Hello and happy Poetry Friday! Be sure to visit Carol at Carol's Corner for Roundup. I've been in that grief time warp this week, missing my father, which makes me especially delighted to have a visitor today -- poet Tina Mozelle Braziel who is here to share with us her brand-new (first!) chapbook ROOTED BY THIRST, delivered to the world by the good folks at Porkbelly Press:
Tina has graciously given me permission to share one of my favorite poems from the collection here, with all of you. Thank you, Tina! AND: I'm giving away a copy. Simply leave a comment by Tuesday, June 21, and Maggie our cat will select a winner!
To Shake Another
by Tina Mozelle Braziel
When heat visibly wavers over our truck hood,
we feel like puddles, our skin as thin as a frog's.
From the broom sage, the rattle of katydids
ripples through us. I first felt sound in grade school
when a struck tuning fork touched another. Its quaver
shook the other fork into its own humming. Evenings then,
when pines shivered with the chirr of peepers, I wondered
how frogs carry quivering metal inside their tenderness.
Today pressing my cheek to our house frame, I hammer
listening to how all the driven nails resound. Each strike
deepens the note ringing out from here to beyond
the ridge. In it, I feel the reverberation of hammer,
anvil, and stirrup of when he first called my name
setting all of me, what is tender and mettle, abuzz.
And now, here's Tina, responding to some simple prompts:
Finishing poems is always difficult to me. I find that final revisions are tough to fathom, on the one hand. And on the other, I feel the urge to keep revising, to linger in the space of the poem I’m writing for a while longer. So I swing between those two states, wanting to stay or trying to get out. Putting poems in print doesn’t seem to solve my dilemma since I’ve already revised a poem or two in this collection.
My first inclination is to talk about how much I enjoy building and living in our house. In our case, building means that my husband and I do the hammering and the heavy lifting. And “living in it as we build it” means we still need to lay floors, plumb the place, and put in cabinets. But you are asking me about poetry instead of life. Yet that is what I savor most about these poems, how entwined they are with how I’m living. I also enjoy how building a house and home feeds my poetry, one creative act nourishing the other.
Emerson claims that “Colleges and books only copy the language which the field and the work-yard made.” That rings true to me, especially when I discover words like “rock-bar” and “squarings” that feel so invigorating. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the term “sistering” which means nailing one board against another for additional strength. Such concepts and words recalibrate my perspective of what makes a home, what it means to claim a place as our own. And that feeds my writing.
We plan to burn lines of poetry into walls of our house. It’s a plan inspired by seeing the lines Robinson Jeffers inscribed on the walls of Tor House, the home he built in Carmel, California, back when the coast at Carmel was mostly wild. My husband has already chosen a few from this collection for our walls. I love that some words inspired by the house will become part of it.
I come from a working class background which is something I always strive to honor in my poetry. Now it feels even more significant that many of my family members are or were builders of one sort or another. My father is a construction worker / bridge builder as was his father and brothers. My husband’s father built the house he grew up in. My grandfather was a brick mason. He and my grandmother built a house together in Pell City. Like us, they moved in before it was completed and continued to build. But I didn’t learn that Mozelle, my grandmother, helped with the construction of their house until we began to build ours. It was then that my family started making comments that I wasn’t named “Mozelle” for nothing (I am named after her), something they had been prone to say when I quilted or knitted. Learning that bit of family history was unexpected as well as the feeling I am now more closely linked to a family tradition. When I was a kid, my father’s mother would claim that her sons and husband’s “shop talk” were building so many bridges she couldn’t make it through the living room. I am now the tom-boy who has grown up, joining the men in this talk and work. The tangibility of it, how those words become a built thing, prods me to make my poetry to do that as well. That’s unexpected too—“shop talk” challenging poetry to do more and be more real.
I’ll soon finish a book-length manuscript about homebuilding, more poems about the house we are building, some about the house my grandmother helped build, poems about what develops or challenges a sense of home and what it means to be from and of a place. Our relationship to the natural world is something I keep turning over, examining from different perspectives. I’m writing non-fiction essays about our land and how we use it. Even though I was once an avid rock-climber and caver, I spend more time outside now than I ever had before. The house requires as well as provides this connection. We live down a dirt road, out of sight from our neighbors. Most of our walls are glass. So even when we are inside, the outside is with us. We heat our house with wood cut from our property or from our neighbors’. Not only do we spend time outside cutting and hauling wood, but we also appreciate the woods in a new ways. For example, my love of dogwood trees has grown since I’ve become familiar with how hot and fast its wood burns. We don’t cut them for firewood until they die of natural causes—our goal is to create a grove of dogwoods by cutting away the other trees and giving the dogwoods the light and room to flourish. I understand why the grove of dogwood that William Bartram found in Alabama were destroyed. Dogwood is great firewood.
Tina Mozelle Braziel, a graduate of the University of Oregon MFA program in poetry, directs the Ada Long Creative Writing Workshop at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her poetry has or will appear in The Cincinnati Review, Southern Humanities Review, Tampa Review, and other journals. Her chapbook, Rooted by Thirst, was published by Porkbelly Press. She and her husband, novelist James Braziel, live and write in a glass cabin that they are building on Hydrangea Ridge.