotech”

These are the scarecrow years
When frost tears glisten
On moulded and painted cheeks, beside ears
That no longer listen
Being more deaf than dead
And hearing only
Through implants and inputs into the head
Bonily, stonily.

Fears come while certainties lapse:
Fears of the dark,
Of abandonment, monsters, uncertainty. Now (perhaps)
Some Schrödinger’s shark
Divides cosmonaut, cryonaut, chrononaut
From those who can’t trust
The unknown, are ill-taught, or die without thought.

Thrive on change, or be dust.

This was first published in The Rotary Dial, an excellent online monthly of a dozen formal poems that was put out by two of Canada’s best poets, Pino Coluccio and Alexandra Oliver. Unfortunately The Rotary Dial folded in 2017 and Pino, after winning Ontario’s Trillium Book Award for ‘Class Clown’, disappeared off the radar.

The poem subsequently appeared in the fifth Potcake Chapbook: ‘Strip Down – poems of modern life’, where it has a page facing A.E. Stallings’ far gentler and more positive view of modern medicine, ‘Ultrasound’.

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 6, “Wordplayful”

06 Wordplayful

The sixth in the series of Potcake Chapbooks, ‘Wordplayful – poems to amuse and amaze’, is now beginning to wander around on both sides of the Atlantic (and hopefully further afield). This one is a little different from the earlier ones in the series: puns and puzzles, poems that can be read vertically or in reverse, wordplay in a variety of forms… but, yes, all formal poems, stuffed full of rhyme, rhythm and rich language.

Returning Potcake poets are Marcus Bales, John Beaton, Ed Conti, Daniel Galef, Chris O’Carroll, George Simmers, Alicia Stallings, Rob Stuart and myself; newcomers are Sam Gwynn, Bob McKenty, the unlikely Noam D. Plum and the elusive Dervla Ramaswamy. Mini-bios and photos for most of them are on the Potcake Poets page.

Alban Low has again provided all the art work, but he will now be taking a five or six month break to work on other things, especially the annual Art of Caring exhibition which opens in St George’s Hospital in Tooting in London in May, and moves to St Pancras Hospital in July – or at least it did in 2019. But Alban promises to re-engage with us in the early summer, by which time we may have more idea of what further Potcake Chapbook themes to pursue.