The CSU Poetry Center is excited to announce the results of our 2019 book competitions. The following five books were selected for publication from nearly 1,000 manuscripts. Thank you to everyone who sent us work.
Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Judge: Brenda Hillman
Alen Hamza’s Exit Empire, forthcoming September 2020
Alen Hamza immigrated to the United States from Bosnia-Herzegovina as a refugee. He has received fellowships from the Michener Center for Writers and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from The Believer, Fence, Narrative, Diagram, The Southern Review, The Iowa Review, Crazyhorse, The Missouri Review, and elsewhere. He’s pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah, where he serves as poetry editor for Quarterly West.
Editor’s Choice Selection (First Book)
Shelley Feller’s Dream Boat, forthcoming September 2020
Shelley Feller grew up figure skating across the Midwest. They hold an MFA in poetry from the University of Alabama, and are currently pursuing a PhD in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. Their work can be found in Interim, Puerto del Sol, Sycamore Review, and elsewhere.
Judge’s Honorable Mentions
CL Young’s Retrograde Interior; Bronwen Tate’s The Silk the Moths Ignore.
First Book Finalists:
Kanika Agrawal’s Okazaki Fragments; Steve Barbaro’s Plane of Consummate Finitude; Travis Brown’s In the Village That Is Not Burning Down; Ashley Chambers’s The Exquisite Buoyancies: A Sonography; Shelley Feller’s Dream Boat; Binswanger Friedman’s The Four Color Problem; Clare Jones’s It only seems that way; Colleen O’Brien’s Reel; Sara Lupita Olivares’s Migratory Sound; Nicholas Regiacorte’s American Massif; Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman’s MELEKH!MELEKH!MELEKH!MELEKH! An Assimilation; Jay Thompson’s Like Honey; Devon Walker-Figueroa’s Lazarus Species; Emma Winsor Wood’s Preferred Internal Landscape.
First Book Semi-Finalists
Christopher Adamson’s Arguments for the Pit; Danielle Badra’s Like We Still Speak; Chelsea Balzer’s fruit diaries; Kerry Banazek’s You, Siphon; Madeleine Barnes’s You Do Not Have To Be Good; Julie Phillips Brown’s The Adjacent Possible; K.M. English’s WAVE SAYS; Maria Flaccavento’s 108 Olivia; Margaret Foley’s Keel; Matthew Girolami’s Fire Regime; Eric Komosa’s Like You Are Breathing; Christopher Murray’s Black Observatory; Rachel Mindell’s No Miracle ; Alleliah Amabelle Nuguid’s Prodigal Daughter; Jessica Reed’s White Thread into Stone; Brandon Rushton’s The Air in the Air Behind It; Dennis James Sweeney’s In the Antarctic Circle; Mars Tekosky’s The Catherine Wheel; Kate Thorpe’s The Marriage of Art and Industry; Shelley Wong’s As She Appears.
Winner of the Open Book Poetry Competition
Judges: Nicholas Gulig, Dora Malech, & Sheila McMullin
Valerie Hsiung’s outside voices, please, forthcoming September 2021
Poet, performer, and sound artist, Valerie Hsiung is the author of four previous poetry collections: YOU & ME FOREVER (Action Books, 2020), e f g (Action, 2016), incantation inarticulate (O Balthazar Press, 2013), and under your face (OBP, 2013). Her poems can be found in or are forthcoming from dozens of publications, including The Nation, The Believer, jubilat, Chicago Review, PEN America, The Rumpus, Poetry Northwest, Denver Quarterly, and beyond. A two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and the recipient of the 2019 Kay Murphy Prize, she has performed her little poetry theater at Treefort Music Festival, DC Arts Center, Common Area Maintenance, Casa Libre en la Solana, Shapeshifter Lab, and The Silent Barn. Born and raised by Chinese-Taiwanese immigrants in southern Ohio, Hsiung now divides her time between Brooklyn and Hudson.
Editor’s Choice Selection (Open Book)
Lauren Shapiro’s Arena, forthcoming September 2020
Lauren Shapiro is the author of Easy Math (Sarabande, 2013), which was the winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize and the Debut-litzer Prize for Poetry, as well as a chapbook of poems, Yo-Yo Logic (DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press, 2011). With Kevin González, she co-edited The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (Rescue Press, 2013). Recent poems have appeared in jubilat, Boston Review, Copper Nickel, Bennington Review, Columbia Poetry Review, New Ohio Review, DIAGRAM, and Forklift, Ohio. She is an assistant professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University. [Photo credit: Heidi Wiren Bartlett].
Open Book Finalists
Carrie Olivia Adams’s Setting Fire; Emily Bludworth de Barrios’s For Dorothy in the Dark; Carrie Bennet’s Expedition Notes; Lily Brown’s Blade Work; Rachel Galvin’s Uterotopia; Claire Hero’s The Raw & The Cooked; Dennis Hinrichsen’s This is Where I Live I Have Nowhere Else To Go; Genevieve Kaplan’s blueroombrowngreenrooms; Danielle Pafunda’s Along the Road Everyone Must Travel; Lauren Shapiro’s Arena; Larissa Szporluk’s Virginals; Gale Thompson’s Dummy Prayer.
Open Book Semi-Finalists
Sarah Boyer’s Home is the Proudest of All Institutions; Molly Brodak’s The Cipher; Stella Corso’s Driving; Mary Crow’s Begin with a Stepped Pyramid; Darren Demaree’s a child walks in the dark; C. Violet Eaton’s Cant; Jennifer Habel’s The Book of Jane; Rochelle Hurt’s Screen Tests for [ ] Girls; Josh Kalscheur’s Picture of Health; Justin Marks’s If This Should Reach You In Time; Jessica Marsh’s Dysmorphelia; Kent Shaw’s Gigantic; Robert Thomas’s Sonnets with Carpenter and Dirty Snow; Laura Wetherington’s Parallel Resting Places.
Winners of the Essay Collection Competition
Judge: Hanif Abdurraqib
Brenda Miller & Julie Marie Wade’s Telephone: Essays in Two Voices, forthcoming September 2021
Brenda Miller teaches in the creative writing program at Western Washington University. Her memoir-in-essays, An Earlier Life (Ovenbird Books, 2016), won the Washington State Book Award for Memoir, and her creative nonfiction has received six Pushcart Prizes. Julie Marie Wade teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University. Her most recent collections are The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose (Noctuary Press, 2019), co-authored with Denise Duhamel, and Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2018). Miller and Wade’s collaborative essays have appeared in Creative Nonfiction, The Georgia Review, The Kenyon Review, The Normal School, River Teeth, Tupelo Quarterly, and in two recent anthologies of contemporary collaborative work.
