Poemmemoirstory, also known as PMS, is both written and edited by women writers. This annual magazine includes exactly as its name suggests: poems, memoirs, and stories. Many literary journals have a certain aesthetic or style of writing that remains consistent throughout the pages; however, I thoroughly enjoyed how diverse each piece was. In addition to various topics being discussed, the approach to writing and how it looks on the page changes with each writer.
Michelle McMillan-Holifield writes an incredible poem about life, death, and time. She contemplates the cycle of life with beautiful words that craft image after image. Without falling back entirely on religion or the afterlife, McMillan-Holifield discovers the effect of our beings on the only world we know—the world around us.
His skin, old as history old,
gray as a memory, airs slightly
so one scale is dry
and beside it, one moist
like a pallet, dollops
of the same color in varying states
of rest—or unrest
of constant thing being
while it dies, while it knows
it is dying.
She continues to describe the breakdown of life into the nourishment for the future. Rather than considering time passing as time, she alludes to the concept of present, past, and future as “an ever.” We do not depart this earth without purpose but become an essential part of sustaining the future generations to come.
Sabrina Ito gifts us with a beautiful poem that looks like scattered words on a page, seemingly without rhyme or reason, and spacing that is quite daunting. The poem is titled “Hafu,” which is the Japanese term for half-race. The imagery is astounding and so descriptive; here is the first stanza with accurate spacing:
the cherry blossoms on this street are white
in morning they release cloudbursts
lucent petals cling to pale cheeks
like love-starved children
The poem continues to weave a story about a young girl who gets beaten on the way to school every morning. She admits that she was good at just being invisible and staring ahead, not crying. Nowadays, it is important for writers to realize that practically every story has already been written. It’s not just the story that is important, but how the story is told. Ito excels in telling her story, in making it unique.
Brittany Michaelson provides us with an interesting memoir about her severe anxiety problems. She constantly worries about germs, coming into contact with germs which lead to sickness, and catching cancer from the next door neighbor. Everything in her world is contagious. Michaelson describes her experiences with anti-anxiety drugs as well as withdrawal effects. After describing the unique world in which she lives, Michaelson presents us with a metaphor that really helped me, the reader, put her condition into perspective:
Anxiety creates a lens, changing one’s view of the world. It sometimes feels as if the whole of reality has shifted, as if the very cells in your body have rearranged. Though it alters your internal landscape, it does not alter reality.
You feel you have transformed physically and mentally. Your brain runs its own court case: every possible angle is presented, every side argued. But the only one on trial is you. You are both judge and the condemned. You find yourself guilty for caring too much. You hold yourself hostage for being human.
What an interesting concept: holding oneself hostage for being human. Until we all learn to accept the unique quirks and individuality that make us human, we are all holding ourselves hostage, holding ourselves back from our full potential. Appropriately, Michaelson includes a quote by Anais Nin: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” We all have a unique lens through which we see the world that we adjust at will.
Lisbeth Prifogle wrote her memoir “Pretty” in three parts. While each part was exemplary in its own way, I was particularly enticed by the second part which takes place in Al Asad, Iraq in February of 2008. Prifogle is eating with Sergeant Browning in the chow hall and dish about their secret girl behaviors. As a marine, she has had to learn how to balance her femininity with her duties in a combat zone. We learn that Sergeant Browning paints her toenails pink; in private she can feel girly with pink toenails even though they are hidden in her boots all day. Prifogle makes sure that at least one night per week she leaves her hair down rather than tucking it away in a hat. Privacy is the only appropriate time for these women to feel feminine. Prifogle admits: “I don’t want to feel pretty in uniform. I want to yell at the girls with blue eye shadow, ‘Who the fuck are you trying to impress? We are in a fucking combat zone. You are a Marine, not a Woman!’”
While the two women are eating their meal that afternoon, a man walks up to them and breaks their conversation. She immediately worries that she is about to be reprimanded as he has called her Lieutenant; however, she learns that he not an officer but a civilian. Without wasting any time, he says: “‘I’ve been here for two years and I’m getting ready to go home in fourteen days.’ His hands shake. ‘You’re probably married or engaged, but I just had to tell you, you are the most beautiful woman who has stepped foot on this base.’” She doesn’t respond with much more than a thank you, and she gets teased by everyone at the chow hall the next afternoon. But that moment really sticks with her; Prifogle sees many imperfections in her physical appearance but is struck that a man thought that she was pretty. In the middle of a war zone, there can still be beauty. There can still be hope.