5 Questions with S.E. Smith (interviewed by Madeline Farr)

1. How has your writing style and/or perspective on writing changed since the publication of I Live in a Hut?

Oh, gosh. Lots of life things have happened, and the short answer is not sure/something is still cooking. I quit drinking, and my relationship to writing is still shifting to accommodate that huge and necessary change. I didn’t fall prey to the romantic notion of writing while slammed or anything like that—actually, I wouldn’t write while drinking & it was one of the last self-imposed drinking rules I clung to, although I was hungover maybe 95% of the time when I wasn't drunk, so I’m not entirely sure I deserve a parade for that. I was doing stuff that put me in constant physical danger, but even beyond that, I had pressurized my life in a way that would not remain tenable for much longer. I felt like such a shithead most of the time that I could only redeem myself by writing something good, so I tried really hard to do that. It was the way I earned the right to walk on the earth, or so it seemed to me.

So, getting well, I find, dissolves that immense pressure, but also makes it confusing to approach the page. It’s the same, but the gravity that holds me down against the words is different and less deadly. I think this is good, but tremendously frustrating. The things I’m writing feel so embarrassing sometimes. I’m relearning all of it, kind of. I’m learning how to summon the intensity in a way that isn’t so harsh and self-negating.

One thing I like, though, is how I can look at my poems and see them as these fantasies of power and competence. I had never realized before that this was my standard mode of thought in a poem. Years and years ago, I wrote a sad little poem about the terrible weight of being responsible for everything that happened in the world, sweeping the winds and grasses around all the lovers, making the streetlights come on at the right time. So much pressure! It’s an attitude I’ve encountered in recovery among many other alcoholics. Sometimes I think alcoholics and addicts are basically failed, pissed-off wizards. Like, goddamn I couldn’t use my anxious mind to keep it from snowing. Again, cruel world. Fuck it. Pass me that Old Crow so I can listen to my one Neil Young song on repeat.

Part of me is afraid—and this is a classic fear-of-wellness thing, I think—that the recovery paradigm won’t coexist with the way that I write poems. Which is silly, because I think the bewilderment and humor of failing to control anything in the world is absolutely a human situation and not one that belongs only to alcoholics. Nobody is at perfect peace. And I'm in no danger of becoming too good, too serene. Not anytime soon!

So: It’s weird, but I’m moving through it. I’ve been writing some really childish breakup poems. Like, “I hope you get a pearl stuck in your anus!” That’s been fun. Sometimes I stumble into the right slant of thought and remember, “Oh right, this is my favorite thing to do!” But it’s been hard, no lie. It’s been one of the hardest parts of recovery.

2. What are you working on right now?

I’m almost done with the second draft of a novel. I can’t believe this is true, but there it is! The first draft was such garbaggio, but there were 50 pages I liked, so I started over with those. This year, I’ve been working on it in marathon spurts. I write a poem every 10 days or so. When I put the novel aside for the few months, I also write and revise stories—I have one in the current issue of Tin House, and another forthcoming in The Masters Review, and another in this really exciting anthology of stories based on Roky Erickson songs, forthcoming from Makeout Creek.

I’ve been slowly sending out my second poetry manuscript, Negative Cape. It’s almost done, maybe? Most of the poems I wrote during my really bad drinking times, so they’re pretty dark and desperate, even though I had no idea I was writing about alcoholism at the time. I love this book so much, but it’s really different from I Live in a Hut. I think it’s not quite what people would expect. There’s no tiny jelly cakes, no funny animal poems. But I think it’s good this way. I don’t want writing to become an exercise in self-caricature.

