Winter Newsletter


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.

Book Interview: Jane Lewty & Penelope Jeanne Brannen


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.

Lighthouse Reading Series 2018-2019

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.

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NEOMFA Writers at Work Colloquium 2018-2019

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
Lindsay Turner
MC 427

November 29, 2018 at 6 pm
NEOMFA Writers at Work
Philip Metres
MC 427

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
Caren Beilin
Location and time TBD

2018 Book Contest Results

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.

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Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Judge: CAConrad
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

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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----

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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 2015Hayden's Ferry ReviewNinth 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.

Announcing the Inaugural Anisfield-Wolf Fellow in Publishing & Writing

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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.

Anisfield-Wolf Fellowship in Writing & Publishing


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.

Caryl Pagel, Director
Hilary Plum, Associate Director

Hayan Charara
Kima Jones
Janice Lee
Adrian Matejka
Prageeta Sharma

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

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
4. CV
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).

End-of-Year Round Up


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.


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.


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!

Book Interview: James Allen Hall & Alex DiFrancesco


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.

Poetry in Translation: Open Call

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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.

Summer Celebrations


Join us in celebrating our 2017 catalog, recent contest winners, author news, and reviews. If you'd like to review, teach, or host a reading for one of our authors, contact us at for more information.

Lily Hoang's essay collection A Bestiary is a finalist for PEN Center USA's Literary Awards in Creative Nonfiction.

Martin Rock, author of Residuum, will be included in 2018's Best American Experimental Writing.

Lo Kwa Mei-en, author of Bees Make Money in the Lion, is a finalist for the Poetry Foundation's Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowships.

Leora Fridman, author of My Fault, has new prose at The Rumpus, Temporary Art Review, and Pacific Standard.

Congratulations to the winners of our annual book contests — Anna Maria Hong, Nicholas Gulig, & Shaelyn Smith — whose books are forthcoming Spring 2018.


Sheila McMullin's daughterrarium
Reviewed at Galatea Resurrects
Reviewed at Heavy Feathers Review.
Reviewed at Foreward Reviews.

Jane Lewty's In One Form to Find Another
Reviewed at Entropy.
Book of the Week at The Volta.
Excerpt at Verse Daily.

James Allen Hall's I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
Reviewed at Colorado Review.
Reviewed at NewPages.
Reviewed at Queen Mob's Teahouse.
Interview at The Rumpus.
SPD's Bestsellers List / Nonfiction.

2017 Book Contest Results

The CSU Poetry Center is excited to announce the results of our 2017 book competitions. The following three books were selected from nearly 1,200 manuscripts and will be published in spring 2018. Thank you to everyone who sent us work & congratulations to the writers below.

Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Judge: Suzanne Buffam
Anna Maria Hong: The Glass Age

Anna Maria Hong is the Visiting Creative Writer at Ursinus College, where she teaches poetry, fiction, and hybrid-genre writing. A former Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, she has published fiction and poetry in The Nation, Poetry, Ecotone, POOL, Southwest Review, Fence, Best New Poets, The Best American Poetry, and Verse Daily, among other journals and anthologies. Her poetry chapbook Hello, virtuoso! was published by the Belladonna* Collaborative and her novella, H & G, won the inaugural Clarissa Dalloway Prize from the A Room of Her Own Foundation and will be published by Sidebrow Books in early 2018.

First Book Honorable Mentions: Megin Jimenez’s Lone Stories; Melissa Barrett’s Moon on Roam.

First Book Finalists: Bryan Beck’s Countryman; Emily Brandt’s ManWorld; Ashley Chambers’s The Exquisite Buoyancies: A Sonography; Ansley Clark’s Bloodline; Samuel Corfman’s Luxury, Blue Lace; Scott Cunningham’s Ya Te Veo; Binswanger Friedman’s The Four Color Problem; Pamela Hart’s Mothers over Nangarha; Amelia Klein’s Brilliant Dust; Davy Knittle’s get on like houses; Christine Larusso’s Mar; Rebecca Liu’s Mutter Tongue; Anna Mebel’s The Princess of Animals Invents Loneliness; Soham Patel’s ever really hear it; Nicholas Regiacorte’s American Massif; Robert Yerachmiel Snyderman’s Deform; Bronwen Tate’s Probable Garden; Candice Wuehle’s FIDELITORIA: fixed or fluxed.

