Poetry Sunday: “Dear S—” by Alexandra van de Kamp

Dear S—


Saint Sebastian, Saint Theresa, Saint
Africa. A continent is surrounded
by water on most sides. I dine
with forks, spoons and knives
surrounding my dinner plate
at night. It’s June and the green
blackens so quickly, the trees like
drugged servants bending their arms
in the evening. How much would you
sacrifice to satisfy an urge? This is the season
of parasols and picnics, strawberries,
sewn up tight as pockets, now softening
their doors open. Each fruit coddles
a secret inside like spies in World War II
movies; something wet and private
that is pried out of them
with sharp, well-photographed
utensils. In second grade, Alexia Larr
wouldn’t be my friend
unless I held on my tongue
the peach pit she had slickened
with her saliva. Needless to say,
I still remember the underwater
sliminess of that torture. Saber in Spanish
is both to taste and to know—escargot
scripting its particular knowledge
down your throat. The Mediterranean
Sea is polluted, sabes tu? You
have to pick your way through,
so much excrement floating
in that tub-water blue. Despite this,
we found our private cove. The lucid,
wavering windows
the water became—my body slipping
through blue after blue,
shattering the bright panes.


Reprinted from Kiss/Hierarchy with permission of Rain Mountain Press, New York City. First published in Meridian.



Alexandra van de Kamp is the Executive Director for Gemini Ink, a literary arts nonprofit based in San Antonio, TX. She teaches poetry workshops at Gemini Ink and online with The Poetry Barn. She is the author of two full-length collections of poems: The Park of Upside-Down Chairs (WordTech Communications 2010) and Kiss/Hierarchy (Rain Mountain Press 2016). She has also published five poetry chapbooks, including Dear Jean Seberg (2011), which won the 2010 Burnside Review Chapbook Contest, and A Liquid Bird Inside the Night(Red Glass Books 2015). Her poems have been published in journals nationwide, such as in The Cincinnati Review, River Styx, The Denver Quarterly, 32Poems, and Connecticut Review. For six years she lived in Madrid, where she cofounded and edited the bilingual journal Terra Incognita. Her website is here, and Kiss/Hierarchy is available for purchase at Amazon, Small Press Distribution, or here.

A video-poem of “Dear Jean Seberg” from Kiss/Hierarchy can be viewed here.


Poet’s Note

I wrote “Dear S—” as part of a series of epistle poems, addressing various letters to the alphabet. My husband and I had recently moved from Brooklyn to Port Jefferson, NY, two hours from the city by train. I suddenly found myself a three-minute walk from Long Island Sound and surrounded by trees, birds, and nature, as I had not been for quite some time (our Brooklyn block was  a decidedly treeless one). The pieces in this epistle series (“Dear A—,” “Dear B—,” “Dear V—,” and so on) also marked a turning point in my poetry-making in that I found myself moving away from more narrative-driven work to poems intrinsically compelled by the sounds of words. For example, “Dear S—” begins with: “Saint Sebastian. Saint Theresa. Saint / Africa. A continent is surrounded…” This opening list was triggered merely by trying to find words beginning with “s.” However, I soon discovered that by leading with sound first, my poems began to take leaps in logic and imagination they had never taken before. “Saint Africa,” for instance, is a pairing of words I would never have created without first undertaking this poetic game of listing “s” words. Therefore, it is not surprising this poem prompted me to describe the Spanish word saber, which means “to taste and to know,” because I was learning to taste the physical power of words, to trust their material muscularity, and to allow that materiality to guide my writing process. With these “dear” poems, I also began to be more playful and not worry if I did not know where a poem was going—the sounds would show me. As a result, I found my poems began to witness the world around me in more honest, less constrained ways, and this made me hungry to write more.

Lastly, with these sound-triggered poems, I found I could easily airdrop into them pieces of memories and observations—allowing snippets of a memory to represent a much larger narrative in my life. All in all, “Dear S—,” with its reference to the world of cinema (one of my minor obsessions), and its memories of the Mediterranean and second grade, is a poem I see as a linguistic pirouette—making a few key leaps across its stage—then, it’s gone.

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