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Dante Distefano
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Dante Di Stefano: How did Big Hammer and Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books come into being? Dave Roskos: Big Hammer & the press began in New Brunswick, New Jersey. I moved to New Brunswick on July 4, 1986. Eliot Katz was the first New Brunswick poet I met. He was stapling posters around town for an upcoming poetry reading at The Court Tavern featuring Andy Clausen and the Lunar Bear Ensemble. He gave me a poster & encouraged me to come to the show & read in the open reading, which I did. There was no on-going poetry reading series in town at this time. The Roxy series from the early 80s had run its course and was history. I used to ask Eliot when the next poetry reading was every time I saw him. He must’ve gotten tired of me wanting to know when the next reading was all the time, because he encouraged me to start a reading series myself and then he told me how to do it. I co-founded The Proletkult Poetry Circus at The Court Tavern in March of 1987, with fellow poet Chris Aubry. Bob Rixon was the first featured poet, followed by an open reading. The magazine grew out of the reading series & several other series in NJ, Philly & NYC including: POETSWEDNESDAY at The Barron Arts Center, founded & run by Edie Eustice (earlier on with Sofran Crotty, later with Joe Weil), Liza Pille’s Tuesday night series at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, Jacko Monahan’s ongoing-for-decades series at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch, Frank Finale’s Without Halos readings in Ocean County, Betsy Robin Schwartz’s series at The Metuchen Public Library, Dave Lancet’s series at The Pipe Line & The Fringe in Newark, Lamont Steptoe’s series at The Painted Bride Arts Center in Philly, Barbara Holland’s series at The Speak Easy in Greenwich Village, Enid Dame & Donald Lev’s Home Planet News readings at The Cedar Tavern, Yictove’s series at The Knitting Factory, etc. The magazine included poets I had met through these various scenes, as well as poets from around the country who I only knew through the mail. Big Hammer #1 was published in 1988. I typed it up with a typewriter onto sheets of 11 by 17 inch paper, double-sided, & had it photocopied at a local print shop. Ken Greenley and I used the MACS at The Roost, a free computer lab at Rutgers University, to type up “camera-ready” pages for the chapbooks and magazines. The Roost was open 24 hours, comfortable enough & conducive for stoned & even tripping poets typing up poems at 3 am. I typed Big Hammer # 2 & several chapbooks at The Roost. Big Hammer #2 was printed by my friend Tom Pulhamus, a poet (& later an editor at Long Shot) who worked as an off-set printer at Mike Cote’s Ploughshares Press. Mike let Tom print the magazine on his off-hours for the cost of materials. An enormous labor of love. Ken Greenley used... Continue reading
Posted Oct 2, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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sur vie Youna Kwak Fathom Books, 2020 Youna Kwak’s debut collection, sur vie, calls for a brazen ear to hear its Precambrian limbic music. Kwak’s poetry is like nothing being written today, rife with “black ruminations, creaking / musculature,” “warm jubilance,” “crowbar bones,” “fish-thick / skin” and other opaque, but strangely tactile luminous fluxes. To enter into a poem in sur vie is to be etherized, atomized, and transfigured, to experience something at once coolly mystical and hotly mammalian; as Kwak puts it in her poem, “Racoon”: where you are is incompleteness, blurred enchantment in the center of the dance, where eyes all wallow, socket-hungry. Here, as elsewhere in sur vie, Kwak’s poetry scavenges and scans the lonely unknowing at the heart of human experience, overlaying the instinctual, the habitual, and the ultimately unnamable with intellection and lyric fire. Kwak’s lyric fire unfolds in dialogue with the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet she directly invokes in the poem “Season of Bells’ Distant Flowering,” and whose presence shines like shook foil almost everywhere in this collection, as evidenced in the following stanza from “Waiting in the Garden”: Were you smote to stillness by the object or did desire strike first? Fixing later on its locus, sudden gleam of light amongst the brambles. The fat plum, lazy dangle. Interestingly, Kwak’s poetry reverses the inscape of the objects in the world it apprehends, unmooring those objects from their particularity and, in the process, unselving speaker and listener alike (blurred enchantment in the center of the dance). Everywhere in this poetry, the image comes first, but the image is “an image of ardor / unchecked, spilling / vines from the cabinet.” This spillage, this lyric enactment of the fungibility of all things, leads inevitably back to a contemplation of the body (what Hopkins called “mortal trash”) as corpse and container of a corpus of language (The Word made flesh—the What that will fall to the residuary worm). In some of the most memorable lines from sur vie, Kwak writes: “My mouth is cut to the likeness of / God, and instructs the newborn / in me.” Ultimately, though, sur vie contemplates survival, this life we live and try in vain to make sense of, in all its estranging detachment and its thrumming intimacies. Youna Kwak’s poetry, “moonbitten, lit, a tatter of telegrams,” counters what Pound called “the tyranny of the unimaginative.” sur vie deserves to be widely read because it enacts the curious balm of a deeper knowledge in a time (like any other time) of so many superficial ways of knowing. Assuredly, despite a wider uncertainty, Kwak holds out her hand to us and sings: “In appreciation I will persist with you.” Continue reading
