Reading Through The Pile

Zone.3_.Fall_.2016_As summer turns the corner into August, I’m once again playing catch-up with piles of literary magazines I have been wanting to read. Sure, they’re a little out of date, but the poems and stories and essays and reviews within remain fresh and juicy and delicious. #ShelfLife

I just finished reading the Fall 2016 issue of Zone 3, and I just have to say their magazines are always so PRETTY. Really love their design choices all around. And Zone 3‘s not just a pretty face! I dog-eared quite a few page corners in this issue — some really memorable work, some of which I hope to share with my students this fall. 

Andrew Koch‘s poems, “Form a Line” and “Orchard,” are slow, longish poems whose pace and great detail I really enjoyed. These expansive, essayistic poems start small and really take me somewhere I didn’t necessarily expect to go — but, in both instances, the destinations seemed, in the end, not only satisfying but inevitable. Both poems got richer for me with each new reading; I love that!

Ellyn Lichvar’s “Flotsam” invokes the image and the tragedy of Aylan (Alan) Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who died by drowning; the photograph of his tiny body washed up on the beach is revisited here in brutal, spare detail. The poem imagines the life that led Alan, as well as many refugees, to such desperate and life-threatening measures: “Before the child washed // ashore, he mastered the art / of surrender. Hands held high / they pointed at him whatever // was on hand–camera, / gun–and no one said learn / to swim.”

Carrie Shipers’ “Love Poem to Daniel Bryan, Summer 2013″ illuminated both the speaker/”lover” and the “beloved” in ways I found surprisingly moving, given that Daniel Bryan is a professional wrestler on television, not an actual acquaintance (as far as I can tell) of the speaker. Shipers’ direct address seeks to point out similarities between her speaker and the wrestler: “I understand how even doing well can lead // to doubt: How many matches will it take / to prove your critics wrong, make you believe / that you belong? Daniel, like you // I’m either overlooked or under siege / by people with more power, insecure / but tougher than my enemies expect.” I found the repeated invocation of his full name to be so well-done, well-timed, in this poem. 

I reread “Limb” by Ellie Tipton several times, each time sinking a little more deeply into the poem’s affecting details, as well as the smart narrative arrangement of those details. The title and the work with that word “limb” is pretty devastating. As the poem progresses, the lines lengthen, and italicized fragments of language become a kind of archipelago of memory: Always the circle of strangers around you, and your family // strung together on an orange couch with a man called Chaplain, and / mother opened the ICU doors, asking the gentler one, who took her hands and said, / not yet and said thread. And hours later, clinging, we told God: fine.” The two final stanzas of the poem that come on the heels of this one feature much shorter lines, sentence fragments, glimmers, silences. The poem’s end just gutted me every time I read it. It’s a good reason to consider buying a copy of the issue.

I’m not sure what to say about David Huddle’s “Verbal Binary Presence in Early Childhood Development, that Infamously Difficult Poetic Form the Villanelle, and the Spiritual Quotidian.” It’s the winner of Zone 3’s 2016 nonfiction prize. It’s genre-bendy, wide-ranging, thought-provoking, darkly funny in places. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Also, if you are interested in the villanelle form, you must see this. 

Finally, I just wanted to say how pleased I was to see Jamaal May’s The Big Book of Exit Strategies (Alice James, 2016) reviewed by Robert Campbell here. I’m a big fan of May’s work — like Campbell, I find reading May’s poems to be a “sublime pleasure.”

Thanks, Zone 3 editorial team, and thanks, Austin Peay State University Center for the Creative Arts, for supporting such beautiful and necessary work!

 

Information Underload

“And this is why there is endless talk about the latest needle in a haystack finder, when what we are facing is a collapse of the market that funds the creation of needles. ”

Hapgood

The general thesis of the tech world has been, for many years, that there is too much information and we need technology to surface the best information. For a while that technology was pitched as Web 2.0. Nowadays the solution is going to be AI.

I’m increasingly convinced, however, that our problem is not information overload but information underload. We suffer not because there is just too much good information out there to process, but because most information out there is low quality slapdash takes on low quality research, endlessly pinging around the spin-o-sphere.

Take, for instance, the latest news on Watson. Watson, you might remember, was IBM’s former AI-based Jeopardy winner that was going to go from “Who is David McCullough?” to curing cancer.

