May 17, 2017

Poets with Mental Illness

Conversation with
Francesca Bell

Rattle #55The summer issue of Rattle features a tribute to poets living with mental illness. An estimated 26% of Americans experience mental illness in a given year, and we wanted to acknowledge and explore that reality, while also helping to diminish the associated cultural stigma of these illnesses. Twenty-nine poets contributed to this issue, chosen from over 2,400 submissions. While the topics of the poems themselves vary greatly, each of the poets live with some form of depressive, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, bi-polar, post-traumatic stress, or eating disorder—all of discussed openly and bravely in their contributor notes. In the conversation section, we talk about mental illness and a wide range of other topics with Francesca Bell.

The issue also includes a dozen poets in another eclectic open section, featuring some reader-favorites like David Kirby and Rhina P. Espaillat, as well as many names new to our pages.



Poets with Mental Illness

Audio Available Roberta Beary Lunch Break
Audio Available Francesca Bell Containment
Audio Available Katie Bickham A Different Animal
Audio Available Jackson Burgess Heirloom
Michelle Chen Kootenai Cradleboard
Audio Available Rachel Custer Color Study While Withdrawing
Audio Available Rhonda Ganz What Gets Us out of Bed in the Morning
Audio Available James Gering Have Coffin, Need Pallbearers
Audio Available John Gosslee My Beautiful Father the Fire Bird
Dan Haney Re: Heaven’s Spam Filter
Alex Harper Fallers
Audio Available Steve Henn What I’m All About
Leland James The Sanitarium Window
Audio Available Ted Jonathan This Has Nothing to Do with Willpower
Audio Available Sam Killmeyer When You Tell Me That You Feel Alone
Audio Available Lorena Parker Matejowsky Long Car Line Prayer
Audio Available Beth McKinney Promotion to Outside Resources in Marion …
Audio Available Aaron Poochigian Divertimento
Colin Pope Why I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral
Audio Available Claudia Putnam The Battle of Brintellix
Cinthia Ritchie Crazy, They Said
Jamie Samdahl Medicated Dream Fragment
Audio Available Sara Springer Spring
Dana Stamps II Buddha’s Villanelle
Audio Available Jill Talbot Diversity Checkbox: When I Was Twelve
Audio Available Padma Thornlyre After Reading a 12/4/2001 …
Audio Available Martin Vest The Day I Tried to Commit Seppuku …
Audio Available Mark Lee Webb What Happens When You Don’t Wear Gloves
Audio Available Jess Weitz The Knife


Audio Available Sandra Anfang The Hatred of Poetry
Audio Available Tom Chandler The Chandlers
Kevin Coval 400 Days
Rhina P. Espaillat Here
Alan C. Fox Wake-Up Call
Audio Available Maria Mazziotti Gillan What Isn’t Said Crushes
Ceridwen Hall Changing the License Plates
Audio Available David Kirby Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las …
Ron Koertge Cat Women of the Moon
George Ovitt That Summer
Audio Available Ron Riekki I Had a Librarian Tell Me …
Audio Available Francis Santana Letter Found in a Crate


Francesca Bell

Cover Art

Jasmine C. Bell

Pepper Trail


They are modestly proud of it
Their bomb crater, behind the greenhouses
They lead visitors out through the re-grown grove
Warning of mud and roots, where it waits
Water-filled, its clay walls braced with bamboo
Round as a temple cistern

December 1972, more bombs fell on Hanoi
Than on London during the Blitz
You can see the photos in the War Museum
On Dien Bien Phu Boulevard, by the Lenin statue
Block after block of small buildings, flat
Nothing standing but the people

A few steps from the crater is a bunker
Rounded, half-buried in leaves and soil
You can go inside and sit
Imagine the forester hiding there
As his rosewood trees burst and burned
Holding in his arms a metal box of seeds

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017
Tribute to Civil Servants

[download audio]


Pepper Trail: “For the past eighteen years, I have worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a forensic ornithologist, identifying bird remains that are evidence in wildlife crime investigations. This strange, rewarding, and troubling job brings me face to face with death every day of my working life. It has also taken me to places like Vietnam, where I worked on combatting the illegal wildlife trade, and wrote ‘At the Forestry Institute, Hanoi.’ I spend much of my free time in nature (my graduate work involved field studies of animal behavior), and many of my poems reflect my close observation of the living world.” (twitter)

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May 12, 2017

Marti Noel


What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life.
—George Mallory

The ledge invites and frightens, loose gravel
scratching solid rock beneath your feet,
until the grating sound—the rasp and rattle—
is silenced as you step into complete
nothing, carabined between simple faith
and gravity. Will the tether hold?
There is a pull, a tension, in the fray
of scattered thoughts and fear of lost control
pressed against the weightlessness of free fall
on a stretch of braided rope. It takes skill,
and grit, to climb while clinging to sheer wall,
inching upward, pulled by strength and will;
but then, the descent offers you rebirth,
as you coil and push away from Earth.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017
Tribute to Civil Servants


Marti Noel: “I am the property assessor in a small New England town. The work is challenging, where I encounter and work directly with a variety of property owners to address their concerns. The position provides insight into the political process of local regulation, but it can lack creative stimulation. I find that writing helps fill that gap.”

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May 11, 2017

John E. Buri


If I were perfect, I wouldn’t be a poet.
—Michael Patrick

I am a voice
That will not speak in shadows.
I am a man born fully grown.
I have been labeled a madman.
I am mad. I have no set destination
Like the arrow
That knows its destiny
Before leaving the string.

