Harp & Altar
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Tom Andes’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in News from the Republic of Letters, Santa Clara Review, Housefire, Spork, Mantis, Bateau, 3:AM Magazine, elimae, Pif, Everyday Genius, and The Rumpus, among other publications. A hand-sewn chapbook, Life Before the Storm and Other Stories, appeared in a limited run from Cannibal Books in 2010. His story “The Hit,” which first appeared in Xavier Review, was recently anthologized in Best American Mystery Stories 2012.  He lives in New Orleans.

Jessica Baran is the author of the ekphrastic poetry collection Remains to Be Used (Apostrophe Books, 2010); the chapbook Late and Soon, Getting and Spending (All Along Press, 2011); and the forthcoming poetry collection Equivalents (Lost Roads Press, 2013), which won the inaugural Besmilr Brigham Women Writers Award. Her art writing has appeared in Art in America, BOMB, Art Papers, the Riverfront Times and the Village Voice. She lives in St. Louis.  

Leopoldine Core was born and raised in Manhattan. Her poems and fiction have appeared in Open City, The Literarian, Drunken Boat, The Brooklyn Rail, Agriculture Reader, Death Hums, No, Dear, and others. She is a 2012 fellow at The Center for Fiction and the Fine Arts Work Center.

Ian Dreiblatt is a poet, musician, legal commentator, and translator. He lives in Brooklyn with Anna and is the New York Manager for Dalkey Archive Press. “Mandelstam Variations” is an ongoing project that will, someday soon, exist as a manuscript.  

Matthew Klane is co-editor and founder of Flim Forum Press. He is the author of Che (Stockport Flats, 2013), B____ Meditations (Stockport Flats, 2008), and My (Fence eBooks, forthcoming 2014). Currently, he lives and writes in Albany, NY, where he co-curates the Yes! Poetry and Performance Series and teaches at The Sage Colleges. See: www.matthewklane.blogspot.com.

Jesse Lichtenstein’s poems have appeared in
Denver Quarterly, Paris Review, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Octopus, and Harp & Altar. His essays and journalism have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The New Yorker, Tin House, Wired, and Slate. He co-directs the Loggernaut Reading Series.  

Eugene Lim’s novel The Strangers is forthcoming from Black Square Editions. His first novel Fog & Car was published in 2008 by Ellipsis Press. He is editor at large for Harp & Altar.  

Michael Newton’s gallery reviews have appeared regularly in Harp & Altar. He also conducts tours of New York’s contemporary art galleries; find him online at www.loculis.com.

Linnea Ogden has published work in journals like Conduit and Ploughshares, and her chapbook Long Weekend, Short Leash can be obtained from Tap Root Editions. She makes bread, watches birds, and teaches high school English in San Francisco.  

Jennifer Pilch is the author of Profil Perdu (Greying Ghost Press, 2011), Bulb-Setting (dancing girl press, 2012), and Mother Color (Konundrum Engine Editions, 2012). Her poems have appeared in such journals as American Letters & Commentary, Denver Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Fence, Horse Less Review, The Iowa Review, and New American Writing. She is editor of the upcoming journal La Vague.

Michael Rerick is the author of In Ways Impossible to Fold (Marsh Hawk Press), X-Ray (Flying Guillotine Press), and morefrom (alice blue books, Shotgun Wedding series). Poems appear or are forthcoming in and/or, Coconut, Moria, and Spiral Orb. He teaches and lives in Tucson.

Jason Snyder is the founding editor of Sidebrow. His fiction has appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Five Fingers Review, Fourteen Hills, and The New York Tyrant. Family Album is a novel manuscript about personality disorder and adoption.

Adam Stolorow is an environmental attorney and a former member of the band Miracles, whose records featured his collage work. He is a graduate of NYU Law and Brown University, where he co-founded the poetry and art project Cartilage. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter and poodle.

Bianca Stone is the author of several poetry chapbooks, as well as an ongoing poetry-comic series from Factory Hollow Press. She is the illustrator of Antigonick, a collaboration with Anne Carson (New Directions, 2012), and her poems have appeared in journals such as Tin House, APR, and Crazyhorse. Her first full-length collection of poetry Someone Else’s Wedding Vows is forthcoming from Tin House/Octopus Books. She lives in Brooklyn.  

