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Dante Distefano
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Dante Di Stefano: How did Green Writers Press come into being? James Crews: Green Writers Press, an independent, Vermont-based publishing company, founded on Earth Day in 2014, is dedicated to spreading environmental awareness and social justice by publishing authors who promulgate messages of hope and renewal through place-based writing and environmental activism. Former Little, Brown book designer, Dede Cummings, founded the press out of her home office in southern Vermont with the mission to spread a message of hope and renewal through the words and images we publish. Throughout we will adhere to our commitment to preserving and protecting the natural resources of the earth. To that end, a percentage of our proceeds will be donated to environmental activist groups and social justice organizations. Our list has expanded significantly, publishing such authors as Julia Alvarez, David Budbill, Chard deNiord, John Elder, Dr. M Jackson, former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin, Raquel Vasquez Gilliland, and Clarence Major. DD: Can you talk a bit about the “localvore” approach of the press, combining environmental activism with the work of publishing? Dede Cummings: One reason we started Green Writers Press was to print our books sustainably, and use eBooks and audiobooks to reduce our fossil fuel use. We are excited to be publishing our own authors, and we welcome your support to help us spread the word. In today’s world of social media and online transactions, here are GWP, we remember that your head and your heart need nourishment from the natural world. With that as our credo, we embark on a journey to bring the beauty of the published book as a tactile object, into the homes and hands of our readers, and we also embrace the technology of tablet and eBook publishing. Our vision is that, collectively, our printed and eBooks will become a chorus of voices of writers and readers, artists and photographers, who care about the fate of the earth and want to do something about it. Though we believe our books will be interesting to Vermont residents, Green Writers Press has national distribution and we hope to have a broad reach and impact. Our voices need to be heard, which is why we refer to our press as a global press. We are—we all are connected on this planet we love. It is our hope that we can create a community around our press and the books we publish. DD: Using the anthology Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poetry as a point of departure, could you talk a bit about the poetic significance of Vermont? How has this place influenced you as a poet and editor? What, if anything, links Vermont poets as widely disparate as Major Jackson and the late Ruth Stone, for example? From editor and former Vermont state poet laureate, Sydney Lea: While even as I make one, I myself feel somewhat impelled to challenge any generality regarding so wide-ranging a group of poets as those in our anthology. Indeed, the “Vermontiness” of this collection may reside particularly... Continue reading
Posted Nov 2, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks so much, David. Kate's responses are really great. ~DD
Vita Readings: Lit from the Basement, the new poetry podcast from poet, Danielle Cadena Deulen, and her husband, Max Stinson, offers entertainment and edification for general readers of poetry and for experts alike. The premise of the weekly podcast, as articulated by Deulen, is as follows: "We’re a married couple who discuss poetry in our basement while our children are sleeping as a way to reconnect with each other, think about broader world issues, and remember our lives before having children (when we had more than an hour a night to ourselves). Our format is pretty simple. I’m an author and professor. Max isn’t. I introduce Max to a poem, he asks questions about it, then we use it as a conversational prompt to discuss stories from our lives or issues we care about: love, literature, family, politics, parenting, spirituality, etc. The topics we cover are wide-ranging. Every so often, we have guests on the show who talk about a poem that is personally resonant for them." Over the course of the first fifteen episodes, which come out once a week on Mondays, Deulen and Stinson (and guests) have discussed poems from poets, including Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Tracy K. Smith, Robert Hayden, Denis Johnson, Lisa Fay Coutley, Shara Lessley, Samiya Bashir, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jennifer Chang, Lindsay Bernal, and Richard Siken. Deulen generally begins the podcast by explaining the reason why a given poem was chosen for discussion; she then offers a close reading, which Stinson nuances by interposing questions from the perspective of a nonpoet. As with most podcasts, the average episode, which runs about fifty minutes long, contains enough digressions to keep Tristram Shandy happy. These digressions often layer the close reading by introducing personal stories from the podcasters’ lives. The alternation between anecdote and scholarly analysis propels each episode forward with élan and buoyancy. Listening to Deulen and Stinson discuss poetry is a great joy; Deulen’s love for poetry is as contagious as it is deep. Stinson’s smart commentary deflates and demystifies even as it opens a space for Deulen to gather paradise about a given poem. The couple’s love for each other and for their children provides an unusual, but welcome, backdrop for their particular brand of poetry criticism. It is an honor to be welcomed into the home of two such fine people. Spend some time listening to Vita Readings. You will not regret it. Dante Di Stefano is the author of two poetry collections: Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016) and Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, forthcoming 2019). Along with María Isabel Alvarez, he is the co-editor of Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump's America (NYQ Books, 2018). All proceeds from this anthology go directly to the National Immigration Law Center. Continue reading
Posted Oct 15, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Dante Di Stefano: How did Augury Books come into being? Kate Angus: I started Augury Books in 2010 with Christine Kanownik, who I’d met in The New School’s MFA program. I’d been Meghan O’Rourke’s poetry reader at The Paris Review as well as a fiction reader at A Public Space so I felt like I understood at least the ins and outs of reading slush piles and such, if nothing else, and Christine was working at Litmus Press. Our friends Sharmi Cohen and Paul Legault had just started the translation journal Telephone (now also a book press affiliated with Nightboat Books), and my friend John David West had just begun his film website Moviefied NYC and I think, for me at least, watching them put their ideas into action made me realize: OK, yes, this is a thing our friends are doing and so can we. Around that time I’d been asked by a former poetry student of mine from Gotham Writers’ Workshop to curate a reading for The Rubin Museum’s “Talks About Nothing” series and so we decided to make that reading also a kind of publicity event to debut our press. After that, things moved quickly: Christine made a website on Wordpress, and we started soliciting poems from poets whose work we loved for an online literary journal, as well as opened up a reading period for manuscripts. After the first year and our first round of books, Christine stepped down from Augury and Kimberly Steele and Matt Cunha, two other New School MFA friends stepped in. After a while, Matt also had to leave to focus on his outside work, but Kimberly and I kept on plugging away, adding on a former Augury intern, Nicolas Amara, as our Assistant Editor. Then in the summer of 2017, Joe Pan of Brooklyn Arts Press who was a friend and whose fantastic book Hiccups we’d published a few years earlier, approached me about becoming BAP’s first imprint and we enthusiastically said Yes. It’s been a great gift to become a part of BAP and bounce ideas back and forth with Joe and feel so supported. DD: Could you talk a bit about your poetry catalog? What do Augury Books have in common? KA: I think all of our books, not only the poetry titles but also our short story collections and our nonfiction title, although very different books by distinct individual voices, all do share certain qualities: surprising and vivid imagery, associative leaps, kinetic energy unfolding within the language, intellectual rigor, emotional expansiveness, and maybe also frequent use of the second person. DD: In 2019, you’ll be publishing books by t’ai freedom ford and Arisa White. What can we expect from these books? KA: These books are both such knockouts! I’m really excited that we are midwifing them into the world. Arisa White’s book, Whose Your Daddy?, is a hybrid poetry and nonfiction memoir that delves deep into questions of how we are shaped by absence and inheritance, and how... Continue reading
