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.

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.

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!!

Fall 2016 Catalog News

Thank you, dear readers, for your generous and thoughtful responses to our spring 2016 titles including reviews of Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary—our very first collection of nonfiction—at Publishers Weekly, Small Press Book Review, 3AM Magazine, Angel City Review, Full Stop, AsianAmLitFans, Winter Tangerine, the Ploughshares blog, Heavy Feather Review, Barrelhouse, and ZYZZYVA. A Bestiary has appeared at the top of SPD’s nonfiction bestsellers list for the past six months and interviews with Lily Hoang can be found at Late Night Library, Brazos Bookstore, The Conversant, and Essay Press.
Leora Fridman’s debut collection of poetry, My Fault, has been featured or reviewed at Publishers Weekly, Mass Poetry, Poetry Society of America, Small Press Book Review, Litseen, and Tell Tell Poetry.
Praise for Martin Rock’s Residuum appears at Fanzine, Transart Triennale, and Essay Press. Upcoming readings and events can be found here.
New poems, interviews, or reviews of Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion can be found at Publishers Weekly, Poets & Writers, Heavy Feather Review, Public Pool, and at our own blog with NEOMFA student Emily Troia.


We’re hard at work on our 2017 catalog which will include:
Sheila McMullin’s daughterrarium
Winner of the 2016 First Book Poetry Competition
Selected by Danile Borzutzky
Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another
Winner of the 2016 Open Book Poetry Competition
Selected by Emily Kendal Frey, Siwar Masannat, & Jon Woodward
James Allen Hall’s I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well
Winner of the 2016 Essay Collection Competition
Selected by Chris Kraus


If you live in Cleveland, we hope to see you at this year’s Lighthouse Reading Series and in our new space on the 4th floor of the Michael Schwartz Library (Rhodes Tower) in downtown Cleveland.

Thanks to our NEOMFA students and Poetry Center staff for keeping this magnificent literary machine in motion.

Follow us on Facebook or Twitter for news throughout the year.

Book Interview: Lo Kwa Mei-en & Emily Troia

Emily Troia: In The Bees Make Money in the Lion, you play with several poetic forms—especially the abecedarian. What made you choose the abecedarian as a principle form?

Lo Kwa Mei-en: “The Alien Crown” was the most crucial series of poems for me, and the most demanding. The series’ constraints borrow from the abecedarian, the sonnet, and the sonnet crown, and for half a year I floundered in frustration that I could not “master” the form I was obsessed with. A direct result of the flailing was my understanding that the systemic constraints I had been so attracted to in the full range of these poems were guiding me within the larger themes of the work. Once I had reframed my relationship to the form, the work took on its own liveliness and seemed to make unusual, provocative, meaningful demands of me. The abecedarian form I used demands both rule-based, pre-ordained conclusions and ethical dedication to sensual, whole-hearted inquiry. For me, this paradox clarified something unspeakable about a lifetime’s worth of struggling at the crossroads of repression, violence, and creative energy. I think the double-sided abecedarian form is a way into experience. It is a cave that will change your voice. It is in and of itself the way I feel about many things. It made itself central to the book.

The primary texts of inspiration that led to my curiosity about abecedarianism were Inger Christensen's book Alphabet, Jasmine Dreame Wagner's book Rewildingand Rebecca Hazelton's poem "Both Sides".

ET: Even though you strictly adhere to the forms you employ in The Bees, the writing never feels cramped or limited by them. Do you have any recommendations for other poets on how to use the constraints of form without becoming mired in them?

LKM: If there is a way to use the constraints of form without becoming mired in them, I would love to learn about it! I suppose one way is to only work with constraints that demand little to no real effort of you as an artist. But if you are working with formal constraint in an effort to grow artistically/personally, then I think becoming enmired, and spending considerable time in that place, is a valuable and unavoidable experience.

