Archives for category: All About My Name

by Annie Bolger Tvetenstrand

Schisming sounds divorce faces from names
Breathe in and hear: empty space of a name.

Made palatable by the shape of a tongue,
Syllables spell out the pace of a name.

The silence must break, but to buffet its fall,
Spidered sounds catch in the lace of a name.

Words may deceive and seem more than they are—
Always remember the place of a name.

Fragments extant show a shadowy muse
Inscriptions remain as the trace of a name.

I can be “you,” but a different address
Sparks hunger you whet with the taste of a name.

PHOTOGRAPH: Annie Bolger Tvetenstrand.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Names are both potent and powerless, illuminating and limiting. I felt as if the form of the ghazal was especially apt for exploring this concept: the relentless repetition at the end of each couplet forces the listener to rethink and recontextualize the same sounds over and over again. The tradition of embedding the poet’s name in the final couplet, too, underscores the importance of names and authorship in the form. I’ve spent my life spelling my last name to people, but I’ve only recently begun exploring the history behind my middle name. This poem, for me, is a jumping-off point for further contemplation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Annie Bolger Tvetenstrand is pursuing a BA in English Literature and Classics at Swarthmore College. She is currently the Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s daily newspaper. She recently hand made and published Dated, a chapbook of her poetry. She won the 2015 Lois Morrell Poetry Contest, and her work has appeared in the Swarthmore Review, Prisms, and r.kv.r.y quarterly literary journal.

Hazel Head Shot
A Change For The Better
by Hazel Katherine Larkin

The first social token
I ever received
That branded me as yours
This reptile is not
Shedding its skin
And shrugging off the stigma.

I was never given to you
You robbed me from my cradle
Stole my body and
Pilfered my mind

But now I am reclaiming them
I’m changing the story
And throwing away all
That can bind me to you
And you can do nothing about it.

PHOTOGRAPH: Hazel Larkin in her native Dublin, Ireland (April 2015).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “A Change For The Better” refers to the fact that I changed my last name when she was 16, because I realised I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with the one I was given at birth.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Hazel Katherine Larkin was first published at the age of 12, and has been writing for stage, screen, and publication ever since. Having spent half her adult life in Asia, Hazel currently lives in Ireland, where she is a PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin, and is busy raising her children.

These Are Words that Go Together Well
by Sian Michelle Jones

I. First
My name is an actress.
It shaved its head and married Peter O’Toole.
Grew its teeth and toyed with kings.
Commonplace where it came from
and unpronounceable anywhere else —
it is a password, an encryption, a trick question.
Like a landmark from far away,
it is male or female, and which it is
depends on whether you read it in a salutation
or hear it mispronounced from my own mouth.

II. Middle
My name is a song in English and in French
that my mother sang while she nursed me.
You can say it both ways; I’ll answer.
It’s a Paul McCartney rhyme, a pickup line,
and also that moment when words come unexpectedly
together after standing so long apart.
Ma belle, it rings and rings.

III. Last
My name is bland, a pseudonym, an alias.
I like how it’s a place to hide,
and how grateful people are to hear it
after the exertion of other names,
because it presents no challenges except ubiquity.
By itself, it demands additional information,
which used to be an active noun
and is now a simple schoolyard letter.
It says who like an easy handshake,
but then it asks which
and with gleeful retrograde motion
I get to tell you all the rest,
the single little syllables that are mine,
the cuneiform beginning me.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: Taken at home, Maryland, May 2015.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sian Michelle Jones wrote her first name poem in elementary school. It was an acrostic, of course, and the first line was inevitably “Super,” because the poetry of youth is all about adjectives and exuberance. (Which is so different from now, how exactly?) Sian received her MFA from Mills College in 2004. Her work has appeared in Best New American Voices 2006, The Montucky Review, and The Cheat River Review.


What’s in my name
by A. Garnett Weiss

I didn’t give my first name much thought as a child
I mean it was just THERE
& I hadn’t had any say in the matter

Its 2 syllables sat on my shoulder like a gargoyle
guarding against all contractions
I had no say in that, either

Why call me ‘Joanne?’ I demanded
at the time I first dissected frogs in Biology class

By then, I’d developed a distaste for my name
(there were so many of ‘us’ around) & for that science
(slicing flesh repelled & excited me all-at-once)

Bad karma to call a child the same as a living relation
father decreed. You got ‘Jo’ for your aunt ‘Jean’
Your grandma’s ‘Annie’ became your ‘anne’

