Our spring catalog is now available for purchase! Click the photo below to order new books of poetry by Sheila McMullin and Jane Lewty as well as James Allen Hall's debut collection of essays. All titles are also available at Small Press Distribution.
Scott Krave: Throughout the book there are recurrences of mythological images and retellings of those stories. You "have tangled the fairy tales [you] write with [your] life." What drew you in that direction?
Lily Hoang: I understand the world through fairy tales. I often say that I spend 50% of my life toiling and 50% of my life marveling. My ability to marvel is also my devotion to the marvelous, to the fairy tale. It only makes sense, then, that my non-fiction essays fold fairy tale and myth as a lens to understand the real—whatever the real even means because it’s a term that fully eludes me.
SK: Our society's scientists threaten rats with drowning, tempt them with addiction, gage their loneliness. Where do you see the line, if there is one at all, between instinct and social conditioning? What is it about rats and the tests they undergo that speaks to you so much?
LH: Quite honestly, my interest in rats had to do with the necessity of talking about rats for the Year of the Rat. Rats and psychology experiments weren’t part of the first incarnation of this essay at all though. I completely rethought the essay when I was given the opportunity to revise the book. The original essay was called “On Captivity and Rats,” and it had much more to do with imprisonment (of people, not rats). When I re-titled and re-conceptualized the essay as “On the Rat Race,” I naturally thought of rats and experiments. I wanted to talk about rats in maze boxes, and through research (and an obscene amount of research, too, I might add), I found many more apt experiments for the essay, such as the Morris water maze. And I say this in “On Scale,” but when I re-connected with my college obsession Jacob, who’s now a forensic neuropsychologist, I wanted to impress him with my rat knowledge, but then he taught me so much more about how rats are used with addiction research, which served as perfect foil to my nephew’s heroin addiction. So whereas it wasn’t coincidence, per se, it was maybe more fate—not in a religious way, more of in the inevitable way of magic stories. Perhaps, then, I am obliquely answering instinct v. social conditioning and saying social condition began the process with “On Captivity and Rats” and instinct took me to “On the Rat Race,” to the sorrow and loneliness of addiction and loneliness.
SK: Many portions of the book are temporally fluid, moving from point to point with little regard for linearity of narrative. What about this stylistic choice helped you to create your desired mood?
LH: It’s funny because I get permutations on this question all the time, and I always think of it as a process question so I’ll answer it in those terms (I hope you don’t mind). I wrote the book how I did because it’s the only way I know how to write. My brain moves in little pieces that connect via unpredictable routes to make a greater whole. A question I often frames my style as a whole that is broken into pieces and scattered around—almost as if haphazardly or accidentally re-ordered—but the essays come out as you read them. Every piece is intentional, insofar as that’s the way the essay comes to form in my brain. It’s the only way I know how to understand things.
SK: What are you working on next?
LH: I’m currently revising—re-writing—a novel I’ve been writing for the past decade. It’s based on a true story of a woman who rolled over her four children with the bulk of her 250 pound body as punishment and revenge on her husband for fighting with her. The novel attempts to force you to empathize with the serial killer—it humanizes her to an almost painful limit—only to slap you in the face with her undeniable monstrosity.
Lily Hoang is the author of five books, including A Bestiary (winner of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center’s inaugural Essay Collection Competition) and Changing (recipient of a PEN Open Books Award). With Joshua Marie Wilkinson, she edited the anthology The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility and the Avant-Garde. She is Director of the MFA program at New Mexico State University and serves as an Editor at Puerto del Sol and for Jaded Ibis Press.
Join the Cleveland State University Poetry Center and Rescue Press for an AWP offsite book launch and reading. Our presses believe in the future of books and the necessity for innovative literature; we're thrilled to spend an evening celebrating new poetry and prose.
Our event will take place from 7-9 p.m. on Thursday, February 9th at The Black Squirrel, a gastropub in Adams Morgan (Washington, DC).
Readers will include:
Vanessa Jimenez Gabb
James Allen Hall
We'll have pre-release copies of our 2017 spring catalogue available for purchase throughout the weekend; if you can't make it to the launch reading, stop by our table at the AWP Conference book-fair (#616-T). See you in DC!!
Brandon North: My Fault is comprised of several different kinds of poems. There are poems in couplets, iterations of free verse, a prose poem, poems in a single stanza block, and the first poem, “Grown to Covet,” has some fairly loud rhymes right as the reader dives in. Could you say a little about why the different forms of poems are important in My Fault? And do the collection’s opening lines—“I am most myself when watching / a stranger hit my hand”—indicate something to a reader about using different poetic forms as a way to examine many types of interactions between the self and others?
Leora Fridman: I think the different kinds of poems in My Fault point to a fairly common story about first books — that most are much more a collection than they are in any way a “project.” My Fault came together in a moment of frustration with an earlier manuscript, a manuscript that was one long poem and that I’d been sending out for two years to lots of great but inconclusive finalist-ing. Instead of sending that one out again, I decided to rip apart of lot of the poems I’d written the previous 3-4 years and put them back together, and thus was made My Fault.
For that reason the book is really a “collection” in the sense of collecting many different times and strategies and attempts, but is united by my interests and obsessions over a certain period of time.
To answer your second question, yes, definitely, this is a book about interaction and missed interaction, failed and flubbed interaction, desired interaction, despised interaction. So yes, to some degree the different forms correspond to different moods I have about what it means to be an individual self interacting with others. I chose to start the collection with a more rhyme-y poem because I find rhyme inviting and calming, a linking back into a comforting nursery-rhyme-ish culture that I can dip into and can seek protection in. So I started there, and I intersperse rhyme (or sound echoes, more precisely) purposefully throughout the book to beckon the reader in more kindly, especially in moments when I think they might be getting confused or scared or distracted or alienated… I mean, I want some of those feelings to happen — the alienation etc — but I’m not personally invested in complete alienation of the reader in these poems. There’s a wave in and out of the more and less comforting.
So the ordering of types of poems in the book definitely has to do with me trying to dip into and out of different kinds of alienation, familiarity, standoffishness, intimacy… not promising that one of those things will last the whole book or that just because I have offered one of those things it will exist into the complete ongoing future. I was just talking last night in Atlanta with Katherine J Lee and Carrie Lorig about multiplicity of emotions — what it means to create a world in which multiple emotions / experiences are actually allowed in one person, and in which one person is not stuck forever in one emotion just because they are having it. I am especially interested in the ways in which people socialized as female are often taught that once we offer intimacy or closeness or welcome or empathy we have to keep offering it even if it becomes uncomfortable or dangerous for us — or even if it just becomes something we no longer want to do. I’m interested in what we can achieve by creating situations (linguistically, poetically) where intimacy exists in small contained glimpses and then goes away, and that is allowed and okay. That makes me feel safe, and boundaried, and in charge of my own body / experience / narrative. Which yes, for me, is all connected to there being many different kinds of poems in this book…
BN: Though several types of poems do appear in My Fault, more often than not the poems employ shorter, fragmented lines with little to no punctuation. Could you discuss why this approach works with the content of your poems? Is there a connection, for example, between how the short lines of the poems take up time and space across pages and how they also produce an effect of cautiousness, or even trepidation, for the reader?
LF: Hm, that’s an interesting interpretation! Ha, yes, I would say trepidation and caution are in the book, for sure. I wouldn’t say the shortness of the lines is related in a linear fashion to an amount of trepidation a speaker is feeling, but I would say they’re intended to evoke trying to piece action and language together in an ethical fashion, and the pause that creates in a mind, the patchwork.