Maybe one practical suggestion is to consider the myriad possibilities that your formal constraint contains, to spend more time exploring its dynamic potential than you do trying to “get it right.” I don’t know that this is a great writing tip, but it’s key to the pleasure I found in developing my relationship to form.

Also, do not ignore your relationship to the formal constraints at work in literature that reach beyond the rules of, for instance, what makes a sonnet. I’m talking about how white supremacy, for example, shapes the canon and therefore our poetic education and therefore the distribution of resources and power in the publishing industry and therefore the authors that are most visible and likely to be read and therefore the state in which we ourselves approach the blank page. One of the most meaningful questions we can ask ourselves as poets is how we relate to the constraints of social inequity. Creativity within constraint is in large part about drawing new connections we had not seen before, and resisting the impulse to capitalize on the easiest proferred solution when we feel that we are enmired. I think that this is also an example of valuable and unavoidable work for artists.

ET: The Bees is in five parts but has elements braided throughout the entire book. Can you share a little bit about your process in structuring the manuscript?

LKM: The Bees Make Money in the Lion used to be in three parts. One section for all the poems that I titled “The Romances,” one for the Babel series, and one for the abecedarians, which I thought of as the science fiction section. I did this in part to bridge the different formal lens, and in part to close with the abecedarians, but at the end of the day, this structure bothered me. Its framing felt like a showcasing of formal technique and I was afraid that the story elements that resonate between the different voicings and tones would get lost. In addition, the “Okay, you’ve seen all there is to see of that; now come look at this” rhythm felt suggestive of a tourism narrative. In my first structural revision, I split both the first and third section into unresolved halves, so that there is the necessity return to as well as leave behind the different worlds I portrayed. (If someone is reading the book from beginning to end, that is.)

The book’s structure also echoes the double-ended constraints that are so prevalent in the poems, and this felt very right to me, as did Caryl Pagel’s idea to edit the second and fourth sections down to six poems each. One of my secret-ish goals for this book was to embrace the nature of formula. The interconnected lives of (social) bees are incredibly formulaic, and yet bees are one of the wildest subjects in the world, in my opinion. I wanted to see if I could submit my will to the formulaic aspects of poetry and still make something that sang with a voice of its own.

ET: In Audre Lorde’s essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury,” she writes, “The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.” How would you describe the “light” in The Bees?

LKM: The light in The Bees Make Money in the Lion is almost audible in its insistence that it has the right to exist, and to exist without restraint, no matter the constraints of its environment. The light cannot avoid the violence that exists inside as well as outside its burning.

ET: What are you working on right now?

LKM: I’ve been working primarily on my health. The Bees Make Money in the Lion is without a doubt the last book I will have been able to write while compromising the work of taking care of myself—and if I’m honest about it, the book was only half-written in carelessness. (The first draft was completed while I was still drinking, and the revision process occurred after I had stopped.) This has been the first year that I have been able to commit to a widening range of “basic” health practices while also working multiple jobs.

In terms of writing, I have several books on deck, including the first book of an epic fantasy trilogy in poetry about the character Pinnochia and a science fiction novella about addiction, emigration, and love. But I haven't progressed in either of these works for a while. This year, I had to start over in the most foundational areas of my writing life. I am tragically results-oriented, so even the concept of experience being its own reward is in danger of being exploited by my ego: perhaps what I need to let go of is the idea of the reward at all.

As a result, I've been prioritizing forms of writing that I previouslysecretlyshamefullyconsidered not worth what little free time I have. Free-writing, journaling, collecting, annotating. I used to journal relentlessly and with deep trust in the process. Sometime around my beginning to apply to MFA programs, and definitely by the time I started graduate school, I just… quit. I've been trying to look honestly at why that happened and to open the door to that climate of writing. I can't believe how hard it has been to allow myself to write without restraint and without expectation of concrete “results.”

ET: Do you have any words of advice for young poets?