So how has this worked out? Four years later, Watson has yet to treat a patient. It’s hit a roadblock with some changes in backend…

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Settings: On Collaboration, RE-vision, and the Artistic Process

This month, I had the great luck to attend the premier of award-winning composer Jonathan Santore’s choral setting of a group of my poems, collectively entitled, “Smoking, Drinking, Messing Around.” The piece was featured in a larger performance by the New Hampshire Master Chorale, “From Time To Time.”

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This is the second time my colleague and friend has “set” my poems to music for singing, and I consider such setting a gift. Listening to the poems sung by such talented vocalists to music Jonathan composed is a profound gift to me, personally – I get to hear my poems through the artistic ears and imagination of a brilliant composer, which is like hearing them for the first time, or hearing them anew, separate from the composing/revising voice in my own head. When Jonathan “sets” my work, he makes a whole new thing and offers me a new relationship to the poems – to the words, to the emotional colors, to the tone and tempo.

I used to spend more time doing letterpress work (hand-setting lead type to make poetry broadsides), the “setting” of the poems was also an (unintended, but welcome) opportunity to gain new or different access to old/familiar material, especially at the most fundamental level: the letter, the word, and the line. Setting my own poems using this old technology was so inspiring to me that I wrote a poem ABOUT type-setting my poetry! It’s featured HERE.

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These two kinds of experience—hand-setting poems with lead type and having poems set for a chorus— both have me thinking about how a given work is never really finished in the sense of, say, cement “setting.” Even if the author is done with it, a reader will transform the piece in some way. Even if the reader is done with it, she may return years later with experiences or perspectives that transform, again, her (re)reading. Same for the writer. And when another artist enters the conversation, as Jonathan has done with my work, I find that the new work, the un-finishing, the re-liquefying—the work opens new doorways to the poems I thought I was done with, that I thought were done with me.

My collaborations (here’s an EXAMPLE) over twenty years or so with musicians, composers, dancers, and visual artists, as well as with other writers, have taken many different shapes and directions. They have, across the board, been invigorating, educational, and transformative. I’m feeling resolved today to work actively to seek out opportunities to work with and learn from other artists. Just last week, I met with an area songwriter with whom I hope to collaborate/perform in the coming year. I hope that I have afforded and will continue to afford other collaborators the gift (of insight, of RE-vision) that Jonathan and the Master Chorale (and others!) have provided me.

Recent Publications & News

I’ve been so happy to be included in Indolent Books’ “What Rough Beast” project, publishing a poem “exploring and responding to our nation’s political reality” every day this year. In March, they posted my poem, Fake Ghazal,” and in April, my poem, “Defending the Constitution.” Other favorites of mine from the project include “Overheard” by Noah Stetzer, Carla Drysdale’s “Elegy for Leonard Cohen,” and “Nobody Dies Because They Don’t,” by Laura Winkelspecht. Thanks, Michael Broder, for your tremendous work with this and other projects.

I also want to thank Charlie Bondhus for selecting a couple of poems of mine for publication at The Good Men Project. The first, “My Father’s Tools,” has already been posted, to mark Father’s Day. Another, “Ortho,” is forthcoming.

I also recently had the pleasure of reading some poems and talking about poetry with Dr. Maria Sanders, host of the”Philosophy 4 Life” radio show. Click HERE to have a listen.

My new full-length collection of poems, Beating the Bounds, is due out in September from Hobblebush Books, in their Granite State Poetry Series. The title poem from the collection was recently published in Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry (V 59 / No 2, Spring/Summer 2017).

I am looking forward to making up for a rather dry few months, poetry-wise. I’m on a poem-a-day grind this month, which, though I sort of hate it, does the trick.

 

 

 

Recent Publications

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The end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 have brought a few new poem publications I’m thrilled to share. Most recently, “Others Carried Milk” was included in the Sibling Rivalry Press collection, If You Can Hear This: Poems in Protest of An American Inauguration. The collection is amazing and inspiring, and was assembled by Bryan Borland and the fine crew at SRP nearly instantaneously. You can buy a copy for yourself and, if you’ve got some scratch to spare for a good cause, you can purchase additional copies that the press will distribute for free to communities who might otherwise not have access to the work. If you are not able to spare the $15 at this time, SRP has made a PDF version available (see instructions at purchase link above) for free.