Posted Aug 17, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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Dante Di Stefano: How did Free-Grace Press come into being? Clifford Jackman: Free-Grace Press was created because we wanted to publish books that are about using the readers imagination. Our books are sculpted art / a kinetic sculpture that you can carry around – an Artist's Book. We desire to recreate the joy of looking, feeling, reading, and using one’s imagination. At our physical foundation is the genderless and often anonymous Pamphleteer publisher that was born slowly after the invention of the printing press for the masses. From Jane Anger (1589) to Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin (1776) we adore the brutal honesty and high art of Pamphleteering. We believe those Pamphleteer times and today’s Internet (self-publishing) times are very similar. The internet’s abandon and freedom is similar in spirit to the free-for-all that Pamphleteering was, and/or, is. Another brick in our foundation is the Artist’s Book championed most recently by William Blake (1757-1872). His combination of drawings and paintings with text was groundbreaking. Since then artists and writers have carried on the tradition of an Artist’s Book through Dadaism, Surrealism, and Conceptualism. The respect Blake had for literary prose did not make it through to Conceptualism (1970’s). And that’s when aesthetics and philosophy dominated the Artist’s Book design so there were very few literary stories – just visual, conceptual, and philosophical stories. So at Free-Grace Press we aim to continue this tradition of the Artist’s Book. DD: Tell us about the first book Free-Grace has published, The Worming of America by Autumn Leaf. CJ: Well literally it’s an answer to another Pamphlet published in 1615. We published The Worming of America as a rebuttal to Joseph Swetnam’s pamphlet / novel published in 1615 titled, The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Forward, and Unconstant Women: or the Vanity of Them, Choose you Whether: With a Commendation of Wise, Virtuous and Honest Women: Pleasant for Married Men, Profitable for Young men, and Hurtful to None. Genre-wise, it’s a blend of historical fiction, alternative history, and literary fiction. It’s a post-modern study or play on questions of femininity, debt, sin, and freedom. The story is told by a first person narrator - Autumn Leaf (aka Susan Hutchinson), and it transports readers to Colonial Boston(1650) where The Worming of America (WoA) explores oppression in a Puritanical time as seen through the eyes of Anne Hutchinson’s daughter. Autumn throughout her day investigates / debates, the English Civil War (royalty and/or white slavery), the Free-Grace Controversy, and how America unified for a militaristic revolution. DD: Tell us about the books you’ve slated for publication in the next few years. CJ: The second book Free-Grace Press is publishing in 2021 is, Mother’s Day in the Empire State, Or, An Answer to the Arraignment of Women. Mother’s Day, again is written in modern day prose. It’s about motherhood in contemporary Appalachian society. The author is a 50-year-old woman - Constance or Connie Munda - she is a single Mom in upstate New York and a Child Protection Services... Continue reading
Posted May 2, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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The Banished Immortal: A Life of Li Bai Ha Jin Pantheon Books, 2019 Ha Jin’s biography of Li Bai (formerly known as Li Po and Rihaku in the west) provides a vivid survey of the great poet’s life. Bai (701-762 A.D), a legendary figure in Chinese poetry, is said to have drowned while drunkenly chasing the reflection of the moon in a river. The Banished Immortal, although constantly taking account of the myths clustered around Li Bai, focuses more intensely on the verifiable aspects of the poet’s life and work. Ha Jin’s compelling prose not only renders a highly readable overview of Bai’s life, but also provides an interesting gloss of Tang dynasty bureaucracy. Bai’s wanderlust, his political aspirations, his poetic skill (often employed in service to his political ambitions), his setbacks, his literary friendships, his Daoist spirituality, his naivete when negotiating court intrigues, and his gregarious heart make this biography read like a novel. Ha Jin brings Li Bai alive in his writing; he also conjures a world where poetry held a central place by providing interesting digression about Tang poetry devotees like Ge Qing, a street policeman in Jing Prefecture who was “so devoted to the poet Bai Juyi that he tattooed more than thirty of Juyi’s poems on his body, as well as drawings inspired by his verses” and was called “Bai Juyi’s Walking Poems and Pictures.” The world that Li Bai