Monique Ferrell on “airtight alibi …”

Like much of what I write, fiction or poetry, “airtight alibi …” comes from both a real and true place. In this poem I deal with my own concerns about crime, race, stereotypes, and fear. While some view television news as being just that—the news, an opportunity to be informed about your immediate world—I’m often quite filled with dread. For most of my life, as an African- American woman, television news has often represented a troublesome and difficult representation of race and cultural relations, presented unbalanced conversations about crime, poverty, education, and the penal system, and perverted certain images so greatly that I’ve been compelled to have conversations with the black men in my life because of the proverbial “suspect on the loose.”

If nothing else, perhaps the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis crystalize what a lot of black women fear—that black males they care about won’t return home when the day is done and that whatever you said to each other that morning, afternoon, or evening will literally be the last words of a defined moment. I live in a city where “stop and frisk” was hailed as the most successful crime-fighting tool ever. Both my family members and students have been questioned for, simply, walking.

Artist renderings and composites of black male suspects have always worried me. As I see it, they are little more than finely sketched, black and white targets that are sent out into the world. Not being careful, considerate, or aware of the fact that the “bad man” does not represent all of the men from one specific people jeopardizes and endangers everyone.

Monique Ferrell is the author of two books of poetry, Unsteady (NYQ Books, 2011) and Black Body Parts (Cross+Roads Press, 2001). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, and North American Review, among other journals. A collection of short fiction, Impetus, and a third poetry collection, Attraversiamo, are forthcoming.

Annie Finch on “Television”

I wrote “Television” near the end of my first pregnancy. We were living in a tiny railroad apartment on Vallejo Street, in North Beach in San Francisco. The first Gulf War in Kuwait was raging, and Wolf Blitzer was on TV constantly, shouting through explosions and sandstorms. The Simpsons had just debuted, and my husband and I discovered it with glee on our 19″ Toshiba set, the first color TV we had ever owned. 

In that period before YouTube, television provided a connection with the broader world that was at once horrifying and redemptive.  With so many fewer choices about what to watch than I have now on my computer (and no, I no longer own a TV), my relationship with the electronic world on screen was far more passive, and also more mystical, than it is now.

I am a spiritually minded poet who hasn’t written often about popular culture.  As far as I can remember, when I wrote “Television,” television had appeared only once before in my work, in my early book The Encyclopedia of Scotland ( “TV begins to read my body…” ).  But something about the vividness of the war coverage during the period of my pregnancy transformed television into a poetic theme in 1990. My poem “Gulf War and Child: A Curse,” where the television is not explicitly present but provides the context, was written a week or two after the birth.

The “white feather” that turns in the poem refers to a divination sign associated with the Dreamtime in the shamanism of indigenous Australia.  I was beginning to experiment with shamanic journeying, one of my first steps on what was to become a passionately earth-centered spiritual path.

Annie Finch has published more than 20 books and chapbooks of poetry and poetics. Her most recent collection of poems is Spells: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan Poetry Series, 2013), and her most recent book about poetry is A Poet’s Craft: A Comprehensive Guide to Making and Sharing Your Poetry (University of Michigan Press, 2012).  A featured columnist for The Huffington Post, she is working on a spiritual memoir, American Witch.  

Gerry LaFemina on “Humidity”

To anyone who knows my work, the statement “I write a lot of poems about love” is not a surprise.  My ideas of romance were shaped (scary as this is to admit) by the television I watched as a kid.  I watched it a lot.  It was the ‘70s; we were raised by the TV and watched reruns of some great late ‘60s television shows (and many not-so-great ones): Get Smart, The Monkees, Batman, The Addams Family, Love American Style and, it goes without saying, The Brady Bunch.  The last two shows in particular helped give me a sense of love: I thought Marcia was pretty (but Catwoman was sexy) and always thrilled at the intro to Love American Style, which ended with a fireworks show.  Fireworks worked as a metaphor for love.  It was brought more fully to life in that great kiss between young Bobby Brady and Millicent.  Wheeeeeeeeee…pop pop pop pop pop!