Essay Collection Finalists
Leora Fridman’s Static Place; Mariko Nagai’s Bodies of Empire; Liza Porter’s Bruce Springsteen Sang to Me; Catherine Theis’s L’Avventura; Vivian Wagner’s Everyday Carry; Nicole Walker’s Who Would We Animals Be If Not For Animals You?.
Congratulations to Anna Maria Hong, whose debut collection of poetry, Age of Glass (CSU Poetry Center, 2018), won the Norma Faber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America!!
Though "[d]one with iambics," Anna Maria Hong's Age of Glass uses the sonnet's other ancient materials to build a sequence song "out of all possible solutions." That double preposition—"out of"—signals both invention and exhaustion, the hope and risk which come with deploying that old form in this latest age. But Hong will not oppose these senses, instead making invention from various forms of exhaustion: most of the poems are not content to rhyme only on their right margins, but anywhere else in the line as well (exhaustion as overabundance), while one sonnet uses only four words to do all its work (paucity as fatigue). This play of too much and not enough, what one sonnet calls a "few too / many or few too few," isn't just a way through the problems of a form that dates back to the 13th century, it's a description of the disaster of our present age, its "capitalist / suicide songs" and "Liberticide." The sonnet is the confinement of "the vox" to a kind of "box" (many of the sonnets have this word in their titles) and the box is both "a nation" and "a one-person show," "all containment all the time." For all the pleasure this book takes in its wits and sounds, in choosing new ways to sing in the optional cage of the sonnet, that pleasure feels at best "ferociously happy," because the book knows too that there is no way as yet to get out of the "endless project" of an unjust present, which is only "our time to savage." It takes wit to see the "age" in "savage," but wit in Hong's work is pain made generous. (Geoffrey G. O’Brien)
Congratulations to Shaelyn Smith, whose debut collection of essays, The Leftovers, won CLMP’s Firecracker Award for best creative nonfiction published by an indie press.
The strength and poignancy of Shaelyn Smith's The Leftovers rests in the work itself not being easily categorized. Emerging out of a critical engagement—one might even say a fixation—with Judy Chicago’s iconic feminist art installation The Dinner Party housed at the Brooklyn Museum, The Leftovers encapsulates feminist testimony, art criticism, and personal discovery while rendering the visual as tactile and vivid. Smith goes well beyond asking who has been brought to the table and who has been left out—she erects platforms for voices and perspectives, both historical and contemporary, that speak to how historical recovery can also be a trap. The viewpoints she brings together offer universal truths held by individuals and community through a tightness in structure, voice, and overall composition. With prose that encourages a kind of infectious curiosity, Smith cracks open what writing about art can mean for how we read the world around us. The Leftovers is singularly engaging and as essential to our shelves as it is to our everyday dialogue.
In poems like “Olga’s Book” (“‘he blames me’ ‘for’ ‘not having pregnancies’”), you talk about gender expectations and inequality. How does your work as an intersectional feminist and activist affect your poetry? How is poetry feminist work?
I want to thank you, first, Nellie, for inviting me to participate in the interview. The act of invitation is feminist work, and then for the occasion to be poetry reminds me of the heart of the matter. I am grateful to take this offer.
Labor is relational. And is often held in the extremes of unequal power dynamics. So the work for an activist becomes holding a relationship that bends those dynamics, and for me unfolds on feminist foundation. When feminism contains the propelling motion of reclaiming space—alchemizing the historic and cultural perspectives of land, voice, body fostered by creative plurality—poetry, then, can refract light onto the unnamed. I talk about intersectionality to acknowledge systematized workings of hierarchy that diminish innate value, to recognize we will always be finding ourselves and finding ourselves changed, and in solidarity against community and law-making built through the consciousness of white supremacy that depletes human ambition and destroys our earth’s immune system.
And then, I also feel like I’m not holding these tenants in balance lately. In the beginning, poetry gave me space to think about myself, and feminism gave me space from which to write. As an activist today, I feel burnt out knowing the seriousness of the 11th hour, feeling like there’s no time to catch up, knowing simultaneously this is capitalism working within me, and every moment I give to it will be devoured. So the work becomes not the harmony of poetry and activism and feminism like I want, but the active state of balancing plates. I’ve really been looking toward others for guidance in the answer to this question, fully knowing there many varied ways that these very crucial aspects of my life can cohabitate, but not quite being there yet. Having a lingering taste from a moment when I did and working to be here again, naming my relationships based in uneven power dynamics, and resituating to take back my space.
The discrete poems in your book are interrupted by pages of short, italicized lines without titles. How did you arrive at this structure?
I admire poems that seemingly get to the heart of the matter and then buckle your knees with a deeper story told as if in an aside. One of my colleagues in grad school, Catee Baugh, did this beautifully. Sarah Vap is a goddess of this work. I’m reading Samantha Hunt’s The Sea currently and I find this magic in every scene. In writing the Firelight Mediations, I looked toward form as a way to say what I was struggling to write. What I needed for myself at that time was a pep talk. And I needed a pep talk that wasn’t dismissive of the anger I was conjuring. I appreciate your naming the poems discrete, because I feel that too. Writing them was uncomfortable for me, both in the way I was looking at myself and in metaphor. I was listening daily to the old lectures of Ram Dass while working at the front desk of a venture capital firm (I know...talk about community feminist work and writing…but hey, I finished my manuscript thanks to that job) and was hearing repeated messages on the art of returning. That our work is in the practice of remembering and witnessing our coming into being at every opportunity. So what I wrote was my work of remembering. And saying it plainly, buffered by space, and in short bursts was as much bravery as I could muster.
And thanks to CSU Poetry Center’s editor, Caryl Pagel, who was able to translate the integrity of my manuscript into book form, dedicating two pages to each of the mediations which signals a slowing down to the reader. The practice of each page turn, an arriving into the present.
What advice would you give to emerging poets?
Keep close your explorer’s mind. That meditating on patience helps with a lot of anxiety around perceived notions of productivity, success, and worthwhile creativity. That if even talking about patience makes you feel like you have a knot in your chest it’s normal, because I feel that myself right now too. That small compounding actions are how poetry is written. Making rituals out of your daily habits can bring a lot of joy back into areas that may have started to feel mundane or uninspired, and bonus if you share some of those rituals and compound your joy. That journaling is important, and so is sharing your work, as well as taking the risks to ask people to participate in that process with you.
Which dead person would you say your work is most informed by, that you’re in dialogue with most urgently in this book?