Posted Oct 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, David. Of course, I first read that quote in your great book, The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets. ~DD
Dante Di Stefano: Kenneth Koch, adding to the famous adage by Wallace Stevens, said: “Not only is all poetry experimental, but all that is truly experimental is poetry.” When I think about the work Canarium Books has published I think of this Koch quote. Can you begin by discussing the Canarium catalog along the lines of the experimental (the surprising, the anti-quotidian, the unorthodox)? Joshua Edwards: I don’t trust anything poets say, but I like the way Koch’s adage sounds! U.S. poetry’s standard metric of experimentalism has a lot to do with syntactical disruption, fragmentation, and the deployment of philosophy and its problems, and I think many of our books fit the bill, but newness isn’t what we’re most interested in as editors. We certainly do our best to publish work that challenges modes of inquiry, explores how language can be used, wonders what’s worthy of attention and obsession, and reimagines forms, but mostly we’re looking for unique visions and interesting thinking. DD: How did Canarium Books come into being? JE: I guess you might say it was an experiment. A year or so after graduating from college I had the idea to start a journal, mostly as a way to educate myself about poetry, and through poetry, about the world. I had no idea what I was doing and no money, but I was fortunate to find funding and to cross paths with a few great young poets in Oregon, and with their help The Canary was born. That lasted six years, until we decided to transform the journal into a press ten years ago. At that time I was graduating from an MFA program at University of Michigan, and I pitched an idea to the program for a collaboration, whereby they’d help with printing costs and interested students could help out as readers and managing editors. Miraculously it all worked out. The first two books published were Union! by Ish Klein and Tod Marshall’s The Tangled Line, and we’ve recently published our 26th and 27th. DD: Suzanne Buffam’s A Pillow Book is such an amazing book. Not only does Buffam succeed in taking an ancient form and rendering it in a vividly contemporary way, she’s composed a hybrid text, which is exceedingly complex and, yet, easily accessible. She winds up writing a book that is a serious contemplation on motherhood in the digital age, and at the same time its one of the funniest books in recent memory. What do you find most notable about this book? JE: I find all the characteristics you mention to be notable, but for me it’s the consciousness at the center of A Pillow Book that makes it so powerful. Suzanne is incredibly funny, and I think she has a profound understanding of the relationship between humor and its dark or difficult sources. There’s a kind of electricity that runs through all of her books that holds everything together while also creating moments that jump off the page. But I’m skirting your... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
From the Inside Quietly Eloisa Amezcua Shelterbelt Press, 2018 Eloisa Amezcua’s debut collection begins with a self-portrait poem in which the speaker, as a child, sinks to the bottom of a pool “legs akimbo,” “screaming words she shouldn’t know.” The image of this particular kind of underwater singing is both familiar and strange, and it establishes the thematic concerns of Amezcua’s poetry. From the Inside Quietly explores the way language binds and separates us. Amezcua charts the transgressive and luminous potentials of the lyric as she describes teaching her mother English over the phone, arguing with her sister about keeping a handgun in the house, walking home alone, sitting at her father’s bedside in the hospital, and navigating the downside of a romantic relationship. The speaker of these poems seeks not only to translate the dire, raging, and riven interior music of her consciousness, but also to open herself up to the lacunae and stillnesses where that music might be tendered and touched: This is how I was taught to love: to silence yourself is to let others in. Amezcua manages to speak radiantly through her own silences. This blazing debut presages great things to come. Field Theories Samiya Bashir Nightboat Books, 2017 Field Theories, Samiya Bashir’s latest collection, uses the language of quantum mechanics to frame a complex investigation of “this skipscrapple world.” Bashir challenges social, linguistic, and aesthetic conventions as she examines the way myth, history, and language shape our perception of selfhood. In Field Theories, “the world stays unstable / anyway,” despite our best efforts to glide effortlessly onward; the page itself becomes a destabilizing field wherein the sonnet, the prose poem, and even the poetic line might be recalibrated. In one of the collection’s central observations, Bashir notes: You know how the universe blinks and we exist for a minute or two with our classic hits station and our marshmallows our wars and flags and television and shit. Coke bottles falling from the sky to an old man’s village and the white people just laugh and laugh and line up to pay and laugh and get paid and laugh. That’s what they made. What Samiya Bashir has made is a collection of poetry that disputes the facile assumptions of continuity that hoodwink us into believing in the immediate redemptive power of our national and personal narratives. Nevertheless, Bashir holds out this hope: “Still, somehow, we are / laughter. We are the doorway out. / We are (again) the doorway in.” Barbie Chang Victoria Chang Copper Canyon Press, 2017 “Desire is reaching out for the sweet maybe,” the speaker in the first section of Victoria Chang’s new collection remarks, attributing this observation to Aristotle. Barbie Chang, the heroine of the first and third sections of this book, yearns to be in the heart of possibilities forever denied to her; she remains on the periphery of the social circle of mothers at her daughter’s school, she tends to her aging parents in their failing health, she attempts to... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Dante Di Stefano: How did Jacar Press come into being? Richard Krawiec: I've been involved in writing and publishing since forever. Back in the 70s in Boston, I had a friend who mimeographed sheets of poems and stories in his 3rd floor garret. From that time on I was in love with the small press world. After my novel Time Sharing was published by Viking Penguin in 1986, I worked in a variety of sites that were mostly excluded, at that time, from literary programming - homeless shelters, women's centers, prisons - including death row, literacy classes, housing communities, drug treatment programs, ESL classes. I started a non-profit, Voices: A Creative Community, whose mission was to teach writing as a tool of self-empowerment in communities marginalized by the dominant culture, and to help people from those communities develop their writing and teaching skills, and I would then hire them as teachers. Through Voices I created Jacar Press, and we published a variety of learner-authored texts, including, in 1993, the first anthology of writing by people who were homeless - In Our Own Words. We also published a textbook, An Invitation to Write, which offered ways to set up participatory, learner-centered workshops in alternative sites to adult learners. I was told by the