My friend Emily was trying to learn to cook and she would play this game for us where she’d perform a cooking show starring “The Cautious Cook.” She do a great Julia Child voice. She’d pick up an onion and look up, confused. How shall I cut it? She’d say, and wait for an answer. Then, what knife shall I use? Once she got the knife, she’d ask how she was supposed to hold it, how big “chopped” meant. Etc. But this was all real for her. Each step of the process was something she wasn’t sure how to do.
And that jerkiness of caution is in this book. (Not about cooking, but about other things.) The voice in the book is definitely trying to do right — do right by any number of ethical, environmental, gendered approaches — and wants to take its time doing right, understanding right. But at the same time it wants to rush forward, go fast, speak passionately and not care what others think of its formulations… it’s a gushing that cuts itself off.
Another thought: because I enjoy so much the hinge of the stanza and the hinge from fragmented phrase to the next — the insecurity that can happen there, the way one word can turn quickly from one meaning to another because of the stanza break — I also get a lot of pure joy out of working with short lines. I feel I can winnow down to the smallest hitches of meaning and build us back up from there.
One last attempt: I want to pare things back to make room for multiplicity — to provide juuuuust enough structure for the reader to feel safe / on the edge of safe / safe enough to experiment / imagine / place the poem in their own context. Just enough structure that people feel safe enough to imagine their way in. I remember seeing in movies how at Catholic school dances they would tell people not to dance too close during slow dances — to “leave room for Jesus,” or “leave room for the holy ghost,” or something like that. That’s kind of how I picture this — leaving gaps / space so there is room for something meaningful / connected / your own to rush in — so I don’t force your mind in a certain / totally obvious direction, but rather leave space.
BN: On the Poetry Society of America’s website, you write: “I'm variously and always obsessed with blame and responsibility: how to take responsibility, how to blame and forgive, who is responsible for whom, etc. Fault itself is a mathematics, a system for understanding where we stand.” This insightful notion that fault is mathematical implies that measuring fault is not only pervasive—we analyze behaviors all the time—but also that it is a symbolic system which corresponds to real human actions. Could you discuss how the poems in My Fault are informed by the symbolic transfer of blame and responsibility, whether by assigning or removing fault? Are your poems, for example, animated by the notion of a call-out culture, what with the last lines of the book being “I went for the blaming / & found there more embrace”?
LF: Nail on the head for that last bit, yes. Calling-out and calling-in is so much all around me now, and I’m a proponent of both of those moves in different situations depending on the context and depending on the power dynamics. Those last lines also specifically point at the ways I’ve come to identify as a white person with extensive privilege in movement spaces, and how I’ve come to understand that privilege is not a blame game, but rather a way to place ourselves in a larger system — once I came to understand the workings of my own privilege, I found myself more connected, more willing to act, and, yes, even more empowered — to use that word — to move in the world in a more kind, free fashion, more aligned with the liberation of more people.
My Fault has no intention of removing blame from any one party or assigning blame to any one party in particular. Instead it intends to open the conversation about how we assign responsibility and how slippery it can be. I do not mean to say, for example, that historical oppression is to be deigned “slippery” and overlooked. It’s important to me that that not be misunderstood. I’m looking instead to a voice and a way of speaking that notices how fault is passed down and around — that fault is an exchange system and not one we (usually) get paid to handle, labor under or examine.
When I was on tour this past summer I started every reading with an participatory ritual / activity where audience members told one another their faults in a telephone-like fashion, and faults traveled across the room to be spoken at the end by someone completely disconnected from the person who first voiced them. It felt somewhere between the relief of confession and the deviousness of “two truths and a lie.” Both of these feels are in My Fault.
BN: In Dorothea’s Lasky’s essay-chapbook, Poetry is Not a Project, she questions using the word project to describe a poet’s work, maintaining that poets “intuit” poems and do not construct them so linearly as a scientist might conduct an experiment. Rather than a “project,” she states that “Real poetry is a party, a wild party, a party where anything might happen. A party from which you might never return home. Poetry has everything to do with existing in a realm of uncertainty.” In the uncertain (to the say least) political environment we now find ourselves in, what role can a poet have in relation to everyday realities? More generally: how do you approach political issues in your poems, especially in regards to the notion of writing-as-project?
LF: Great question! I so appreciate Dottie’s thinking about a project — even as I am a writer who primarily writes book length / serial poems that build on themselves. Even these, the building monsters that they are, work intuitively — I don’t know what’s going to happen with them when I start, so they grow rhizomatically, as my friend Ellie recently suggested to me, one lump creating another lump’s possibility.
Speaking of growth and lumps: politics, yes. Politics and my involvement in movement spaces related to gender, racial and economic justice are important to me. And now, this month, this fall, I offer thanks that they seem more important to all us, even those of us who wouldn’t call ourselves political at all a few months ago.
At 8 am the morning after the election I skyped into Jessica Bozek’s class in Boston to talk about My Fault. It was 8 am in California and I was emotionally hungover as all hell. The second before the call connected all I could think about was that this was the worst possible thing I could be doing right that moment. I felt trampled.
But the call started, and the students asked about abstraction and liberated language and politics and freedom, and it turned out that poetry, as I should well have known, always has some way it can help us in these moments. I shared with them how strongly I feel that the minute one breaks up traditional ways of speaking and understanding one is making room for non-normative language, non-normative thinking — making room for the mind to tweak and squeak its way out of the ways it is used to thinking… and that is by definition a political act. It’s essential to civic engagement that we think for ourselves, for our communities, that we try to tune into our own needs and the ways they intersect with the needs of others living close around us.
I also spoke with those same students about associative logic — the poems in My Fault work, in most cases, “associatively,” meaning that they move the way my mind moves, they move from one image or word to another because that is the jump that happens in my brain. I think it’s a political act to make public this kind of “internal” associative logic, because when we make them public we presuppose that our internal life is important to the communal, that there are ways of expressing ourselves / our opinions without offering propaganda. I see so many writers and artists shy away from creating explicitly political work because it feels like propaganda – but these last few weeks I’ve seen a dramatic shift there, like there’s nothing to lose suddenly, so folks are letting it out.
Cecilia Vicuña writes, “Life regenerates in the dark. Maybe the dark will become the source of light.”
I think there’s a tremendous place for poetry right now — people are asking for it, emailing it around, reading it in public, etc. A moment of crisis for many of us, and so we turn to broken language, language with gaps, language that attempts to understand without complete enclosing or convincing or proving something to us. Open language — here, I mean poetry, I suppose, though sometimes prose does it, too — helps us understand but still lets us stay alive, not locked up entirely in an external understanding but held squirmily, held, held.
BN: What are you working on right now?
Right now I’m working on a collection of nonfiction, a book of essays about care and loyalty. The book seeks to examine what it means to give and receive care — seeks to understand what we really owe one another. It looks beyond our divisive political conversations about progressivism vs “family values” towards actual interdependence and what it means to stick together. The book begins at a history of the term “self-care” cut again family stories of illness and alcoholism. It goes on from there to look at multiple shapes of family and caregiving networks vis-à-vis immigrant family, Black Lives Matter, radical queer community in gentrifying American cities, and more. I’m working with citations from care-workers and theorists and poets (always poets) alongside personal narrative to explore care from multiple angles including dependency, when care becomes abusive, and how we measure devotion. An adapted section of the book was published recently in Pacific Standard here.
I used to write a lot of prose and I haven’t, so much, in a while. It’s hard. It’s hard to figure out how I want these sentences to work / wander.
BN: Do you have any advice for young poets and writers?
LF: Just this past weekend I read at Emory University and we did a Q&A with students before the reading, students who asked all sorts of sweet questions that I loved that most “grown up” writers are too embarrassed to ask but definitely should be asking.