While her passing is recent and she was very much alive during my writing of daughterrarium, Ursula K. LeGuin refracted light on my desire of divine feminine power. After reading “She Unnames Them” the glow stick of my intestines cracked into a neon dance party, and I started digesting so much love and admiration for feminine willfulness, living outside of the obedient/disobedient binary, and being a self-propelled actor. A feeling of clarity of purpose is always strong after reading LeGuin’s works. Similarly, with poets like H.D. I feel that urgency of spirit to transmute what was told to us was evolution, but was really a caging of our wild nature. I chose to purge stagnation and give light to creativity. So, in pursuing publication for daughterrarium I made a commitment that if I was going to create an artifact out of the persona writing the book, I would honor my wild woman nature and speak as truthfully as I could for where I was in that time in my life.
What are you currently working on?
My root chakra. As an apprenticing green witch with the Gaia School of Healing and Earth Education, I have begun a revolutionary understanding of myself and the way I want to tend my time. Writing this on the first day of the new year, I can acknowledge the expansion I began in 2018 with a building allyship with plants and a reweaving of ancestral knowledge into my daily movements. I’m working on a new manuscript, tentatively titled Thank You that deepens the conversation of shame, blame, and anger initiated in daughterrarium.
Sheila McMullin is the author of daughterrarium, winner of the 2016 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize chosen by Daniel Borzutzky. She co-edited the collections Humans of Ballou and The Day Tajon Got Shot from Shout Mouse Press. She is a community organizer working with youth to amplify their voices through storytelling and civic participation. She holds an M.F.A. from George Mason University and volunteers to maintain the free little libraries in her neighborhood. Find more about her writing, editing, and activism online at www.moonspitpoetry.com.
Please join us at the Poetry Center for Writers at Work conversations in February and April. Details below!
In the spirit of holiday gifting and celebrating those books we loved spending time with, here’s a collection of what we’ve been reading (other than our own books!) at the CSU Poetry Center:
5 Favorite Books Read in 2018:
1. Analicia Sotelo – “Virgin”
2. Emily Jungmin Yoon – “A Cruelty Special to Our Species”
3. Catherine Barnett – “Human Hours”
4. Courtney Kampa – “Our Lady of Not Asking Why”
5. Rebecca Lindenberg – “Love, an Index”
This year, I am aiming to read 100 books (on book 90 as of today!), so I had quite a lot to choose from! I was stunned by the debut collections of Analicia Sotelo and Emily Jungmin Yoon; these are powerful, sharp books, bold and unflinching. I will be returning to them again and again. Another 2018 collection I thoroughly enjoyed was Catherine Barnett’s “Human Hours.” I read this book while in San Francisco for my best friend’s wedding, and could not help but share poems from it with friends on and offline. It is a brilliant, truly human, book. Courtney Kampa’s debut, which came out last year, is intimate and vulnerable in a way I trusted and admired. I find myself disinterested in books that lack heart; Courtney Kampa’s work has a heart beating loudly at its center. Finally, I was profoundly struck by Rebecca Lindenberg’s 2012 “Love, an Index.” I’m not even sure I can quite articulate my feelings about it. It is a gorgeous and devastating portrayal of a love, a life.
The Biography of Alexander Hamilton—Ron Chernow: I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, great. Another biography of a white man written by a white man.” Well, you’re right. Entirely. But, this one is one of the most interesting biographies I’ve ever read. Forget everything you’ve learned in the Hamilton musical because it’s partially incorrect and doesn’t include a great deal of his greatness as a writer. If you like history and biographies, you’ll like this.
Selected Poems—Colette Bryce: Great poetry. Trust me.
Nature Poem—Tommy Pico: Also great poetry. Think (good) Twitter poetry put in a book.
If We Had Known—Elise Juska: Super topical novel. It’s about a teacher whose student commits a mass shooting. The media then finds an essay that the student wrote in the teacher’s class that may have hinted to his twisted state of mind. Really tense, really real, really good.
The Largess of the Sea Maiden—Denis Johnson: No words. Okay, a few words: mental illness, suspense, heart break, and “Dear Satan, I did not enjoy it at your Jamboree last night.”
American Street by Ibi Zoboi (Fiction, Young Adult)
Virgin by Analicia Sotelo (Poetry)
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (Poetry)
The Carrying by Ada Limon (Poetry)
A few of the books I loved spending time with this year:
Rachel Arndt’s Beyond Measure
CA Conrad’s While Standing In Line For Death
Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy
Nick Dybek’s The Verdun Affair
Jenny Erpenbeck’s (tr. Susan Bernofsky) Go Went Gone
Shane McCrae’s In the Language of My Captor
Hilary Plum’s Strawberry Fields
Nicholas Twemlow’s Attributed to the Harrow Painter
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing
Anna Maria Hong’s first book of poetry, Age of Glass, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was recently named one of Entropy’s Best Poetry Books of 2018. Age of Glass was recognized on the Kenyon Review blog and Poetry Foundation’s spring reading list for the magic of its subversive sonnets. In Green Mountains Review Anita Olivia Koester says “Hong’s innovative sonnets elevate the natural and human world by preserving it, and yet these sonnets also… allow for deeper truths about sexism, misogyny, and power structures, to emerge.”
Find out more about Hong’s work in interviews at Literary Bennington and Speaking of Marvels, where Hong says “The writing of this book was driven by the question of how or whether one can be a responsible and ethical member of empire, particularly in the face of white, hot reversals and upheavals.”
In American Literary Review, Brian Clifton writes of Nicholas Gulig’s second book, Orient, that “By looking at noise and sound (as they collide in human language), Gulig attempts to understand how we define ourselves and how we define others. In this way, the book becomes both a thing that speaks and a thing that listens.” In Poetry Northwest Jane Wong observes “Gulig’s collection is all encompassing—all heart, all terror.”
Orient was named one of Entropy’s Best Poetry Books of 2018 and Gulig discusses his process, ethics, aesthetics, and form at Speaking of Marvels.
Shaelyn Smith’s collection of essays, The Leftovers, was one of Poets & Writers’s featured debut collections of literary nonfiction in 2018 as well as an “SPD Recommends” title, and one of Entropy’s Best Nonfiction Books of 2018. Learn more about The Leftovers in a review at the New Orleans Review and an interview with James Allen Hall at Essay Daily.
We’ve also been happily catching up with new books, reviews, or awards for our previous authors: Leora Fridman, Jane Lewty, Dora Malech, Shane McCrae, Phil Metres, and Sandra Simonds.
