Joseph Schreiber is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. His work ranges from critical reviews and personal essays to photo essays and poetry. His themes include gender identity, mental illness and grief. In the pre-COVID times, travel was an important part of his life. In recent years he has spent time in South Africa, Australia, India and Nepal. He is looking forward to a time when travel will be safe and possible again.
Presently Joseph is the Nonfiction/Criticism Editor at 3:AM Magazine and he also maintains a personal literary site called roughghosts. His poetry has been published at Burning House Press, RIC Journal and Poetry at Sangam.
Spectral commute (Featured poem)
In the eerie silence of a viral dawn
above streets drained of traffic
behind closed doors
our windows on the world
turn to cages.
From station to station
down long, lonely lines
empty rail cars transport
the ghosts of last year
standing shoulder to shoulder
crowding out possibility.
An invitation to absence
directs my engagement
wary of strangers
I tend to my business
until a train to nowhere
comes to carry me home.
no room to breathe
my world so suddenly small
yet so untouchably large
restless I pace before mirrors
and lose myself in an endless
shifting chaos of colour
suspended in time forgotten
alone on a concrete island
isolating and isolated
to a solitary existence
watching, waiting from behind
a façade of normality
in a room full of dreams and memories
longing for the light of your smile
to ignite this lonely captivity
Hindsight is 2020
In a perfect world we would be together
But each day I wait for your message
I need to know you’re staying
masked, gloved, and protected
two metres apart
I ache for the sound of your voice
I need to hear you’re keeping
well, safe, and faithful
a continent away
I miss the children’s laughter
and trust they know I love them
deep, true, and hopeful that
I can be home soon
As days stretch out before me
hotel to office and back again
bored, lost, and lonely
in this alien land
In a perfect world we would be together
Look to the horizon, wait for a sign, for guidance
through our unfamiliar landscape
as questions gather faster than answers, upending
false comforts of schedules, measures and expectations
sketching out a new world where a broken clock
isn’t even right once a day.
Paint a portrait of an enemy: invisible, mindless,
hijacking a friendly face,
as vector to extend its expansion, a key to open
closed doors and windows, defy pleas of doctors,
exploit denials of doubters in search of a host of new hosts
to welcome a fresh viral load.
In the feverish half-life of the imagination,
dystopic nightmares flourish,
mutate, distorting communal engagements until
distrust bleeds discontent, stains memories, shimmers dark,
cancels views over rooftops, grows cold
in small, hardened spaces.
Life so precious, so faintly fragile reduced to a mounting
numbers game, a daily tally
of all the infected, recovered, extinguished—known but
unknown—whose horrors and heartaches fill your troubled dreams
until the quiet promise of a soft morning sunrise signals
the end of a long worried night.
Muster pointGather at the muster point
all your tragedies, small and large
disappointments and failures,
losses, missed opportunities and rejections.
Yes, don’t forget all those cumulative pains
the faded and those that linger still.
Together we’ll take stock—make sure it’s all
present and accounted for
then watch your hopes and dreams
burn and crumble to ash
from a safe distance.
Joseph Schreiber is paired with German Fernandez, visit German to see all his works and read more about him.
For this project, I allowed the artwork to provide direct inspiration for four of the five poems submitted. In each instance, I tried to imagine a fragment of a story that might be hinted at in the image and sketch out a brief monologue or descriptive passage to expand a possible context for the figure presented. I found a futuristic tone in German Fernandez’s art and, in all but one piece, an intense feeling of isolation. This spoke to me directly, so I focused on the four drawings/collages with singular figures.
I have no particular method that I apply to the writing of poetry. I am always gathering lines and images that I like, that I think might be of use. Some of that material was salvaged for these poems, but for the most part, once I had a sense of direction for each image/poem combination I started creating rough frameworks. The two pieces I would consider the most straightforward (“Spectral commute” and “Hindsight is 2020”) came together rather quickly. The other, somewhat more abstract poems (“Containment” and “Pandemic Blues”) evolved more slowly and changed shape several times before reaching their present form. Of course, given the tight timeline of this collaborative process, I was unable to worry over each piece endlessly—for better or worse. My fifth offering, “Muster point”, was written earlier this year. It speaks to having to let go of your hopes and dreams, something many have had to do this year, even if only for the time being.
I don’t respond well to written prompts. I often find them too vague or too complicated. In this situation, the presence of a visual element in the form of such wonderful artwork, against the backdrop of a strange year that we’ve all been finding our way through, generated a very fertile soil for poetic creation.
You can reach Joseph Schreiber at:Blog: roughghosts
German Fernandez is often futuristic in his works creating a fantastic world of his own, he was part of my 2016 curated show ‘Repercussions’ that took place in Durbar Hall, Kochi and his large-scale works were phenomenal hanging on the gallery walls. The viewers-art enthusiasts stood before it watching the people-forms in masks that has now become a reality! He’s prophetic that way! German and I were part of the show “It’s all Square” hosted in thejamjar gallery in 2014 organized by The Domino in Dubai. That’s how I met him. Joseph Schreiber is a sensitive soul who has endured pain in many forms and that sensitivity reflects in his writings as well while being precise. His works have an eerie melancholy that resonates with his blog title, roughghosts that I have been following for some years now. Joseph loves India; I remember him coming down, and I had shown him around Kochi during the 2018 Kochi Muziris Biennale. He was visiting Mini S Menon and she unfortunately couldn’t join us that day. German and Joseph’s works gel well.
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