Of course, I grew up in a time when every Independence Day we’d hear stories about kids blowing their fingers off with firecrackers, and as I grew older that danger, as well as the celebratory nature of fireworks, became an even deeper and more precise metaphor for love.  Love was something to celebrate, an example of our freedom, and it might just explode in our face.

The poem, then, had to take place in July, and humidity is the chronic adjective for summers in New York. I liked that, too, as a metaphor for love: hot, sticky, moist and sometimes oppressive.  And so I began: The Brady Bunch sets the age of the speaker, the time and place (Brooklyn, the mid’70s).  Everything else is manufactured.  There were always girls, and I needed them to be out of reach of the speaker, needed them to be idealized, so they’re on the fire escape (escaping the fire of my preadolescent passion perhaps?) above the grit and blood of the scene below.

The roots of how we think of love and prettiness and pain–they’re all there. The poem ends on the roofs of those buildings with the aerial antennae that have all but disappeared from skylines now.  We only used to get eight channels then. The rest of the time we had to go outside and play and maybe, if only briefly, feel the fuse of our hearts ignited.

Gerry LaFemina is the author of three volumes of prose poems and seven collections of poetry. His most recent books are the poetry collection Little Heretic (Steven F. Austin University Press, 2014); Palpable Magic, a collection of essays on poetry (Steven F. Austin University Press, 2014); and Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist: Prose Poems (Mayapple Press, 2013). He directs the Frostburg Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University, where he also teaches.  

Rosalind Palermo Stevenson on “The Television”

Now, with time gone by (a great deal of it), since the original composition of “The Television,” it’s hard to say what the original impulse for the piece was, or to declare the aesthetic I was using at the time that I wrote it. For me a piece of writing always begins with more of an impulse than an idea; an originating impetus which is more in the body than in the mind. It usually begins with a voice and a particular rhythm. Bruno Schulz calls it:  “…the ultimate raw material… the atmosphere, indicating a specific kind of content that grows out of it and is layered upon it.” He talks about: “the first seed of my [his] story ‘Birds’ being a certain flickering of the wallpaper, pulsating in a dark field of vision—and nothing more.

Searching back then, to remember what my “flickering of the wallpaper” was for “The Television,” I draw a blank, like the blank screen of a television. The originating impetus as it might have existed then is gone. And yet in looking at the piece now, I can see the ideas that were in my mind then and the connections that I was making. There was the idea of night, the idea of being awake in the night; the idea of roaming in the night; and, in the case of this piece, the roaming is embodied by a young boy, prepubescent, roaming in his house, and going to the television. It is a television of that time, big and bulky; it is the boy’s link, more than books, to his own inner world which stands apart from and holds more interest for him and feels more authentic to him than the world he has been born into. And which moreover contains the promise of the forbidden.  The forbidden embodied by the lock. At that time a clumsy, physical lock, intended as censor, and which he, clever boy, can easily break through. And when he unlocks it he finds images of war and sex and rock ‘n’ roll on the screen. But the dominant theme is that of the boy’s own early sexuality; he, we, all of us coming into our sexuality; the image of the prepubescent girl on the screen and the boy’s body pressed against hers when he presses his body against the television. Thinking back, I can remember all of these ideas being present at the time. Ideas that were present to me up front, or else behind the scenes, and were being presented to me in the form of impulse, impetus, image.

Rosalind Palermo Stevenson is the author of the novella Insect Dreams (Rain Mountain Press, 2007), which appeared in the anthologies Poe’s Children: The New Horror, edited by Peter Straub (Random House/Doubleday, 2008), and Trampoline, edited by Kelly Link (Small Beer Press, 2003). Her short fiction has been anthologized in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana (Fordham University Press, 2008) and published in numerous literary journals including Drunken Boat, Web Conjunctions, First Intensity, Spinning Jenny, Skidrow Penthouse, Italian Americana and Washington Square. Stevenson lives in New York City.  










Joey Nicoletti on “The Flashlight Fish”

“The Flashlight Fish” was born a few years ago. I was invited by my friend Val Vogrin to be part of a creative writing panel that was reading original work centered on the theme of evolution.  As delighted as I was for the opportunity, I was also nervous, as I was uncertain about how to broach the theme poetically.