distributor that it was used in 31 countries and considered a seminal text in the field. Who knows? When my wife at the time developed a serious illness, I had to step back for a while and take care of her and my two children. Other than publishing my own stories, poems, plays and non-fiction pieces, I didn't re-enter the publishing world until the 2000s. When Obama was elected in 2008 there was much discussion about the need for a stimulus program to jump-start the economy. I thought, writers could use some help too. So, I conceived of the idea of a poetry cookbook, an anthology alternating between poems and recipes written by poets and their friends: The Sound of Poets Cooking. I wanted all the proceeds to go towards providing stipends for writers to teach free community-based workshops. At first, I tried to give the book away to other publishers, but no one wanted to be so generous with the proceeds. So, I finally decided to revive Jacar Press. Interestingly, after a brief spurt during which Jacar Press did hire writers to teach workshops at a number of sites, interest in teaching in alternative sites waned so we began to donate our proceeds to activist groups we felt were working for progressive change. DD: Could you talk about what it means to be “a community-active” literary press? RK: We call ourselves a Community-Active press because we don't make any attempt to be profitable, preferring to invest our money in causes we value, while also supporting developing writers by offering free and low-cost writing workshops. We still offer free workshops, most recently to women in prison, and free writing and theater-based workshops for survivors of sexually assault. But... Continue reading
Posted Aug 3, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The Future Only Rattles When You Pick It Up David Giannini Dos Madres Press, 2018 David Giannini’s stylistically variegated new collection, The Future Only Rattles When You Pick It Up, swerves delightfully through an engaging series of lyrically intense meditations on contemporary American life. Giannini’s subject matter ranges from the human genome to the continental divide, from his father’s wristwatch ticking in his casket to an erasure of a Petrarchan sonnet, from Ars Poetica to love poem to philosophical assay and back again. These poems, visually and aurally acrobatic, provide evidence of a subtle and wildly imaginative intelligence. Giannini is a poet at the height of his powers, whose work skitters on the verge of unknowing, but always refracts a certain slant of revelatory light. “Sharing 70% of the Human Genome,” a characteristic poem, begins: The thug inside everyone’s dreams leans in from infinity, moving at the pace of an orchard, then muscle cars speeding track. Thug means what teems as real. Take your pick. Raw fist of roses, tire spin, apple, pretty little bashing clouds, chaos a form of charisma. The poems in The Future Only Rattles When You Pick It Up are always holding out a raw fist of roses and a tire spin, the chaos and charisma that comes from a sustained type of acute listening. As Giannini notes elsewhere in the collection, “listening is also a door.” I recommend opening alternately both halves of the Dutch door of these poems, and breathing in their fragrant, unruly, air. We Became Summer Amy Barone NYQ Books, 2018 Reading Amy Barone’s newest collection, We Became Summer, is like listening to the Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong version of “Summertime”; it is full of the same vague ache, what David Lehman has called, in another context, “the near proximity of ecstatic joy and deep, dark, irrevocable sorrow.” Barone’s accessible lyric narrative poems are suffused with a profound love of music, from The Rolling Stones to Pharoah Sanders, from Sinatra to Jaco Pastorius, from Marvin Gaye to St. Vincent. Music provides a spiritual lodestar for Barone as her poems explore love, grief, family, and travel. However, the simple music of Barone’s saying always leads back to a place of peaceful wonderment: Time answered most important questions. And in the Europe of my mind— breezeways are still in vogue, families seek shade beneath Kelly green awnings, girls dare to draw the sun with aluminum foil. We still marvel at the sight of fireflies come dusk. No becoming is rushed in this book where many staves of sunlight shiver the dusk. Climate of Opinion: Sigmund Freud in Poetry Ed. Irene Willis IP Books, 2017 Irene Willis has curated a lively and compelling anthology of poetic engagements with Freud and his complicated psychoanalytic and cultural legacies. The anthology begins with the elegy by W.H. Auden, “For Sigmund Freud,” which ends: Our rational voice is dumb; over a grave The household of impulse mourns one dearly loved: Sad in Eros, builder of cities, And weeping... Continue reading
Posted Jul 16, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Dante Di Stefano: How did Dos Madres come into being? Robert Murphy: Like Athena the Press sprang from the head of Zeus – along with a headache - or was it from his thigh as with Dionysus. (well, actually, the head and heart of The Muse probably is more accurate – and a bit of the unexpected, if not miraculous thrown in). And it is longer in the tell of it than anyone would wish to hear, because it has to do with my own journey as a writer and a poet, and for the last fourteen years, along with my wife, Elizabeth, a publisher. Until the age of forty I was completely unknown to the vibrant literary community of the Greater Cincinnati Area. I, for the most part, wrote in isolation (literally) often in my car. I was not in academia, but made my living in the building trades. One day my brother suggested I enter a local competition sponsored by the Greater Cincinnati Writer’s League. My poem won, and a year’s free membership to the League came along with it. The GCWL had, and still has, monthly meetings where the members’ work is critiqued by poet/teachers from the likes of Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati, Miami U. and, Thomas More College, and others. The miraculous thing that happened was that at one of those critiques Dr. Norman Finkelstein, poet and scholar/critic, after the meeting took me aside to say that he was astonished that I was not known to him, and where exactly had I been. At work in a different world, I said. But it was he who opened his world to my life with an introduction to not only significant local writers such as Tyrone Williams, and Richard Hague, and Cincinnati’s first poet laureate, Pauletta Hansel, but also to more distant luminaries such as Nathaniel Tarn, Harvey Shapiro, Michael Heller, and to one who became in a short year my friend, mentor, and alma pater: the extraordinary William Bronk. This all began thirty years ago. And finally in 2004 I decided to give back to that community kind enough to take me in. To give back, in some small measure, all that I had been gifted. The project was made all the easier by my wife Elizabeth who is a gifted graphic designer, portraitist, and iconographer, and now a celebrated book designer. Which means, of course, that she is the true midwife of the Press. I am but the ghost in the machine. As for a name, we decided on Dos Madres, two mothers in Spanish, in honor of our own mothers, respectively: Vera Laverne Murphy, and Libbie Hart Hughes, both lovers of literature and promoters of literacy, and who contributed financially to us in the nascent years of the press. DD: How has publishing poetry changed for you since beginning in 2004? RM: Well the obvious change involves sheer numbers. The significant increase in those seeking publication, and then just the problem of finding... Continue reading
Posted Jul 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