The Poetry Center staff is hard at work on our forthcoming titles, which will be released in September 2019: Anne Lesley Selcer’s Sun Cycle; Oliver Baez Bendorf’s Advantages of Being Evergreen; Amy Long’s Codependence; The Selected Poems of Russell Atkins, edited by Kevin Prufer and Robert E. McDonough; and Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun, translated by Conor Bracken.
CSU POETRY CENTER GRADUATE ASSISTANTSHIPS
The CSU Poetry Center offers graduate assistantships in small press editing and publishing for CSU-based students in the NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing). If you're researching MFA programs you might consider Cleveland State where we’re lucky to host the Lighthouse Reading Series, Playwrights Festival, and Whiskey Island Magazine, among other exciting programing. The NEOMFA is the nation's only consortial MFA program and boasts four schools’ worth of creative writing faculty and a great visiting writers series (this year includes Sloane Crosley, Suzanne Buffam, Srikinth Reddy, and Paula McLain). Application deadline: January 15th.
ANISFIELD-WOLF FELLOW IN WRITING AND PUBLISHING
It’s been a delight to welcome Leila Chatti, our inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Writing in Publishing, to Cleveland. Check out new work by Leila in Kenyon Review online, Narrative, Willow Springs, and Frontier Poetry.
LIGHTHOUSE READING SERIES
This year’s Lighthouse Reading Series has hosted Nicholas Gulig, Brian Blanchfield, Leila Chatti, and Lindsay Turner, all of whom blew us away with their performances. Spring readers include Jason Koo and Shaelyn Smith (2/22/19), and Caren Beilin and Anna Maria Hong (4/12/19). If you live in Northeast Ohio, we hope to see you in the spring!
SUPPORT THE CSU POETRY CENTER
If you'd like to DONATE to our mission of publishing 3-5 collections of contemporary poetry, prose, and translation each year in addition to running The Lighthouse Reading Series, the Anisfield-Wolf Fellowship in Writing and Publishing, and providing pedagogical and outreach opportunities for CSU and NEOMFA students please know that your support is what allows us to continue our work throughout the year.
What for you is the function of the body, embodiment in your poetry? With so much transference (trauma to mind, mind to body, etc.), at what point does the text become an extension of this for you?
A book called Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age, by Viktor Mayer-Schönberger (a professor of internet governance) has been a huge influence on me; he keeps using the phrase “archives are dangerous” — something we’re sadly all too familiar with, owing to social media. If you revisit an online conversation, there is seeming comprehensiveness but digital evidence does not truly reflect what “really’” transpired. It’s a false construct. By triggering recall of what is forgotten (or suppressed), digital remembering has the ability to confuse us with conflicting memories that may affect our review of certain events or interactions. We may stop trusting our own memory and, instead, supplant it with an artificial past, one that is not only open to interpretation, but utterly dependent on the emotion that one has when scanning back.
I think it’s similar to the ways in which a body has its own archive and method of storage/remembering. Erratic and erroneous playback can also occur. In One Form to Find Another draws upon the condition of somatic symptom disorder; the conviction that sickness is present or incipient. For the patient, respite — diagnosis, compassion — is often found in online communities where one’s post may remain in static form, unanswered for years, as a testimony of anxiety and suffering to be picked over and misinterpreted long after the writing of it. The book is ordered into case studies, a different speaker for each imagined or partially-experienced medical condition. Many focus on the networks of the female body, and how the aftermath of trauma can linger via unexpected and unidentifiable physical symptoms Each speaker has their own story but owing to the digitized environment in which they share that story, I imagined a process of cueing and echoing where words, themes, obsessions and events collide and morph into one another. I had an idea of the text being malleable, like a noticeboard, or another interface. The back-and-forth dialogue in #6 is elaborated upon and then dismantled in #34. Understanding can't be reached, the solace and chemistry is gone, the screen fades to blank, there is death in repetition. Many of the poems have a shadow-meaning, offered at the end of the book in a piece made of end-notes, and (to quote Stephanie Strickland in the title) “overlying keywords”. For example, a poem that, in the body text, references Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, secretly gives you advice about curbing your addiction to web browsing. I guess the book can be read as a network of many conduits and transfers, a set of trails to follow.
Memory seems to take on a sharp definition in your work, transforming into the tangible. In “Case Study # 31: Telesthesia” you ask: “Did I know / that people in Mesopotamia, 4th century BCE externalized memory, too?” in reference to cuneiform writing. In many ways writing itself is a form of mnemonic embodiment. What advice do you have for other poets in dialogue with somatic approaches to poetic becoming?
The line “You are tired, and you have moved something around your body for years” (the final line of Case Study #10) compiled itself in my head a long time ago, before the book really took shape. The question is, how does memory truly return and what power do we have to compartmentalize it? How can we trust our memory? In One Form To Find Another relays the mirror-and-echo effect of communication between people who are trying to reconstruct their own histories, recognizing that heartbreak, death, violence, abuse, and smaller though lingering disappointments have affected their ability to live in the present, and within their own body. The patient is left at the mercy of a body that has held onto a memory. I tried to write poems that registered this concern with retrieval and false intuition. It can be argued, though, that writing — and reading — is an uneasy form of mnemonic embodiment; in the endnotes I cite the following lines from the Myth of Theuth, God of Writing in Plato’s Phaedrus, spoken by Socrates: “O most ingenious Theuth, the parent or inventor of an art is not always the best judge of the utility or inutility of his own inventions to the users of them. And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ words because they will not use their memories, they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves. The specific you have discovered is an aid not to memory, but to reminiscence.” On that note, I’m not certain I’d be the best source of advice to other poets, but I did enjoy writing the long poem-essay at the center of the book (Case Study #19: Disequilibrium) that analyzes the failures of different types of memory, clinical, implicit, semantic, eidetic, etc., and suggests that the body is the best conduit for accessing the truth of a prior event: the feeling of a grainy wall, the spikiness of a plant, fabric slipping from shoulders. I ask the question: Do I really want a memory that unfolds itself from objects? The object in question is a photograph; all the sensory impressions are generated from that. It was a very meditative experience, sinking back into the body, asking it to recall further, deeper.
Your book is broken into five sections, in what ways is this structure informed by the content of your poetry?
Each section carries the weight of what has passed before, similar to reading a long conversation thread. The voices are fragments that speak and reappear in a different setting: “Words migrate from scene to scene. They carry their previous incarnations” (Case Study #34). Illnesses mutate into those more serious, those more able to be defined. The text can be read linearly, but there are also embedded “conversations.” Case studies #4, #28 and #31 engage with one another, as do #7, #17, #22 and #24. I hope the reader, when faced with the terrible pronouncements of section five, such as “Take me into your skin/Archives hide those who tell” will have seen them coming.