A couple of days later, I had a phone conversation with my father, where my writing dilemma came up. He mentioned the TV show Wild Kingdom and how much he enjoyed watching it with me as a child. Boom!

It’s not every day that 2 plus 2 equals a perfect 4 when I write, so I’m especially pleased about how this poem developed: many thanks to Val for the writing occasion and to my father for suggestions on how to dress for it—among the innumerable blessings he has given me.

Joey Nicoletti has an M.F.A. in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and an MA in English from New Mexico State University. He is the author of four poetry collections, including Cannoli Gangster (Turning Point, 2012), which was selected as a finalist for the Steel Toe Books Poetry Prize. His poetry, creative nonfiction, and reviews have appeared in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Waccamaw, Jet Fuel Reviewand Italian Americanaamong other magazines and journals. A former poetry editor of Puerto del Solhe currently teaches writing at SUNY Buffalo State.



Chip Livingston on “with fire”

I wrote “with fire” at a time when I was discovering both the sestina and the poetry of Tim Dlugos. With the sestina, I was exploring how the repetition implied obsession and how it tweaked the syntax of the narrative. I was also reading Dlugos for the first time and was struck by the simplicity of his plot poems about Gilligan’s Island, which led me to thinking about television shows that had impacted my life.

What drove my obsession with Twin Peaks was the extremity to which the secret lives of its characters were written, the drastic contrasts between the multiple aspects of their psyches and how they hid or exhibited those dark passions. David Lynch’s writing and direction were a big part of my coming out/college experiences. It felt natural to approach my Twin Peaks obsession with the obsessive form of the sestina. The result was “with fire.”

Chip Livingston is the author of two poetry collections Crow-Blue, Crow-Black (NYQ Books, 2012) and Museum of False Starts (Gival Press, 2010), and a collection of short stories, Naming Ceremony (Lethe Press, 2014). His work has been widely anthologized and appears on the Poetry Foundation’s website. Visit

Ravi Shankar on “Sitcomposite”

“Sitcomposite,” itself a pun steeped in nostalgia, is a cento drawn from commercial broadcast networks’ compendium of sitcoms in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. With some measure of relief, I might take solace in the fact that it is not a poem that I can be praised or blamed for overly much, since my main role in the piece was as remixer, a choreographer creating collage from some famous, infamous and barely noticeable lines from a rich gamut of the sitcoms I grew up on in Northern Virginia, from The A-Team with Badass Baracus, to ALF, the Alien Life Form who craved cats for consumption, from Cheers with its sudsy homily to friendship to Sanford and Son, notable in part for Ah Chew, the stereotyped Japanese character being the second most famous role that Pat Morita ever played, after Mister Miyagi in The Karate Kid.

To mangle Roland Barthes, television is a collage of quotation, and I tried to create a voice out of these disparate bits of comedy, an anthropomorphism of Television itself, a wry, detached yet endearing late middle-aged uncle with a knack for filling the void of suburban weeknights with a cast of surrogate family and the slightly risqué observation. The advertisements run into the programming, which follows an expected arc, as if sitcoms were the sonnets of yesteryear; there are moments in the best of them where genuine wit and trenchant commentary are on display, as is the volta of surprise when a minor obstacle is introduced and then overcome.

The cento form, being both simultaneously archaic (dating back to when Aristophanes nicked lines from Aeschylus’ plays to create a collaged text) and postmodern (being what William S. Burroughs was attempting to enact with his cut-ups and the Surrealists with their “found poetry”), seemed a perfect accommodating structure for both paying homage to and critiquing the canned yet heartfelt landscape of television sitcoms. I immersed myself in old clips with a pair of clippers to snip segments and in my laboratory for lips, forced ionic bonds between them, the result of which is my alchemical contribution to Rabbit Ears.

Ravi Shankar is founding editor of the online journal Drunken Boat. He has published seven books and chapbooks of poetry, including the 2010 National Poetry Review Prize winner, Deepening Groove (The National Poetry Review Press, 2011). He co-edited Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from Asia, the Middle East and Beyond (W.W. Norton & Company, 2008).  A Pushcart Prize recipient, Shankar teaches at City University of Hong Kong and Central Connecticut State University.