LKM: You know what’s awesome and terrifying about this question is a) the number of times a year I look up articles on the internet titled things like “Umpteen Pieces of Advice for Young Writers” for my own consumption and b) the fact that, despite the aforementioned, I do actually have some words, here. I’m interpreting “young” to mean somebody who is still figuring out their poetry practice.

In my life, reading comes before writing. I must put reading first, or there is no writing that is creative in nature. I don’t think this must be anybody else's experience, but I do recommend that you ask questions about your reading that equal the depth and hunger and courage of the questions you ask about your writing. Desire as much for yourself as a reader of poetry as you do for yourself as a writer of poetry.

. . . That said, if you’re like me and you have a tendency to use your love for reading books as a defensive fortress in which you can hole up and avoid going out into the uncertain territory of writing, and you secretly yearn to be more connected to your own creative acts, then pencil that shit into your calendar and make sure you’re making time to explore your own language, too. (And don’t let how others relate to their time dictate how you relate to yours. Sometimes people who are giving you advice, including myself, are ignorant of certain life realities that make time operate very differently for their readers. Figuring out your practice is an ongoing process that you are best qualified to outline for yourself, not anyone who is less “young” in any way.)

Remember that growth can be painful, so don’t deny yourself that experience.

Remember that growth can be pleasurable, so don’t deny yourself that experience.


Lo Kwa Mei-en is the author of Yearling (Alice James Books) and The Bees Make Money in the Lion (Cleveland State University Poetry Center) as well as two chapbooks: The Romances from The Lettered Streets Press and Two Tales from Bloom Books. She is a Kundiman fellow from Singapore and Ohio, where she now lives and works in Cincinnati.

2016 Book Contest Results

The CSU Poetry Center is thrilled to announce the results of our 2016 book competitions. The following three books were selected from nearly 1,000 manuscripts and will be published in spring 2017. Thank you to everyone who sent us work & congratulations to the winners and finalists below.

Winner of the First Book Poetry Competition
Judge: Daniel Borzutzky
Sheila McMullin’s daughterrariums

Sheila McMullin, poet and intersectional feminist, is Managing Editor at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and serves on the Count Committee for the VIDA Count Intersectional Survey. A community-based workshop leader, she facilitates creative writing workshops for all ages as well as college prep sessions for high schoolers. She volunteers at her local animal rescue and holds an M.F.A. from George Mason University. Find more about her writing, editing, and awards online at and follow her on Twitter @SheAPoem

First Book Honorable Mentions: Monique-Adelle Callahan’s Exit Through the Body’s Prayer; Clara Changxin Fang’s Night Crossing over the Pacific.

First Book Finalists: Kristin George Bagdanov’s Fossils in the Making; Melissa Barrett’s Moon on Roam; Bryan Beck’s Countryman; E.C. Belli’s A Sleep That Is Not Our Sleep; Jaime Brunton’s Reclaimed; Bill Carty’s Huge Cloudy; Mario Chard’s Land of Fire; Hilary Dobel’s Hot Cognition; Cassie Donish’s The Leaf Mask; Laura Eve Engel’s I Write to You From the Sea; Jameson Fitzpatrick’s Balcony Scene; Kelly Forsythe’s Perennial; Binswanger Friedman’s The Four Color Problem; Sam Gilpin’s Spawl; Monica Gomery’s here is the night and the night on the road; Christine Gosnay’s Lossless; Anna Maria Hong’s The Glass Age; R.E. Katz’s Dark Quencher; Keith Kopka’s Count Four; Emily Liebowitz’s National Park; Grace Shuyi Liew’s Careen; James Longley’s What Cheer Heptagon; Marco Maisto’s Traces of a Fifth Column; Sara Marshall’s To Be New for the Empire; Matt McBride’s Polis; Kelly Nelson’s Crossing Thief River; Lance Newman’s The Acid Craft of Numbers; Elsbeth Pancrazi’s Bodyswap; Ann Pelletier’s Letter That Never; Nina Puro’s Each Tree Could Hold a Gallows or a House; Chris Robinson’s Air Become Sinewed; Kenyatta Rogers’s Unf***withable; Zohra Saed’s The Secret Lives of Misspelled Cities; Max Schleicher’s Exhausted by the Rest; Kirsty Singer’s Tertullian’s Daughter; Molly Spencer’s Relic and the Plum; Adam Strauss’ Braided Sand Country; Kelly Sullivan’s Sleep Music; Billie Tadros’ Was Body; Carleen Tibbets’ dossier for the postverbal/; Lisa Wells’ Prisoner’s Cinema; Jared White’s The Trolls; Candice Wuehle’s FIDELITORIA: fixed or fluxed.