Even as that teen, I didn’t complain, though I brooded over
having to carry them both with me everywhere

In secret, I longed for the exotic, till I met a writer
dressed in black silk whose name, almost mine, ended
with an ‘a,’ not my dull ‘e’

I toyed for a while with calling myself ‘Joanna’
Or, even better, with adding an ‘h’— to become
aristocratic, romantic, foreign ‘Johanna’

Didn’t switch then, out of inertia or something else
though now I wouldn’t say it was acceptance

Perhaps I found comfort in hearing how
friends curled their lips
around the familiar sounds

Years later though, I felt the need for tailoring
Wondered if dividing the ‘Jo’ from the ‘anne’
or cutting out the ‘e’ would satisfy

In the end, I did neither
I appliquéd an ‘A’ onto the middle of my name

Becoming ungrammatical=my small rebellion

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: Me at about age five in the family Chevy, before I became preoccupied with my name.              

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem captures my experience in living with my given name. I hadn’t expected my lack of enthusiasm for ‘Joanne’ to come through as strongly as it did. Even with my misgivings, though, it seems I did identify with the heritage implicit in my parents’ choice. The change in spelling on which the poem focuses carried me through until I began publishing my writing. That’s when I decided to add mystery to my ‘public’ identity as a writer. I chose to sign my writing as ‘JC,’ so that readers would not know immediately whether I was female or male. Later, to differentiate between genres in which I write, I invented the pseudonym I use now as a poet, for the most part. Even as A. Garnett Weiss, though, I carried forward elements of my history: The A” for Anne, adapted from my grandmother’s name; and “Garnett,” for the garnet jewelry I inherited from my mother and her sister, my aunt Jean. Hopefully, with this variation, the saga of my names ends.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Poems by JC Sulzenko, now writing poetry as A. Garnett Weiss, have been featured on local and national radio and television, on-line, and in anthologies and chapbooks. Her centos have won a number of awards. She has appeared often on behalf of the Ottawa International Writers Festival, which launched her play and her book about Alzheimer’s disease, What My Grandma Means to Say. Dear Tomato, a poetry anthology for children just published, features JC’s poem, “In My Garden.” She recently collaborated with Carol A. Stephen in the chapbook Breathing Mutable Air.


I Am Not Makayla
by Jessica Wiseman Lawrence

Susan had known since junior high that her first girl would be Makayla.
When her belly was full of that dream at last she ordered special crib    sheets,pink-stitched “Makayla.”
There was “Makayla” painted above the crib in her little white house.    She wrote a letter to Makayla.

I was born in the barely spring when nothing is green yet.
My grandfather, Jesse, held me — to him, I was a hollowed egg painted    silver.
My grandfather, Jesse, watched me — to him, I was a swift river and a    slow sunrise.
He touched my smooth face and my wrinkled fingers until the
   next dawn —
then later than that, all day.
He bought my first teddy bear from the hospital gift shop,
and died of a massive heart attack three days later.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author’s grandfather as a young man.


Jessica Wiseman Lawrence
studied creative writing at Longwood University. You can find her recent work upcoming or published in the “Where I Live” series by Silver Birch Press, UNTUCKED, Antiphon, and Third Wednesday, along with many others. She lives in rural central Virginia, where she is an office manager by day. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.

by Aftab Yusuf Shaikh

They named me after the sun,
who knew it would be
such a curse?
What loss must have
they incurred if
They called me dust or
an ass
or better still, a nobody,

But they loved me
and all sane brains know
how love advocates
the delicacy of idiocy.
The moon a beggar for light,
The sky a vague carpet,
the sun they thought was apt;
perks of being a summer born!

stars on earth they screamed
one night at the
school of life,
All kids ran to the womb
of the dark night and
marvelled at the
golden stars in the bushes,

While I had certain drawbacks,
I carried the day with me
and a vein-ramming halo
with my blood.
I was born an old man,
so no childhood for me.
I was destined to be the Sun,
so no fireflies for me.

PHOTOGRAPH: The author on Marine Drive, Bombay, India (November 2014). Photo by Muaaz Shaikh.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Aftab is the Persian word for “The Sun.” This poem hints at how the name of a person affects their life, or so they think.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Aftab Yusuf Shaikh, an Indian Muslim of Arab and North Indian descent, has been writing since the age of eight. and since then has published widely around the world in many anthologies, including The Dance of the Peacock, Before There Is Nowhere to Stand, and Microtext One, as well in journals such as Muse India, Frogpond, The Literary Yard, and The Istanbul Literary Review. His novel The Library Girl and poetry collection Anamika Talkies are forthcoming. Born (17 Nov 1989) and brought up in Bombay, his primary interest lies in people, history, religion and culture. He gained his Bachelor of Theology degree in Christian Studies in 2014 and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Art degree in English Literature and Master of Divinity degree in Religious Studies. He currently resides in Thane, India, with his wife and parents.

