Monday, February 6, 2017

Accepting the Color of Innards Inside the Slaughterhouse Bucket

by Bacopa Literary Review Editor in Chief Mary Bast

I'd like to introduce Shahé Mankerian's poem, "Fesenjān Fever," by giving readers insight into our editorial decision process. Here at Bacopa I trust the genre editors' experience and eye for good work and want them to have the last word about publication. If there's disagreement we have a discussion and try for consensus. We've also agreed that we don't want to risk losing good work to another journal by waiting until all submissions are in. So as the submission period goes on I keep an ongoing estimate of pages used by accepted pieces and pages still available. "Fesenjān Fever" was submitted a little more than six weeks before the submission period ended, and it took 2016 Poetry Editor Kaye Linden nine days to convince me we should accept it without waiting.

"Wow, this is pretty amazing," Kaye wrote on the day Mankerian's poem was submitted. "Repetition, visual imagery, concrete detail, concise and to the point, nice word choices, most lines ending on effective words. YES!"

On first reading I hesitated. "What happened to your distaste for 'you' and 'your,' Kaye? Yes it's concrete. Grotesquely so. I looked up Fesenjān -- it's a rich, tangy Iranian chicken stew flavored with pomegranate syrup. In Iran there are efforts to eliminate parasitic infection by 'condemning' animals and sending them to the slaughterhouse. I suspect the slaughterhouse in this poem is also a metaphor for Iranian slaughter. I need time to think about this one."

Kaye: "It's absolutely gross. That's the point. The second person point of view in this one does not bother me because it has attitude and it's a universal term, referring to the general culture. I love its raw edginess, the young voice, the imagery that disturbs. It's a courageous piece. People will hate it and love it." And she did accept Mankerian's poem, and I do love it:
                               Fesenjān Fever
When you're sick, mama's pomegranate syrup takes
the color of innards inside the slaughterhouse bucket.

The crushed walnuts snuggle between your teeth
and rub against the cavities. See the sautéed duck mimic

disfigured cardboards, replacements for window panes.
The caramelized onions float in the stew, then earthworms,

then onions, then earthworms. Mama drizzles pepper
like black rain. Nothing conceals the grotesque

when you're coughing bloody phlegm, not even
a teaspoon of sugar, not even a teaspoon of cinnamon.

The saffron threads dissolve like cigarette ash.
When you're sick, mama's pomegranate syrup takes

the color of innards inside the slaughterhouse bucket.

Shahé Mankerian's manuscript, History of Forgetfulness, has been a finalist at the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, the Patricia Bibby First Book Competition, the Quercus Review Press (Fall Poetry Book Award), and the 2014 White Pines Press Poetry Prize.

His collection "Children of Honey" is available here, and recent publications include "Reading the Residue" (Claudius Speaks), "Table Poems" (Proximity), "Mother Gives Dementia a New Name" (Armenian Poetry Project), four poems in Forage Poetry Journal ("50th," "Will," "Turkification in Istanbul," "Moses"), "Far From the Beanstalk: (Syntax), "Dear Mr. President" (Wordpeace), "Brioches in Beirut" (These Fragile Lilacs Poetry Journal), and many others. Mankerian is co-director of the Los Angeles Writing Project and an award-winning educator (Hovsepian School, Pasadena, California).

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