The Riddle of Longing Faisal Mohyuddin Backbone Press, 2017 The Riddle of Longing, Faisal Mohyuddin’s ecstatic, brimming, debut chapbook begins with the lines: “We have always been the displaced children of displaced children, / tethered by distant rivers to abandoned lands, our blood’s history lost.” This stunning couplet sets the tone for a series of poems centered on the family, charged with the exilic energies of a diasporic consciousness, committed to rearticulating home—in vowel and consonant, in the reimagined last breath of a father, in “flame-lipped testimonies,” and in the felled banyan trees populating a nightmare. “Exile,” Mohyuddin tells us, “begins where rivers end,” and this terminus is where his poems also originate: on a strangely beautiful threshold where the cartographers are blind, the theologians, blindfolded, and where a child folds the sky into a winged horse from a thin ribbon of wind. Mohyuddin’s poetry ranges from the Punjab to Arab Andalusia, from Chicago to a space shuttle orbiting Earth, expertly shifting between forms, including the sonnet and the ghazal. In poem after poem, Mohyuddin grounds himself in the terra firma of imagination and empathy, braiding together personal, cultural, and political histories; his rejoinder to loneliness and longing: “Whatever you can give, / while you still have time left / in which to give, / give.” Mohyuddin gives mightily throughout this chapbook, in the tradition of Douglass, DuBois, Ghandi, and Rumi, figures he invokes and emulates. The poem “Faisalabad” perhaps displays the poet’s gifts most distinctly as Mohyuddin weaves together the origin of his own name, the strands of his own familial history, the colonial legacies ghosting through the “Manchester of Pakistan,” the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, and a profound mediation on the circuitous exigencies of language and power. The following lines from “Faisalabad” emblematize the gentle ferocity at the center of Mohyuddin’s work: “Heaven, Muslims believe, / lies beneath a mother’s feet. I fall short / of them every moment of my life.” Few contemporary American poets write as lovingly, as winningly, as directly, and as humbly about being a son (or, indeed, about being a father, as Mohyuddin does so movingly in “To Be a Fisherman or a Father, You Must”). The natural radiance of these poems, their foregrounding of the blood harmonies rhapsodized in the idle hours of family life, the tender wisdom of this work renders The Riddle of Longing a must-read. Traveling through this collection is like looking at starlight while paying attention to your own “inner burning, from which a new kind of love is being forged.” Dante Di Stefano is the author of two poetry collections: Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016) and Ill Angels (Etruscan Press, forthcoming 2019). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Sewanee Review, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for the DIALOGIST. Along with María Isabel Alvarez, he is the co-editor of Misrepresented People: Poetic Responses to Trump's America (NYQ Books, 2018). Continue reading
Posted Mar 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
DD: How did Shelterbelt Press come into being? AC: Meagan and I were both teaching at the same university and we decided to form a press to be affiliated with the university so our students would have a hands-on experience. We also wanted to focus on a press that would have social justice at its core, so in publishing books, we also want to think about how the work we publish can do something important and valuable in the world. We plan to incorporate ideas of activism into publicity. DD: What have been some of the challenges and rewards of starting a new press? AC: One of the largest challenges is always funding—finding a range of support created some challenges, but the rewards are well worth it. And of course there are many. Primarily, having the chance to read so many different writers is a huge award. Receiving support and guidance from other presses, too, has been especially rewarding. DD: The first book Shelterbelt will publish is the debut collection of an amazing poet, Eloisa Amezcua. Can you tell us a bit about From the Inside Quietly? AC: Eloisa’s book is an amazing debut that explores life and loss, family and identity. As we talked about the collection, it seems the image of reflection comes to the surface. The poems are very direct in their assertions and explore a wide range of ideas, including sorrow alongside joy. We particularly love how the book manages to have a wonderful sense of humor at times. DD: Meagan, your new short story collection, ActivAmerica, is on my reading list for the winter break. As your website notes, this collection explores how we confront (and exert) power and re-imagine ourselves through sports and athletic activities. What draws you to this subject matter? What connections do you see between the writing life and the world of athletics? What did you learn about yourself and American athletic culture through the writing of this book? MC: Thanks for these wonderful questions, Dante, and for putting my book on your list! Sports were a big part of the community in the town where I grew up. I played (and still play) soccer, ran track, figure skated. It was a decade after Title IX was passed, so there was all this rhetoric surrounding “girl power” and athletics: like, through sports girls/women will defeat the patriarchy! Of course, it’s way messier than that. The book helped me understand the ways in which certain unequal power dynamics manifest on fields, rinks, and courts, power dynamics which impacted me and my teammates growing up, often in the form of patriarchal coaches and struggles with body image and eating disorders. I also learned more about how American sports/fitness ideology often masks different forms of injustice. Writing and sports are deeply related for me. They both involve daily practice, humility, and the need to develop both individually and within a broader community. No one writes or story, or kicks a soccer ball, in a... Continue reading
Posted Mar 2, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Not Elegy, But Eros Nausheen Eusuf NYQ Books, 2017 Nausheen Eusuf’s protean debut collection, Not Elegy, But Eros, shuttles between elegy and ode, nimbly shifting between formal styles as it memorializes and praises subjects and people ranging from Hitchcock’s Psycho to Northrop Frye. Eusuf bears witness to her own family history and to the political violence and repression in her native Bangladesh. The collection’s title poem delicately honors the life and work of Xulhaz Mannan, an LGBT activist murdered in Bangladesh in 2016: “I fathomed the fall of that abyss, held / only by the thought of one I loved—.” Not Elegy, But Eros also includes poems about selfies, her father shining shoes, riffs on lines from A.R. Ammons and Paul de Man, an “Ode to the Joke,” and an “Ode to Apostrophe.” In lesser hands the leaps between topics and tonalities might seem too jarring, but in Eusuf’s work these leaps appear as the natural outgrowth of a wide-ranging razor-sharp intellect; given this, not surprisingly, the most pronounced influence in Not Elegy, But Eros is Wallace Stevens, who is evoked at every turn, but most directly in “Mind of Winter” and “Nocturne on a Winter Night,” which ends: “if only we could let the seeming be / in love’s endless mise en abîme / until the scraping of shovels at dawn.” Little Climates L.A. Johnson Bull City Press, 2017 L.A. Johnson’s chapbook, Little Climates, takes place at the intersection of fragility and acquiescence, “in a house full of breakable things / and reassuring porcelain we never touch.” In these winter spaces, “foxgloves with their toxic mouths open for us,” and yet, “stars reveal their combustible selves.” Johnson is a poet of passionate inwardness, testing the tensile strength of the silken tethers that bind us to those with whom we live, and fight, and love, and disappoint, in the small strange fickle weathers of our lives. Little Climates holds open its wounds that they might be lustrated by the poems themselves. Johnson’s poems are luminous icicles, dangling on the edge of warmth, want, and danger. Little Climates is a haunting book, full of broken continuums, bi-furcating paths, night passages, and moments of transmutation. L.A. Johnson’s ultimate subject here is impermanence, and its ambiguous blessings: “In the future, this house will become honeycomb / and bees will make clear honey out of all our mistakes.” This is another remarkable chapbook from Bull City Press. Blind Flowers Roberta Senechal de la Roche Arcadia Press, 2018 Blind Flowers ranges from ancient Babylon and Alexandria to the Deep South and back again, blazing forth with elemental, numinous, finely-wrought lyric poems. Roberta Senechal de la Roche writes with a pen of bone, words that “float the world / into the coming tide.” This chapbook recalibrates regret, weaving a requiem to the crowded dirt from a bibliography of absences. From “the floating empire of memory” Senechal de la Roche constructs a “lexicon of old surprise,” wherein, a resting heron becomes “a hieroglyph that conjugates / pond... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