This book is rife with end notes. Where do you see artists and philosophers intersecting with your poetry? In what ways are you in dialogue with these references?
The "forms" in the book include architecture, dance, sculpture, animals, film, horoscopes....and a whole host of other things. I've tried to make the collection stylistically peripatetic whilst registering the realities of theory and social/psychological issues. While I wouldn’t order anyone to engage with the book in a specific way, the endnotes do function both as a coda, and, sometimes, a deepening of certain pieces. For example, I refer to Roni Horn’s urban installation Portrait of an Image - with Isabelle Huppert (2005), which meticulously catalogued the face of Isabelle Huppert, who reenacted the expressions of her previous roles/characters, solely on the basis of her memory. Horn’s concept appears sporadically throughout In One Form To Find Another, one scornful observation being that Erika from La Pianiste would be Freud’s wet dream, but mainly in reference to Huppert’s process: muscle memory and recall. Another poem incorporates the film Inconsolable Memories (2006) by Stan Douglas, an enquiry into the act of repetition. When displayed in a gallery, one film reel is longer than the other which produces a different combination of images over time. Unica Zurn and the trauma that seeps from every iteration of her life, art, and being was undeniably a huge influence on the book. Not just her own writing, but the manner in which her body was abused and exploited by Hans Bellmer in his creations — the “altered landscapes of flesh” that constituted his bondage drawings.
Is there anything that you’re currently working on? What are your future plans?
I’m reworking a manuscript I actually wrote before In One Form To Find Another. It used to be called Mistune. It centers on the industrial decline of a city, and how that process can be registered polyvocally. The poems track the loss of a regional accent and contain many linguistic variations; all reverberating in the sound of 1990s dance music and within the topology of a place that can never be regenerated, either for the individual or the community. I experimented with historical narrative, and consequently found myself researching soccer hooliganism and ornithology alongside linguistics and electronica. In case it doesn't work out or if it stalls again, I’ve forced myself to tentatively start a new project that I feel nervous about consolidating into a statement or description. Here’s a few of the books I’m consulting to help me out, though. Maybe they will say more: Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Burnett; On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, by Susan Stewart; Bluets by Maggie Nelson; Stuff Theory: Everyday Objects, Radical Materialism by Maurizia Boscagli. I’m interested in how the experience of mourning can find its place in objects; how we discard, how we hoard. I guess I’m still stuck on/in memory.
Jane Lewty is the author of Bravura Cool (1913 Press, 2013), winner of the 1913 First Book Prize in 2011, and In One Form To Find Another, selected for the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Open Book Competition in 2016. She has also co-edited two essay collections, Broadcasting Modernism (University of Florida Press, 2010) and Pornotopias: Image, Desire, Apocalypse (Litteraria Pragensia, 2009). She has taught at universities in the UK, The Netherlands, and the USA.
Check out our 2018-2019 Lighthouse Reading Series lineup! We're overjoyed to be hosting this stellar group of poets and essayists in Cleveland. In addition to the readings, we'll be presenting a new Writers at Work colloquium series for NEOMFA and Cleveland State University students. These events will take place prior to each reading. Please scroll down to our next post for more detail on Writers at Work.
This colloquium offers CSU and NEOMFA students the opportunity to hear from visiting writers about their experience in editing, publishing, arts administration, translation, criticism, and/or community programming and outreach, and thus to gain a deeper knowledge of the breadth of literary work taking place today. Please join us at the times and locations below.
September 21, 2018 at 4 pm
NEOMFA Writers at Work
Nicholas Gulig and Brian Blanchfield
RT 415 (CSU Poetry Center)
October 25, 2018 at 6 pm
NEOMFA Writers at Work
November 29, 2018 at 6 pm
NEOMFA Writers at Work
February 22, 2019 at 4 pm
NEOMFA Writers at Work
Jason Koo and Shaelyn Smith
RT 415 (CSU Poetry Center)
April 11, 2019 (time TBD)
NEOMFA Writers at Work
Location and time TBD
The CSU Poetry Center is excited to announce the results of our 2018 book competitions. The following three books were selected from nearly 1,100 manuscripts and will be published in Fall 2019. Thank you to everyone who sent us work—it was an honor to spend time with your writing.
Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Anne Lesley Selcer: Sun Cycle
Anne Lesley Selcer is an art writer and a poet in the expanded field. She is the author of the forthcoming Blank Sign Book, a book of essays on art. She also wrote from A Book of Poems on Beauty, winner of the Gazing Grain chapbook award. Her writing for galleries and museum catalogs includes Banlieusard, a book length text that interacts with two visual projects. Work is included in nine anthologies, and writing occasionally manifests as moving image or sound. Poems and essays have recently appeared in The Chicago Review, Jacket2, Art Practical, and New Media Art 2017: Back to Nature.
First Book Finalists: Teresa Carmody’s Motherpieces; Ashley Chambers’s The Exquisite Buoyancies: A Sonography; Shelley Feller’s Dream Boat; Binswanger Friedman’s The Four Color Problem; Kirsten Ihns’s Sundaey; Ricardo Alberto Maldonado’s The Life Assignment; Kathleen Miller’s Bitter Melons; Dusty Neu’s Poor Horses; Nicholas Regiacorte’s American Massif; Ariel Resnikoff’s Unnatural Bird Migrator; Robert Yerachmiel Sniderman’s MELEKHMELEKHMELEKHMELEKH: An Assimilation; Jessica Stark’s Savage Pageant; Jay Thompson’s Like Honey; Grey Vild’s Dear Gone; Devon Walker-Figueroa’s Be Thou; Emma Wood’s Preferred Internal Landscape
First Book Semi-Finalists: Bryan Beck’s Femme Cro-Magnon; Sarah Blackman’s In My Heart is the Heart of My Heart; Catherine Cafferty’s Krone; Christy Davids’s Woo Me; Kat Finch’s After Omens; Michael Flatt’s Parallaxis; Sam Gilpin’s Apoptosis; Nicole Hospital-Medina’s Sea Foam; Jake Levine’s Lonely Crowds; Angelo Mao’s Abattoir; Daniel Moysaenko’s Speak and the Sleepers; Christopher Murray’s Black Observatory; Jenifer Park’s Autobiography of a Horse; Zeeshan Pathan’s The Minister of Disturbances; Michael Peterson’s Repeater; Cat Richardson’s Lit Interior; Jon Ruseski’s Sporting Life; Bret Shepard’s Living as Magnets
Winner of the Open Book Poetry Competition
Judges: Samuel Amadon, Leora Fridman, & Jane Lewty
Oliver Baez Bendorf: Advantages of Being Evergreen
Oliver Baez Bendorf grew up in Iowa and received a BA from the University of Iowa and an MFA in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His first book The Spectral Wilderness won the Stan & Tom Wick Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His work has been translated into Russian and can also be found in American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Poetry Northwest, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere. A recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo, Lambda Literary, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, he is Assistant Professor of Poetry at Kalamazoo College in Michigan.