Jean, Jean, What Do You Mean?
By Jean Waggoner

A call came for “Herr Wagner” –
no person there, in that fine room
looking out on Pilatus and Lake Lucerne,
among Catholics in a reformist land,
fellows in culture, if not in faith.
“Stupid Americans!” I could hear the
banker complain, on my friend’s mother’s
news that Jean was, in fact, a fraulein.
“Can’t spell – or don’t know their sons
from their daughters,” he’d say.
Never mind his mispronunciation
of my Celtic forbearer’s surname;
Jeanne d’Arc is not a John on the Continent.

Neither is Jeanne my patron saint, I say,
though I’d love her steely will, for arms
are things I, Carmel’s heir, will not wield,
but yield, soft and welcoming, as a lover,
into the mystic, as it happens, trance prone,
no pretzel-twisted yogi nor vine-ripened grape,
no voignier of vintners in Mt. Carmel, CA
or trending New York artist, but a distant,
contemplative sort, as suits one Christened after
a Catholic nun named after male St. Jean Carmel,
named after the cross (AKA John of said) and the
Carmelites, a monastic order or priestly caste of
thorough sublimation – oh, holy burden!

“Are you Jewish?” people sometimes ask, and I might
point to my man, Juan de Yepes Álvarez (1542-1591)
a converso (from Judaism or Islam, who can say?), my
spiritual guide, if such be possible, a teacher from
Galicia, Andalucia, Fontiveros (old Castile), and
more than that, a poet likened to the ecstatic —
so nearly erotic – fellow mystic, Theresa of Avila,
yet a chastened heir to the Spanish Inquisition, as
well as a leader of the Counter-Reformation.

Like his, my soul knocks at heaven’s gate through art.
Yes, I’ll stand in the likes of the Baroque church
of Auerbach, and no, I don’t care to see the famous
Wurtenburg Door, though I’ll tag along in Bavaria for
politeness to our German friend and the Lutherans’
sense to hold onto music. I’ll take the art, the
incense, the chanting and the mystery – all the
sumptuous excess – of the old church, and you can have
your hard pews, your bare walls and all the puritanical
damning precursors to Witch Hunts – and let them wither
your plain church soul, Herr Deterministic Banker!

Ah yes, my seldom acknowledged patron saint, your fight,
your Canticle and your Dark Night of the Soul are in my
spiritual veins…and that converso compromise has sent
me to the ends of the earth and the extremes of culture.
Was your song from Solomon or Rumi? I still seek mine.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: “Ascetic Selfie” taken in 1990 at the home of Linda Kiger in San Francisco, California. (I don’t look so anorexic anymore.)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This prose poem surprised me, partly because I hadn’t associated my “Jean,” St. Jean Carmel with his more familiar name, St. John of the Cross, before doing research for this submission. I was an asthmatic child with grand mal seizures, so the trance-like state of an ascetic is not foreign to me, and I’ve done some reading in spirituality and mysticism. I bailed out of practicing Catholicism at the point of the folk Mass and dreadfully translated prayers that followed Vatican II, so my cultural fellows are more properly “fallen” Catholics, not saints of the Counter Reformation. Though my mother chose a severe saint to name me after, she called me “Jeanie, String Beanie” in my childhood – and it was really her favorite teacher she had named me for. My dad loved El Greco’s elongated saints, admired Thomas Merton, and favored the writing of Juan Dos Passos and Kazantzakis, so I came by mystical stuff through early influence.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jean Waggoner is a community college English and ESL teacher and part-time faculty activist in Riverside County, California, where she co-leads the Idyllwild Inlandia Writing workshop. Her writing includes poetry, stories, essays, and fine arts reviews and has appeared in on-line and print publications, including the National Poetry Anthology, the University of Montana’s Cedilla, Phantom Seed, and various blogs, newspapers, and Inlandia Institute publications. Jean co-authored The Freeway Flier and the Life of the Mind with Douglas Snow in 2011, and was the American Editor for a 2014 issue of Rosetta World Literatura’s journal from Istanbul, Turkey.

by Shloka Shankar

Wikipedia traces my name
back to its origins:

“song,” from the root śru, “hear”

Shloka forms the basis
for the Indian epic verse.