moved through bears little in common with our own, but American poets might find inspiration in the naked ambition of this itinerant immortal. Playlist David Lehman University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019 In a 1996 Paris Review interview with A.R. Ammons, David Lehman said that Ammons’ long poems: “seem in some ways deliberately imperfect—casual, expansive, all-inclusive, loose.” The same could be said for Playlist, which is a direct homage to Ammons’ Tape for the Turn of the Year. Like many of Ammons’ long poems, Playlist unfolds in increments, held in place by the calendar and given momentum by the playlists on Sirius radio and by the enthusiasms of the poet—jazz, poetry, cinema, the great American songbook, and crooners like Sinatra. There’s a cosmopolitan sprezzatura to Lehman’s long-poem, a spritely dailiness, surprisingly intimate and lush, as open to chance as a turn of the stereo’s dial, efflorescing in descriptive passages such as: after I step out of the car and onto my favorite perch above Cayuga’s waters, the porch where majestic trees devoid of leaves stand like scarecrows the sky a deeper hue an orange and blue blaze dipping below the horizon In Playlist, Lehman has succeeded in doing something that hasn’t been done much since the passing of Ammons, viz., he’s written a book-length poem that is propulsive in its readability. Playlist is a testament to a literary friendship of the highest caliber, and an artifact from a life lived in a studied circadian dialogue with art, literature, and music. Anyone who lives poetry, and loves it, should read this book. Helping the Village Idiot Feed... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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[A Review by Dante Di Stefano] The Donkey Elegies: An Essay in Poems Nickole Brown Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020 Nickole Brown’s new chapbook, The Donkey Elegies: An Essay in Poems, continues the project she initiated in her chapbook To Those Who Were Our First Gods (Rattle, 2018); this project, as the poet herself articulates it, proposes to build an antipastoral bestiary comprised of poems spoken in “a queer Southern-trash-talking kind of way about nature: beautiful, damaged, dangerous and in desperate need of saving.” As did To Those Who Were Our First Gods, The Donkey Elegies explores the profound links between human beings and our animal kin. Brown draws on her experiences working with donkeys in several animal sanctuaries and overlays those experiences with a complex array of personal, cultural, historical, and linguistic associations connected to this humble and hearty mammal. The Donkey Elegies does what any good essay does: it assays (it tests and examines, but it also attempts), it suggests (rather than expounds), it spirals outward while tethering the attention to one unparaphrasable idea; the essay, as form or genre, is, after all, the donkey of literature: sinewy, indefatigable, often overlooked. Like her central subject in this book, Brown’s poetry hauls steadily onward, tender and tough, lit with the knowledge that holiness dwells in the common, the low-life, the baseborn. Throughout the collection, the lowly donkey becomes a metonym for the oppressed “who carried us from that squat existence of flint strike to entire cities,” and “who blistered and tore, who blew their knees and threw their vertebrae hauling the stone and laying the tracks, plowing one field and then the next.” Here, Brown not only alludes to slavery from the ancient world to the antebellum South, but also surveys the exploitation of laborers like her “illiterate, hammer-swinging grandfather,” and the coal miners and tenant farmers of her native Kentucky. Those laborers are the same as all the ones who are continually “made draft, made compulsory, forced into conscription, like all those boys in my mama’s class that won that twisted lottery and came home from Vietnam unable to tell the slam of a screen door from a land mine.” The unassuming and eminently tractable donkey rehearses, in its very plodding, the survival strategies of those whose extrinsic worth has been bound to their work, and whose ongoing struggle has been to resist the erasures that their worth-bearing work necessarily entailed. For Nickole Brown, however, the donkey’s symbolic resonances remain deeply personal, tied as she is to generations of laborers and survivors. These personal connections begin with the idioms of Brown’s Kentucky childhood. Brown notes these idiomatic roots in the fourteenth section: “the church ladies would say they hadn’t seen me in a donkey’s years even if I had missed only a few Sundays, and all us kids knew to avoid Uncle Leon because the man could talk the hind legs off a donkey and that telling grandfather what to do was about as good as putting a steering... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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[N.B. The following interview with editor, Alexander Pepple, and poet, Susan de Sola, was conducted by Dante Di Stefano.] Alexander, could you say a few words about Susan de Sola’s new collection Frozen Charlotte? Alexander Pepple: Susan is someone I was quite familiar with, a long while earlier, through her participation at Eratosphere—Able Muse’s online literary workshop—where I was always impressed with the quality of the poems she posted, and her incisive critiques, not to mention the stream of accolades and publication credits she continued to garner. Along the way, she also became a fine assistant poetry editor at the literary journal, Able Muse, print edition. Even with that level of acquaintance of her and her craft, I was stunned by the range of talent she displayed in the Frozen Charlotte manuscript when she eventually submitted it to the press. It’s a richly diverse collection of the serious and the light, the personal and the universal, of landscapes and people and animals, of heartbreak and ecstasy, of the sensual and the tragic. And I could on. One of the astounding aspects of the book is how well she was able to fuse all these elements into a cohesive and engaging wholeness—in the progression, the tension, the surprises, and the fun. And I haven’t even broached the technical prowess on display in the many poetic styles from free verse to blank verse, to sonnets, shape poems, ghazals, list poems, nonce forms, and more. It’s gratifying that several reviewers from journals such as Agni (“Lucidity unites the book’s poems”), Light (“This book will change with the light each time you read it. There is humor in the monumentally sad poems and pointed meaning in the funny ones”), Art Fuse (“In Frozen Charlotte, Susan de Sola provides readers with enough aesthetic pleasure and thoughtful commentary about today’s world to remind us of just how good—and necessary—poetry can be”), and other reviews have recognized and praised elements of Frozen Charlotte that won me over in accepting and publishing it. Frozen Charlotte not only enchants and enlightens, but also entertains. Susan de Sola Susan, how has living in Europe affected your poetry (besides proving the setting for several of the poems in Frozen Charlotte)? Susan de Sola: Living abroad alters your perception of America. The changes seem more startling—you are removed from the gradualism of everyday life. You miss out on local action, and also local political satire and its therapeutic effects. I find myself writing and publishing topical verse in response to events at home. Daily life in the medium of another language changes your relationship to English. It estranges and intensifies it. But not hearing your native language also impedes certain avenues of memory. Sometimes I encounter a word I haven’t heard used in many years, and it fairly resounds in my ears. “gubernatorial, tush, deciduous”… to just name a few. In this collection, you have a beautiful poem about North by Northwest, another about Bringing Up Baby, and a third that references... Continue reading
Posted Jan 5, 2020 at The Best American Poetry
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[A Book Recommendation by Dante Di Stefano] What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump Ed. Martín Espada Curbstone Books, 2019 In his essay, “Filthy Presidentiad: Walt Whitman in the Age of Trump,” published in the November issue of Poetry magazine, three time Best American Poetry contributor Martín Espada argues that in “the bicentennial of democracy’s bard,” Whitman’s democratic vision might provide Americans of the twenty-first century with a means to navigate the murk of a demagogic presidency and a twenty-four hour news cycle. Espada underscores that Whitman’s vision of democracy involved radical openness (“Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs”), empathy (“Whoever degrades another degrades me”), and polyvocality (“Through me many long dumb voices”). “Filthy Presidentiad” also juxtaposes Leaves of Grass against the current border crisis and examines Whitman’s legacy in Latin America and the Caribbean from José Martí to the aftermath of Hurricane María. Espada ends with a discussion of his own poem “Letter to My Father,” itself a reminder to “resist much / obey little,” a sentiment that would have resonated with the poem’s subject, Frank Espada, noted community activist, photographer, and creator of the Puerto Rican Diaspora Documentary Project. In short, “Filthy Presidentiad” is required reading for anyone who loves poetry, justice, courage, and freedom. “Filthy Presidentiad” provides a clarifying lens through which to view Espada’s recent projects as poet and anthologist. Like “Letter to My Father,” Espada’s recent poem, “Floaters,” (published in the November issue of Poetry magazine) owes something to Whitman in its formal structure; more importantly, “Floaters” enacts Whitman’s injunction to poets of the future “to dauntlessly confront…injustice” and to “counteract dangers, immensest ones, already looming in America.” “Floaters” reflects on the deaths of twenty-five-year-old Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, and his twenty-three-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria Martínez Ávalos, Salvadoran migrants whose corpses were found and photographed face down after drowning in the Río Grande. The poem also examines the callous rhetoric of the “I’m10-15” Border Patrol Facebook group in response to the viral images of the tragedy. A few days ago, a far-right white supremacist website published an essay attacking Espada’s poem, “Floaters” and his essay, “Filthy Presidentiad.” At first glance, it might seem odd that such an attack would even happen, but, on