One of the questions a student asked was “how do you know when something is done?” but not just in the sense of tweaking it, in the workshop sense — it seemed she was struggling a lot with how to integrate the comments and edits of her teachers and fellow students vs. know when she had arrived at a place with a poem that felt meaningful / contained /completed in some way, to her.
I told her that I really think this is about attunement — that like anything in life you have to tune in to what you yourself are really trying to say / what really tunes onto your frequency and feels right inside your instrument. You’re never really going to feel done (completely) writing something, I think, so the best you can do is tune into when you have a feeling of satisfaction, delivery of something gut-like, when you are speaking in a way that means something to you. When poetry is working beautifully and bravely it has something to say that no one else can say in precisely that way. So no one can really tell you when you’ve done it but you and your close attunement.
Vicuña again: “Awareness is the only creative force that creates itself as it looks at itself.”
I guess related to that another piece of advice I always try to impart to students is try not to be embarrassed to ask the “dumb question.” Someone will probably be thankful you asked it, and your vulnerability opens up space for new knowledge, new ways of thinking that we are too easily closed off from in spaces where we are trying to look smart, able, literary in certain ways. I say look for the dumb question and poke it out into the light.
Leora Fridman is an interdisciplinary artist, organizer, and educator living in California. She is the author of My Fault, selected by Eileen Myles for the 2015 CSU Poetry Center First Book Poetry Competition in addition to three chapbooks of poetry, prose, and translations.
Thank you, dear readers, for your generous and thoughtful responses to our spring 2016 titles including reviews of Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary—our very first collection of nonfiction—at Publishers Weekly, Small Press Book Review, 3AM Magazine, Angel City Review, Full Stop, AsianAmLitFans, Winter Tangerine, the Ploughshares blog, Heavy Feather Review, Barrelhouse, and ZYZZYVA. A Bestiary has appeared at the top of SPD’s nonfiction bestsellers list for the past six months and interviews with Lily Hoang can be found at Late Night Library, Brazos Bookstore, The Conversant, and Essay Press.
Leora Fridman’s debut collection of poetry, My Fault, has been featured or reviewed at Publishers Weekly, Mass Poetry, Poetry Society of America, Small Press Book Review, Litseen, and Tell Tell Poetry.
Praise for Martin Rock’s Residuum appears at Fanzine, Transart Triennale, and Essay Press. Upcoming readings and events can be found here.
New poems, interviews, or reviews of Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion can be found at Publishers Weekly, Poets & Writers, Heavy Feather Review, Public Pool, and at our own blog with NEOMFA student Emily Troia.
We’re hard at work on our 2017 catalog which will include:
Sheila McMullin’s daughterrarium
Winner of the 2016 First Book Poetry Competition
Selected by Danile Borzutzky
Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another
Winner of the 2016 Open Book Poetry Competition
Selected by Emily Kendal Frey, Siwar Masannat, & Jon Woodward
James Allen Hall’s I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
Winner of the 2016 Essay Collection Competition
Selected by Chris Kraus
If you live in Cleveland, we hope to see you at this year’s Lighthouse Reading Series and in our new space on the 4th floor of the Michael Schwartz Library (Rhodes Tower) in downtown Cleveland.
Thanks to our NEOMFA students and Poetry Center staff for keeping this magnificent literary machine in motion.
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for news throughout the year.
Emily Troia: In The Bees Make Money in the Lion, you play with several poetic forms—especially the abecedarian. What made you choose the abecedarian as a principle form?
Lo Kwa Mei-en: “The Alien Crown” was the most crucial series of poems for me, and the most demanding. The series’ constraints borrow from the abecedarian, the sonnet, and the sonnet crown, and for half a year I floundered in frustration that I could not “master” the form I was obsessed with. A direct result of the flailing was my understanding that the systemic constraints I had been so attracted to in the full range of these poems were guiding me within the larger themes of the work. Once I had reframed my relationship to the form, the work took on its own liveliness and seemed to make unusual, provocative, meaningful demands of me. The abecedarian form I used demands both rule-based, pre-ordained conclusions and ethical dedication to sensual, whole-hearted inquiry. For me, this paradox clarified something unspeakable about a lifetime’s worth of struggling at the crossroads of repression, violence, and creative energy. I think the double-sided abecedarian form is a way into experience. It is a cave that will change your voice. It is in and of itself the way I feel about many things. It made itself central to the book.
The primary texts of inspiration that led to my curiosity about abecedarianism were Inger Christensen's book Alphabet, Jasmine Dreame Wagner's book Rewilding, and Rebecca Hazelton's poem "Both Sides".
ET: Even though you strictly adhere to the forms you employ in The Bees, the writing never feels cramped or limited by them. Do you have any recommendations for other poets on how to use the constraints of form without becoming mired in them?
LKM: If there is a way to use the constraints of form without becoming mired in them, I would love to learn about it! I suppose one way is to only work with constraints that demand little to no real effort of you as an artist. But if you are working with formal constraint in an effort to grow artistically/personally, then I think becoming enmired, and spending considerable time in that place, is a valuable and unavoidable experience.
Maybe one practical suggestion is to consider the myriad possibilities that your formal constraint contains, to spend more time exploring its dynamic potential than you do trying to “get it right.” I don’t know that this is a great writing tip, but it’s key to the pleasure I found in developing my relationship to form.
Also, do not ignore your relationship to the formal constraints at work in literature that reach beyond the rules of, for instance, what makes a sonnet. I’m talking about how white supremacy, for example, shapes the canon and therefore our poetic education and therefore the distribution of resources and power in the publishing industry and therefore the authors that are most visible and likely to be read and therefore the state in which we ourselves approach the blank page. One of the most meaningful questions we can ask ourselves as poets is how we relate to the constraints of social inequity. Creativity within constraint is in large part about drawing new connections we had not seen before, and resisting the impulse to capitalize on the easiest proferred solution when we feel that we are enmired. I think that this is also an example of valuable and unavoidable work for artists.
ET: The Bees is in five parts but has elements braided throughout the entire book. Can you share a little bit about your process in structuring the manuscript?
LKM: The Bees Make Money in the Lion used to be in three parts. One section for all the poems that I titled “The Romances,” one for the Babel series, and one for the abecedarians, which I thought of as the science fiction section. I did this in part to bridge the different formal lens, and in part to close with the abecedarians, but at the end of the day, this structure bothered me. Its framing felt like a showcasing of formal technique and I was afraid that the story elements that resonate between the different voicings and tones would get lost. In addition, the “Okay, you’ve seen all there is to see of that; now come look at this” rhythm felt suggestive of a tourism narrative. In my first structural revision, I split both the first and third section into unresolved halves, so that there is the necessity return to as well as leave behind the different worlds I portrayed. (If someone is reading the book from beginning to end, that is.)
The book’s structure also echoes the double-ended constraints that are so prevalent in the poems, and this felt very right to me, as did Caryl Pagel’s idea to edit the second and fourth sections down to six poems each. One of my secret-ish goals for this book was to embrace the nature of formula. The interconnected lives of (social) bees are incredibly formulaic, and yet bees are one of the wildest subjects in the world, in my opinion. I wanted to see if I could submit my will to the formulaic aspects of poetry and still make something that sang with a voice of its own.
ET: In Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” she writes, “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.” How would you describe the “light” in The Bees?
LKM: The light in The Bees Make Money in the Lion is almost audible in its insistence that it has the right to exist, and to exist without restraint, no matter the constraints of its environment. The light cannot avoid the violence that exists inside as well as outside its burning.
ET: What are you working on right now?
