Janet R. Kirchheimer


Prose poems give me the chance to write in the fluid space between prose and poetry. My writing can wander in ways it cannot in free verse or a form poem. I like the mix of lyric moments along side narrative, and the prose poem always seems to free up a playful side of my writing. There is always the sense that too much wandering or even one extra word can tip the poem to prose, and it’s a challenge to write within that tension. "The Geometry of Poetry" felt as if it came out in one big exhalation. I was walking home from my poetry workshop when the idea came and I ran to Starbucks and sat down exactly as in the poem, and kept writing and writing. "Welcome To My Head Sale" let me roam around in my own head and invite someone else to come in and browse.




The Geometry of Poetry

You know how it is, you leave your workshop, and x comes into your head and you have to write about it, but y keeps popping up too and no matter how you try, y won’t go away and you try to turn y into x and now you feel like you’re back in 10th grade geometry, trying to prove something like angle a = angle b, and you can’t remember any of the theorems, and you think using a ruler would just be a whole lot simpler, but the teacher won’t pass you if you do that, and y is still getting you off the point of x, and you wish you had a tape recorder because the thoughts are coming so fast, but you’re walking up Columbus Avenue, and it’s ten o’clock at night and all the stationery stores are closed, and you’re six blocks from your fourth-floor walk-up, and you’ll never make it back to your apartment without forgetting most of the words, when you spot a Starbucks and go in, find a table, but not one near the window so you won’t get distracted, and you need to start writing immediately so you take off your hat and gloves, but leave on your coat and knapsack, sit down, and try to get back to x, but there’s y popping his head in, “hey, what about me – I’m far more interesting than x,” so you give in and start to write about y and then y tells you that he would never say such a thing, and you tell him that you’re the one writing, but y says that this is his reputation on the line, and you realize that you’re in the middle of Starbucks arguing with a letter of the alphabet, but this is New York City, and no one is paying attention to you anyway, so you stick to your guns and tell y to keep his big mouth shut, and you try again, but now you can’t remember what you were trying to write about in the first place, and x and y aren’t speaking to you anymore, and you’re hot because you’ve still got your coat on and your back hurts from your knapsack, and you realize your poem isn’t going anywhere, so you get on line, order a double cappuccino and head home.


Welcome To My Head Sale

It's kind of like a yard sale, except I'm selling stuff from my head. You know, the kind of stuff you want to keep, hang onto just a bit longer, but know you shouldn't, the kind of stuff that clutters up your life. I'll show you what I've got. There are some slightly used feelings, others pretty worn – regrets, guilts, harbored slights, frustrations, and I'm selling 'em all. Some even come in their original wrappers. I've never bothered to deal with those. There are the usual assortment of feelings that won't fetch a high price: sibling rivalry, the thousands of fights my brother and I had over everything and anything, mostly over nothing, who Ma loved more, who got the upstairs bedroom when the addition was put on the house, raspberry vs. orange Kool-Ade for lunch and whose turn it was to pick the flavor, whether Daddy would just yell or actually hit us when we covered one wall of his bedroom with spitballs. And then there are those adolescent feelings, of which I still have at least a million, maybe more, of feeling just so damned inadequate, all the time, so in over my head, boyfriends, fast girls, Nancy who taught me how to use an eyelash curler, Peggy who told me that you couldn't get pregnant if you did it every night, and those first few kisses, figuring out whose nose went where, and then finding out you could use your tongue. I haven't even shown you the adult feelings, which are probably just left over from adolescence, and it's the usual assortment too, I'm not good enough at – just pick the ones you want – my job, relationships, never did manage to get married and have kids, God, I must be such a loser. Then there are the when-am-I-going-to-quit-my-job and do-what-I-really-want-to-do feelings, I'm staring down 50, peri-menopausal, and hot flashes. Actually I'll throw those in as a bonus if you buy nine others. Listen, I'm going to let you browse. If you buy in bulk, I'll give you a good discount. I really want to get rid of this stuff. I'm not shlepping it back inside at the end of the day.



435569-1182469-thumbnail.jpgJanet R. Kirchheimer’s work has appeared in publications such as Alimentum, Atlanta Review, Kalliope, Lilith, Natural Bridge, Poetry NZ, and Potomac Review. She is the author of How to Spot One of Us (CLAL, 2007), a poetry collection about her family and the Holocaust. In 2006-07, she was a Drisha Institute for Jewish Education Arts Fellow. She teaches adults and teens about Judaism in a variety of locations using poetry and creative-writing exercises.