National Poetry Month Spotlight: Charlotte Pence

Welcome to National Poetry Month, 2016! We’re celebrating all month long. Each day we will bring you a poem we love–a selection from one of our published or forthcoming collections.

Today’s featured poet is Charlotte Pence, author of The Branches, The Axe, The Missing and Many Small Fires.

Pence Cover - Many Small Fires
Architecture of the Veil
 Islamic architecture often adorns the interior spaces as opposed to the exterior spaces. Commonly known as the architecture of the veil, this style alludes to the nature of the infinite.  –R. E. Souser
Leaning over the low wall around our hotel roof, we are fooled
into thinking Jakarta below might be understood by echo,
by prayer calls, car horns, hot spoons scraping woks of nasi goreng.
Or by gazing down on pishtaqs, minarets, cannons fashioned
into fountains.  All afternoon, the faithful go on being faithful.
The faithless, faithless. Each chasing piety with sugar and sticks.
Green-flanked smog shifts directions, sweeps the clouds
into crumbs, into evening, into this thing called the infinite.
The architecture here secludes its beauty to inner spaces,
to what cannot be seen from the street where a costumed
macaque flees under a soup stall, his frustration blooming
into soapsuds rushing the gutter. A walker passes by adding
a spoonful of blood to her thickening placenta; a beggar
irritates his toothache into stone. And the mosaics repeat
and spin their cobalt patterns until the moon quivers one day
forward—and no one notices except that two mangoes rot
while green on the tree. All the while, the prophets’ daughters
strut by in their highest heels, poking the sun back
into the pieces it really is. This brokenness, we suspect,
is true about our own selves, despite the fluid strides we make
from city block to city block. We walk among sweet sulfur,
wondering what we cannot see, wondering which feast or fast
is behind which house’s wall. In each of us, a stray dog forgets
to ask for home; a pack of roving hounds guards the door.

Profile_SummerCharlotte Pence’s poetry merges the personal with the scientific. Her first book, Many Small Fires (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), explores her father’s chronic homelessness while simultaneously detailing the physiological changes that enabled humans to form cities, communities, and households. A professor of English and creative writing at Eastern Illinois University, she is also the author of two award-winning poetry chapbooks and the editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics (University Press of Mississippi, 2012). Pence is the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Tennessee Arts Commission, the Redden Fund, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Alvin H. Nielson Memorial Fund, the Discovered Voices Award, New Millennium Writing Award, and many others. New poems have recently been published in Epoch, Harvard Review, and The Southern Review.