Open Book Finalists: Cynthia Arrieu-King’s Continuity; Rosebud Ben-oni’s The Last Great Adventure is You; Carrie Bennet’s Expedition Notes; Lillian Bertram’s Travesty Generator; Caroline Cabrera’s (Lack Begins as a Tiny Rumble); Eryn Green’s BEIT; Claire Hero’s The Raw & the Cooked; Ann Huang’s Saffron Splash; Amelia Klein’s Brilliant Dust; Megan Kaminski’s Everything is Leaf in my Empire of the Heart; Kimberly Lambright’s Doom Glove; Danielle Pafunda’s Along the Road Everyone Must Travel; Elizabeth Robinson’s Personal Spiritual Handbook; F. Daniel Rzicznek’s Ghost Apiary; Gale Thompson’s Expeditions to the Polar Seas; Felicia Zamora’s Body of Render
Open Book Semi-Finalists: Jennifer Andrea’s Keşke; Sarah Boyer’s Righteous, Chrillis, My Mimi, & the Owl; Nicole Callihan’s Chigger Ridge; Stevie Edwards’s Lush Country; Vanessa Jimenez Gabb’s Basic Needs; Melissa Ginsburg’s The Dreams of Weapons; K. Lorraine Graham’s Opera; Jason Gray’s Radiation King; MC Hyland’s A Book of Borrowed Light; Henry Israeli’s Our Age of Anxiety; Annie Kim’s Uses for Music; Peter Kline’s Mirrorforms; Michael Robins’s Ruination; Dan Rosenberg’s The Book of Esau; Broc Rossell’s Necessary Fictions; Laura Sims’s Walking Dead Love Songs & Other Love Songs; Jennifer Tseng’s Not So Dear J----
Winner of the Essay Collection Competition
Judge: Brian Blanchfield
Amy Long: Codependence: A Novel in Essays
Amy Long earned an M.F.A from Virginia Tech's Creative Writing Program in 2016. She holds a B.A. in English and Women's Studies and a Master's degree in Women's Studies from the University of Florida. She previously worked in communications for drug policy reform and free speech advocacy groups in Santa Cruz, CA; Washington, D.C.; and New York City and as a bookseller at Bookpeople in Austin, TX. Currently, she teaches English at Northwest Florida State College and serves as a contributing editor to the drug-history blog Points. Her work has appeared in Best American Experimental Writing 2015, Hayden's Ferry Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere.
Essay Collection Finalists: Jennifer Militello’s Knock Wood; Sarah Minor’s Beats of the Interior; Sejal Shah’s Things People Say; Jill Talbot’s Distance: Essays and Reckonings; Julie Marie Wade’s Telephone: Essays in Two Voices; Julie Marie Wade’s The Hourglass: Meditations on the Body; Marco Wilkinson’s Madder
Essay Collection Semi-Finalists: Julia Cohen’s Freak Lip; Adam Fagin’s Fagin the Jew; Wes Jamison: Echo Frequency; Elizabeth Kadetsky’s The Memory Eaters; Elizabeth McConaghy’s Migrations; JH Phrydas’s Imperial Physique; Matt Reeck’s Armistice Day; Suzanne Scanlon’s The Book of Displacement; Marcela Sulak’s Drawn That Way
The CSU Poetry Center will also publish the following two books in Fall 2019:
The Selected Poems of Russell Atkins, edited by Kevin Prufer
Cleveland-based poet, music theorist, composer and dramatist Russell Atkins is the author of several small press chapbooks, including A Podium Presentation (1960), Phenomena (1961), Objects (1963), Objects 2 (1964), Heretofore (1968), The Nail, to Be Set to Music (1970), Maleficium (1971), and Whichever (1978). Prior to his Selected Poems, Atkins’s only full-length poetry collection was Here in The (1976), also published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. In 1950, with Adelaide Simon, Atkins co-founded Free Lance, a long-running literary journal of the Black avant-garde. He is most recently the subject of a volume in the Unsung Masters Series called Russell Atkins: On the Life and Work of an American Master.
Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s Scorpionic Sun, translated by Conor Bracken
Mohammed Khair-Eddine was an Amazigh Moroccan poet and writer born in 1941 near Tafraout, in the anti-Atlas Mountains. In the 1960s, he established the Poésie Toute movement and, with Abdellatif Laabi and Mostafa Nissabori, co-founded the avant-garde journal Souffles. He lived in exile in France for fourteen years due to his provocative and vocal criticism of King Hassan II, before returning to Morocco, where he lived out the rest of his life until 1995 in Rabat. He advocated for a “guerrilla poetics,” an improvisatory, erudite, and visceral blend of registers which is often as ornate and lush as it is unstable and aggressive. He authored many novels and collections of poetry, among them Agadir, Soleil Arachnide, Ce Maroc!, and Legende et vie d'Agoun'chich. Called by some the Moroccan Rimbaud, Khair-Eddine is a critical and incendiary figure in postcolonial life, politics, and art in the Maghreb.
Conor Bracken is a poet and translator whose work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, At Length, Colorado Review, Diode, Indiana Review, The New Yorker, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour (Bull City Press, 2017), was selected by Diane Seuss as winner of the 2017 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. A former poetry editor at Gulf Coast, he received his MFA in poetry from the University of Houston and will be an assistant professor of English at the University of Findlay starting in Fall 2018.
This week we’re happily putting 1,000+ copies of our new books in the mail to those who submitted to this year’s book contests. Thanks for trusting us with your work and we hope you enjoy these new collections. Tag us in a photo on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for a chance to enter our raffle. Happy reading!
Our spring catalog is now available for purchase! Click the photo below to order new books of poetry by Anna Maria Hong and Nicholas Gulig as well as Shaelyn Smith's debut collection of essays. All titles are also available at Small Press Distribution.
The Cleveland State University Poetry Center & Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards are pleased to announce our first Fellow in Publishing & Writing. We're thrilled to welcome Leila to Cleveland and look forward to collaborating with her on future editorial, publishing, and outreach projects.