But my aunt just named
me after her classmate.

They thought it was unique
(ironically) at the time.

Since then, my name has been
grossly mispronounced, misspelled,
and shortened to hideous lengths.
(Yes, I noticed the oxymoron, too.)

And then there are times when
a look in my direction is all there is;

or I become the silence in a room
where I’m not wanted.

AUTHOR’S NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPH: This photo was taken on my 26th birthday in Bangalore, India (23 May, 2015).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Shloka Shankar (b. 1989) is a freelance writer from Bangalore, India. A contributing author in over two dozen international anthologies, her poems have recently appeared in A Hundred Gourds, moongarlic e-zine, Jaggery, Literary Orphans, Straight Forward Poetry, and so on. She is the founding editor of the literary & arts journal, Sonic Boom.

Naming It
by Cynthia Bryant

At two days into this life given my slave name
Cynthia Lane Jones
Named after the mongrel pup Duchess of Cindy Lane
That trespassed an airfield of pilot instructors
Taking refuge in their hangar

Cindy formalized to Cynthia for legitimacy
Added Mister and Mistress surname Jones
Cynthia meaning moon personified
Sold to Jones who paid $10,000

Name jumped twice to gain freedom
First into the fire, second onto the ice
The third try a warm breeze
A sensory allure hypnotic soul savior

Bryant a Celtic name meaning strong
Strength to hold on gently
Love passionately

Bryant having attained perfection
Shall be retired with the lives
Of our progeny

PHOTOGRAPH: Cynthia Bryant.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My life has always been “stranger than fiction,” another “As the Stomach Turns.” Somewhere along the road, I found a sense of humor — that along with writing poetry has seen her through.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cynthia Bryant’s poetry ranges from world news, to poignant pieces closer to her heart: love, family, incest, and injustice. Cynthia has been invited to read her poetry throughout California in diverse venues including coffee shops, fairs, art galleries, schools, battered women’s shelters, and a federal prison. First published in 1997 by two important journals dealing with childhood sexual abuse, Cynthia has since been published in over 30 anthologies. Her books Sojourn, Pebbles in the Shoe, and No Time to Shoot the Poets were accepted into the Ina Coolbrith Circle section in Sacramento State Library’s Special Collections Reading Room.

Keeping My Name
by Danielle Nicole Byington

Once, I had an accident.
A five-year-long accident,
Perhaps longer.
I thought it destroyed
Everything I thought I could be.

I resurfaced with new skin,
Wanted to rename my mass,
Call it something different in the books,
Allow my whole to chime with
Discovered depth.

I named her Saffron Van Riddle.

It begins as the most expensive herb on the planet,
Attached to a puzzle with intriguing surname.
The novelty of rebirth was fairly simple to obtain,
But, I stuffed the court papers under my bed:
Where was the challenge?

The characters attached to my presence felt dull,
Numb, ordinary without story.

I was once Danielle Byington.
Why isn’t this okay?

I swallowed the past whole,
Attempting to consume it in its state of
Certified, legal, birth given purpose.
Only a bored sigh replied from my heart.

Some cheered for such radical measure,
But those with wisdom argued.

If I repainted my car,
It would have a new shell,
But I would still recognize the flaws,
The shakes and shimmies that need repair.

Plastic surgery can bedazzle worn women,
But when they sign their checks
The ink does not bend in new, youthful bubbles—
Saffron Van Riddle would still dot her “i”s the same.

Returning to Danielle’s skin was uncomfortable,
But the hide waited to be polished,
Yet thickened by these necessary times.

Now, all is right in my assigned guise,
As much as one might expect.
While renaming a rose does not alter the scent,
Knowing the way it has grown makes us appreciate it.

PHOTOGRAPH: Danielle Nicole Byington.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Danielle Nicole Byington’s work has been published with The Mockingbird, Johnson City Poets Collective, and The Camel Saloon. Having studied under poets Dr. Don Johnson and Dr. Jesse Graves, Danielle obtained her English B.A. from ETSU in 2015, with honors. As a graduate student in ETSU’s English-MA program, her academic work focuses on not only Creative Writing, but Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance Literature, and she often utilizes her creative endeavors as adjunct material to convey the academic theories she writes about, such as ekphrasis and appropriation. The enclosed poem was a fantastic opportunity for her to reflect on the circumstances that have yielded this bio.