Contributor Spotlight: Esther Vincent

Esther Vincent on “island city

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In “island city”, I juxtapose seemingly contradictory ideas of ‘the island’ and ‘the city’, in order to express the tensions I feel as a Singaporean living in a rapidly changing and urbanised environment. Having grown up in Singapore in the 1980s, all I ever knew was high-rise living, interspersed with occasional visits to the beaches in the East, near where I lived: Pasir Ris, Changi and East Coast beaches. I remember frolicking in the sea as a child, running barefoot in the sand, queueing up to shower in the smelly beach toilets, cycling, roller-blading or eating barbequed stingray and satay at the hawker centres. I have not been to the beach much lately, and sometimes, I even forget that I am living on an island. Instead, I feel landlocked and claustrophobic, resentful towards the concrete, steel and glass that have taken over the jungle. 

With this preamble in mind, I wrote “island city” as a reaction to feelings of alienation from nature and a more idyllic way of life. This was also a direct response to two videos that I saw. One was of strong winds hurling some trash bins and wooden paddle boats into the air at one of the beaches, and another was a video of flash floods at an industrial area in Singapore. Both these videos got me thinking about the conflict between urbanisation and nature, the former predicated upon the demise of the latter. How we uproot old trees to plant new ones, how we relentlessly destroy another precious plot of secondary rainforest to build yet another expressway, how we heap brick upon brick onto the back of our island because to be urbanised is to be relentless in the taking. And so man is responsible for tipping the balance, and a natural phenomenon like rain now produce unnatural flash floods which serve as a metaphor for our lack of spiritual irrigation. 

island city” encapsulates a mood of impending fear, terror and uncertainty, and I make a significant reference to a recurring dream, one whereby I drive headlong into the sea. In this dream, I feel a palpable sense of helplessness as the deep swallows me whole, machine and all. I mention this once and refer to drowning again towards the end of the poem, and I conflate the persona’s body with the body of her city, to amplify the loss. I allude to the imagery of the sea and water to evoke a sense of nostalgia, melancholy and sadness associated with changing tides, both literally and metaphorically. There is an inevitability expressed in the poem, yet the rain is also likened to an angry pounding or drumming of war, which suggests that nature can never truly be quelled. 

While I prefer not to impose any particular reading of my poem onto my reader, I will say that form is important, in terms of how the words appear on the page, and the rhythms created by the gaps between unlikely phrases and the lack of punctuation altogether. In doing so, I hope to heighten the physical, emotional and psychological fragmentation and trauma the persona feels as she speaks and reaches out to anyone who will listen, but also as she reaches back into her mind and memory for a past image of home, and as she reaches even further back into history, time and place when her city was still just an island, still whole.

Contributor Spotlight: Derek Berry

Derek Berry on “Android Boy Builds A Body


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This poem, one of a series featuring the eponymous Android Boy, questions the relationship between the body and the mind. In this poem, intelligence is divorced from the body, operating in the realm of Internet persona, whether modified or wholly fabricated. Unlike many Internet users, whoever, the speaker is not human, but instead a form of artificial intelligence.  In the Android Boy poems, the speaker explores what it means to be human and what it means to be not-human, what it means to exist in the periphery consciousness.

This poem focuses on how Android Boy might approach desire, especially with the ability to use bodyless avatars in earlier iterations of AOL chat or messenger apps like Grindr. How might one understand sexuality and sexuality without a body with which to enact related acts? Would artificial intelligences, then, seek to construct a physical form? How else might one understand the body except to possess one? Android Boy considers these existential questions, and in turn, I hope that the reader will reframe their understanding of human sexuality. If, for example, we consider online personas, on which we are pretending to be what we are not, then are the stores we tell to confirm our own humanity anything more than faulty code? Do we consider the chemical impulses born in the brain more sophisticated than those that might navigate the actions of a robot?

There is hubris in the construction of a body, like someone attempting to build a house and instead building a house fire. We know this from pop culture, from Frankenstein to Ex Machina, but I find particularly interesting the questions that might arise from an artificially-intelligent robot building their own body. This will become a more concrete reality as machine learning progresses, but what will the machines learn? What will they learn from us? Will they peer down upon their human predecessors with pity—human cruelty & human want—and will they then instead learn to become something better? Perhaps manifesting desire in the body was the first mistake, the creation of a vessel that would carry our mistakes forward into history. 

 

Contributor Spotlight: Issa M. Lewis

ISSA M. LEWIS ON “BURNING DAY

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I was inspired to write “Burning Day,” which is appearing in Issue 11 of Split Rock Review, after moving to a small town in west Michigan. I grew up in a sprawling city, so burning leaves by the roadside was simply not done. Once I moved, I realized it was an autumn tradition in rural areas!  Usually on Sundays, my neighbors would pile up all their dead leaves near the roadside and burn them down to ash.  This made for many hazy drives down my smoky street!

Witnessing this ritual several times a season made me think about the ways in which we, as human beings, seek to control both our physical and emotional environments.  Obviously, in forests, leaves stay where they land and rot in their own time, enriching the soil over a long period of time.  But on our own properties, we push them away and burn them—more efficient, perhaps, but still an imposition on nature’s schedule. Similarly, many times we rush to heal after emotional pain, much sooner than we’re really ready.  We purge ourselves of the memories that cause us pain in the hopes that we won’t have to think of them again.  However, the ash pile still remains as a testament.

I find that some poems need time to ripen; I may have an idea and even start jotting down drafts, but never fully complete it until much later.  “Burning Day” is one of these poems that was originally composed years ago and has seen several iterations.  The last two lines are honestly what I stuck with between drafts—that was what I knew I wanted to keep, the emotional center of the poem. Every couple of years I’d revisit it, hoping to find exactly the right trajectory to land me at those lines. The imagery of a rural Michigan autumn was built out around them to emphasize our connection (and sometimes disconnection) with our land and ourselves.  Finally, roughly eight years later, this poem finally emerged!  

My thanks to the editors of Split Rock Review for the opportunity to join this splendid edition—and right in time for autumn!

Contributor Spotlight: Claire Scott

Claire Scott on “Night Ride

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As a writer, I enjoy weaving the real with the non-real, creating something new that speaks of both. My poems grow from seeds within me. Some are watered by life and some by imagination. “Night Rideis a combination of both. The inspiration came from a friend who told me that once her mother had woken her at night to go for a car ride. I found the story intriguing and mulled it over for several weeks. I grew up with a depressed, often suicidal mother. I could imagine my mother taking me with her on a night ride to prevent her from hitting a tree or driving off a bridge.

As an adult, I realized how tragic my mother’s life was. She was a brilliant woman who struggled with mental illness and alcoholism. In the last stanza I tried to show how empathy allows understanding and possibility. I would like to think the mother in the last stanza is reaching out to her mother’s experience, rather than taking a night ride with her young daughter. I feel writing by the light of a poem keeps my heart open and allows great sorrow to roll through.