LKM: I’ve been working primarily on my health. The Bees Make Money in the Lion is without a doubt the last book I will have been able to write while compromising the work of taking care of myself—and if I’m honest about it, the book was only half-written in carelessness. (The first draft was completed while I was still drinking, and the revision process occurred after I had stopped.) This has been the first year that I have been able to commit to a widening range of “basic” health practices while also working multiple jobs.
In terms of writing, I have several books on deck, including the first book of an epic fantasy trilogy in poetry about the character Pinnochia and a science fiction novella about addiction, emigration, and love. But I haven't progressed in either of these works for a while. This year, I had to start over in the most foundational areas of my writing life. I am tragically results-oriented, so even the concept of experience being its own reward is in danger of being exploited by my ego: perhaps what I need to let go of is the idea of the reward at all.
As a result, I've been prioritizing forms of writing that I previously—secretly—shamefully—considered not worth what little free time I have. Free-writing, journaling, collecting, annotating. I used to journal relentlessly and with deep trust in the process. Sometime around my beginning to apply to MFA programs, and definitely by the time I started graduate school, I just… quit. I've been trying to look honestly at why that happened and to open the door to that climate of writing. I can't believe how hard it has been to allow myself to write without restraint and without expectation of concrete “results.”
ET: Do you have any words of advice for young poets?
LKM: You know what’s awesome and terrifying about this question is a) the number of times a year I look up articles on the internet titled things like “Umpteen Pieces of Advice for Young Writers” for my own consumption and b) the fact that, despite the aforementioned, I do actually have some words, here. I’m interpreting “young” to mean somebody who is still figuring out their poetry practice.
In my life, reading comes before writing. I must put reading first, or there is no writing that is creative in nature. I don’t think this must be anybody else's experience, but I do recommend that you ask questions about your reading that equal the depth and hunger and courage of the questions you ask about your writing. Desire as much for yourself as a reader of poetry as you do for yourself as a writer of poetry.
. . . That said, if you’re like me and you have a tendency to use your love for reading books as a defensive fortress in which you can hole up and avoid going out into the uncertain territory of writing, and you secretly yearn to be more connected to your own creative acts, then pencil that shit into your calendar and make sure you’re making time to explore your own language, too. (And don’t let how others relate to their time dictate how you relate to yours. Sometimes people who are giving you advice, including myself, are ignorant of certain life realities that make time operate very differently for their readers. Figuring out your practice is an ongoing process that you are best qualified to outline for yourself, not anyone who is less “young” in any way.)
Remember that growth can be painful, so don’t deny yourself that experience.
Remember that growth can be pleasurable, so don’t deny yourself that experience.
Lo Kwa Mei-en is the author of Yearling (Alice James Books) and The Bees Make Money in the Lion (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) as well as two chapbooks: The Romances from The Lettered Streets Press and Two Tales from Bloom Books. She is a Kundiman fellow from Singapore and Ohio, where she now lives and works in Cincinnati.
The CSU Poetry Center is thrilled to announce the results of our 2016 book competitions. The following three books were selected from nearly 1,000 manuscripts and will be published in spring 2017. Thank you to everyone who sent us work & congratulations to the winners and finalists below.
Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Judge: Daniel Borzutzky
Sheila McMullin’s daughterrariums
Sheila McMullin, poet and intersectional feminist, is Managing Editor at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and serves on the Count Committee for the VIDA Count Intersectional Survey. A community-based workshop leader, she facilitates creative writing workshops for all ages as well as college prep sessions for high schoolers. She volunteers at her local animal rescue and holds an M.F.A. from George Mason University. Find more about her writing, editing, and awards online at www.moonspitpoetry.com and follow her on Twitter @SheAPoem.
First Book Honorable Mentions: Monique-Adelle Callahan’s Exit Through the Body’s Prayer; Clara Changxin Fang’s Night Crossing over the Pacific.
First Book Finalists: Kristin George Bagdanov’s Fossils in the Making; Melissa Barrett’s Moon on Roam; Bryan Beck’s Countryman; E.C. Belli’s A Sleep That Is Not Our Sleep; Jaime Brunton’s Reclaimed; Bill Carty’s Huge Cloudy; Mario Chard’s Land of Fire; Hilary Dobel’s Hot Cognition; Cassie Donish’s The Leaf Mask; Laura Eve Engel’s I Write to You From the Sea; Jameson Fitzpatrick’s Balcony Scene; Kelly Forsythe’s Perennial; Binswanger Friedman’s The Four Color Problem; Sam Gilpin’s Spawl; Monica Gomery’s here is the night and the night on the road; Christine Gosnay’s Lossless; Anna Maria Hong’s The Glass Age; R.E. Katz’s Dark Quencher; Keith Kopka’s Count Four; Emily Liebowitz’s National Park; Grace Shuyi Liew’s Careen; James Longley’s What Cheer Heptagon; Marco Maisto’s Traces of a Fifth Column; Sara Marshall’s To Be New for the Empire; Matt McBride’s Polis; Kelly Nelson’s Crossing Thief River; Lance Newman’s The Acid Craft of Numbers; Elsbeth Pancrazi’s Bodyswap; Ann Pelletier’s Letter That Never; Nina Puro’s Each Tree Could Hold a Gallows or a House; Chris Robinson’s Air Become Sinewed; Kenyatta Rogers’s Unf***withable; Zohra Saed’s The Secret Lives of Misspelled Cities; Max Schleicher’s Exhausted by the Rest; Kirsty Singer’s Tertullian’s Daughter; Molly Spencer’s Relic and the Plum; Adam Strauss’ Braided Sand Country; Kelly Sullivan’s Sleep Music; Billie Tadros’ Was Body; Carleen Tibbets’ dossier for the postverbal/; Lisa Wells’ Prisoner’s Cinema; Jared White’s The Trolls; Candice Wuehle’s FIDELITORIA: fixed or fluxed.
Winner of the Open Book Poetry Competition
Judges: Emily Kendal Frey, Siwar Masannat, & Jon Woodward
Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another
Jane Lewty is the author of Bravura Cool (1913 Press, 2013), and the co-editor of two essay collections: Broadcasting Modernism (University of Florida Press, 2009) and Pornotopias: Image, Desire, Apcalypse (Litteraria Pragensia, 2010). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Harvard Review, Dusie, Lana Turner, Bone Bouquet and elsewhere. She has an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently lives in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Open Book Honorable Mentions: Jackie Clark’s Everything Is Always Wonderful If It Is Almost Over; Gina Kelcher’s A Great Hair Day on the River.
Open Book Finalists: Carrie Bennett’s Ghost Plants and Other Animals; Carmen Gillespie’s The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitative; Arpine Konyalian Grenier’s Yeva Girk; Sarah Heady’s Comfort; Ann Huang’s Saffron Splash; Megan Levad’s You Are Where You Live; Beth Marzoni’s There Was During a Sudden; Tyler Mills’ Salt Mask; Nathaniel Perry’s Long Rules; Beth Roberts’ Evolvers; Heidi Staples’ A**AA*A*A; S.A. Stepanek’s Somebody, Maybe; Gale Thompson’s Expeditions to the Polar Seas; M. A. Vizsolyi’s The Common Index of Poetic Lines; Joshua Young’s Sleep Ambulance.
Open Book Semi-Finalists: John Bradley’s Infinite Past: The Life & Lice of Miguel Carablanca; Alejandro Escude’s What the Atheists Speak Of; Tyler Gobble’s Hallelujah Jars; Christopher Kondrich’s Valuing; Jason Koo’s More Than Mere Light; Teresa Miller’s California Building; Jenn Marie Nunes’ Air/Or; Stan Mir’s Three Patterns; Emily Rosko’s Weather Inventions; Alexis Pope’s That Which Comes After; Liza Porter’s Rape Register; Sarah Smith’s Negative Cape; Cedric Tillman’s in my feelins; David Weiss’ Per Diem; Kathleen Winter’ Tonic.
