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Welcome, Lisa Hiton!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Lisa Hiton, whose poetry chapbook The Clearing is due out next spring.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 

 

 

The Author

Lisa Hiton’s first book of poems, Afterfeast, has been selected by Mary Jo Bang to win the Dorset Prize and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press (October 2021). She holds an MFA in Poetry from Boston University and an MEd in Arts in Education from Harvard University. Her poems have been published or are forthcoming in The CommonLambda Literary, The Paris-American, Denver Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and New South among others. She has received the AWP Kurt Brown Prize, the Esther B Kahn Scholarship from 24Pearl Street at the Fine Arts Work Center, and multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize. Lisa is the author of the chapbook Variation on Testimony, the senior poetry editor of The Adroit Journal, and a founder and co-director of Queer Poem-a-Day at the Deerfield Public Library. The Clearing is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2022.

 

 

 

On Writing The Clearing

The primary speaker of The Clearing arrives to the pastoral repeatedly and full of worry: to the fields of the Holocaust, of the imagination, of the Midwest, and even the empty field of the blank page. This speaker often believes she has control (as a writer would) over narrative and image, but finds that, in fact, the images—like dreams—are involuntary. Without knowing how to properly bury those inheritances of the 20th century, the speaker turns to fictive spectacle—to narrative invention, sensory desires, and malleable landscapes.

Where the speaker seeks remedy or balm, there is often, instead, a new violence or violation that occurs in the air. I wrote most of these poems nearly a decade ago. The writer then was trying to build a world in which poems could entrap the reader in the same mental mobius strip as the speaker. I wrote these poems before I went to Sachsenhausen—before I observed the “Auschwitz picnic” for myself. This intellectual distance was a preparation for the real and banal traumas I’d experience in the body later in my 20s and 30s as a Jew and as a lesbian. These poems collect the struggle to think through what I knew would and continues to haunt me.

Another cruelty in this chapbook are the shiva poems. Important to the title are the words “Dream of,” which indicate that the act is involuntary. In America, we often misuse or solely interpret to “dream of” as a state of hope or longing. But in sleep, what arrives in the mindfield is out of our control. And yet, the choice to make these poems unveils my own loyalty to fictive spectacle. My parents are divorced. My father is not dead. I think these dreams arrived as poems in order to show the tensions with images and scenes. I can remember the first time my father told me he wanted to be cremated instead of buried—not traditional in Jewish culture, especially since the Holocaust. I think many people have the awful and unthinking thought about which parent will die first; I imagine the frequency and intensity of that thought is increased by divorce.

While the intellectual ambitions and fears ramp up, the refusal to look to the speaker’s own body mimics my own experience of sexuality. History, my elders, and my parents move on in their own narratives. By the book’s end, the speaker will have to, as well, or be consumed by her own voluntary freeze, by time.


Excerpts

 

PICNIC                                                                                                        


the youth take an afternoon fieldtrip to the fields
of Auschwitz    playing tag    bored by the flat flat emerald

“Wie viele?”     “Es macht nichts.”

brown bag    cola bottles    whumping heels
halt at a chaperone’s whistle    nitrogen-blown bags for potato
chips    the crumbs of which leave oil on denim    salt on dirt

 

 

DREAM OF MY FATHER’S SHIVA, LAKE MICHIGAN, 1963

 
I pull a body out of the lake and it’s my size.
You are completely dry.
I drag you across the beach by the right arm
and right leg. I bring you to the shiva house.
It’s easy because you grip my hand.
I don’t have to do all the work.
Your other hand is missing fingers.
I trawl you back to the lake to find them.
Your freckles enumerate
and cluster, constellations, little myths
I flick off your skin like sand.
The sand dissolves into snow, which turns
to ice. I slide with you,
ice skating children playing on a snow day.
Faces of the family around the shiva table
seasons later, years later, waiting for us
to return from this desert of ice.
The hours, they come as an urn
to put you in.  You do not fit
anywhere else—the mind, the house, the vase…
I am not prepared for the change:
when the grip tightens and then slacks,
it’s winter, it’s summer.

 

 

MAHLER’S NINTH


Gone, the pile
of shut black
mouths bowled
in cold
 
water. Gone
the thyme and tang of shallot,
as the garlic
burns in the oil.
 
They whir when strained:
shhh, let them think
we’re already
 
gone. Does a thing remember
its ocean? Brine
like ragged
cement. O

what thrill their lives were,
before the ice bath!
before the plastic bag!
In goes the white
 
wine and the fog
that rises from them
makes them drowsy—
 
why did I bring
something alive
into this kitchen,
 
in the wake of what struggle
am I to offer or perform
myself,
 
what was happening
in there, in those
blooming mouths—
 
so I peeked inside
through the steam,
obsessed with death
but having no desire to die.