Donna Stonecipher is the author of three books of poems, most recently The Cosmopolitan, which won the National Poetry Series and was published by Coffee House in 2008. She lives in Berlin.

Sally Van Doren is the author of two poetry collections, Possessive (LSU Press, 2012) and Sex at Noon Taxes (LSU Press, 2008), which received the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets. She is a curator for the St. Louis Poetry Center and lives in St. Louis and New York. Her website is www.sallyvandoren.com.

Tom Whalen’s latest novel is The President in Her Towers (Ellipsis Press). He teaches film and literature in Germany.  
Four Girls on the Run: Revisiting Narrative in Farrah Field’s Wolf and Pilot
Bianca Stone

Wolf and Pilot, by Farrah Field (Four Way Books, 2012)


A recent op-ed by Alissa Quart in the New York Times claimed that the popularity of today’s “epic” TV series like Downton Abbey and Boardwalk Empire is attributable to the “sense of narrative order, however fleeting” they provide as a “refuge from our fragmented lives.” Quart distinguishes between “narrative” and “database” logic—the latter presenting “a collection of individual items in which ‘every item has the same significance as any other’ ” and “Information is gathered without a fixed order”—to argue that “stories, not algorithms, give order to our hectic world.” Books of poetry are, of course, not random databases of information, yet it’s an open question whether poetry (even in its nebulous, arcing way) is inherently narrative. I believe it is. Or, to put it another way, I find the poetic inseparable from the narrative, in the sense that the more “willfully thematic” the arc of the writing, the more I demand from narrative in a book of poems. It’s our nature to look for overt meaning in art, but it can be a grave error to apply formulations such as Quark’s—in which narrative equals order equals meaning—to all art forms in all contexts. Stories do occur in poetry, but who’s telling them and how they’re told, are not fixed values.

Poets are often intoxicated by their own “characters” (think of John Berryman’s inability to escape The Dream Songs), yet this intoxication speaks to how deeply complex an element of our craft is the narrative task. The voice put on the page, the “speaker” of the poem, how we transfer information, how we choose to linger on a word or detail—these are all inescapably narrative in that they tell the reader or listener a story about the poem. Just as our methods or obsessions or aesthetics all distinguish us as writers, it is the strength of those voices that are the lifeblood of our progeny.

When I first encountered Farrah Field’s Wolf and Pilot, I had the overwhelming sense that its narrative was inextricable from its surrealism. The glaring distinction was that when I flipped randomly through the book, the poems did less for me than when I read them cover to cover. Sequence-poems often develop an emotional force through sheer accumulation—they’re like a complicated store of energy in a single superhero, a “turbo finishing move” in Street Fighter, slowly building up as you both deal and take damage—yet from the beginning Wolf and Pilot feels like a book brought forth from a powerful, unearthly place. The strong voice of the poems engages you fully, even as the narrative remains uncertain. The poems drop you at the outset into a specific landscape (from which you never stray too far), within which four sisters grope to exist. Though a terrifying book, Wolf and Pilot welcomes the reader in generously.

This is narrative poetry that does not enforce narrative. While the book plays in the space between the literal and imaginative, the poems miraculously funnel us through a series of what seem to be actual events, via the unreliable (but very wise) voices of the four sisters: Elsianne, Matilda, Emaline, and Aubrie. I believe the uncertainty of the narrative stems from the fact that the events themselves are so psychologically devastating, the speakers cannot directly address them.