I’m moving back to Pittsburgh in a few weeks, and I’ve been kind of daydreaming about starting a reading series there. Not the standard polite three-writers-and-a-cheese-plate kind of thing, but more a guerrilla affair. A few summers ago, I got to go on tour with my best friends as Line Assembly—we did readings and workshops and stuff, and filmed everything for a documentary—and one of my favorite things we did was this series of informal, almost anonymous readings around Boston. Anne Marie read a poem to the purses in the window at the Prada store. I read a poem of mine in the produce section of a grocery. It was kind of amazing. There wasn’t a lot of direct feedback because public life is so much about nonacknowledgement, staring into the middle distance while people all around you persist in being themselves. But it seemed to make the readings more intimate. You could see the strain in the people’s faces—it takes effort, pretending to not notice this poem being read in the park or the skyway or whatever. But that strain is also a kind of concentration. It seems to open up a channel, but gently. In 60 seconds, the moment is over & you can go back to buying your lemons, your Prada purses, go back to looking at the pond in the park or finish your soup-salad combo. I don’t know how, but I’d like to do something related to that.

3. What poet (contemporary or of the past) should we all be reading?

Jennifer Tamayo. Lillian-Yvonne Bertram. Bhanu Kapil. Ronaldo Wilson. Terrance Hayes, always & forever. Zachary Harris. Jared Joseph. Sade Murphy. Morgan Parker. Adam Atkinson. Anthony Cinquepalmi. Katya Zamolodchikova. Carrie Lorig. Anne Marie Rooney. Doug Kearney. Elyse Mele. Chelsea Minnis. Ben Pelhan. Feng Sun Chen. Yona Harvey. Greg Koehler. Olena Kalytiak Davis. Kiki Petrosino. Sandra Simonds. Roger Reeves. Jerika Marchan. CAConrad. Meredith Blankinship. Ottessa Moshfegh and Sarah Gerard and Kiese Laymon and Joy Williams—all fiction writers, but poets should read them! Jessica Rae Bergamino. Lucas de Lima. Jenny Zhang. Sean Zhuraw. Camille Rankine. Paul Cunningham. Google Image Search. Whoever makes up the hand-written signs in the gas station that tell you the slushie machine is broken.

4. What is your advice for young writers?

Be nice, but have your own back & support others. A community of writers isn’t something you just get—you must participate. You must go to readings. You should read your friend’s stuff in that one magazine, even if you are afraid of being jealous. One of the best ways to secure a community is to help that community, in some way, to exist. Buy your friends’ chapbooks and books and read them. Comparison can be deadly to this engagement.

Don’t get caught thinking the only real poetry happens in grad school, or in your grad school, or in that one grad school. Don’t get caught in thinking that your aesthetic is universal, that other concerns, especially survival concerns and the capacity to raise a voice, are not to your tastes and therefore unimportant. Don’t decide it’s above your pay grade to think seriously about how white supremacy inflects/inflicts/indicts your poetics. Don’t get caught thinking that poetry communities, because they are largely made of self-identified outsiders, will be above racist/sexist/ableist/transphobic/classist/ageist/sizeist/homophobic bullshit. People aren’t above those things, and poets are still people. (I’m not speaking from the mountaintop here. This is stuff I find challenging & still am working on. This is my advice to myself as much as anything. I’m still young!)

Maybe all that sounds cynical, but it’s crucial to my one real piece of advice: Find a way to make poetry a sustainable practice. Find a way to keep writing in the middle of your life without creating conditions around it that make you self-destructive. Oh, I know it sounds so yoga-mom to say it, but you have to take care of yourself. Take care of yourself so you can write things that scare the shit out of people.

5. Where/when do you like to write, or do your best writing?

I have come to dislike the idea that there’s a special magic to where I do the writing. I think it’s easy to convince myself that I need a pot of plum tea from this one cafe and the encouragements/provocations of this one totemic book in order to make the magic doorway appear. I mean, the doorway is magic. But the magic (I hope) is that it can appear anywhere.

Not to dismiss the power of pleasant physical objects, of course. I like my coffee and million cups of tea and cigarettes and oranges. I like to stare at this parsley plant my mother gave me to give to my ex-boyfriend, which he decided he didn’t want since he didn’t think he could keep it alive. I can’t bring myself to eat it because I like parsley so much that eating it would kill it, so it’s gone to seed. I feel so much for it, and feel embarrassed by my feeling. I’ve put it in a lot of poems because I can see it from the futon where I do most of my writing. I have a poem where I berate it for doing such a terrible job of being a woman, because it seems just as ridiculous as the amount of shit I get/give myself every day for not woman-ing adequately. In a way, it’s my effort at self-forgiveness for not being Dreamgirl USA. If it seems absurd to tell my parsley plant it has a fat chin & a smelly pussy, I should probably lighten up on myself! The things around me always end up in poems. There’s some kind of metonymic relationship between the material world and the poem kingdom which I love & love thinking about.