Winner of the Essay Collection Competition
Judge: Chris Kraus
James Allen Hall’s I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
James Allen Hall is the author of the poetry collection, Now You're the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008) and has won awards from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers. His essays have appeared in Story Quarterly, Bellingham Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Redivider, and Bennington Review. A 2011 NEA Fellow in Poetry, he teaches creative writing and literature at Washington College on the eastern shore of Maryland.
Essay Collection Finalists: Kate Colby’s The Itch; Krista Eastman’s The Painted Forest; Elizabeth McConaghy’s Migrations; Kathryn Nuernberger’s Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past; Dustin Parsons’s Dispatches From the 51st State; Kisha Schlegel’s Fear Icons; Sejal Shah’s How To Make Your Mother Cry; Julie Marie Wade’s The State of Our Union: A Collage; Nicole Walker’s Microcosm.
Essay Collection Semi-Finalists: Diana Arterian’s Arrangement of Parts; Jehanne Dubrow’s Throughsmoke; Christine Hume’s The Saturation Project; Andy Fitch’s Garageland; Wes Jamison’s Carrion; Kat Moore’s In the Non-Light; Mariko Nagai’s Imaginary Death: A Family Memoir; Mwatabu Okantah’s The View from the Stono; Shaelyn Smith’s The Leftovers; Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers.
Happy winter solstice from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center! We’ve put together an end-of-year list of interviews, reviews, things-to-look-forward-to, and other Rust Belt hijinks.
2015 Catalog News:
We’re hearing stellar reports from critics and readers about the 2015 spring catalog. Broc Rossell’s Festival was reviewed at The Iowa Review, New Orleans Review, and dubbed “scrap-wire perfectivity” by C.D. Wright; Siwar Masannat was interviewed at the Woodland Pattern blog and her book 50 Water Dreams appeared on Ching-In Chen’s list of notable 2015 books at The Volta. Lee Upton’s Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles was reviewed at NewPages, American Microreviews, The Literary Review, and Publisher’s Weekly.
I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev, appeared on the SPD bestsellers list this fall (along with titles by Siwar Masannat and Lee Upton) and is on the longlist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Phil Metres discusses translation at The Sound of Applause.
Kristina Marie Darling at Tupelo Quarterly says “Three recent [CSU Poetry Center] titles in particular place diverse and often very different artistic traditions in dialogue with one another, envisioning poetry as a rhetorical space where disparate cultures, mediums, and historical milieu can exist side by side. Lee Upton’s Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, Broc Rossell’s Festival, and Arseny Tarkovksy’s I Burned at the Feast, newly translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev, each initiate provocative dialogues between literary and artistic communities in a way that is altogether refreshing.”
Leora Fridman, Lo Kwa Mei-en, and Martin Rock, winners of our 2015 poetry book competitions, answer questions about their forthcoming titles in this digital chapbook just published by the good folks at Essay Press. While you’re at it, check out the companion interview at The Conversant in which Lily Hoang, winner of our fist-ever essay collection competition, discusses her forthcoming book of nonfiction.
Leora Fridman’s My Fault, Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion, Martin Rock’s Residuum, and Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary will be published in April 2016; drop us a note if you’re interested in review copies or more information.
Our 2016 book competitions will open for submission on January 1st, 2016. The judges this year will be First Book Poetry: Daniel Borzutzky; Open Book Poetry: Emily Kendal Frey, Siwar Masannat, & Jon Woodward; and Essay Collection: Chris Kraus. We can’t wait to start reading your work!
For more thinking on our Essay Collection Competition check out last year’s post at Essay Daily.
Congrats to Wendy Xu, whose second book, Phrasis, will be published by Fence Books in 2017. Check out new titles by Nin Andrews, Phil Metres, Sandra Simonds, and Shane McCrae. S.E. Smith’s I Live in a Hut and Chloe Honum’s The Tulip-Flame were recently reviewed in Galatea Resurrects. Chloe Honum won the 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Poetry. Rebecca Gayle Howell is interviewed at The Adroit Journal and Render/An Apocalypse is reviewed in the Denver Quarterly. Shane McCrae published 30 stunning paragraphs of memoir at Essay Press. Lizzie Harris’ Stop Wanting is reviewed in Pleiades.
The Lighthouse Reading Series, named the best new reading series by Cleveland Scene, will be back in action next semester with this lovely line up; we’ll be back at the CSU Galleries on Friday, February 12th with Morgan Parker and Emily Pettit.
And, last but not least, thanks to our NEOMFA students and CSU volunteers who help keep this magnificent literary machine in motion.
Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for news throughout the year.
1. How has your writing style and/or perspective on writing changed since the publication of Destruction Myth?
Destruction Myth was the beginning of a set of books & manuscripts I’ve written in a serially absurd mode, with repetitive, obsessive forms: business plans, instructions for children’s games, spells, biographies, etc. So in that sense some of my writing is in that style still. When I read from it, though, I find myself confused by D-Myth’s sentences. I connect with the process & content of the book, but don’t quite get those sentences. I like it. It reminds me of how I’m not me, which is what I’ve always aspired to be.
Destruction Myth was my first book published book. I started it when I was 30, which seems young to me now. At the time of writing it a primary goal was publishing a book. Now my perspective is maybe closer to what it was before I ever thought of publishing books, back when I was a teenager writing in marbled-covered notebooks: to write & try to make my mind & life into something worth reading, to engage with friends the only way that felt genuine, to attempt an asymptote, etc.
2. What are you working on right now?
I’m super excited about the upcoming books for Octopus Books, a press for which I work: Amy Lawless’s Broadax, Dan Hoy’s Deathbed Editions, & a book of Tristan Tzara translated by Heather Streckfus-Green. Zachary Schomburg & I are in the nascent stage of planning a month-long bike trip of readings & Octopus events along the west coast in March of 2016, so I’m trying to figure out how that will work. I’m editing a feature for The Volta on Insect Poetics, which I’m giddy about. I’m trying to devise an interesting free community writing workshop/thingy in Denver for December.
Writing-wise, I have two books coming out next year: The Wine-Dark Sea from Sidebrow, & a collaboration with the photographer Jon Pack called The Depression from Civil Coping Mechanisms. I am working on final edits for those. I’m actively in the middle of writing two books of poetry, Thank You Terror & The Crushing Pain of Existence. And I’m trying to write a novel, which is really, really hard for me.
Today I am going to pull the weeds from my mom’s back yard & when I get back to Denver I’m going to pull weeds at the new Counterpath Books space. And in general I’m still trying to fix my mind, figure out how to live, etc.
3. What poet (contemporary or of the past) should we all be reading?
Read Marisol Limon Martinez’s new book VIA DISSIMULATA, which Octopus recently published. You will be a better person after reading it.
4. What is your advice for young writers?
Do young writers need advice? Perhaps the notion of old writers advising young writers is the opposite of what’s needed & perpetuates specious & becrusting modes of authority & control. Old writers like me should shut up & listen to young writers more. So maybe my advice for young writers is to tell old writers to shut up. Do with art what makes you feel more usefully human. But don’t listen to me telling you that.
5. Where/when do you like to write, or do your best writing?
I write pretty consistently & prolifically, then trash about 70-90% of what I write. So I like to write as much as I can, wherever & however I can. But in the last year or two my writing I’ve liked the most has emerged in its first drafts when I’m in motion, travelling or in interstitial spaces between other events or biking around town or lost. I like myself more when I am in motion & I think I like what I write more when I like myself. I’m not certain how to ascertain that, though.