If publication is any kind of evidence, 2016 was, for me, a year for poems written in traditional meter/form. Three of them (“Braid,” “At the Pool Hall,” and “Scansion”) were published in the Winter 2016 edition of Able Muse: A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art. A villanelle I wrote about Summer Lake at the Playa Artist Residency Program appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Measure, along with great poems by at least three other New Hampshire poets (Robert Crawford, Midge Goldberg, and Kyle Potvin).

I was also so honored to be included in new editor Karen Head’s first issue at the helm of Atlanta Review. My poems, “About Suffering” and “Lake Michigan Is So Clear Right Now is Shipwrecks are Visible from the Air” appear right after a great set of poems by my teacher from the long-ago, Ted Kooser.

2016 was a good year overall, publication-wise — poems also appeared in Rappahannock Review, Cutthroat, River Styx, Nimrod, Panoply, A Dozen Nothing, Bloom, and Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women. I’ve got a few poems set to be published in journals this year, but looking at my “work sent out” list, it’s a bit short just now. Time to send more poems out!

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I Will Never Be Caught Up With All This Reading!

Summer is about to turn the corner into August, and I find myself simultaneously working on the stuff I need to finish before the semester starts and continuing to cram as much bonus reading into my days as possible. As in years past, the reading pile is tall and varied, and even includes issues of literary journals I subscribe to, but don’t always keep up with during the school year. Once again, I find myself catching up on Crab Orchard Review (V. 20. No. 2: “20 Years: Writing About 1995-2015”) and finding some real gems I want to make sure my vast and curious readership is aware of.

The lead-off short story, “A Recipe for Mice,” by Amy Knox Brown is so sad and tender and weird and a little creepy! It’s the story of one man grieving the loss of his wife using some uncommon “recipes.” His grief, as well as his anger and frustration with some new neighbors, takes several unusual shapes as the story progresses. I think I might need to share this with my Creative Writing students this fall.

You know, it really is a pleasure to find new stuff to share with students as examples, pieces to get them thinking about the possibilities of imaginative writing. Another from this issue is “Ten Long Weeks at Sea” by Susanna Childress. I love how this poem takes two very different subjects or ideas and weaves them together such that each of the two gets stronger and more interesting. I’ll let you know that one of the subjects of this poem is the giant squid. The other? Go see for yourselves.

Jim Daniels‘ “Filling Out the Health Questionnaire” reminds me to urge students of the pleasures of “found” poetry in all its shapes — the pleasure being multi-faceted — finding, (re)arranging, (re)shaping, (re)combining. This poem is also a great example of finding the profound in the mundane, which has always been, for me, a poetic motivation. The last lines are just terrific: “There is a history of death in my family / that I believe I have inherited.”

I write this from Washington State, visiting my mother on the Kitsap Peninsula, right up the Hood Canal from the Bangor Submarine Base where my dad was stationed for three years when I was a kid. Being here in this house, and going through a lot of my dad’s Navy memorabilia (he just passed away last year and was in the Navy for 30 years; his own father was in for 20), has me perhaps especially primed to love Jehanne Dubrow’s poems, “[To A Navy Wife, in Maryland]” and “Reunion Porn.” The creepy voyeurism of “Reunion Porn,” accompanied by “the itch / of empathy” is very affecting.

I am a sucker for persona poems, and it’s an assignment I almost always give in poetry workshops I teach, so of course I enjoyed Tom C. Hunley’s “Officer Down,” in the voice of the Simpsons’ Chief Wiggum. It turns out to be quite a tender poem, about the Chief’s love for his son, the goofy Ralph Wiggum.

Finally, I loved J.D. Smith’s “Zombie Requiem,” which I will share with my students as an example of one way to write a successful political poem. The poem’s argument here is sneaky — and I guess its moves, although free-verse, are almost sonnet-like in the unfolding of its argument and its turn at the end.

Crab Orchard Review has always been one of my favorite literary journals — I always find memorable work between its covers, they pay writers, and their editors are first-rate literary-community citizens. I hope you’ll join me in celebrating and supporting their important work.