But! I think being too superstitious about writing is a stealth way of talking myself out of writing at all. I’ve seen this happen to lots of folks I love. There is just no way to shore up the world enough to make writing possible, I think. Certainly no way to make it easy, or comfortable. But it has to happen anyway.

Weekly Reads: Dan Dorman

This week's recommended reading comes to us from poet and new CSU Poetry Center staffer Dan Dorman:

William Carlos Williams, Spring and All (New Directions; Facsimile Edition edition, 2011)

One of my favorite books, William Carlos Williams’ “Spring and All,” is off the shelf for the summer.

Williams’ mind and style always bring something new to me in reading this book. As I am sitting down with it again, it appears as a precursor to “Patterson,” this book being a proving ground for mixing prose and poetry. He is “whole—aware—civilized,” and in being so lays an imaginative framework across poetry. 



Susan Howe, That This (New Directions, 2010)

I’m finding that it can be expected that Susan Howe will amaze me with her depth and clarity in experimental writing.

In “That This” she gracefully blends essay, poem, image and implied language, as an expression of how one’s mind adapts during the process of grieving. She is brilliant from start to finish in this both deeply personal and imaginatively ripe book.


5 Questions with Nin Andrews (interviewed by Madeline Farr)

1. How has your writing changed?

I move between two main styles or ideas when I am writing: the magical/ surreal and the literal/ autobiographical. I started with The Book of Orgasms, or the magical style. And I progressed to the more autobiographical style with my book, Southern Comfort, in which the pronoun, I, plays a starring role. Now I am moving back towards the magical/surreal poems with my latest book, Why God Is a Woman, which is about an imaginary where the women rule, and the men are the second and the beautiful sex.

I also have a book of poems called Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum? in which I have taken the questions, comments, and notes that students have asked my husband, a professor of physics, and made them into short poems like this one:

Dear Professor,

I think it’s very unfair that you ask questions

about accelerating in a car.

I am not like those rich students

who drive to school in their nice cars.

I don’t even know how to drive,

and I don’t expect to be learning any time soon.

2. What are you writing right now?

I’ve been working on another book of orgasm poems. I decided one wasn’t enough. In this collection, all of the orgasms are written in the style of poets I admire so much, I wish I had written their poems.

3. What poet should we all be reading? And what is your advice to young poets?

Nicanor Parra, the Chilean poet, has a silly poem called “The Nobel Prize” in which he says he should get the Nobel prize for reading. He writes: 

I read everything I get my hands on:

I read street names

and neon signs

bathroom walls

and new price-lists

the police news,

projections for the Derby

and license plates . . .

and he goes on. But I think that is what young poets should do. Read. Everything. Ads, horoscopes, the news, cereal boxes, graffiti, you name it. Incorporate them in your poems.

But you also asked what poets one should read. And my answer is, find a book of poems, and fall in love with it. Or at least fall in love with one poem in a book. Read the poem again and again. Let it be like a lesson, a spell, a song, so it enters your blood stream. But which poem? Which book? I think everyone has to make his or her own choice. 

Because what I love today is different from what I loved yesterday. And I think it’s the love that matters as much as the object of love.

Today, for example, I am in love with The Star Wizard’s Legacy by Vasko Popa, the Serbian poet, who wrote wonderful sequences of poems about things like little boxes and pebbles and games. I love his imagery. His poem, “The White Pebble,” for example, ends: A white smooth virgin body/ It smiles with the eyebrow of the moon. And I am also in love with Mark Strand who begins his poem, “2032,” 

It is evening in the town of X

where Death, who used to love me, sits

in a limo with a blanket spread across his thigh

waiting for his driver to appear.

But if I had answered this question yesterday, I might have talked about Carlos Drummond de Andrade. But today I am not in the mood for Carlos.  