So what is the narrative, and does it matter? I think it does very much. As it does to read this book (the first time at least) beginning to end. To ignore the sequential movement of the poems would be a disservice to the revelations Field encodes along the way. The world of Wolf & Pilot revolves around the four girls, yet other characters, names, and voices arise, primarily those of the mother, the teacher, and the detective, each of them at once an archetype and a very real person. “The four girls belong to themselves,” but the fact that “[a] daughter isn’t one for long” are recurring motifs throughout. The mother, who (spoiler alert) is literally a witch, is both absent and omnipotent, a figure of incredible emotional complexity. She is abusive, even sadistic, isolating the girls from the outside world. While the poems mostly follow the sisters, it’s clear that they exist in the mother’s world and are controlled by it. The girls hate and love the mother fiercely, and her feelings toward them are just as inconsistent. Field’s writing, more exploration than judgment, bears out these tensions beautifully. In the poem “Mother Talks To Herself Before Hunting Her Children” (a chilling enough title on its own), she snarls to herself:


[. . .] When they ran away, you realized

they were what you wanted all along. You had perfect people,

but you were biting the heads off, well, it doesn’t matter.

Your daughters never needed you even when you forced them


And in the poem “Wanting To Train Pigmy Goats,” the girls muse:


Our mother makes nightmares for us

with a lamp and a bunny.

She says you can electrocute someone

from any place on the body.

She threw one of her feet at us and never lost her balance.


The sentiment in the first two lines could almost be sweet, innocent: a mother putting her children to bed, telling a story with shadow puppets. But the reference to “nightmares” and the sharpness of the line break makes us tense. And then the third line—“She says you can electrocute someone / from any place on the body”—has confirmed the real nightmare that is teetering on threat-of-torture. The final line of the poem places the reader at the center of the girls’ fear and awe. The mother is strong, unwavering, which they respect (they know better) and fear. That she “throws” one of her feet is an absurdly final, but not last, betrayal. When she’s actually present, she’s unpredictable and destructive, yet the brilliance is that we’re shown this through the flat and practical eyes of children, who know nothing else but this. This is the way things are.

The detective and the teacher seem to play the roles of foil to the mother. Rather than given real names, like the mother, both are called by the titles of their very normal societal positions, figures designed to protect and cultivate. The girls view them with curiosity, strange sympathy, and admiration, though at times they want to avoid them all together. The teacher and the detective together create phantom parents for the four girls. But the sisters “belong to themselves” ultimately. They seem to move in a magical troop, through a rich, pastoral world, something like stepping into like a Henry Darger painting. It is their growing knowledge of their fate, and their attentiveness to one another, that’s so touching about Wolf and Pilot. They are survivors of what seems like impossible, dark circumstances, and yet they find everything stimulating. Each girl has distinct personality traits and clearly defined sensitivities, one of the many reasons why it’s so devastating when one of them dies. This comes like a shock, concrete and massive. After that, the third section of the book takes a turn, tonally. With long, thin lines, shifting into the middle of the page, the poem “Matilda Stays Up Late With No Questions To Ask” gently, subtly shows us the unimaginable:


A head that doesn’t turn toward on-leaf footsteps isn’t alive.

You don’t have to touch it to know.

                                                                Even when we saw the blood in the yard.

                                The holes all over her body came next.

All you had to do was look at her hand.


That this poem is followed by a blank page, giving us a second to take it in, is indicative of one of the book’s many strengths: its sense of pacing and space. No quotes clogging everything up, no numbers; the poems all have titles that feel like poems in their own right. Field skillfully lets the music expand and contract as the story demands, until the shift in sound in the final poems is palpable: death changes everything. The first poem in the final section, “Elsianne Walks Between Quiet Rooms” (as we seem to do in these pages), begins with an almost self-conscious address to the reader: “This is not a dream kind of dream.” The line rankles with grief. It is reality slipping into an unreal landscape.

The whimsical surfaces and playful language of Wolf and Pilot cloak complex themes of childhood, family, sexuality, and grief. The last two poems, rather than end in despair, look boldly ahead as Elsianne goes off to college. “We open the grassy door / of the future.” the girls say. “We’ll crave / tall drinks that taste / like the future, we’ll want / on our laps its softness.” The mystery at the heart of these poems remains in perfect balance with our sense of understanding (what has happened to these girls and what will become of them), suspending us at the edge of knowing and not knowing. It’s rare to find a poetry collection you’d love to see a sequel to—and this is one that will not (thankfully) stop haunting me any time soon.