The CSU Poetry Center is thrilled to announce the results of our 2015 book competitions. The following four books were selected from nearly 1,100 manuscripts and will be published in spring 2016. Thank you to everyone who sent us work & congrats to the winners and finalists below.
Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Judge: Eileen Myles
Leora Fridman’s My Fault
Leora Silverman Fridman is the author of the chapbooks Precious Coast (H_ngm_n Books), Obvious Metals (Projective Industries), On the architecture and Essential Nature (The New Megaphone), and the chapbook of translations, Eduardo Milán: Poems (Toad Press). She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is founding co-editor of Spoke Too Soon: A Journal of the Longer and forms one fourth of the collective The Bureau.
First Book Poetry Editor’s Choice
Selected by: CSU PC Director, Caryl Pagel
Martin Rock’s Residuum
Martin Rock is the author of the chapbook Dear Mark (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013) and co-author of Fish, You Bird (Pilot, 2010). With Kevin Prufer and Martha Collins, he edited the Unsung Masters volume Catherine B. Davis: On the Life and Work of an American Master (Pleiades, 2015). He is Managing Editor for Gulf Coast and intermittently publishes the online journal Loaded Bicycle. Martin is working on translations of a number of Japanese poets and is Poet in Residence at Texas Children’s Hospital.
First Book Poetry Finalists: Melissa Barrett: Moon on Roam; Ezekiel Black: Letters from the Junta; Marty Cain: Kids of the Black Hole; Bridget Carson: Zizou; Nick Foster: Cartonnage; Kit Frick: A Small Rising Up in the Lungs; Leora Fridman: The Riots; Matthew Gagnon: The Bodies That Speak at the Helm; Derek Gromadzki: Pilgrimage Suites; Taisia Kitaiskaia: Hello My Unspeakable Name; Hai-Dang Phan: Small Wars; Jacques Rancourt: Novena; Adrienne Raphel: On A Monday the Moon Sank Into the Sea; Brynne Rebel-Henry: Fleshgraphs; Clint Smith: Counting Descent; Alison Strub: Dust Rites; Amy Wright: Upping the Panoply; Candice Wuehle: FIDELITORIA: fixed or fluxed
First Book Poetry Semi-Finalists: Elizabeth Countryman: My Upset Versus Your Upset; Paul Cunningham: The House of the Tree of Sores; Stephan Danos: As if I am Ancient; Cassie Donish: Beautyberry; Brooke Ellsworth: Annie’s Heart is a Bomb; Laura Eve Engel: I Write to You From the Sea; Maryam Monalisa Gharavi: The Distancing Effect; Travis Holloway: Archive Fever; Elisabeth Houston: Baby Poems & Anti-Poems; Christopher Kempf: Late in the Empire of Men; Mike Lala: Exit Theater; James Longley: What Cheer Heptagon; Jesse Nathan: 40 Poems; GennaRose Nethercott: The Lumberjack’s Dove; Rushing Pittman: Says the King; Kenyatta Rogers: Unf***withable; Michael Martin Shea: Winner of the Fence Modern Poets Prize; Katie Jean Shinkle: Snapphilia; Emily Van Kley: Vital Signs; Franke Varca: Chill and Stupor; Lisa Wells: The Fix; Elisabeth Whitehead: In Apparition
Winner of the Open Book Poetry Competition
Judges: Lesle Lewis, Shane McCrae, Wendy Xu
Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion
Lo Kwa Mei-en is the author of Yearling (Alice James Books, 2015), winner of the Kundiman Prize, and The Romances, a chapbook forthcoming from The Lettered Streets Press. Her work can be found in The Margins, The Offing, The PEN Poetry Series, and VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. She is from Singapore and Ohio, where she earned a BA in Cultural Anthropology and an MFA in Creative Writing from The Ohio State University. She lives and works in Cincinnati.
Open Book Poetry Finalists: Carrie Bennett: The Land is a Painted Thing; Sally Cox: Somebody, Maybe; M.C. Hyland: An Aperture; Michael Keenan: For Night; Jason Koo: More Than Mere Light; Debora Kuan: Portrait of a Woman with a Hoagie; Sarah Mangold: Boxer Rebellion; John Martone: Ocean; Stan Mir: Three Patterns; Elizabeth Robinson: Encyclopedia [Partial & Incomplete] of Assorted Entities; Kate Schapira: Heroes and Monsters; Sasha Steensen: Gatherest; Betsy Wheeler: Lost Swimmer Plan; Leia Wilson: i murder the stranger that is my father every moment i eat I vow
Open Book Poetry Semi-Finalists: Joan Baranow: Letter That Never; Rosebud Ben-oni: Bloodsport; Monica Berlin: Nostalgia for a World Where We Can Live; Craig Blais: For the French and Indian War Dead; Caroline Cabrera: Saint X; Jack Christian: Omnipresence; Laressa Dickey: Twang; Seth Landman: Who’s Watching; Anna Leahy: Redshift, Blueshift; Rebecca Lehmann: O Sing!; Steve Myers: Susquehanna Sequence, I-XXXV; Jon Thompson: Strange Country; Keri Webster: The Spinster; Steve Willard: Deprive Yourself: Estoúil: A Finger’s Ash
Winner of the Essay Competition
Judge: Wayne Koestenbaum
Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary: Essays
Lily Hoang is the author of four books, including Changing, recipient of a PEN Open Books Award. Her choose-your-own adventure love story Old Cat Lady (1913 Books) is forthcoming in 2015. With Joshua Marie Wilkinson, she edited the anthology The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on Accessibility and the Avant-Garde. She teaches in the MFA program at New Mexico State University, where she is Associate Department Head. She serves as Prose Editor at Puerto del Sol and Non-Fiction Editor at Drunken Boat.
Essay Collection Finalists: Jennifer Kabat: I May Not Go Down in History; Krista Eastman: The Painted Forest; Gary McDowell: Caesura; Micah McCrary: Island in the City; Dustin Parsons: Pumpjack: Essays; Alexis Orega: You Don’t Mind: A Memorabilia; Craig Reinbold: Here in the Museum; Julie Marie Wade: The Hourglass: Meditations on the Body; Nicole Walker: Microcosm
Essay Collection Semi-Finalists: Joe Bonomo: Field Recordings from the Inside; Mark Brazaitis: The House of Magic and Sorrow; Christopher Higgs: As I Stand Living; Christine Hume: The Saturation Project; Jacqueline Lyons: Breakdown of Poses; Kim McLarin: Further Notes on Not Killing Myself; Sarah Minor: At Home with River Animals; David Netzeband: Reveilles; Kevin O’Rourke: As if Seen at an Angle; Rachael Peckham: Fields of Vision: Attempts in the Essay; Dawn Potter: The Language of Love; Amelia Stein: Arcs and Waves; Deborah Thompson: Familiars; Vivian Wagner: Under the Gun; Marco Wilkinson: Madder
1. How has your writing style and/or perspective on writing changed since the publication of I Live in a Hut?
Oh, gosh. Lots of life things have happened, and the short answer is not sure/something is still cooking. I quit drinking, and my relationship to writing is still shifting to accommodate that huge and necessary change. I didn’t fall prey to the romantic notion of writing while slammed or anything like that—actually, I wouldn’t write while drinking & it was one of the last self-imposed drinking rules I clung to, although I was hungover maybe 95% of the time when I wasn't drunk, so I’m not entirely sure I deserve a parade for that. I was doing stuff that put me in constant physical danger, but even beyond that, I had pressurized my life in a way that would not remain tenable for much longer. I felt like such a shithead most of the time that I could only redeem myself by writing something good, so I tried really hard to do that. It was the way I earned the right to walk on the earth, or so it seemed to me.
