Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Feature on Dr. Allison Joseph and her new chapbook of poetry TRACE PARTICLES

Christal Cooper 1,800 Words


 “I like succinct titles.”
Allison Joseph’s response when asked why she christened her second chapbook collection Trace Particles. 
         In March of 2014 Dr. Allison Joseph received a welcoming phone call from RHINO editor Ralph Hamilton.

         Hamilton informed her via the phone that she was the recipient of the Paladin Award from the literary journal Rhino Poetry (, awarded to Allison Joseph for being a teacher, editor, poet, innovator, mentor and for her extraordinary long-term contribution to poetry in Illinois.

         On April 25, 2014 Dr. Allison Joseph attended a ceremony where she was awarded the Paladin Award from the literary journal Rhino Poetry.

         During the open mic event, Joseph read from her most recent poetry collection, a chapbook called Trace Particles, published by Backbone Press Inc. ( (

         Joseph prefers to write the normal lengthy poetry collections, but she is also a fan of chapbooks.  
         “Yes I like chapbooks a lot.  I loved Tim Seible’s chapbook Kerosene.”

         Joseph has written six poetry collections and two chapbooks (including Trace Particles). 

When asked if there was a difference between writing poems from a chapbook collection than a normal length poetry collection, Joseph responded:  “Nothing really--I wrote the poems as they came, so there wasn't really anything about their composition I'd not experienced before.” 
         Joseph wrote Trace Particles the same way she writes all of her poems – in total silence and with a pen in longhand on legal pads or notebooks, and with no limit to environment or place.
         “I write anywhere I happen to have an idea strike me.”

One would think a chapbook would lack the compelling power and artistic poetic art form of the longer, more typical length book of poetry, but Joseph feels otherwise.
The chapbook allows you to send a concentrated dose of poems, so it’s good for a lot of the poems of social concern I was working with at the time.”
Trace Particles consists of poems giving voices to black women slaves, women who have been abused or raped, girls who have been molested, or denied their basic human right because of their tiny vaginas, or the color of their skin. 

In the continent of Asia alone, over 4000 cases of rape, half of them girls under the age of 16, have been reported to the authorities in the past year.  This does not include the unreported rapes; nor does it include the rape atrocities occurring throughout Africa, Ireland, the Middle East, and even the United States.
Trace Particles is more than a chapbook of poetry but a powerful tool that every women and girl should have.  It’s like a pill one could take – but with no side effects.
         Joseph arranged the poems in Trace Particles according to darkness of theme:  the humorous poems are first and the darker poems are at the end.
         The most emotional poem for Joseph to write was “31 Shirts” because of its difficult topic of domestic violence, which is evident in most of the poems in this small collection.  Joseph was inspired to write “31 Shirts” when she observed a clotheslines project exhibit. (

         Even this reviewer now has a voice and a comrade in Joseph, who admits to having the urge of violence toward the perpetrator who targeted women at Southern Illinois University of Carbondale; but at the same time, she has the maturity and compassion to abstain from that violence. 

I would love to strangle him

                           with his clothesline, make him see colors
                           of a different kind, but that sort of anger
                           only makes me bitter, does no bit of harm
                           to an old man in a jail cell too eager to plead

Excerpt from “31 Shirts” from Trace Particles
                                             Copyright granted by Allison Joseph.

         In “31 Shirts” Joseph recognizes all the women and girl victims based on the color of their t-shirts, worn to spread awareness and to prevent the violence from happening again. 
                                                                   purple ones      
                           signifying a woman killed for loving another
                           woman.  Yellow or beige mean rape, though
                           if a woman should live, her shirt can be red,

                           or pink, perhaps orange.  Blue or green
                           for surviving incest, black if you’re attacked for
                           your politics.

         In “31 Shirts” Joseph makes an observation that huge populations of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale students wear the t-shirts; but then she makes a plea both men and women: 

                           I wonder if they stop at all to think
                           about what their own shirts might say
                           what these colors mean,

         The last line of “31 Shirts” leaves no excuse for anyone not to be concerned about violence – not only violence toward women, but toward anyone, and it also make the political statements that there should be more strict laws about guns.

what damage
                           hands can do around a leg or throat or gun.

         The poem that Joseph did the most research on was “Snow White”, in which Joseph depicts a would be victim as Snow White, and Walt Disney as a possible future perpetrator when Walt Disney insisted the Snow White caricature be that of a fourteen year old girl.  

                           Thank goodness his animators talked sense to
                           Him or their first full length animated feature
                           Would have been nothing more than an advert

                           For pedophilia, that eager Prince swooning for a girl
                           Less than half his age.

         “Snow White” at first glance escapes being a victim by simply appearing older in the film.  But then, later in the poem, Joseph delves deeper into who is responsible for the victimization towards women; and what victim entails.  In order to be a victim, does a woman/girl have to be sexually violated?  Or could a woman/girl be a victim by false advertisement; not being given their due share of the just dollar?

         Joseph credits Snow White with opening the doors to other Walt Disney characters but no “snow white” is given the hard earned penny; only given to white men.

                                                      750 artists drew you
                           and those dopey dwarfs by hand, frame by frame,
                           two million images to save Walt’s studio
                           from bankruptcy, but you never got a cent,
                           your dulcet singing voice supplied

                           by some Hollywood singing teacher’s daughter.

         “Snow White” has political undertones of the media’s misrepresentation of women, and due to those misrepresentations women such as “Snow White” are coerced into being an image that is impossible to maintain or hold, further victimizing women and especially young girls.