DD: In his introduction to the anthology Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to Present,David Lehman notes: “Writing a prose poem can therefore seem like accepting a dare to be unconventional. It is a form that invites the practitioner to reinvent it.” Using Lehman’s words as a jumping-off point, could you talk about your experience of writing such lovely, brilliant, challenging prose poetry over the years? Why is the prose poem your preferred medium? NA: When I began writing, I wanted to write short stories. I wanted to be the next Eudora Welty or Flannery O’Connor. I wanted to tell the story of Miss August, even back then, of a transgender boy, growing up in the 1950s and 60s. The title scene of the book: a young girl and boy looking at a Playboy Magazine, flipping open the centerfold of Miss August—was already written in some version or another. In that scene, the girl cringes, just as I did when I was eight or nine years old, and announces, Whatever that is, whatever made that lady into Miss August—that is never, ever, ever happening to me. (I didn’t have too much to worry about, but Miss August gave me nightmares for years.) The boy, gazing at the same centerfold, said one day he’d be Miss August, adding, Just you wait and see. But in my last of year of college, I took a creative writing class with David Lehman in which he taught us the wonders of the prose poem. We read poets like Gertrude Stein, Russell Edson, Henri Michaux, Julio Cortázar, Günter Eich, Tomas Tranströmer, Zbigniew Herbert, Wisława Szymborska, Max Jacob, Octavio Paz, and so many others. I was smitten. My whole world changed. And I knew I would never be a fiction writer. The prose poem was and is the form I have always felt most at ease with, the form in which I could wear jeans to the literary ball. No more pretenses, no more dressing up in outfits that didn’t fit me. I like to write in smaller units, stanzas or paragraphs, and I have always been enchanted by the magic and music and mystery of poetry. I also love humor and surrealism, as do many of the masters of prose poetry. And I love how prose poetry can mimic other forms and mock one’s expectations and assumptions. Even when lean towards fiction, as I did with Miss August, I want to write each page as a prose poem. I never want to give up that tightness that poetry offers, that jewel-like quality, even if I am writing a novel. DD: In your latest book, Miss August, you draw on your childhood experiences growing up in the south, outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, an area to which you’ve recently moved back. What insights did you gain about yourself and your writing from the imaginative return you made in Miss August, and the actual return you made moving back in real life? What can the South of the... Continue reading
Posted Feb 2, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Swarm Queen’s Crown Stephanie Adams-Santos Fathom Books, 2016 Stephanie Adams-Santos’ collection of finely-wrought, barbed, numinous lyric poems weaves from “a few warbled jags of wind” a laurel for all searchers enthralled and menaced by the beauty of a world “full of strange experience.” These are poems composed “in the tight sling of the chrysalid,” “belted to the bolt of being,” where every word sounds “lassoed to a bell.” Adams-Santos pitches her poems between chrysalis and swarm, self and world, I and thou, aware “of the secret lathe / now turning in the pulp / of our living.” “Tongue,” a representative poem from the middle of the collection, reads: Loin of the skull who lives in the bell of my bone, little black place of music— If you have vespers, O won’t the toad come? Swarm Queen’s Crown presents for our inspection real gardens with imaginary toads in them, the voluptuous gasp at the center of a thorny prayer. Echolalia in Script: A Collection of Asemic Writing Sam Roxas-Chua Orison Books, 2017 Echolalia in Script gorgeously collects Sam Roxas-Chua’s asemic writings in a gallery of images contextualized by the title poem. The stunning examples of open form writing in this book are “flawed disiderata,” failed cartographies, “troubled cantatas,” “true languages born of beak & exhale.” As Roxas-Chua notes in the introduction, his interest in wordless open semantic forms of writing parallels his work as a poet and stems, in part, from his personal history: “born to Filipino parents, adopted into a Chinese family, and then later immigrating to America resulted in a number of displacements that prevented me from taking claim to country or language.” Echolalia in Script is a book of elemental, angelic, visionary beauty rendered in the illimitable shorthand of the divine, an austere infinite tracery, a singing Forever composed of untranslatable Nows. Porous Borders David Giannini Spuyten Duyvil, 2017 Each poem in David Giannini’s Porous Borders unfolds as “a gymnast who somersaults from a balance beam, but never lands; instead she becomes that somersault.” These, as Giannini calls them, “vertical prosepoems,” spin out from the mundane, through “a place of lyric dissociation,” “smuggling the invisible over the borders of normative prose.” The poetry in this collection is luminous and strange, as if cribbed from a dream of Paul Valery assayed and translated by Russell Edson. With élan and slapstick precision, Gianinni’s poems bristle like porcupines “in an unlit cellar full of inflated balloons. Porous Borders is a particularly vibrant addition to the history of the American prose poem. Our Lady of the Orgasm Nin Andrews MadHat Press, 2016 Nin Andrews’ funny, buoyant, joyous, and deeply intelligent chapbook, Our Lady of the Orgasm, picks up where her collection, The Book of Orgasms, left off when it was published seventeen years ago. Like her two most recent full-length collections, Why God Is a Woman and Miss August, Our Lady provides further proof of Andrews’ mastery of the prose poem. In Andrews’ work, the vocation of the poem and the orgasm... Continue reading
Posted Jan 15, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
One Turn Around the Sun Tim Seibles Etruscan Press, 2017 Tim Seibles’s newest collection, One Turn Around the Sun, examines the chimaeras and constellations of selfhood that make up a life. Seibles ranges from six months after his own conception to his fifty-ninth year, depicting with great nuance the complicated lives of his parents, and meditating on how those lives dovetailed into his own. The interlocking poems of One Turn Around the Sun read more like an autobiographical novella punctuated by villanelles, or a suite of jagged solos played on the bad axe of the self, than as a traditional collection of poetry. Reading this book is like listening to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme: one comes away with the impression of a fully articulated vision of awe at what it means to live, to age, to long, to acknowledge death, and to attain an infinitesimal speck of paradise through music. Seibles aims to cull the quark from the neutrino, to apprehend the bits “of your life straggling / behind you—empty cans / hitched to the newlyweds’ car.” In the title poem, Seibles voices the collection’s central concern: “I believe it is hard to be human, to be these / new animals, hard to say yes to this singular / blood and to the flying world that made us.” For Seibles, it is the flux of personality and the fleetingness of our time on this planet that binds us to one another and allows us to remain partially intelligible despite the difficult bonds that sing us to distance. Seibles constantly navigates and remaps the distances between parent and child, citizen and state, lover and beloved, self and world, poet and reader. Although the details of a life skitter away and memories scuttle, although the stifling sleet of American history rains through these lines, Seibles inveighs with Blakean fluency against the displacements caused “by jobs, by septic religion, ghost-dick capitalism, television—.” Against all that stultifies, Seibles enjoins: Suppose, just once, you saw a middle-aged maniac skating telephone wires like a squirrel, or one glad woman jumping balconies and boulevards as if time were a trampoline—think how gladly you would lose your mind: look what the Takers have taken and the monsters they have made, the tame zombie-playmates they have made of us: smiling, bobbing for the job, trotting along, when we might be trolls under their bridges—billy goats butting their smug asses—when we might re-write the world! What is that restlessness? What is this rage? Proof that the rose still burns in your blood— root and branch, thorn and bloom, proof that your brain is a bucking horse, that your soul remembers and bites the leash; I want such teeth in my mouth. Why can’t we have a world worthy of the wheeling sun? The Earth is a house that flies! Fuck all the powers that be. One Turn Around the Sun is proof the brain is a bucking horse, that we might re-write the world, that time is a trampoline,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 18, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