So, getting well, I find, dissolves that immense pressure, but also makes it confusing to approach the page. It’s the same, but the gravity that holds me down against the words is different and less deadly. I think this is good, but tremendously frustrating. The things I’m writing feel so embarrassing sometimes. I’m relearning all of it, kind of. I’m learning how to summon the intensity in a way that isn’t so harsh and self-negating.
One thing I like, though, is how I can look at my poems and see them as these fantasies of power and competence. I had never realized before that this was my standard mode of thought in a poem. Years and years ago, I wrote a sad little poem about the terrible weight of being responsible for everything that happened in the world, sweeping the winds and grasses around all the lovers, making the streetlights come on at the right time. So much pressure! It’s an attitude I’ve encountered in recovery among many other alcoholics. Sometimes I think alcoholics and addicts are basically failed, pissed-off wizards. Like, goddamn I couldn’t use my anxious mind to keep it from snowing. Again, cruel world. Fuck it. Pass me that Old Crow so I can listen to my one Neil Young song on repeat.
Part of me is afraid—and this is a classic fear-of-wellness thing, I think—that the recovery paradigm won’t coexist with the way that I write poems. Which is silly, because I think the bewilderment and humor of failing to control anything in the world is absolutely a human situation and not one that belongs only to alcoholics. Nobody is at perfect peace. And I'm in no danger of becoming too good, too serene. Not anytime soon!
So: It’s weird, but I’m moving through it. I’ve been writing some really childish breakup poems. Like, “I hope you get a pearl stuck in your anus!” That’s been fun. Sometimes I stumble into the right slant of thought and remember, “Oh right, this is my favorite thing to do!” But it’s been hard, no lie. It’s been one of the hardest parts of recovery.
2. What are you working on right now?
I’m almost done with the second draft of a novel. I can’t believe this is true, but there it is! The first draft was such garbaggio, but there were 50 pages I liked, so I started over with those. This year, I’ve been working on it in marathon spurts. I write a poem every 10 days or so. When I put the novel aside for the few months, I also write and revise stories—I have one in the current issue of Tin House, and another forthcoming in The Masters Review, and another in this really exciting anthology of stories based on Roky Erickson songs, forthcoming from Makeout Creek.
I’ve been slowly sending out my second poetry manuscript, Negative Cape. It’s almost done, maybe? Most of the poems I wrote during my really bad drinking times, so they’re pretty dark and desperate, even though I had no idea I was writing about alcoholism at the time. I love this book so much, but it’s really different from I Live in a Hut. I think it’s not quite what people would expect. There’s no tiny jelly cakes, no funny animal poems. But I think it’s good this way. I don’t want writing to become an exercise in self-caricature.
I’m moving back to Pittsburgh in a few weeks, and I’ve been kind of daydreaming about starting a reading series there. Not the standard polite three-writers-and-a-cheese-plate kind of thing, but more a guerrilla affair. A few summers ago, I got to go on tour with my best friends as Line Assembly—we did readings and workshops and stuff, and filmed everything for a documentary—and one of my favorite things we did was this series of informal, almost anonymous readings around Boston. Anne Marie read a poem to the purses in the window at the Prada store. I read a poem of mine in the produce section of a grocery. It was kind of amazing. There wasn’t a lot of direct feedback because public life is so much about nonacknowledgement, staring into the middle distance while people all around you persist in being themselves. But it seemed to make the readings more intimate. You could see the strain in the people’s faces—it takes effort, pretending to not notice this poem being read in the park or the skyway or whatever. But that strain is also a kind of concentration. It seems to open up a channel, but gently. In 60 seconds, the moment is over & you can go back to buying your lemons, your Prada purses, go back to looking at the pond in the park or finish your soup-salad combo. I don’t know how, but I’d like to do something related to that.
3. What poet (contemporary or of the past) should we all be reading?
Jennifer Tamayo. Lillian-Yvonne Bertram. Bhanu Kapil. Ronaldo Wilson. Terrance Hayes, always & forever. Zachary Harris. Jared Joseph. Sade Murphy. Morgan Parker. Adam Atkinson. Anthony Cinquepalmi. Katya Zamolodchikova. Carrie Lorig. Anne Marie Rooney. Doug Kearney. Elyse Mele. Chelsea Minnis. Ben Pelhan. Feng Sun Chen. Yona Harvey. Greg Koehler. Olena Kalytiak Davis. Kiki Petrosino. Sandra Simonds. Roger Reeves. Jerika Marchan. CAConrad. Meredith Blankinship. Ottessa Moshfegh and Sarah Gerard and Kiese Laymon and Joy Williams—all fiction writers, but poets should read them! Jessica Rae Bergamino. Lucas de Lima. Jenny Zhang. Sean Zhuraw. Camille Rankine. Paul Cunningham. Google Image Search. Whoever makes up the hand-written signs in the gas station that tell you the slushie machine is broken.
4. What is your advice for young writers?
Be nice, but have your own back & support others. A community of writers isn’t something you just get—you must participate. You must go to readings. You should read your friend’s stuff in that one magazine, even if you are afraid of being jealous. One of the best ways to secure a community is to help that community, in some way, to exist. Buy your friends’ chapbooks and books and read them. Comparison can be deadly to this engagement.
Don’t get caught thinking the only real poetry happens in grad school, or in your grad school, or in that one grad school. Don’t get caught in thinking that your aesthetic is universal, that other concerns, especially survival concerns and the capacity to raise a voice, are not to your tastes and therefore unimportant. Don’t decide it’s above your pay grade to think seriously about how white supremacy inflects/inflicts/indicts your poetics. Don’t get caught thinking that poetry communities, because they are largely made of self-identified outsiders, will be above racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic/classist/ageist/sizeist/homophobic bullshit. People aren’t above those things, and poets are still people. (I’m not speaking from the mountaintop here. This is stuff I find challenging & still am working on. This is my advice to myself as much as anything. I’m still young!)
Maybe all that sounds cynical, but it’s crucial to my one real piece of advice: Find a way to make poetry a sustainable practice. Find a way to keep writing in the middle of your life without creating conditions around it that make you self-destructive. Oh, I know it sounds so yoga-mom to say it, but you have to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can write things that scare the shit out of people.
5. Where/when do you like to write, or do your best writing?
I have come to dislike the idea that there’s a special magic to where I do the writing. I think it’s easy to convince myself that I need a pot of plum tea from this one cafe and the encouragements/provocations of this one totemic book in order to make the magic doorway appear. I mean, the doorway is magic. But the magic (I hope) is that it can appear anywhere.
Not to dismiss the power of pleasant physical objects, of course. I like my coffee and million cups of tea and cigarettes and oranges. I like to stare at this parsley plant my mother gave me to give to my ex-boyfriend, which he decided he didn’t want since he didn’t think he could keep it alive. I can’t bring myself to eat it because I like parsley so much that eating it would kill it, so it’s gone to seed. I feel so much for it, and feel embarrassed by my feeling. I’ve put it in a lot of poems because I can see it from the futon where I do most of my writing. I have a poem where I berate it for doing such a terrible job of being a woman, because it seems just as ridiculous as the amount of shit I get/give myself every day for not woman-ing adequately. In a way, it’s my effort at self-forgiveness for not being Dreamgirl USA. If it seems absurd to tell my parsley plant it has a fat chin & a smelly pussy, I should probably lighten up on myself! The things around me always end up in poems. There’s some kind of metonymic relationship between the material world and the poem kingdom which I love & love thinking about.
But! I think being too superstitious about writing is a stealth way of talking myself out of writing at all. I’ve seen this happen to lots of folks I love. There is just no way to shore up the world enough to make writing possible, I think. Certainly no way to make it easy, or comfortable. But it has to happen anyway.