Leila Chatti is a Tunisian-American poet and author of the chapbooks Ebb (Akashic Books, New-Generation African Poets Series) and Tunsiya/Amrikiya, the 2017 Editors’ Selection from Bull City Press. She is the recipient of a grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, prizes from the Ploughshares’ Emerging Writer’s Contest, Narrative’s 30 Below Contest, and the Academy of American Poets, and fellowships and scholarships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Tin House Writers’ Workshop, the Key West Literary Seminar, Dickinson House, and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, where she is the 2017-2018 Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, The Georgia Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, New England Review, Kenyon Review Online, Narrative, The Rumpus, and elsewhere.
The Cleveland State University Poetry Center is accepting applications for the Anisfield-Wolf Fellowship in Writing & Publishing, a two-year post-graduate fellowship that offers an emerging writer time to work toward a first or second book and an opportunity to gain experience in editing, publishing, literary programming, and outreach in collaboration with the staff of the CSU Poetry Center.
The CSU Poetry Center is a 55+-year-old independent nonprofit press that publishes 3–5 books of contemporary poetry, prose, and translation each year. The Poetry Center also hosts the Lighthouse Reading Series and serves as a teaching lab for undergraduate and graduate students at Cleveland State University and within the Northeast Ohio MFA program. The Fellow will be a two-year employee of the CSU English department. The salary is $40,000 per year with health insurance and benefits.
The fellowship will encompass two academic-year (9-month) residencies of 30 hours per week, divided between writing, work at the CSU Poetry Center, and an outreach project of the Fellow’s own design. Poetry Center work will include reviewing submissions, attending editorial meetings, and assisting with Center contests. Possible outreach projects include (but are not limited to): developing an anthology incorporating authors from an underrepresented community; organizing community writing workshops; developing a reading series to engage previously underserved communities; or working with a local organization involved in education, social justice, and the literary arts. The project should be designed and completed in the two years in which the Fellow is in residence. It is expected that this work will further engage an already enthusiastic writing community at Cleveland State University and throughout Cleveland. Additional professional development opportunities for the Fellow will include participation in Cleveland Book Week and public readings of their work for the Cleveland literary community.
This fellowship is named for and supported by the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, which honor literature that promotes equity and social justice and are administered through the Cleveland Foundation. Through the creation of this fellowship, Anisfield-Wolf and the CSU Poetry Center hope to support writers from backgrounds and with perspectives historically underrepresented in publishing and creative writing programming. By providing editorial experience and opportunities at a literary press, the fellowship also aims to help address the longstanding lack of diversity in the U.S. publishing workforce.
CSU POETRY CENTER STAFF
Caryl Pagel, Director
Hilary Plum, Associate Director
ANISFIELD-WOLF FELLOWSHIP ADVISORY BOARD
Cleveland poet and philanthropist Edith Anisfield Wolf established the book awards in 1935 in honor of her father, John Anisfield, and husband, Eugene Wolf, to reflect her family’s passion for social justice and the rich diversity of human cultures. Founded with a focus on combating racism in America, the Anisfield-Wolf Awards today maintain that commitment to equity and justice in an expanded, global context. Recent winners, for example, have also addressed religious identity, immigrant experiences, LGBTQ+ history, and the lives of people with disabilities.
1. MFA in creative writing
2. Evidence of significant creative publication
3. Demonstrated progress toward a first or second book in any genre of creative writing
4. Strong interpersonal and communication skills
5. Outreach project proposal detailing the project’s mission, required resources, and preliminary plan/schedule
6. Potential to complete outreach project during the fellowship period
7. Ability to contribute to the diversity, cultural sensitivity, and excellence of CSU and its surrounding community
1. Strong record of significant creative publication
2. Experience in arts engagement/outreach to underserved communities
3. Evidence of successful completion of community arts engagement/outreach projects
REQUIRED APPLICATION MATERIALS
1. Cover letter describing your qualifications for the fellowship, including a description of your commitment to a fellowship that supports increasing diversity in the publishing workforce
2. Preliminary project proposal (1–2 pgs)
Mission: Describe the project and what you hope it will achieve
Resources: What resources your project will require
Calendar: Proposed schedule over two years
3. Writing Sample (15–20 pgs max.), any genre of creative writing
5. Names and contact information for three references
Submit application to CSU’s online applicant portal by February 1, 2018.
Finalists will be interviewed either by Skype or at the 2018 Association of Writers and Publishers Conference in Tampa (March 7–10, 2018).
We’ve had a wonderful year at the Cleveland State University Poetry Center, and as the days get shorter and the air gets chillier, we’d like to bring you some of our most exciting news and updates. If you’re inspired by what you see below and would like to donate to our cause of publishing 3-5 collections of contemporary poetry, prose, and translation a year in addition to running The Lighthouse Reading Series and providing pedagogical and outreach opportunities for CSU students please know that your support is what allows us to continue publishing and programming throughout the year.
James Allen Hall’s collection of essays, I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well, appeared on SPD’s bestsellers list; QNotes’ “Ideas for the LGBTQ book lovers on your holiday gift list;” and Anomalous Press’ “Books to Watch Out For.” Hall was interviewed by Alex DiFrancesco at the CSU Poetry Center blog and appeared on Woodstock Book Talk in October. Colorado Review says Hall handles fraught topics “deftly, with a sly sense of humor;” Newpages writes that “a collection of essays has never been so utterly tragic and full of truth;” and Queen Mob’s Tea House says I Liked You Better “takes the cool, intellectual quality of conceptual writing and poetics and turns it in on the self, allowing for experimentation while maintaining intimacy.” More can be found at American Microreviews, Reviews by Amos Lassen, Hunger Mountain, and The Rumpus.
In Entropy, Carrie Lorig writes of Jane Lewty’s second book, In One Form to Find Another, that “Lewty feels through the body’s ferocious, complex response to trauma while refusing to create a linearity and narrative arc which names or details the transgressive / traumatic event.” Lewty’s collection was named “Book of the Week” at the Volta and excerpts can be found at La Vague and Verse Daily.
Sheila McMullin’s first book of poetry, daughterrarium has been beautifully reviewed at Forward Reviews, Southern Indiana Review, Heavy Feather Review, Galatea Resurrects, and So To Speak, where Kristen Brida writes that, “McMullin focuses and reveals the many ways the feminine body is exploited, is overpowered in the patriarchal schema of the world.”
You can also find new books, poems, reviews, or interviews by Leora Fridman, Allison Titus, Lo Kwa Mei-en, Phil Metres, Dora Malech, Rebecca Gayle Howell, Zach Savich, Sandra Simonds, Elyse Fenton, Lee Upton, and Lily Hoang. Shane McCrae, author of Mule (CSU Poetry Center, 2010) ) was the winner of a Lannan Literary Award and a National Book Award finalist for his newest collection, In the Language of My Captor, published this year by Wesleyan.