DD: On your personal website, you have a great quote: “In a perfect world, Audre Lorde and Joseph Campbell would sit down over a few pints of Mudder’s Milk to speak about the way our dreams and magic connect us all, teach us all—the way both are vital to a full and vibrant expression and expansion of culture & self.” Can you start the interview by talking about these artistic forbearers, and what it means to you to run a poetry press in America in 2017? NM: Thank you. No one’s ever asked me about that one before! The book that most affected me in college, still the one I give to friends at any opportunity, is Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider. We choose pieces for Sugared Water, our anthologies, and our Porkbelly chapbooks in the place where struggle, speculative work, humor, sure voice, feminism, and the intimate journey converge. Ray Bradbury might call it tipping out the “beautiful stuff” we hold inside of us, or the voices to help “lead [us] through the dark.” Everything, for us, is about the journey, and accompanying the poet or writer along the way. Our staff interests touch everything from hiking to graphic novels, expressionist printmaking to death positivity and queer theory. We bring that to our lit. The majority of our writers are women or female identifying, trans, non-binary, queer folx. We support the work of immigrants and expats, multicultural and intersectional work. We love first books, those starting out, and books by poets and writers well on their way. Our poets range in age from teenage to octogenarian. We look to regional artists when we can, and make a lot of our cover art in house. Running a press in 2017 America is, for us, the work of citizens of the world making way for important voices, marginalized voices—voices we need. DD: How did Porkbelly Press come into being? NM: Sugared Water came first, a market for genre-straddling work, for speculative work, for new writers and experimental writers and established writers trying something new, for humans letting us into their internal landscape. I decided to go with a handmade approach, a callback to years of making zines, using traditional printmaking and bookbinding methods. After a few people sent packets of poems clearly from a series (most of our chapbooks are clusters of poems), and many of those poets had no chapbooks listed in their biographical statement (why not?), I did a lot of thinking about the books I owned and what was missing. I’d read this book is the thought that convinced this artist-writer-printmaker-bookbinder to ask for those poems to make books of them. Some generous, lovely poets (and writers!) took me up on that, and trusted a fledgling press with their book. A handful of our titles still come from poets and writers we find in our Sugared Water queue. DD: Tell us about Sugared Water. NM: Sugared Water is a handbound, limited edition literary magazine. Each cover is printed by... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Matria Alexandra Lytton Regalado Black Lawrence Press, 2017 Alexandra Lytton Regalado’s debut poetry collection, Matria, examines the prodigies constellated between motherhood and motherland, between English and Spanish, between the United States and El Salvador, between the self and a selfless apprehension of suffering in the world. Regalado’s finely-wrought poems roar in a language haunted equally by “la Carabela de Colon,” “piramide of moreno kewpies / y los hijos de Hernán,” and the cul-de-sacs of the American suburbs where a family becomes “a hallway / of closed doors.” Matria ranges across geographic, cultural, and temporal borders, offering a complicated vision of North and Central American life at the end of one century and at the beginning of another. Like the Lotería cantor’s riddle in “Salvadoran Road Bingo,” Regalado’s words remind us: “Day after day, our fingers in the wounds—here it is, touch it, there is the proof—surviving is what we do best.” Matria, however, is about much more than survival; it is fundamentally a book about how “the body elaborates its ministry” and how ordinary cells might become a vessel of grace, “rooted in / the things unknown but longed for still.” “La Mesa,” perhaps Matria’s central poem, writes through Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel,” broadening the scope of the original poem to explore the class and power dynamics of Salvadoran life in the post-civil war era. Regalado’s poem begins by addressing and echoing Forché: “Yes, what you’ve written is true.” The poem then pans out, past the sack of severed ears, past the death squads of the 1980s, past the stories of the ex-guerilla leader turned president, through sandbagged streets where divisions are as transparent and unbreakable as the bulletproof glass of an SUV. The bleak reportorial heft of Forché’s poem, strikingly counterbalanced by the lyricism of its prose, is replaced by a simple urgency at the heart of “La Mesa”: a mother trying to explain her homeland, her life, to her son. This relationship between mother and son provides the subject matter for one of the most moving poems in Matria, “The T'ai Chi of Putting a Sleeping Child to Bed,” which reads: In the lull of evening, your son nested in your arms becomes heavier and with a sigh his body sloughs off its weight like an anchor into deep sleep, until his small breath is the only thing that exists. And as you move the slow dance through the dim hall to his bedroom and bow down to deliver his sleeping form, arms parting, each muscle defining its arc and release— you remember the feeling of childhood, traveling beneath a full moon, your mother's unmistakable laugh, a field of wild grass, windows open and the night rushing in as headlights trace wands of light across your face— there was a narrative you were braiding, meanings you wanted to pluck from the air, but the touch of a hand eased it from your brow and with each stroke you waded further into the certainty of knowing your sleeping form... Continue reading