Words are no longer
The color of blood.
I can appreciate the significance
Of not being dead.
Language has become my benediction.
I am a voice
As vulnerable as ribbon.

from Rattle #15, Summer 2001


John E. Buri: “Critiquing my first poem in a workshop, Richard Shelton said, ‘What a terrible waste of punctuation.’ Two years later, after one of his readings, Mr. Shelton was asked who his favorite is. He responded, ‘I have so many, but one of them is sitting here with us: John Buri.’ I have never been more proud.”

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May 10, 2017

Bruce Niedt


after Galway Kinnell

The man peeling sweet potatoes on Easter morning
looks frustrated, as though this is a task best passed
to others who really know what they are doing.
His wife is away on other errands and has deemed
him the stripper of skins, with nothing but a dull
vegetable peeler. Perhaps if he should microwave
them for five minutes, the dirt-brown husks
would pull away cleanly, even by tool-less hand.
The ends are hot and soft and peel more easily
but they burn his fingers, while the middle
is still too hard and resists a metal blade.
He is making a mess of this chore, and wonders
why his wife would entrust it to him, when he
could be watching baseball or writing poetry.
Perhaps today of all days he should have faith
that he will accomplish this goal of five pounds
of naked tubers, their bright orange souls
unprotected from the cruelties of the April air.
Sometimes it is easy to peel away defenses,
he thinks, and sometimes a toughness prevails.
Later, his wife will bake them in a casserole,
with cinnamon, brown sugar and marshmallow,
for a dinner that has taken three days to prepare,
and their aroma will rise from a hot square tomb
into the very reaches of heaven.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017
Tribute to Civil Servants


Bruce Niedt: “I recently retired after 39 years as an employee of the Social Security Administration. (Yes, I served under the commissioner known as poet A.M. Juster.) My job involved much number-crunching, but even more important to me was my everyday face-to-face connection with the public and my ability to help them to get the benefits to which they were entitled. Their gratitude was what made it all worthwhile. Meeting people with a diversity of backgrounds and stories helped enrich the humanity of my writing, especially in my narrative and/or persona poetry.” (website)

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May 6, 2017

Gabriela Igloria (age 15)


after James Tate

Fathers tell them over and over again not to lean
out of windows, but the sky is full of them.
There is no right and left or up and down when you
look up at the sky. Be careful that you do not fall—

gravity will pull you down. The yellow detour sign
is at an angle where its black arrow points down
at Hell or perhaps up at Heaven. There is no way
of telling which way it truly points.

Once you are in space, the arrow doesn’t matter.
Every way is right and wrong and left and right
and up and down and diagonal at the same time.
The universe is everything and nothing.

What is the answer? School kids say 42 and laugh.
If the answer to the universe is discovered, maybe
everything will change. The universe will fold itself up
like a play after the audience has left, and you are still

wondering about the prestige, the tanks full of water,
and the dead man’s many bodies that are all the same.
You wonder about all the dead bird twins left for no one
in crushed, rusty cages hidden in gaps in magic tables.

The magician has a large fishbowl in his non-existent stomach.
Where is the man who holds the chapter book of your life
in his hands? What do you do when you reach the last page
of your own story? The paradox will close in on itself,

and everything will cease to exist the way it existed before
and will exist again but this time without you—
you, the creator of worlds. Do not lean out of windows.
You will fall into the sky and wonder and inquire and search

and ask too many questions the way kids do
when they ask Why? over and over again.
You tell them Do not lean out of windows,
but the sky is just so hopelessly full of them.

from 2017 Rattle Young Poets Anthology


Why do you like to write poetry?

Gabriela Igloria: “As the years progress, I learn more about myself and more about the world around me, and as I go about each day many thoughts pile up in the back of my mind. As much as I would like to vocally express all my thoughts, I don’t always get the chance to speak my mind. I like to write because writing allows me to ease those thoughts that never make it past my lips. Rather than letting the words roll off my tongue at any given moment, I can preserve them in my head and write them down later when I have more freedom to write whatever I want or need to write. Writing is essentially, for me, an outlet or a friend to whom I can say anything to without a fear of being judged by it.”

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May 3, 2017

David Kelly


I’ve missed so many dawns and early mornings. There is such beauty and potential to admire in them, but we all make choices. It’s much easier to join in later when there’s more momentum to the day. Perhaps it’s laziness. I can think of numerous other ways to describe it, but perhaps it’s laziness. Come to think of it, I’ve missed a great many afternoons too. Working through lunchtime is another choice, but it denies a perspective on the passage of time. Immersion is more of a default setting than a strategy. Diving deep into work removes the extraneous noise of stray thoughts. Emerging from such episodes is confusing in the same way I imagine time travel would be. What happened ten minutes ago? Twenty? I should remember, shouldn’t I?

revised prognosis
none of us dying
to know

Stuck in the evening rush hour; almost going nowhere, but not quite. Retracing a familiar route time after time; adding occasional variations, as much to avoid boredom as anything else. What of these others around me, flooding the city’s arteries. This is not so much a salmon run, as a salmon slough, after spawning, when all energy has been spent and the vital urge to continue has dissipated.

evening fades to night
still powerless to change it
the wreck of mourning

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017
Tribute to Civil Servants

[download audio]


David Kelly: “Having tried to write poetry as (redacted), I (redacted) and concentrated on crosswords. (redacted) Passport Office (redacted) Official Secrets Act. In (redacted) after leaving the Passport Office, (redacted) encouraged me to join (redacted). I found it (redacted) to pick up (redacted) and would (expletive deleted) recommend poetry as (redacted).” (twitter)

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