4. Where when do you like to write/do your best writing?

I usually write in the morning. And only the morning. If I write into the afternoon, I start to destroy everything I wrote in the morning.

Weekly Reads: Nathan Kemp

This week's recommended reading comes to us from poet extraordinaire and past CSU Poetry Center volunteer, Nathan Kemp:

Lidia Yuknavitch, Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne Books, 2012)

Lidia Yuknavitch retells Sigmund Freud’s famous case study—Dora: Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria—in a modern setting. Yuknavitch’s Dora lives in Seattle and like Ida Bauer—who Freud labeled Dora—rebels against the psycho-sexual narrative Freud tries to impose upon her. Thanks to Caroline Crew for the initial recommendation!



Caroline Cabrera, The Bicycle Year (H_NGM_N, 2015)

Caroline Cabrera’s second poetry collection begins, “You keep trying to get all your ducks in a row,” but it is defined by its resistance to do so. Cabrera rambles into a kind of thought process that preserves through its attention to our most instinctual behaviors. This is a great summer book because of its common truths:

The first time I smelled lilacs

I couldn’t believe them

like the time a teen girl

sat across from me

in a coffee shop

and asked what it feels like

to fall in love

5 Questions with Alison Luterman (interviewed by Madeline Farr)

1. How has your writing style and/or perspective on writing changed since the publication of The Largest Possible Life?

The Largest Possible Life was born out of crisis—getting divorced in my mid-thirties, having my whole world fall apart and my heart broken, and then miraculously finding my way to jobs where I got to work with other broken people. In my case, this took the form of jobs as an H.I.V. test counselor at S.F. General Hospital, and Glide Memorial Church and Urban Health Study. I feel like I was studying catastrophe and addiction and resilience and death and rebirth during that time, an intensive course, me and other people. The Largest Possible Life is a document of that, and I feel very tenderly toward it. The poems I’m working on now are probably more formally sophisticated, and I’m not in that kind of raw broken-open place currently. I'm more aware of my tendency to over-write. I’m more critical of my work now, and I’m more interested in developing technique and polish than I was before.

2. What are you working on right now?

I just finished writing a musical called The Chain, and I am working on poems for a fourth book of poetry. In my personal life I have been exploring the sacred feminine, and I’m wanting to center this next book around that theme, but we’ll see. Books have a way of taking on a life of their own!

3. What poet (contemporary or of the past) should we all be reading?

We should all be reading one poet who calls to us because they echo our own inner landscape, and one poet who is completely different from us, whose work challenges and stretches and baffles us. That said, I find myself drawn back again and again to Tess Gallagher’s poetry—she combines a native mysticism and a relationship with myth and landscape with long complex narrative poems that are emotionally and aesthetically pleasing, with magical little lyrics. I think she’s the complete package, and not enough attention has been paid to her work.

4. What is your advice for young writers?

Develop an exercise routine—yoga, running, swimming, dancing—and do something physical every day, for your mental health as well as your physical health. It’s not cute to be a drug addict. Quit smoking, it’s disgusting. Drink a lot of water. Floss. Try to figure out a way to handle the making a living problem—at least find a way to to get decent health insurance. It’s okay to have to work a day job. And patience—this is a long-haul deal.

5. Where/when do you like to write, or do your best writing?

I’m not picky about location—I’ve written good things on airplanes and in cafes or in my study—wherever. The main thing is having a little cushion of downtime so that the deeper feelings and images can emerge. I like to warm up by reading poetry for half an hour or so beforehand—that helps enormously. Morning or night doesn’t matter to me. Also: it’s okay not to be writing for a while. Sometimes it’s just time to be living and quietly gestating.

Weekly Reads: Siwar Masannat

This summer our Managing Editor Amber Allen has put together a series of weekly recommended reading lists. Contributors include CSU staff, students, authors, and friends. First up is Siwar Masannat, whose book 50 Water Dreams won the CSU Poetry Center's 2014 First Book Competition.