                           In all, it’s an acceptable life, and if you
                           Have to down a few pills before bedtime,
                           Who’s to know?  You’re eternally delightful, heroine
                           To millions of pink-clothed

                           Ordinary little girls, their rotund mothers
                           Who were once little girls took all of them
                           Paying more for your likeness than they
                           Would for their own, the Magic Kingdom
                           They seek nowhere in sight, despite
                           What all the picture books say.
         Joseph in her poem “Aunt Jemina’s Revenge” gives poetic justice a whole new meaning with humor, justification, and the sweetest revenge ever, starting with changing Aunt Jemima’s name to “Aunt Jemina’s Revenge”. 

In the poem, Joseph responds to an article byline of the Quaker Oats Company having to recall Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix due to possible salmonella contamination.  Here the victim pool of possible salmonella contamination is no longer women and girls, but men and women, and more than likely white men and women.
                           Has you right where she wants you: feverish
                           And glassy-eyes, head in the toilet, pleading

                           For redemption from your own evil.

         Soon, the perpetrator is not the slaveholder or the conservative white but individuals who box in what it means to be black, the media being one.  The perpetrator becomes the advertisers and those who fall for the advertisement – and we are not talking about syrup nor are we necessarily talking about contamination but the misconceptions of what it means to be black.
         Joseph adds biographical unknown elements to the poem “Aunt Jemina’s Revenge” by revealing the face for the Aunt Jemima was actually a white woman.

                           A white woman with an Italian name
                           Played her sooty-faced in burnt cork.

         Joseph further offers an important typically unknown biographical fact about the real Aunt Jemina.
                           Late, you learned the first black Aunt
                           Jemina came straight off a Kentucky
                           Plantation, hired to bring the World’s Fair
                           1893’s most startling invention:  powdered

                           hotcakes in a box to a grateful, hungry

         The last stanza is perhaps the most humorous that bleeds sweet revenge for all the Aunt Jemina’s everywhere – all the housewives black and white and every other color that are never paid and never thanked for their labors in the kitchen.
                           The grin of a woman who’s spend
                           a lifetime making your breakfast
                           without you ever once offering to make hers.

There is a bit of pop culture in these poems – Aunt Jemima, Snow White, soap star actress Shell Kepler, General Hospital’s Luke and Laura. 

There is a persona poem of Tennessee Williams walking in Times Square in 1984; and, of course, the powerhouse of a poem Trace Particles, also the titled of the chapbook, about the dangers of contaminated water and its effects.  

         One could spend hours discussing Joseph’s individual poems, their artistic poetic power, their compelling ability, and the versatile meanings.    The poems are magic – it is understood what the poet’s meaning is; and yet, the reader is able to read these poems and see clearly his or her on individual meaning at the same time.  The poems themselves become the living embodiment of what it means to be Muse and Poet and Poem. And, also, what it means to be victim and perpetrator.

Photo Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1A
Allison Joseph.
Copyright granted by Allison Joseph.

Photo 2J
Jacket cover of RHINO 2014 issue

Photo 3ZD
The Paladin Award.
Copyright granted by Allison Joseph.

Photo 3H
Allison Joseph holding the 2014 Paladin Award from Rhino in her right hand at the Brothers K Rhino Reads! Open Mic and Featured Readers night on April 25, 2014.
Copyright granted by Allison Joseph

Photo 4N
Backbone Press web logo

Photo 5P (two photos)
Tim Seibles 
Copyright granted by Tim Seibles

Photo 6Q
Jacket cover of Kerosene

Photo 7C
Image of Allison Joseph’s six book collections and one chapbook collection.
Copyright granted by Allison Joseph.

Photo 8O
Jacket cover of the chapbook Voice: Poems

Photo 8N
Jacket cover of Trace Particles 

Photo 9
Allison Joseph reading from Trace Particles

Photo 10ZC
Café Press .com rape prevention logo

Photo 11Z
Web logo for the clothesline project website.

Photo 12R
Serial Killer Timothy Krajcir.  Department of Illinois Corrections.  Pubic Domain.

Photo 13ZA
Logo for the clothesline project

Photo 14T
1937 Trailor of Walt Disney introducing the dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Public Domain

Photo 15S
1937 Movie Poster of Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs by Walt Disney.
Public Domain

Photo 16U
Adriana Caselotti, the voice of Snow White on October 10, 1932.
Public Domain

Photo 17V
Sheet Music Cover of Jemima’s Wedding-Day Cake Walk
Illustrated by Martin Saxx
Public Domain

Photo 18X
The famous Welsh woman and heroine Jemima Nicholas also known as Jemima Fawr.
Public Domain

Photo 19Y
Memorial for Nicholas/Fawr at the St. Mary’s Church Fishguard
Public Domain

Photo 20W
Nancy Green as Aunt Jemima.  Nancy Green was born into slavery in 1834 in Montgomery County, Kentucky.  She died in a car accident in 1923.
Public Domain

Photo 21ZB
General Hospital’s Luke Spencer (Anthony Gearey) and Larua Webbar (Genie Francis) on their wedding day November 17, 1981.
Fair Use Under The United States Copyright Law.

Photo 22M
Tennessee Williams walking to the funeral services of Dylan Thomas in 1953.

Attributed to Walter Labertin – New York World Telegram and Sun Staff Photographer.
Public Domain

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