Bacopa Literary Review

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Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Translating the Signs in Dragon Tongue

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast

In her acceptance letter to Bacopa Literary Review 2016 contributor Laura Madeline Wiseman for her prose poem, "Under the Frankincense Trees," Poetry Editor Kaye Linden wrote, "I congratulate you on this wonderful work. The profusion of imagery will offer a unique and unusual fantasy touch to Bacopa."

The genre of fantasy poetry is not yet fully delineated. Though you'll find references to the fantasy poetry of J.R.R. Tolkien and even W.B. Yeats, other terms for this genre are speculative poetry, science fiction poetry, and fantastic poetry.  

Fantastic poetry. The term is a perfect fit for Wiseman's tetralogy. Not only is this four-part prose poem fantastic, but it is in part responding to work by visual artists: ekphrastic. Section 1, for example (excerpts shown here) is in part a response to "Brer Rabbit's Hooch" by Jackson Zorn:
1.
Brer Rabbit's Hooch, Jackson Zorn
There are trolls behind us. Don't, you say. I obey, refusing to turn around. I check my airflow, tap my chest computer, increase the volume on my headset. The only thing to hear is wind. There are trolls under Australian bridges, trolls on US highways, trolls in the tunnels of Russia . . . In Moscow they whispered something like Kozels, kozels, kozels . . . . I want to run. You want to stop this walking, your full-bearded face pinched. It's only wind, I say. You curse, call me rabbit, call me hooch, call me troll whore. I walk ahead, into the burn.

Sections II and III are in part responses to "Heart of the Dragon" and "Frankincense Tree" by Beth Moon.  Excerpts: 
2.
After I married you, I put my troll dolls inside our holiday boxes, their plastic bodies among chipped bulbs, DIY ornaments, and mini-stockings for candy canes. Some of the trolls were scuffed. Some were gouged by teeth. Most had hair that teased into bright points . . . I search and search, but can't find the troll dolls. I put the mugs back, the tumblers, the dead fairy lights. I fold the Santa hats and stack the reindeer antlers. I listen for the skeet, unsure what you're hitting. Sometimes it sounds like screaming. I close the closet door.

3.
Island of the Dragon's Blood, Beth Moon
When we arrive in this land of the Dragon, we don't know the trees, the burn of such heat, a place of no water. . . . Do not climb, you say, translating the signs in dragon tongue . . . . Trolls pace in circles, arms above their heads swaying. Some wear chains. Some groan . . . . I descend the trail, crouching in the shade. I remove the vials. I hammer in the spile to catch what will rise . . . . Raptors, you say and, We can't camp here. I watch the birds, their gripping dance . . . .
And from the final stanza:
4.
To find trolls, strangers tell me of an island of myth, a place of cinnabar and incense burn . . . . They speak a twisting tongue, something gnarled, old. At the shoreline, small ships fight the winds that crash the docks. . . . Not here, they tell me. Soon, they say and build a fire at the base of a temple . . . . After a week of this circling, the meals of feta and fish, the strings of bartered dates, we arrive to the place of Frankincense trees. They give me the spile and I apply it to the trunk. Here? I ask. One sets up camp. The other holds the gun. When the stars come, the night thing begins again. I pray, just one repeating word inside the smoke.

Laura Madeline Wiseman teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is the author of more than twenty books and chapbooks. These include Through a Certain Forest (BlazeVOX, 2017), An Apparently Impossible Adventure (BlazeVOX, 2016), Leaves of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection (Red Dashboard, 2016), and Velocipede (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2017). Her collaborative book Intimates and Fools is an Honor Book for the 2015 Nebraska Book Award. Examples of her poems include Peacock Journal's "What They Do with our Nuts," "After They Cut Down Our Elder Willow," "The Terrific, Demon-Like Inhabitants of the Valley;" and Pithead Chapel's "Mad for a Century." Her collaborative poems with Andrea Blythe appear in Quail Bell Magazine: "Holding the Keys" and "The Hellos from the Corners of Quiet Rooms." 

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