Siwar recommends:


Textu by Fady Joudah 
Copper Canyon Press, 2014

Sand Opera by Philip Metres
Alice James Books, 2015 

Western Practice by Stephen Motika
Alice James Books, 2012

& Chapbooks:

This is the One that Snowfalls You, That You Snowfall Out Of by Daniel D’Angelo
Outta Ink Press, 2015

The White Dog Year by Caitlin Scarano
dancing girl press & studio, 2015 

and nevermind the storm by Soham Patel
Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012

Spring 2015 Catalog Just Released!

Click on the books below or visit Small Press Distribution's website to purchase a copy of the following titles:

Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, by Lee Upton

Festival, by Broc Rossell

50 Water Dreams, by Siwar Masannat

I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev

CSU Poetry Center at AWP:

Hello dear readers, we hope to see you in Minneapolis next week!

Stop by our book table (#447) from Thursday through Saturday to buy books, chat with our staff, and check out this year’s brand new poetry catalog featuring titles by Siwar Masannat, Broc Rossell, and Lee Upton.

Also, please join us Friday evening for our collaborate reading and book release extravaganza with Rescue Press, called Welcome to the Future. The reading will take place from 8:00-9:30 at the Instinct Art Gallery and will feature new work from the following writers:

Bridgette Bates
Lauren Haldeman
Siwar Masannat
Blueberry Morningsnow
Marc Rahe
Broc Rossell
Andy Stallings
Christian TeBordo
Lee Upton

Eileen Myles: First Book Poetry Competition Judge

The Cleveland State University Poetry Center is thrilled that our forever-hero Eileen Myles will judge this year's First Book Poetry Competition. Eileen Myles is a New York-based poet who has published 18 collections of poetry, fiction, & nonfiction, most recently Snowflake/different streets (Wave Books, 2012) and Inferno (a poet’s novel) from OR books (2010). In 2014 she received a grant for her poetry from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. I Must Be Living Twice (new & selected poems) & a reissue of Chelsea Girls (fiction) will be out in fall, 2015 from Ecco/Harper Collins.

Here are a few of our favorite of Myles’ poems: 

 "Peanut Butter"

 "15 Minutes"

"Today" and "To My Flowers"

"Our Happiness"

And a slew of amazing interviews:

With Morgan Parker at The Literary Review

With Kaveh Akbar at divedapper

With Whiskey Blue at Full Stop

With Stacy Szymaszek at Rattapallax

And even more of the wonder:

Eileen Myles' Website

Fuck Yeah Eileen Myles Tumblr

For more information on the Cleveland State University Poetry Center's First Book Competition see our guidelines.

Last Year's Book Contest Results:

Cleveland State University Poetry Center
2014 First Book and Open Book Competition Results

We're happy to re-post the results of last year's CSU Poetry Center Book Competitions. All three books will be published this spring!

Winner of the 2014 First Book Competition (selected by Ilya Kaminsky): Siwar Masannat: 50 Water Dreams

Siwar Masannat is an Arab writer from Amman, Jordan. She holds an M.F.A. in poetry from George Mason University and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Siwar co-founded Gazing Grain Press, a chapbook publisher open to feminists of every gender and sexuality. Her poems and articles have appeared in Denver Quarterly, VOLT, Gargoyle, and 7iber.me, among others.


Winner of the 2014 Open Book Competition
(selected by Erin Belieu): Lee Upton: Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles

Lee Upton is the author of The Tao of Humiliation: Stories, the essay collection Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition Boredom Purity & Secrecy; the novella The Guide to the Flying Island; and a fifth collection of poetry, Undid in the Land of Undone. She is a professor of English and the writer-in-residence at Lafayette College.  

Editor’s Choice (selected by CSU PC Director, Caryl Pagel):
Broc Rossell: Festival

Broc Rossell is from California and lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he teaches creative writing, literature, and courses in culture and theory for the English and Humanities departments at Simon Fraser University. 