First Book Semi-Finalists: Robyn Anspach’s Samson Speaks of Darkness; Micah Bateman’s Civil Servants; Timothy DeMay’s Avenue; Jonathan Dubow’s The Booth; Katherine Factor’s A Sybil Society; Judith Huang’s You, Riverine; Kimberly Kruge’s In-Migration; Megan Leonard’s What Queen What Binary Star; Paige Lewis’s No More; Jessica Marsh’s The Long Modify; Kelly Nelson’s The Possibility of My Absence; Michael Peterson’s Repeater; Cherry Pickman’s Islanders; Lacy Schutz’s Meathead in America; Bret Shepard’s Living As Magnets; Dennis James Sweeney’s In the Antarctic Circle; Grey Vild’s Ain’t Never; Sara Wainscott’s Insecurity System.

Winner of the Open Book Poetry Competition
Judges: Rebecca Gayle Howell, Lo Kwa Mei-en, & Lee Upton
Nicholas Gulig’s Orient

Nicholas Gulig is a Thai-American poet from Wisconsin. The author of North of Order (YesYes Books) and Book of Lake (Cutbank), he currently lives in Fort Atkinson, WI and teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

Open Book Finalists: Samuel Ace’s Our Weather Our Sea; Sarah Boyer’s Righteous, Chrillis, My Mimi, & The Owl; Caroline Cabrera’s (Lack begins as a tiny rumble); Kristen Case’s Principles of Economics; Lorene Delany-Ullman’s Souvenir; Brandi George’s Faun; M.C. Hyland’s The End; Krystal Languell’s Quite Apart; Michelle Lin’s The Year of the Horse is Dead; Kristi Maxwell’s Bright and Hurtless; Alexis Pope’s That Which Comes After; Michael Robins’s With Love, Etc.; Kent Shaw’s Too Numerous; S.A. Stepanek’s somebody, maybe: a love poem; Terese Svoboda’s 40 Days/Nights; Gale Thompson’s Expeditions to the Polar Seas; Daneen Wardrop’s Catch My + Slips So Easy.

Open Book Semi-Finalists: Geoff Bouvier’s Potential Soldier; Lisa Fay Coutley’s Tether; Dot Devota’s By Abundant Delinquencies; Michael Tod Edgerton’s Yet Sensate Light; Stevie Edwards’s Lush; Laura Eve Engel’s I Write To You From the Sea; Henry Israeli’s Notes Toward a Revolution; Jason Koo’s More Than Mere Light; Dora Maelch’s Stet; Beth Marzoni’s There Was During a Sudden; Alexis Orgera’s Monster, Fall; Meghan Privitello’s One God at a Time; Alicia Rabins’s Fruit Geode; Mara Adamitz Scrupe’s & Bless The Survivors; Purvi Shah’s Miracle Marks; Jon Thompson’s Notebook of Last Things; Andrew Wessels’s The Sunshiny Field.

Winner of the Essay Collection Competition
Judge: Renee Gladman
Shaelyn Smith: The Leftovers

Shaelyn Smith grew up in northern Michigan, and received an M.F.A. in nonfiction from the University of Alabama. She now lives in Auburn, AL. Her work can be found in Essay Daily, storySouth, Sonora Review, The Rumpus, and Forklift, OH.

Essay Collection Finalists: Jennifer Militello’s Knock Wood; Addie Tsai’s and in its place--: An Ode to Frankenstein; Laurie Blauner’s I Was One of My Memories; Diana Arterian’s Arrangement of Parts; Kisha Schlegel’s Fear Icons; Joshua Bernstein’s In Josaphat’s Valley; Toni Mirosevich’s Spell Heaven; Beth Peterson’s Theory of World Ice; Sarah Minor’s At Home With River Animals; Sejal Shah’s Things People Say.

Essay Collection Semi-Finalists: Julie Marie Wade’s The Hourglass; Charles Green’s Ways of Being Afraid; Noah Eli Gordon’s Dysgraphia; Krista Eastman’s The Painted Forest; Frank Light’s Far and Away; Michael Levan’s Gravidarum; Matthew Schultz’s Other Places; Jill Darling’s The Collateral Media Project; Brenda Iijima’s End Empire, Apparition On; Rachel Peckham’s The Aviatrix.

Book Interview: Lily Hoang & Scott Krave

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.

AWP 2017: Washington DC

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
Douglas Kearney
Andrea Lawlor
Jane Lewty
Sheila McMullin
Hilary Plum
Adrienne Raphel
Zach Savich

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!!

Book Interview: Leora Fridman & Brandon North

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.