Winner of the Open Book Poetry Competition
Judges: Emily Kendal Frey, Siwar Masannat, & Jon Woodward
Jane Lewty’s In One Form to Find Another

Jane Lewty is the author of Bravura Cool (1913 Press, 2013), and the co-editor of two essay collections: Broadcasting Modernism (University of Florida Press, 2009) and Pornotopias: Image, Desire, Apcalypse (Litteraria Pragensia, 2010). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Harvard Review, Dusie, Lana Turner, Bone Bouquet and elsewhere. She has an M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently lives in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Open Book Honorable Mentions: Jackie Clark’s Everything Is Always Wonderful If It Is Almost Over; Gina Kelcher’s A Great Hair Day on the River.

Open Book Finalists: Carrie Bennett’s Ghost Plants and Other Animals; Carmen Gillespie’s The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitative; Arpine Konyalian Grenier’s Yeva Girk; Sarah Heady’s Comfort; Ann Huang’s Saffron Splash; Megan Levad’s You Are Where You Live; Beth Marzoni’s There Was During a Sudden; Tyler Mills’ Salt Mask; Nathaniel Perry’s Long Rules; Beth Roberts’ Evolvers; Heidi Staples’ A**AA*A*A; S.A. Stepanek’s Somebody, Maybe; Gale Thompson’s Expeditions to the Polar Seas; M. A. Vizsolyi’s The Common Index of Poetic Lines; Joshua Young’s Sleep Ambulance.

Open Book Semi-Finalists: John Bradley’s Infinite Past: The Life & Lice of Miguel Carablanca; Alejandro Escude’s What the Atheists Speak Of; Tyler Gobble’s Hallelujah Jars; Christopher Kondrich’s Valuing; Jason Koo’s More Than Mere Light; Teresa Miller’s California Building; Jenn Marie Nunes’ Air/Or; Stan Mir’s Three Patterns; Emily Rosko’s Weather Inventions; Alexis Pope’s That Which Comes After; Liza Porter’s Rape Register; Sarah Smith’s Negative Cape; Cedric Tillman’s in my feelins; David Weiss’ Per Diem; Kathleen Winter’ Tonic.

Winner of the Essay Collection Competition
Judge: Chris Kraus
James Allen Hall’s I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well

James Allen Hall is the author of the poetry collection, Now You're the Enemy (University of Arkansas Press, 2008) and has won awards from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers. His essays have appeared in Story Quarterly, Bellingham Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Redivider, and Bennington Review. A 2011 NEA Fellow in Poetry, he teaches creative writing and literature at Washington College on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Essay Collection Finalists: Kate Colby’s The Itch; Krista Eastman’s The Painted Forest; Elizabeth McConaghy’s Migrations; Kathryn Nuernberger’s Brief Interviews with the Romantic Past; Dustin Parsons’s Dispatches From the 51st State; Kisha Schlegel’s Fear Icons; Sejal Shah’s How To Make Your Mother Cry; Julie Marie Wade’s The State of Our Union: A Collage; Nicole Walker’s Microcosm.

Essay Collection Semi-Finalists: Diana Arterian’s Arrangement of Parts; Jehanne Dubrow’s Throughsmoke; Christine Hume’s The Saturation Project; Andy Fitch’s Garageland; Wes Jamison’s Carrion; Kat Moore’s In the Non-Light; Mariko Nagai’s Imaginary Death: A Family Memoir; Mwatabu Okantah’s The View from the Stono; Shaelyn Smith’s The Leftovers; Grace Talusan’s The Body Papers.

CSU Poetry Center Winter Round Up:

Happy winter solstice from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center! We’ve put together an end-of-year list of interviews, reviews, things-to-look-forward-to, and other Rust Belt hijinks.

2015 Catalog News:

We’re hearing stellar reports from critics and readers about the 2015 spring catalog. Broc Rossell’s Festival was reviewed at The Iowa Review, New Orleans Review, and dubbed “scrap-wire perfectivity” by C.D. Wright; Siwar Masannat was interviewed at the Woodland Pattern blog and her book 50 Water Dreams appeared on Ching-In Chen’s list of notable 2015 books at The Volta. Lee Upton’s Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles was reviewed at NewPages, American Microreviews, The Literary Review, and Publisher’s Weekly.
I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev, appeared on the SPD bestsellers list this fall (along with titles by Siwar Masannat and Lee Upton) and is on the longlist for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Phil Metres discusses translation at The Sound of Applause.
Kristina Marie Darling at Tupelo Quarterly says “Three recent [CSU Poetry Center] titles in particular place diverse and often very different artistic traditions in dialogue with one another, envisioning poetry as a rhetorical space where disparate cultures, mediums, and historical milieu can exist side by side. Lee Upton’s Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles, Broc Rossell’s Festival, and Arseny Tarkovksy’s I Burned at the Feast, newly translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev, each initiate provocative dialogues between literary and artistic communities in a way that is altogether refreshing.”

Forthcoming Books:

Leora Fridman, Lo Kwa Mei-en, and Martin Rock, winners of our 2015 poetry book competitions, answer questions about their forthcoming titles in this digital chapbook just published by the good folks at Essay Press. While you’re at it, check out the companion interview at The Conversant in which Lily Hoang, winner of our fist-ever essay collection competition, discusses her forthcoming book of nonfiction.  
Leora Fridman’s My Fault, Lo Kwa Mei-en’s The Bees Make Money in the Lion, Martin Rock’s Residuum, and Lily Hoang’s A Bestiary will be published in April 2016; drop us a note if you’re interested in review copies or more information.

Book Competitions:

Our 2016 book competitions will open for submission on January 1st, 2016. The judges this year will be First Book Poetry: Daniel Borzutzky; Open Book Poetry: Emily Kendal Frey, Siwar Masannat, & Jon Woodward; and Essay Collection: Chris Kraus. We can’t wait to start reading your work!
For more thinking on our Essay Collection Competition check out last year’s post at Essay Daily.

Other Updates: 

Congrats to Wendy Xu, whose second book, Phrasis, will be published by Fence Books in 2017. Check out new titles by Nin Andrews, Phil Metres, Sandra Simonds, and Shane McCrae. S.E. Smith’s I Live in a Hut and Chloe Honum’s The Tulip-Flame were recently reviewed in Galatea Resurrects. Chloe Honum won the 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Poetry. Rebecca Gayle Howell is interviewed at The Adroit Journal and Render/An Apocalypse is reviewed in the Denver Quarterly. Shane McCrae published 30 stunning paragraphs of memoir at Essay Press. Lizzie Harris’ Stop Wanting is reviewed in Pleiades.
The Lighthouse Reading Series, named the best new reading series by Cleveland Scene, will be back in action next semester with this lovely line up; we’ll be back at the CSU Galleries on Friday, February 12th with Morgan Parker and Emily Pettit.
And, last but not least, thanks to our NEOMFA students and CSU volunteers who help keep this magnificent literary machine in motion.

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