We would also like to recognize and congratulate the following finalists:

First Book Runners-Up:

Justin Boening: Where Are We Riding To, Master
Stella Corso: Eat Island
Carolina Ebeid: You Ask Me To Talk About The Interior
Caroline Knapp: Auricle
Diana Khoi Nguyen: Ghost Of
Stephen Priest: Why We Don’t Say What We Want
Martin Rock: Residuum
Jay Thompson: Full Gone
Colin Winnette: The Animals

First Book Finalists:

Jose Alvergue: precis
Jeff Baker: Whoop & Shush
Melissa Barrett: Cold Holy Voice
Thea Brown: Think of the Danger
Dana Curtis: Wave Particle Duality
Adam Davis: Index of Haunted Houses
Erik Ekstrand: Laodicea
Dennis Etzel Jr.: My Secret Wars of 1984
Kristin George Bagdanov: Being a Body
Evan Harrison: Bad Faith
Katie Hartsock: Wild Papyri
Christopher Kang: Autodiary
Eunsong Kim: Performance for Debt
Matthew Minicucci: Aristeia
Ayaz Pirani: Girl Without Limbs
Matt Reeck: Wunderkammer!
Nicholas Regiacorte: Machigonne
Anji Reyner: The Sunshine Grudge
Lisa Wells: The Resurrections

Open Book Finalists:

Aaron Apps: Queer Fat
Carrie Bennett: The Land is a Painted Thing
Denise Bergman: Three Hands None
Laurie Blauner: A Theory for What Just Happened
James Capozzi: Layman’s Atlas
Daniel Coudriet: The Lost Parade
Adam Crittenden: Field Spectrum
Shira Dentz: how do I net thee
Noah Falck: Exclusions
Carmen Gillespie: The Blue Black Wet of Wood
Andrew Grace: Of Dust
Brandi Homan: Strange Fish, Something Fierce
Matthew Lippman: The Book of Love
Matt Mauch: Bird Brain
Orlando Ricardo Menes: Heresies
Miguel Murphy: A Morbid Education
Mario Padilla: Postcards on the Invented Road
Jean-Paul Pecqueur: Real Cyclone
Robert Perchman: Crashing The Hopeful Monster Ball
Michael Robins: Match
Lynn Shaffer: Appearing Act
Kent Shaw: Gigantic
Purvi Shah: Miracle Marks
Gale Thompson: Expeditions to the Polar Seas
Jon Thompson: All Bright and Foreseen
Cheryl Clark Vermeulen: You Can Take It Out
Julie Marie Wade: Must Be Present to Win

New Year, New Website!!

Dear Readers, 

Welcome to our new website! Here’s a bit about us: the CSU Poetry Center was established in 1962 and has since proudly published nearly 200 rangy, joyful, profound, astonishing, complicated, surprising, and aesthetically diverse collections of contemporary poetry and prose. We publish 3-5 collections a year with national distribution and reach. CSU Poetry Center books have won a whole bunch of competitive prizes and awards and our authors are some of the most thrilling writers you’ll find. The Poetry Center mainly acquires manuscripts through our annual contests (one is dedicated to publishing first books, the other to supporting an established poet’s career), and this year we will add a third contest to the list—our Essay Collection Competition—which welcomes submissions of full-length essay collections as a way of promoting prose genres that, like poetry, embrace messy structures, troublesome subject matter, and surprising language.

In addition to publishing, the Poetry Center actively promotes poetry through an annual reading series, collaborative art events, participation in national poetry and publication conferences, and as an educational resource for the undergraduate, M.A., and M.F.A. students at Cleveland State University by involving students in the editorial and production aspects of literary publishing. 

Our new website features lots of great stuff, including these pages:

ABOUT: learn more about the history of the Poetry Center and our lovely staff of students.

BOOKS: a section which features the entire CSU Poetry Center catalog with author news and information, book details, and the option to purchase our titles directly through from the website.

COMPETITIONS: here you can find out more about our current book competitions, reading period, judges, eligibility, and submission guidelines. You can also send us your manuscript via the links to Submittable.

NEWS: a platform which will regularly feature interviews & reviews, local Cleveland art events, information on author reading tours, sales and promotions, and whatever it is that’s on our mind at the moment.

READING SERIES: join us this spring for four stellar readings by seven astounding poets, many of whom are past winners of our book prizes.

RESOURCES: go here for more information on shipping, permissions, and our favorite local arts organizations. 

Thanks you for your patience as we continue to tweak and update these pages over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Caryl Pagel
Director, Cleveland State University Poetry Center