This week's recommended reading comes to us from poet and new CSU Poetry Center staffer Dan Dorman:
William Carlos Williams, Spring and All (New Directions; Facsimile Edition edition, 2011)
One of my favorite books, William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All,” is off the shelf for the summer.
Williams’ mind and style always bring something new to me in reading this book. As I am sitting down with it again, it appears as a precursor to “Patterson,” this book being a proving ground for mixing prose and poetry. He is “whole—aware—civilized,” and in being so lays an imaginative framework across poetry.
Susan Howe, That This (New Directions, 2010)
I’m finding that it can be expected that Susan Howe will amaze me with her depth and clarity in experimental writing.
In “That This” she gracefully blends essay, poem, image and implied language, as an expression of how one’s mind adapts during the process of grieving. She is brilliant from start to finish in this both deeply personal and imaginatively ripe book.
1. How has your writing changed?
I move between two main styles or ideas when I am writing: the magical/ surreal and the literal/ autobiographical. I started with The Book of Orgasms, or the magical style. And I progressed to the more autobiographical style with my book, Southern Comfort, in which the pronoun, I, plays a starring role. Now I am moving back towards the magical/surreal poems with my latest book, Why God Is a Woman, which is about an imaginary where the women rule, and the men are the second and the beautiful sex.
I also have a book of poems called Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum? in which I have taken the questions, comments, and notes that students have asked my husband, a professor of physics, and made them into short poems like this one:
I think it’s very unfair that you ask questions
about accelerating in a car.
I am not like those rich students
who drive to school in their nice cars.
I don’t even know how to drive,
and I don’t expect to be learning any time soon.
2. What are you writing right now?
I’ve been working on another book of orgasm poems. I decided one wasn’t enough. In this collection, all of the orgasms are written in the style of poets I admire so much, I wish I had written their poems.
3. What poet should we all be reading? And what is your advice to young poets?
Nicanor Parra, the Chilean poet, has a silly poem called “The Nobel Prize” in which he says he should get the Nobel prize for reading. He writes:
I read everything I get my hands on:
I read street names
and neon signs
and new price-lists
the police news,
projections for the Derby
and license plates . . .
and he goes on. But I think that is what young poets should do. Read. Everything. Ads, horoscopes, the news, cereal boxes, graffiti, you name it. Incorporate them in your poems.
But you also asked what poets one should read. And my answer is, find a book of poems, and fall in love with it. Or at least fall in love with one poem in a book. Read the poem again and again. Let it be like a lesson, a spell, a song, so it enters your blood stream. But which poem? Which book? I think everyone has to make his or her own choice.
Because what I love today is different from what I loved yesterday. And I think it’s the love that matters as much as the object of love.
Today, for example, I am in love with The Star Wizard’s Legacy by Vasko Popa, the Serbian poet, who wrote wonderful sequences of poems about things like little boxes and pebbles and games. I love his imagery. His poem, “The White Pebble,” for example, ends: A white smooth virgin body/ It smiles with the eyebrow of the moon. And I am also in love with Mark Strand who begins his poem, “2032,”
It is evening in the town of X
where Death, who used to love me, sits
in a limo with a blanket spread across his thigh
waiting for his driver to appear.
But if I had answered this question yesterday, I might have talked about Carlos Drummond de Andrade. But today I am not in the mood for Carlos.
4. Where when do you like to write/do your best writing?
I usually write in the morning. And only the morning. If I write into the afternoon, I start to destroy everything I wrote in the morning.
Lidia Yuknavitch, Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books, 2012)
Lidia Yuknavitch retells Sigmund Freud’s famous case study—Dora: Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria—in a modern setting. Yuknavitch’s Dora lives in Seattle and like Ida Bauer—who Freud labeled Dora—rebels against the psycho-sexual narrative Freud tries to impose upon her. Thanks to Caroline Crew for the initial recommendation!
Caroline Cabrera, The Bicycle Year (H_NGM_N, 2015)
Caroline Cabrera’s second poetry collection begins, “You keep trying to get all your ducks in a row,” but it is defined by its resistance to do so. Cabrera rambles into a kind of thought process that preserves through its attention to our most instinctual behaviors. This is a great summer book because of its common truths:
The first time I smelled lilacs
I couldn’t believe them
like the time a teen girl
sat across from me
in a coffee shop
and asked what it feels like
to fall in love
1. How has your writing style and/or perspective on writing changed since the publication of The Largest Possible Life?
The Largest Possible Life was born out of crisis—getting divorced in my mid-thirties, having my whole world fall apart and my heart broken, and then miraculously finding my way to jobs where I got to work with other broken people. In my case, this took the form of jobs as an H.I.V. test counselor at S.F. General Hospital, and Glide Memorial Church and Urban Health Study. I feel like I was studying catastrophe and addiction and resilience and death and rebirth during that time, an intensive course, me and other people. The Largest Possible Life is a document of that, and I feel very tenderly toward it. The poems I’m working on now are probably more formally sophisticated, and I’m not in that kind of raw broken-open place currently. I'm more aware of my tendency to over-write. I’m more critical of my work now, and I’m more interested in developing technique and polish than I was before.
2. What are you working on right now?
I just finished writing a musical called The Chain, and I am working on poems for a fourth book of poetry. In my personal life I have been exploring the sacred feminine, and I’m wanting to center this next book around that theme, but we’ll see. Books have a way of taking on a life of their own!
3. What poet (contemporary or of the past) should we all be reading?
We should all be reading one poet who calls to us because they echo our own inner landscape, and one poet who is completely different from us, whose work challenges and stretches and baffles us. That said, I find myself drawn back again and again to Tess Gallagher’s poetry—she combines a native mysticism and a relationship with myth and landscape with long complex narrative poems that are emotionally and aesthetically pleasing, with magical little lyrics. I think she’s the complete package, and not enough attention has been paid to her work.
4. What is your advice for young writers?
Develop an exercise routine—yoga, running, swimming, dancing—and do something physical every day, for your mental health as well as your physical health. It’s not cute to be a drug addict. Quit smoking, it’s disgusting. Drink a lot of water. Floss. Try to figure out a way to handle the making a living problem—at least find a way to to get decent health insurance. It’s okay to have to work a day job. And patience—this is a long-haul deal.
5. Where/when do you like to write, or do your best writing?
I’m not picky about location—I’ve written good things on airplanes and in cafes or in my study—wherever. The main thing is having a little cushion of downtime so that the deeper feelings and images can emerge. I like to warm up by reading poetry for half an hour or so beforehand—that helps enormously. Morning or night doesn’t matter to me. Also: it’s okay not to be writing for a while. Sometimes it’s just time to be living and quietly gestating.
This summer our Managing Editor Amber Allen has put together a series of weekly recommended reading lists. Contributors include CSU staff, students, authors, and friends. First up is Siwar Masannat, whose book 50 Water Dreams won the CSU Poetry Center's 2014 First Book Competition.
Textu by Fady Joudah
Copper Canyon Press, 2014
Sand Opera by Philip Metres
Alice James Books, 2015
Western Practice by Stephen Motika
Alice James Books, 2012
This is the One that Snowfalls You, That You Snowfall Out Of by Daniel D’Angelo
Outta Ink Press, 2015
The White Dog Year by Caitlin Scarano
dancing girl press & studio, 2015
and nevermind the storm by Soham Patel
Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012
Click on the books below or visit Small Press Distribution's website to purchase a copy of the following titles:
Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, by Lee Upton
Festival, by Broc Rossell
50 Water Dreams, by Siwar Masannat
I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev