Welcome, Callista Buchen!

IMG_4253This month we are featuring the poets and writers who have signed with us in the past twelve months—all writers who submitted work during one of our two annual open reading periods.

Today we bring you Callista Buchen, whose poetry chapbook The Bloody Planet was accepted last September and will be published this October.

About the Author

Callista Buchen is the author of Double-Mouthed (dancing girl press, forthcoming Winter 2016). She is the winner of DIAGRAM‘s essay contest and the Langston Hughes award, with work appearing in Harpur Palate, Fourteen Hills, Puerto del Sol, Salamander, and many other journals. Originally from Wisconsin, she is a faculty member in English and Creative Writing at Franklin College in Indiana.

Photo Credit: Megan Kearney



About the BookBuchencw

In The Bloody Planet, Callista Buchen takes us on a breathtaking tour of the solar system, detailing the violent surfaces and inhospitable climates of each planet and leaving us in humble awe of our own. From Mercury’s hot, unstable mantle to Mars’s angry red dust to planet Uranus’s bitter cold, Buchen stands in wonder of these planets, where “giant spots maul whole / levels of world and swallow / themselves the dust afterwards.” In these tightly crafted poems, Buchen wisely looks beyond Earth to draw our attention to Earth, issuing a bold and urgent warning for a world on the brink of its own demise: “See this, machine of humanity,” she writes. “Dust only multiplies. You are marching. You are a lion. You are / the bloody planet. You are painted red, a shrieking mouth.” Buchen’s poems are significant, vital—as gorgeous and unstoppable as the alien storms they describe.

—Alyse Knorr, author of Copper Mother and Annotated Glass

What strikes most about Callista Buchen’s work is the mystery of the incentive behind it, her highly driven verbal investigation into matter, especially the merger of matter with human, how the raw material of the human speaks to its mutually created environment. Buchen’s poetic impulse, a deep-felt mission to capture the quintessence of our solar system, is far from usual. Her aim, not to anthropomorphize, nor to reduce to metaphor those spinning emblems of childhood-learning, is rather to weave, out of unexplained contacts that her speakers make with each planet, a combined mood, or hybrid psychology. It is a task so strange that the result, unsurprisingly, has the numinous luminosity of Xavier de Maistre’s “Journey around my room,” or Werner Herzog’s film, Heart of Glass, or any one of Loren Eiseley’s epiphanies at night with a bone. I love how space infiltrates these poems; how words occupy whatever space they can, and how small the human is at times, yet how conjoined the poet makes us feel with the larger medium of life, “fleshy swans, wet grapes,” all of it. By the end of this wondrous chapbook, everything is one medium—clay, metal, fire, virus, and definition itself becomes porous, thanks to this poet, who has seen “all the way around… the pool of time in between.”

—Larissa Szporluk, author of Traffic with Macbeth and Embryos and Idiots

At once intimate and expansive, and filled with discovery and wonder, the poems of The Bloody Planet examine a universe that is devastating, beautiful, resilient—where image, language, and stone break open, where “the ground writes, rewrites.” From Singapore to the “husk and yard of Ohio,” from Mercury to the “stylized dragonfly” of Neptune’s strata, these poems breathe strange and lovely atmospheres and cover vast landscapes, searching deep beneath their rich grounds. As I read and reread this collection, I am continually awed by the haunting geology of Buchen’s poems.

—Amy Ash, author of Open Mouth of the Vase

The enticing thing about Callista Buchen’s The Bloody Planet is its attention to landscape. Her poems encase the spirit with the wavy lines of a topographic map, and because the knobs and knolls and flaming fields of Earth are not sufficient for the task, she is forced to enlist the rest of the solar system. “To understand it // geologically. This is the goal,” Buchen writes, and she does a highly creditable job of the task in this arresting collection of poems.

—Karen Craigo, author of Stone for an Eye

The First Poem

“Masterwork” was the first poem I wrote for this collection, before I knew there was a collection here to write. I wanted to write a piece dedicated to my husband for his birthday, something grand and gross and full of body and promise. I’d never written anything with him in mind before. For me, a love poem, like the act of loving, can be an intimidating challenge. The poem has changed since that initial version. (I’m lucky my husband is an excellent and unsentimental first reader. He appreciated the gift of the poem, but insisted I could do better. Which, I admit, I did not take very well in the moment, having just proudly presented it to him after his birthday dinner. Still, he was right.) Since then, the collection has grown in scope and purpose, but I like that it started with a little love poem I was almost too shy to write and then had to get over myself to finish.

garden and zoo 037

The Space and the Beasts

The poems of The Bloody Planet were written (and rewritten) in both Ohio and Kansas over the course of several years, but most of them were born in Ohio. I’ve always been interested in space and distance, but something about the vastness you can really see when you are in small-town Ohio (the stars!) was especially motivating. I wrote many of the planet poems of this book sitting on the porch of this house in the evenings, as the light changed and the sky seemed to grow larger as it darkened.

Also pictured: Ella and Amelia Bedelia, who were wonderful listeners.





I give over, undoing like a knapsack,
snaking out my intestines
before the rest pours from its own gravity—
splashes of bile, the soft thud
of the liver, a lung, wet and papery.
Here all valves open and close,
muscles contract. Arteries like twist ties.
Someone else would catalogue
the destruction. But you untie
your bundle too, flooding the heap
with fluid and organs, the vast ugly stew.
Our ribs and fingers, thighs and shoulders
tie themselves into stronger triangles, form
a great, dripping tower filled
with nothing but energy, the crash
of drop against drop, fleck on fleck:
See our building—strong, shiny,
almost on fire— bones become arches,
anchor stones in place. We stretch, pull.
Watch without thumping blood
or greedy lungs this labor of a universe.
We liquefy, fuse inside the tower
like epoxy: spinning,
spinning, hot on our intangible axis.
Touch then—our building moves, expands,
the mixture around an internal sun,
the mass and speed. Fully realized
in each turn, we call light into dark, and know
how whole can become further whole.
We are the flash of the dancer’s leg, the slice
of the painter’s shadow, the sway of a black hole.
We are the thing that can’t be taught.
On Mercury
Less skin than wrapper, less concrete than gauze,
the ground crumbles—floats away, cools,
gray-brown dust tornados, magnetic, lost in tides.
What does it matter? Broken ground folds
into plains and craters, fields mark
the path of violence. Scars gather flesh—
fall apart. The ground writes, rewrites. I can’t see
against the sun and my weak eyes. Maybe
I can’t bow from ridges—as if welcoming
collision, as if collapsing in witness,
ridges to valley floors to circles. Maybe I don’t breathe
as the surface unravels crease, crust, and mantle.
Nothing guards. What does it matter? Below:
the iron core, busy, liquid, the mountains coming,
the mountains going. I should gather old swords,
wheels for the forge. Each spindle wilts into flame.
What does it matter? Maybe a rupture. Maybe a bridge.