Posted Nov 20, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Miss August Nin Andrews CavanKerry Press, 2017 Nin Andrews’ newest collection, Miss August, provides further evidence that she is perhaps the most agile practitioner of prose poetry writing today. Written from the alternating perspective of three characters, Sarah Jane Lee, Gil Rhett Simmons, and May Dee, Miss August chronicles the connections that these characters forge at Chinquapin Hill Farm in Lessington, Virginia during the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Andrews nimbly shifts between registers and dialects as she moves between the three characters, rendering a lyrical, but plain-spoken and arresting, version of three mid-twentieth century southern voices. The South that Andrews evokes obsessively confronts the legacy of what the locals call, “The War of Northern Aggression,” while denying the full truth of the foundational sin of slavery and the continuous transgressions of Jim Crow. In Lessington, the ghosts all wear confederate gray and “raspberry blight got blamed on General Sherman and the burning of the South.” Miss August ably addresses issues of racial discrimination, child abuse, mental illness, gender inequity, sexual identity, and class differences, in a coming-of-age story that resonates even more deeply in 2017 as the open wounds caused by misogyny and white supremacy continue to suppurate. Andrews explores how her characters’ lives are circumscribed and poisoned by the racist southern worldview that surrounds them. When Sarah Jane asks Gil’s father, Mr. Simmons, an abusive, manipulative, philandering, alcoholic, whose family bloodline “traced back to the Order of the First Families of Virginia,” about lynching, he replies: “You know they only lynched criminals, Sarah Jane. Some white folks were lynched, too. The way I see it: Lynching is a whole lot cheaper than the electric chair. And quicker too.” Mr. Simmons embodies a type of witless equivocation that continues to perpetuate white supremacy on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line in the twenty-first century. Running counter to Mr. Simmons, and all that he represents, are the countless silken ties of affection that Andrews draws between Sarah Jane, Gil, and May Dee; these characters are powerless in Lessington: an illegitimate daughter, a boy struggling with his gender identity, and an African-American servant. The care that these characters show each other mitigates the indignities they suffer. As they gallop across the alien landscapes of the stories they tell each other, they dream of planets where everyone is “destined to be an angel”; as Gil puts it: “At night we slept on our bellies so our wings could grow.” Miss August allows us access to the interior lives of three fully realized characters, who, much like many of us, strive to see past the hummingbird into the honeysuckle bloom. Nin Andrews’ Miss August is a must-read examination of the ways personal and collective histories perpetually rewrite the present. Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love Is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
DD: How did Glass Poetry Press come into being? AF: Glass originally started as the journal, Glass: A Journal of Poetry. It was edited by me and my wife, Holly Burnside, and we released our first issue in March, 2008. It started because we had seen a number of journals start up, release an issue online, and then disappear from the web. We wanted to see if we could create something more permanent. We had no real editing experience and no real plan beyond posting our info on a few sites and hoping people would send us work to consider. When we started, we used a free yahoo email account and a free blogger website and yet, somehow, people sent us their wonderful work. In 2014, though, we had to decide if we could keep Glass going. We were both going through career changes and we were having trouble responding to submissions in a timely manner. We felt we weren’t doing right by our readers and our writers, so we decided to close the journal. We kept the website up, though, and made a commitment to our poets that we would keep the site live on the web for as long as we possibly could. Pretty much as soon as we announced Glass was closing, I started thinking about chapbooks. I love chapbooks. I love their size, their relatively small cost, their variety. I love the idea of working one on one with an author on a finished project. I love the idea of being a completely independent press that can take real risks on work that other presses might not be able to take. And I love the idea of this little book you can hold in your hands and put in your bag or purse and pull out to read, start to finish, during your lunch break. In 2016, I was awarded an Individual Excellence Grant from the Ohio Arts Council and I decided to put a portion of that award towards pursuing my dream of running a chapbook press. I already had the Glass website, and people still remembered Glass: A Journal of Poetry, so calling it Glass Poetry Press made sense. I spent four or five months researching materials and other presses, talking with friends who run presses, and talking with poets who might be interested in letting me publish their chapbooks. And in August, 2016, Glass Poetry Press released Ariel Francisco’s Before Snowfall, After Rain, the first entry in the 2016-2017 Glass Chapbook Series. I screamed when I finished stapling that first copy. And I’m not going to lie – I still scream a little when I finish the first copy of every new title. DD: The motto of your press is Precision, Vision, Inclusion. Could you expound a bit on these aesthetic values and how the chapbooks you’ve published, so far, exemplify them? AF: Those are three elements of glass that I admire most (one nickname for Toledo, Ohio, is The Glass City, because... Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Stray Adam Houle Lithic Press, 2017 Adam Houle’s Stray exhibits a technical virtuosity uncommon in a debut collection of poetry. Not only does he demonstrate a mastery of sonnet and couplet, but in poem after poem Houle’s finely wrought lines and exacting syntax “turn their leverage in tight spaces.” The poems in Stray are “checkpoints in the interior,” “scattershot/ into the fractures of fugitive rays” emanating from love, desire, and the difficulties constituted by daily life. Houle constantly revises the rapture upon which he verges, cues up puzzlement, and privileges the “helixed descent” that ends only when ear meets earth. Stray contains loving portraits of a woodworking father and of a studious wife, alongside persona poems from a future timber baron and from a Yellowknife girl. Houle praises equally the lonely bedbug, “tag-a-long armed / with anticoagulant / and an endless gut,” and an armadillo stretching to climb a fence, “a hardback hymnal / opening, taut and self-explained.” Houle’s gift is to present the world in all of its black ice menace, besieged and fissured, yawning against hope, and yet to allow for the consolation that comes in the continued twirl of the Northern Lights, in the last green dance of the day, in the conjugations and declensions mouthed beside a spouse in the dark. Stray abounds with a Frostian darkness and dread; as in Robert Frost’s best work, Houle’s best poems concern themselves with the interstices between grief and reason. Also, like Frost, Houle is fundamentally a poet of married life. His poem, “A Paper Hive Earns No Quarter,” exemplifies Houle’s commitment to the philosophical and to the connubial in the face of all that is fraught, dumb, and stinging. The poem reads in full: It’s hell, I think, to see them flit that way at dusk back to us, swarming our willow where, limb-perched, they flex in shadows. You pray they quit us; I pump the poisoned bellows. Love, things can grow too large for us to love, so let my labor mean. I’m wreathed in smoke, an axe-handle clenched in a leather glove. You cough and gripe. I give the nest a poke then, cocking back, let loose a full-on swing. It all explodes. They’re too smoke-drunk to know it’s me they hate and fail to sink a sting. The job is done. I clasp the bellows closed. Look, wife: dazed on your chipped garden gnome one dumb wasp thinks she drives her stinger home. Smoking out the wasp nest in this sonnet, like the writing of the sonnet itself, initiates a dialogue with the beloved, and in both tasks meaning accrues through a labor that is meant to contain the expansive, the threatening, the random swarm encroaching from the shadows. Here, as everywhere else in Stray, revelation is shared and gestural, the result of a tandem perspective, a communion earned by callouses on wreckful, busy, rosary-wrapped hands. It is with such hands that one might build a strange and grateful home, a small stanza of light... Continue reading
Posted Aug 21, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