further consideration, Espada’s poem, and his essay, represent an existential threat any group whose continuance depends on foisting indignities and silence onto those it deems its enemies. As with Whitman, the threads that connect the stars in Espada’s “Floaters” (and in “Filthy Presidentiad”) are the moral filaments of a great unbridled wildly diffuse imaginative sympathy. Every poem in Martín Espada’s new anthology, What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump (Curbstone Books, an imprint of Northwestern University Press), expresses and embodies a similar form of imaginative sympathy. As Espada notes in his preface: “This is an anthology of poems in the Age of Trump—and much more than Trump. To be sure, there are poems about Trump and his pathological demagoguery,... Continue reading
Posted Dec 16, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Dante Di Stefano: How did Press 53 come into being? Kevin Morgan Watson: Up until 9/11, I was a writer of short fiction and some poetry, and was having some success publishing my work. After 9/11, the stress of being a full-time student—finally earning my BA in English—and being a full-time employee in the airline industry, with a wife and three small children at home, writing became impossible. To find peace, I began editing for other writers and teaching workshops. I found that I enjoyed this process and that I was pretty good at it, so after I lost my job in March 2004, I decided to start a small publishing company to have something creative to do until I found a real job. I opened Press 53 in October 2005 and by March 2006 it was clear that publishing was my real job. DD: What changes in poetry publishing have been most notable for you since the press began in 2005? KMW: I talked with my poetry series editor, Tom Lombardo, about this recently. Around the turn of the century (2000), there were only ten low-residency MFA programs, and today there are close to fifty, so there are a lot more poets with advanced degrees looking for work and looking to be published. Also, online journals were few and not taken seriously by many writers. The poetry community was vast but places to publish were limited. Today, almost every literary journal and magazine has an online presence. Places to submit poetry have grown wildly, and most magazines now accept simultaneous submissions. At our quarterly online journal, Prime Number Magazine, our submission periods run quarterly and we’ll easily receive more than 400 submissions for poetry. If our guest editors aren’t quick to read and respond, they can miss out on fifty to seventy poems that were accepted by other magazines or journals. As for publishing poetry books, we can’t publish all the fine collections that come our way, and where we used to publish five or six poetry collections a year, we are now publishing ten to twelve. That could be attributed to our growth at Press 53, but it is also an indication of how many people are writing and reading poetry. DD: What do Press 53 poetry collections have in common? KMW: We have eclectic tastes but one common thread is that the poetry we publish is accessible. We stay away from abstract, experimental poetry and anything overtly religious or political. An occasional poem in the collection crossing these lines is fine, but stay too long and you won’t make the cut. DD: There’s an interesting line in your bio: “Kevin has earned awards for his own writing in both short fiction and poetry, but he no longer writes for publication.” How has the decision not to write for publication affected your writing life and your work as a publisher? KMW: My decision to no longer write for publication came by default. I tend to run on one... Continue reading
Posted Jul 7, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Dante Di Stefano: You have an exquisite poem called “My Body is a Library” published in Diode, that ends with the following stanza: I’ve renamed every flower For the women who came before me I’ve rewired the plane, redrawn the key And untied the ribbon from my neck Without dropping my head at my feet. If all it takes to lose myself is burning the history that Brought me here, then hand me the match. A story beginning with self-immolation Doesn’t always end in ashes. Reading these lines, I was struck by how they parallel the PANK mission to publish poetry from “a place inhabited by contradiction, quirk and startling anomaly, where the known is made and unmade, and where unimagined futures are born.” Could you begin the interview by riffing on that mission and your own words? Jessica Fischoff: I think PANK’s mission statement really encapsulates itself. I’m not sure I could phrase it any better, but I can say the raw spaces writers allow themselves to access when creating is the place I aim to put myself in with my own work. DD: How did PANK Books come into being? JF: In 2016 John Gosslee started PANK Books to publish diverse and important full and short length books that deserved attention. In conceptualizing the press aspect of PANK it was important to him that all books the press published had the full support of all of the editors regardless of which editor brought the book to the press. As of 2019, Chris Campanioni, Maya Marshal, and Ashley M. Jones have all chosen books for publication alongside John Gosslee. DD: Tell us about the books in the PANK catalog. JF: PANK Books has a very strong eight title catalog of little and big books that range in orientation, voice, craft, and genre. The main thread of our books is that they are inclusive in their support of all marginalized voices. We’ve published new writers, veteran writers, and in 2019 we published a book by a writer who had never published a creative work. We’re always reading, we’re always interested in publishing work we know is important to read. DD: What are some of the unique opportunities and challenges for women-run presses? JF: I’d like to answer with questions I ask myself, and that any editor and writer should ask themselves at least once. How does the curation of a publication change amongst editors of different genders and backgrounds? Do women editors read differently than editors who are not women? Do different topics and styles of writing resonate with me differently than non-female editor counterparts, or does it come down to my personal taste? How do I know whether what I’m publishing and how I’m managing as an editor is because I am a woman, or because I’m drawn to certain writing styles and management techniques? How much of the writing I’m drawn to is because I am a woman and how much is because I am myself? At the... Continue reading
Posted May 3, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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To Those Who Were Our First Gods Nickole Brown Rattle, 2018 Nickole Brown’s To Those Who Were Our First Gods explores the profound links between human beings and our animal kin. In language both colloquial and lyrically charged, Brown examines how predation and kindness play out on “this whole stubborn, / beautiful, fucked-up planet,” which is spinning toward ecological doom, pocked (at least, in America) by chain-stores and fostering “this clocked-in, bottled, florescent-lit existence.” In “A Prayer to Talk to Animals” Brown articulates the central impulse of the chapbook: …Oh, forgive me, Lord, how human I’ve become, busy clicking what I like, busy pushing my cuticles back and back to expose all ten pale, useless moons. Would you let me tell your creatures how sorry I am, let them know exactly what we’ve done? Am I not an animal too? If so, Lord, make me one again. Give me back my dirty claws and blood-warm horns, braid back those long- frayed endings of every nerve tingling with all I thought I had to do today. To Those Who Were Our First Gods focuses on more than what we’ve lost by estranging ourselves from the natural world; it upholds and elegizes “that iridescent song,” “the soft and liquid cathedral” of the animal’s body, which, more often than not, ends up wrapped in a black bag and thrown away. Reading Brown’s poetry reminds one that to be an animal is to be alive in desire and suffering. Traveling Cluster: Poems in Italy David Giannini New Feral Press, 2018 Traveling Cluster, David Giannini’s latest chapbook, is an incandescent travelogue, an homage to Italian culture, a love note to Italy itself. Giannini details his travels through Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, Umbria and elsewhere, while paying tribute to the likes of Michelangelo, Dante Alighieri, and Federico Fellini. Giannini’s masterful craftmanship, his humor, and his varied formal approaches make this chapbook a journey as enjoyable as the one the poet took himself. Traveling Cluster always remains cognizant of the English fascination with Italia; Byron, Shelley, and Shakespeare all receive mentions. “In Verona” affords one such instance: As if Shakespeare could turn in his grave after Giampiero our guide tells of Juliet’s balcony and her statue removed from the courtyard because thousands of tourist hands cracked its bronze breasts by rubbing them “for luck in love” and I wonder does anybody care who now visits her perch and house walls fucked by graffiti. Giannini quotes Anna Akhmatova early on in this chapbook: “Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” How fortunate that the poems in Traveling Cluster allow one an immediate return to such a dream. The Body as Passage Nathan C. Lipps Open Palm Print, 2019 Reading Nathan Lipps’s The Body as Passage calls to mind lines from Robert Bly’s translation of Goethe’s “The Holy Longing”: “I praise what’s truly alive, / What longs to be burned to death.” Lipps stacks and splinters images in a devotional poetry that seethes... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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N.B. The following responses by Mary Meriam are a kind of tonal cento in the spirit of Nicole Santalucia’s newest chapbook, Spoiled Meat. To read a more forthright appraisal of Santalucia’s new work, look at the generous recommendation Meriam offered on the February 2019 Reading List over at Poetry’s Harriet blog. Also, check out Santalucia’s chapbook here. While you’re there, you might acquaint yourself with the many finely written chapbooks available in the Headmistress catalog. ~Dante Di Stefano How did Headmistress Press come into being? Some bitch like me sets the fire, cranks the heat, makes an online journal of lesbian poetry and art, Lavender Review, swallows the flare. The flower pots and lesbian poems blaze one little fire at a time. Books sprout from Headmistress Press, thanks to some bitch Risa Denenberg taking care of the practical side. Could you talk a bit about your catalog? What do Headmistress books have in common? Yellow fires and red fires and cover art by lesbian artists, 52 books that are on fire. Pick the best chicken hut, make the best gas station, send them through the post office, and the readers: all on fire. Tell us about your Lesbian Poet Trading Cards. When the train passes through this neighborhood of flames, Rita Mae Reese knocks over the bitch who lit the first match. Her fire burns in the Chicago Tribune. Pretty soon Kathleen Rooney swirls in flames: Call attention to lacunae in the traditional literary canon and the clouds shrivel up. Dry out and put a face on the absences that exist in many readers’ knowledge. Drop like dog shit and provide another strategy to fight the invisibility that is often all too prevalent in the assembly of both anthologies of past writers and the tables of contents of current literary journals, as when editors say things to the effect of “we wanted to publish more work by (insert under-represented group here), we just couldn't find any.” You’ve published two books under the Sally Jane Books imprint. Could you tell us about these titles? To the sides of the streets and highways, where heroin addicts are left for dead, we start a wild and free imprint, where farmers grow lettuce, we trade sheep, text and art in exciting, fun, and innovative shoelaces and guns. What else is on the horizon for Headmistress Press? 2019 AWP Book Fair in Portland. What is one thing American poetry needs more of, in your opinion? Some bitch like me. Nicole Santalucia’s Spoiled Meat won your most recent Charlotte Mew chapbook contest. Would you tell us about the contest and about Santalucia’s book? Spoiled Meat is a foul-mouthed rural fantasy, allegory, satire. It’s rage against the world’s waste, sickness, horror, corruption, injustice. It’s a witch’s hell-call for change. Some bitch Santalucia recounts the apocalypse with authority, takes the blame, makes the change. Could you end the interview with a poem from Spoiled Meat? Here’s the bitch-action I nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Pennsylvania on Fire Some... Continue reading
Posted Mar 1, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Bad Zoo Joseph Spece Fathom Books, 2018 Joseph Spece’s new collection of poetry, Bad Zoo, questions, with barbed vehemence, the knowability of any self; the poems in this odd bestiary writhe with uncanny personae bent on articulating the extraordinary. Spece’s aesthetic lies far outside the mainstream of contemporary American poetry, in line with Fathom Books’ mission to publish texts “fit to meet—or be—the Gorgon: avant-garde, neo-gnostic, queer, monstrous, dire, Other.” In Bad Zoo, Spece positions “a nasty, Queer, alterity; willfully ugly” against the malaise of the easy and the mundane. Even the presentation of the text, with artwork by Darren Hopes and design by Eric Westerlind, defies the conventional. Bad Zoo concerns itself less with the precincts of memory and the autobiographical lyric and more with the provinces of alienation, alteration, and embodiment, wherein ordinary words might be forged into “a pinwheel of runes // like shivs in hot gold.” The poetry in Bad Zoo is difficult and disorienting: the subject matter desultory, the approach off-kilter, wracked, scuttling. Spece engages figures as diverse as Herculine Barbin and Jason Vorhees, Matthew Shepard and Spider-Woman. The debts the author acknowledges in the endnotes are telling: “to Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, Bennett’s Pond, Vince’s THE ADRIFT OF SAMUS ARAN, Adams-Santos’ Swarm Queen’s Crown, Lispector’s The Passion According to G.H., Rimbaud’s Illuminations, and the video games Silent Hill 2 (2001) and Parasite Eve (1997).” Throughout the many erasures and blackouts in this collection, one perceives that Spece is a poet near to the wild heart of life, despite his penchant for misdirection and his aggressively eldritch style. There are also moments of unchecked beauty and quietude here, as in “Cherry Heirloom”: — / I must write / the story of / absolute doe.” For these moments alone, Bad Zoo is worth the price of admission. This is certainly not a book for every reader, but if you are interested in reading ambitious, truly outré poetry, then Bad Zoo is a must-read for you. As Spece notes in “Lovely Colloquy”: “Transforming what’s strange is transforming.” Bad Zoo is transforming and transformative from start to finish. 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, 2019). 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 Jan 21, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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Dante Di Stefano: In his introduction to The Best American Poetry 1988 John Ashbery wrote: “there is not much ‘political’ poetry that I like for the reason that the political sentiments reiterated in it are usually the exact ones I harbor, and I would rather learn something new.” Considering the efflorescence of political poetry right now, and your own background as a union organizer involved in direct political action, could you begin the interview by riffing on Ashbery’s quote and its relevance to the political poetry being written in the Trump Era? Joe Weil: I think a lot of political poetry preaches to the already converted, but in that sense it is as vital a trope as carpe diem is, or as vital as an elegy for a recently deceased poem might be. That might make political poetry seem dangerously close to a conventional form or rather formula (lots of rhetorical devices including anaphora, lots of listing and enumerating, the use of invective, the inserting of a We and a Them, and so on). But when Political poetry fails, like when most poetry fails, it fails in the way its puts lines and nouns and verbs together. It does not fail intrinsically because it is political poetry. There is nothing innately wrong or inferior about political poetry. Much of the world’s best poetry is political... Blake’s Chimney Sweeper poem (the one in the Experience section) succeeds both as a political poem, but also as a powerful poem about the suffering of child laborers. Its words are so well chosen and so chilling. It is as great a poem as Goya’s “Saturn Eating his Children” is a painting. Most of the poems we love by the romantics were deeply political. Time has blurred the causes, but left the images and the main ideas of freedom and newness vivid. Political poetry might be considered tacky or obvious, but it surprises me Ashbery didn’t take to it, since he often liked traipsing the thin line between the sublime and the tacky, the lyrical and the obvious (he loved playing with cliché) . One of his poems ends with: “Rivers of wings surround us and vast tribulations.” That ominous declaration rings politically true at this moment in time though the poem was written in the 1950’s. Political poetry, when it is good, continues to have many lives and uses. It transcends its moment and exceeds its own cause. Done well, it is both anciently sudden and suddenly ancient. It does not date DD: In the “Pre-Rambles,” or introductory essays, to the first two issues of Shrew you lay out some guidelines for the magazine. I’m most interested in your idea of a “pre-standard” aesthetic, a concept that I think connects to another idea you’ve written about, a “Eucharistic vision” of poetry and the world. Could you unpack these concepts for us? JW: If you start with “Standards” you’re already publishing poems that fit a mold. The mold may not be precise or even visible,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 30, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
Phantom Signs: The Muse in Universe City Philip Brady The University of Tennessee Press, 2019 Philip Brady’s new collection of essays, Phantom Signs: The Muse in Universe City, assays the enthusiasms and hidden architectures of a lifetime spent in academia and in poetry. Brady, poet, professor, basketball player, editor, and book publisher, brings tremendous erudition and empathy to bear on topics ranging from the wrath of Achilles to the flat earth theories of Kyrie Irving. Phantom Signs offers dispatches from the interstices between middle age and old age; the essays in this volume derive their momentum from the competing imperatives of the poet and the editor. As Brady notes in the introduction, “this book emerges from the tension between these two modes of being in the world: the writer’s dark, the editor’s light.” Brady’s subject matter is multifarious, vertiginous, constantly overlapping; the approach of the essays themselves are by turns Borgesian, Deleuzian, and Dionysian. Brady is not afraid to stutter step, to sucker punch, to jackknife, to parry, to juke, to barrel down the lane, to take a charge, to lay out, to confess, to faux-disclose, to retrace, to praise, and to re-envision himself and his ideas through a kaleidoscopic array of experiences—from his childhood in Queens, through his Peace Corps days in Zaire, to his years teaching at Youngstown State University in Ohio. Phantom Signs skitters playfully between memoir and criticism, impelled forward by the inspired imaginary chirography of luminary figures—real and fictitious, heroic and infamous—beginning with Chinua Achebe, Achilles, and Aeneas, and ending with Zarathustra, Robert Allen Zimmerman, and Louis Zukovsky. Brady recounts love affairs, travel, aging, a late marriage, recollections from early childhood, the innerworkings of a small poetry press, the insights gleaned from a life wed to great literature. Along the way there are notable observations, such as: “Poems are so enigmatic. Each emerges from some private darkness which publication does not entirely dispel. No one wants to be taken in by a false poem. An accidental verse.” Here, as everywhere else in Phantom Signs, Brady emphasizes the mysterious, the atomized substance of words charged with the ambition of enduring. In an essay that served as a commencement speech for the Wilkes University MFA Class of 2016, Brady writes: “When I say that writing begins with failure, I mean only that it begins there—what happens next is what counts. Most people give up. I think that those who make writing a life’s vocation aren’t necessarily the most talented; they are merely the most willing to experience profound and continuous defeat.” For those of us who love poetry, it is lucky that Philip Brady is one of those who haven’t given up. 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... Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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