CSU POETRY CENTER GRADUATE ASSISTANTSHIPS
The CSU Poetry Center offers graduate assistantships in small press editing and publishing for CSU-based students in the NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing). If you or anyone you know is researching MFA programs in creative writing you might consider Cleveland State where we’re lucky to host the Lighthouse Reading Series, Playwrights Festival, and Whiskey Island Magazine, among other exciting writing programing. The NEOMFA is the nation's only consortial MFA program in the nation and boasts four schools’ worth of creative writing faculty and a great visiting writers series (this year includes CAConrad, Kelly Link, Emily Mitchell, Rob Handel, and Adam Gopnick). Application deadline: January 15th.
The CSU Poetry Center invites queries regarding book-length volumes of poetry in translation for a new occasional series. Please send 1) A cover letter describing the project and confirming any necessary permissions; and 2) a sample translation of at least 20 pages. Full manuscripts are welcome. Email materials to associate director Hilary Plum at h.plum [at] csuohio [dot] edu. Submissions will be open until December 31, 2017.
LIGHTHOUSE READING SERIES
This year’s Lighthouse Reading Series has hosted Abraham Smith, Hayan Charara, Sheila McMullin, and Eric Fair, all of whom absolutely blew our audiences (and us!) away. Spring readers include Yona Harvey and James Allen Hall (2/9/18), and Dave Lucas and Renee Gladman (3/30/18). If you live in Northeast Ohio, we hope to see you in the spring!
Alex DiFrancesco: You’re an accomplished writer of both poetry and lyric essays. How do you feel the two overlap, and how do they differ? How does your process vary?
James Allen Hall: The essay is roomier and can accommodate a more disparate range of tones, so that the tragic and the comic inform and inflect one another. Essays come more piecemeal—it's like writing a suite of poems, or a crown of sonnets: each one approaching the subject from a different angle.
I think metaphor is where the poet and the essayist overlap. Trying to say the unsayable, to make shock familiar or familiar shocking. I like making other poetic elements—the compression of white space, the reverberating silence of the line break, burnished sonic texture, the structure of feeling—work for narrative's sake as well.
Poems use two compositional processes simultaneously: the line and the sentence. Nothing else can do that, talk with two mouths. It's why poetry endures.
AD: You’ve spoken in previous interviews about how you love the distance and closeness that metaphor allows a writer. Are there topics that are easier to write about in metaphor that we might not broach in conversation or less symbolic and lyrical writing? Do you write poems and essays you’d never be able to have a conversation about?
JAH: Metaphor can make it easier to touch a subject that is fraught or painful for the writer. It's a welder's mask or mitt. Sometimes I think it's a way of tricking the writer to get out of her or his or their own way and discover how we truly feel about complex subjects.
I often will talk about tough things with friends first, then try to form them into a poem or an essay. Sometimes I write both about a subject (for instance, being raped), and of course because form is a way of thinking, all of these are different. The conversation asks: can I be understood? Is there something I haven't seen yet? The poem has a different question: What is silence's role in what happened to me? The essay's question: How does this keep happening; how is this a social building block?
AD: A lot of your work is very personal. As a writer of such essays, where are the lines of what you feel is fair game for writing about and what you feel is not? How does the James Allen Hall on the written page differ from the James Allen Hall in the world?
JAH: The ethical aim is to treat people fairly—and to subject someone to no more investigation or excoriation than you would yourself. That said, some stories don't belong to you. In an essay called "In Lieu of Drugs," I discuss my brother's addiction and recovery, and the story of his "rock bottom" is one I feel I can't say. It's not mine to say. But, that story had its impact on me as well, and I needed to include it in the essay. I ended up using line and stanza break marks and large chunks of white space to mimic the gaps, the silences, the unknowingness and instability and brokenness of how I experienced that time. In other words, I won't tell his version of that story (what might be seen as his story), but I can tell the version of it as it unfolded to me. There's a way to write about other people.
I feel like my best self—the most honest about my flaws, the most emotionally intense part of me (the part of me I like best and am most embarrassed by since I don't know where it fits into the world) is on the page. The James Allen Hall in the world calls himself "Jamie," his given name that only intimates know. I try to as vulnerable in my life as I am on the page: maybe vulnerable isn't the right word. Maybe open. I think my blessing as a writer, and my curse as a person, is that I let in too much world.
AD: You’ve spoken previously about writing from the margins, but in a way that more people than those of your experience can access. What craft suggestions and tools do you have for writers looking to accomplish similar things?
JAH: I am in love with image so powerfully because of its ability to activate the limbic system in our brains, so that readers participate in the brick-and-mortar building of the worlds we describe. Metaphor, too, does this: makes the art participatory, genial, a gathering of minds for like-minded purpose. I think of Melanie Rae Thon's story, "Xmas, Jamaica Plain," in which Thon uses metaphor and image to introduce us to a character we may not like, or whose values we may not espouse. Image and metaphor create an immediate connection. I also think about point of view and tone—an "I" can create immediate connection as well, but not if its not perceived of as genuine, honest, and capable of beautiful and tense and surprising truths, all while incorporating some self-critical distance. Tone must be at odds with subject matter as well: since it is the way we perceive feeling, it needs to establish a voice's reasonableness or ethical stance before moving to the very emotional (there are of course exceptions). Craft remains paramount—no subject writes itself compellingly without craft.
AD: What are you working on now?
JAH: I am loving the way I can think in the essay right now. It feels adequate formally to respond to our moment. I'm writing a collection of essays, the core of which concern a particularly rough spate of time in which my grandmother died, my boyfriend broke up with me, my brother became an addict, my best friend was ousted from her job in our academic department, and I was suffering from suicidal ideation. You know. Happy stuff.
James Allen Hall is an associate professor of English at Washington College, where he also serves as Director of the Rose O'Neill Literary House. In April 2017, he published I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well, a book of lyric personal essays which won Cleveland State University Poetry Center's Essay Collection Competition, judged by Chris Kraus. Also a poet, Hall is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation of the Arts, the University of Arizona Poetry Center, and others. His first book of poems, Now You're the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008), won awards from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
The CSU Poetry Center invites queries regarding book-length volumes of poetry in translation for a new occasional series. Please send 1) A cover letter describing the project and confirming any necessary permissions; and 2) a sample translation of at least 20 pages. Full manuscripts are welcome. Please email materials to associate director Hilary Plum at h.plum [at] csuohio [dot] edu. Submissions will be open until December 31, 2017.