DD: How did Winter Goose come into being? Can you give us a brief history of the press? JK: In 2011 I started WGP from a desire to stay close to the written word as a writer and lover of art. The success of our press came quickly with an overwhelming amount of submissions and support from the writing community. We’ve now published over a hundred books and carry several award-winning authors and titles in our catalog. DD: Tell us a little bit about your poetry catalog. What do Winter Goose books share in common? JK: Our poetry catalog ranges in variety from traditional form poetry to a more extensive catalog of contemporary poetry and poets. Our poetry books are all laced with a genuine heart-felt journey through the eyes of many different perspectives. In that genuineness, we find a common thread for all our poetry catalog. DD: What are you looking for in prospective authors? JK: We are looking for unique and well-designed writing with a strong voice. We publish based on quality more than what the industry may consider marketable material. We appreciate the process of writing, whether fiction or poetry, and are always excited to find the next fresh and talented new voice. DD: You’ve published two of Bill Stratton’s poetry collections. Can you tell us about what you most admire in his poetry? JK: Bill brings a strong sense of self with his writing. He writes from a place that brings you in and keeps you there. It’s genuine, raw, and heartfelt. The power shines brightly through his words and gives him a solid foundation that we honor and appreciate. DD: You grew up in a rural area of upstate New York. Can you talk about how this upbringing influences your writing and how the natural world figures in your work? WS: I don't know if I can say anything I haven't already tried to say in my poems, though what I've tried to say has filled a decent part of two books now, so perhaps I ought to try. Where I am from is central New York, more hills than mountains, more dead farms and dollar stores than mines or mills. It's beautiful and haunting, and within my life I saw the end of a certain way of life and the movement into another; from working on farms and local factories to an economy that never really sees the upswing when the country does well and feels every bit of pain when it does not. Drug addiction and violence have increased, as they have in a lot of places where poverty is a problem. Still, there are amazing people there whose friendship I value greatly and who often appear in my poems. I obviously have a lot of conflicting feelings about where I am from, but I'm also fiercely loyal—my friends from home know that, and to me, that is very important. Of course it's a rural place, and in particular I grew up on... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
Louder than Hearts Zeina Hashem Beck Bauhan Publishing, 2017 Zeina Hashem Beck’s second full-length collection, Louder than Hearts, begins with the lines: “I write in English the way I roam foreign cities—full of street light/ & betrayal, until I find a coffee shop that speaks Arabic.” The poems in Louder than Hearts range across Tripoli, Mosul, Syria, Beirut, London, Paris, and New York, illuminating what is simultaneously most foreign and familiar in those places: the fundamental human drive to connect with others through language and the complexities of doing so in a world divided by cultural, religious, linguistic, and political boundaries. Hashem Beck writes from a certainty in the consolations of the written word. For her, a poem is “a tree without roots/ a street with enormous wings”; each line here both defies uprooting and takes flight, suddenly and assuredly. As the title poem notes, the motions and avowals in Hashem Beck’s work are bound but not beholden to tradition: “The woman in me is thousands/ of years old, her voice louder/ than hearts and derbakkehs.” The ancient tattoo of drumbeat and bloodline cross corridors, balconies, playgrounds, land-mine fields, broken houses, wastelands, continents, oceans, and ideologies. Louder than Hearts bears witness to the scarred and to the disconsolate, to the war-ravaged and to the displaced, to the strange interior countries one must survey and commit to memory if one is to understand the reality of human suffering. Above all else, Zeina Hashem Beck’s work attempts to translate her particular understanding of human suffering into a poetics of radical empathy. Her poem, “Body,” emblematizes the elegiac uplift and heartache at the center of this collection. The poem reads: Body For Hassan Rabeh, young dancer displaced from Syria, who killed himself by jumping from a seventh-floor balcony in Beirut, Wednesday, June 22, 2016 & perhaps you flew. I read the news, how you plunged from the seventh floor, a Beirut balcony, & I am filled with a sound of sirens, a need to be alone. This war this theater this city this. & I was at a Da Vinci exhibit at the museum this morning. & what a blessing, to say I was at a Da Vinci exhibit this morning. & he was a pacifist who designed killing machines, for money always comes from warlords. & he, who like no other knew of the divine proportions of the body, & he who preferred to trace limbs & ligaments & the glide of bat wings in the air, he who preferred the theater, & the projector, & the drum, & bridges, imagined the machine gun & the submarine, & the tank, sculpted a bullet with a more precise dance. & oh how the mind bends & how light & shadows fall. & you, young dancer, tell me, what do you know of the flight of birds, & of the difference between theatricality & war, dissection & witchcraft, dance & death? & were you searching for your Palestine in Damascus, for your Damascus in... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2017 at The Best American Poetry
DD: I’d like to start by quoting the last five lines from Jim Harrison’s poem, “Books,” published posthumously in Dead Man’s Float: I must sell these books, some quite rare, or exchange them for good food and the wine I can no longer afford. I used to look at pages 33, 77, 153 for the secrets of the world and never find them but still continue trying. Could you use these lines as a jumping off point for discussing the good work you do as a publicist at Copper Canyon Press? KF: Ha! What a great line from Harrison to start our conversation. I am the Director of Publicity for Copper Canyon, which means that I work to get our authors and their books print and broadcast media coverage. Because Copper Canyon is a nonprofit, part of my job also involves working to increase the visibility of our donor campaigns and reader engagement programming. EG: As Copper Canyon’s Associate Publicist, I manage the press’s digital footprint — primarily on social media. Social media serves to amplify press coverage for our books and authors, support the press’s development initiatives, and help build relationships with our community of readers and the literary community at large. The digital landscape is always changing and it’s my job to keep up, so there’s a lot of answer-seeking and not-finding and then continuing-to-try; that’s part of the fun. DD: Jim Harrison’s Dead Man’s Float and C.D. Wright’s ShallCross are both amazing books, capstones to admirable lives in poetry and the arts. Do you see the marketing of these books differently than other books? Could you say that your work as a publicist in these cases is also to elegize and to praise? KF: My role as a literary publicist is to advocate for poetry, and to shout from the rooftops when we get a beautiful collection in our hands. Both of these books are capstones, and that is an important quality that I took into consideration when we developed the publicity campaigns. They were handled with care, and both went out to reviewers with Letters from the Editor, contextualizing the work and honoring the legacies of the poets. The coverage they received was predominantly focused on the poetry itself, with remembrances and retrospectives woven in. EG: Elegizing both Jim and C.D. felt in the wake of their passing more like an organic, communal act of which the press is only a part. Spending as much of my time plugged into online conversation as I do, it was incredible to witness the chorus of so many voices — writers, readers, academics, students, family, friends — sharing with the digital world the impact these poets had on their lives and their work. ShallCross and Dead Man’s Float naturally became important touchstones for this collective eulogizing. Ongoing eulogizing, really; I don’t know that the world will run out of things to say about either of these poets any time soon. DD: What do poets most need to know about... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2017 at The Best American Poetry