CWW’s Diana Norma Szokolyai Reviews Tara Skurtu’s Poetry Chapbook in LUNA LUNA

Skurtu,+RomaniaOn a journey that begins in South Florida and ends up in Romania, the country of her family’s forgotten history, Tara Skurtu plays “the amoeba game,” a game that has no rules. With subtle and serious humor, with the vivid spontaneity of memory and dreams, and with surgical precision, these compelling, mysterious poems hold up a lens that reveals the slippery and changing dimensions of our many selves.

If you’ve ever longed to name the nameless space between lovers, or searched for home under foreign skies, Tara Skurtu’s chapbook Skurtu, Romania, will leave you haunted with traces of those journeys. This poetry collection reads like a verse novella told from the first person point of view. It is a search for the self in a foreign land, a quest for the shape of love and how to interpret it. The collection opens with the speaker’s attempts at situating the body in a place and in relation to the intimate, yet silent interlocutor ‘you.’ At the beginning, in the poem, “Limit,” the poet sets us up for the kind of archaeological dig we are about to embark upon, removing layers from languages and relationships, “My body, a strange passenger/surrounded by walls/of books in a language/I don’t understand. I’m trying/for sleep in another country./I’m taking pictures of/pictures of you.”

The imagery in the poems beautifully oscillates between a bird’s eye view and a macro lens perspective, from “everywhere” to the graphite at the point of a pencil, from a speck to a forest, from a dream to “a lattice of wormholes.” The particular moments captured between the lovers reveal a space that is at once intimate and isolating. There are as many moments shared as there are forgotten, and there is something lost in the translation of memory. In “Spoiled,” the reader is reminded of the disappointment that expectations can lead to, as the lover brings the speaker “a perfect apple,” but although it looks perfect in the palm, “I bite the apple and wish/I hadn’t—the flesh mealy, a mouthful of sweet mashed potatoes I spit/into the garbage.” The disconnect between desire and experience, between dream and reality, is playfully examined in exquisite detail.

What is revealed so delicately in these poems are the unexpected small sacrifices a lover makes to connect with a beloved, and in a strange land, that means being “stuck in your village, walking/a chicken on a leash” or eating “the one thing I told myself/I’d never eat—I swallowed/the bite whole.” The difficulty of being stuck during the search for a place in a new country, new language, and new relationship is paralleled with what the speaker observes, like “a fly [that] zips/into the flytrap. Its body puttied/to the glue strip, legs waving/like six wet strokes of black ink.”

What is most profound can be boiled down to the movement of a knee, as Tara Skurtu masterfully choreographs words to create a visceral dance between the flight and fog that characterizes searching, making the quest for a common language palpable. “I press the nib, I push out words—place words, blank words.” As the collection progresses, we see the speaker taking solace not in abstract language, but instead in the concrete, sensorial experience of the world. “I couldn’t unstick the poem/on my walk in the rain, but when/I reached the market in Berceni,/the curbside cabbages calmed me.”

By the end, the speaker is beginning to dream in the language of her lover, learning to see in a new language. Closure is not complete, it is a story about to be told over a nightcap, and we end on the brim of the glass, smelling the cognac. The poet has set the chapbook up to be read with a kind of cyclical fluidity, and it beckons to be read again. “Let me be a line, a word/ in the middle of a line.” I urge you to read Tara Skurtu, a compelling and important contemporary poet.

The poetry chapbook Skurtu, Romania was published by Eyewear Publishing last winter, and Tara Skurtu’s first full length poetry book, The Amoeba Game is coming out this October (2017), also from Eyewear Publishing.

Tara Skurtu received a 2015-17 extended Fulbright, a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship, and two Academy of American Poets prizes. Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Poetry Review, Poetry Wales, and Tahoma Literary Review. Tara’s debut poetry collection, The Amoeba Game, is forthcoming from Eyewear Publishing.  She lives in Romania.

Diana Norma Szokolyai is a writer and Executive Artistic Director of Cambridge Writers’ Workshop. She is author of the poetry collections Parallel Sparrows and Roses in the Snow, as well as co-editor of CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos and Sourcebook for Creative Writing.

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Jessica Reidy’s trauma poetry in Luna Luna Magazine

Lisa A. Flowers of Luna Luna Magazine recently published three poems by visiting professor Jessica Reidy‘s series of poetry in-progress on childhood sexual trauma. Alongside the series, Jessica is also working on her novel, currently titled Zenith, about a half-Romani (Gypsy) dancer and fortune teller at a Parisian circus who becomes a Nazi hunter. And at the CWW’s upcoming Pre-Thanksgiving Yoga, Writing, and Juice Cleanse retreat in New York, Jessica will be teaching a craft class titled “The Art of Withholding,” that is, artfully crafting a piece of writing by what is not said rather than by what is told. The inspiration for this class came from her essay on Romani poetics, titled, “The Magic Word: ‘Gypsy’ Witchcraft, Love, and Breaking Tradition in Luminiţa Mihai Cioabă’s Poem ‘The Apparition of Choxani’” in the Infoxicated Corner of The The Poetry Blog, curated by Fox Frazier-Foley. Come join us for the retreat, get some writing done, stretch your mind and body, and clear your system and stress in time for the holidays.

Below is Jessica’s poem “In the Oven,” as appeared first in Luna Luna Magazine. Check out Luna Luna Magazine for “Night and Night” and “Gulls Calling Over Corcaigh.”

In the Oven

behind the deli counter

behind the man in white

the moon is dripping
fat like candlestick wax on the countryside below

(valley of flesh below). I ask him,

is that meat clean? like the silver dollar I polished

when I was four—drop and rattle—
in the metal horse’s belly,

a slot up in its withers, the bank lodged in her ribs.

I’d stare in that void and wish myself in.

You see, I’ve been saving myself up

since I was young.

I’ll be clean like that, I say to the man,

the day my body is thin-gone

and can’t feel anyone.

Florescent lights cleave    me in two     I ask,

who is carving away      legs arms heads

tissue stretched     cartilage stripped of curdles?
Who can
feel nothing through no membrane?

Once I could feel everything

when I was young:

him ripping in

taking everything.
I say,

I wore my candy wrapper skin so tight

he used to take it off at night.

Bare bones      clinking

licked clean.

Who could hear my squalling
over all that?

(she heard, I know she heard)

When boots hit the floor, my nerves ride

a scalpel (even now)

a scalpel cut around

the cyst cradled in my tendons

snapped when he arced

my wrists back like a  r a i n b o w.

He whispered, I’ll fuck you dead.

His thumbs found my throat

and choked me back into the rainbow.

She said, Go on, tell the doctor. You hurt yourself doing cartwheels.


The membrane glowed under surgical light.

Mucinous fluid made a full moon, an oven lamp,

that lit the room as I counted backwards:

I’ll fuck you dead.

I want to say,

all that fat on the country’s side, imagine it,
bright and brilliant slick

like an Easter ham, human faces

pressed on a window, what a generous night.

What a timely celebration of regeneration.

I want to say,

my cells will renew themselves, but girl, don’t

fool yourself. Tendons won’t knit

back together and neither will you.

There will be no cave for your bones

forever rising and falling for your bodily sacrifice.

And that’s not all.
Bodies picked clean. Bodies taking
all they can.
I want to say,

the body houses those memories too dangerous

for the brain. Shallow sparrow breaths rip

over bare nerves, sharp ghosts

through the muscles, bones, the pelvic bowl.

Save it for later—trap the pain. Wrap me up in cellophane.
My bones shook, shook clean, shook dirty-clean

I’m saving myself.

Cold turkeys stick bloody to their wrappers

and I want to say,

hours later, I dragged myself to the couch

and slept under the skylight moon.

I woke screaming in the early morning

thinking he was the silver greasing me.

Blood stuck me to the upholstery

so floral that no one would notice

the wound within wound without.

Only the morning light asks,

     What happened here?

     And only to be polite. 
No, I’m not ordering anything, sir.

You don’t want to hear it, I know,

and I don’t want a thing.

I’m saving myself up

for all that country side, and all those ribs

turning over for our teeth.
I’m just one tray in the oven—

please, let me say I’m done.

JessReidyJessica Reidy is a mixed-Romani (Gypsy) heritage writer from New Hampshire. She earned her MFA in Fiction at Florida State University and a B.A. from Hollins University. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart, and has appeared in Narrative Magazine as Short Story of the Week, The Los Angeles Review, Arsenic Lobster, and other journals. She’s a staff-writer and Outreach Editor for Quail Bell Magazine, Managing Editor for VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts, Visiting Professor for the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop, and Art Editor for The Southeast Review. She teaches creative writing, yoga, and sometimes dance. Jessica is currently working on her first novel set in post-WWII Paris about Coco Charbonneau, a half-Romani burlesque dancer and fortune teller of Zenith Circus, who becomes a Nazi hunter.