Archive | General RSS feed for this section

Happy Birthday, Vouched Atlanta!

19 Jul

It’s hard to believe that it’s been three years since Vouched Atlanta made its debut in the city. (Sometimes it’s almost as if I’m still wiping the sweat off of my brow, admiring Heather Christle’s delicate cadence, Amy McDaniel’s boundless charm, or Bruce Covey’s jovial manner as they read to us at the very first Vouched Presents reading.) We’ve come a really far way since then – over fifty readers hosted, nearly a hundred titles in rotation, dozens of presses represented – it’s pretty damn grand. Of course none of the accomplishments above could have happened without the unwavering support of all the Vouched contributors, the authors and presses whom we represent, and the wonderful people within the community itself. And since I don’t have a stage upon which to thank them this year, I’m choosing to do so from this modest corner of the internet. (Thanks everyone.)

Doey Zeschanel, light of my heart and my table.

Doey Zeschanel, light of my heart and my table.

A lot has changed since then – both within the literary landscape nationally and within Atlanta, and then, of course, within my personal life, too. Writers and friends have weaved in and out of our city limits, reading series have launched, new presses have begun printing, and the literary movement in the city has blossomed. I’ve had the humble honor of watching what once was a fledgling literary landscape bloom and burgeon from the sidelines, shielded behind an tiny pop-up bookstore in the faint glow of a deer lamp (love you, Doey Zeschanel). Watching all of it evolve has filled me with endless joy, while also bringing me pause for evaluation.

Since birthdays are a great time for reflection, I’ve devoted a lot of time to reassessing my efforts with Vouched Atlanta as of late. It’s important to me to focus my efforts where I am most needed, given how much the landscape has changed. And pondering that is what has led me to make this announcement: that Vouched Presents, the reading series portion of Vouched Atlanta, will be retired as of Labor Day weekend with the collaborative reading we will be hosting with #WeLoveATL at this year’s Decatur Book Festival. This is by no means the end of Vouched Atlanta. Simply put, organizing and promoting readings takes up a lot of bandwidth and dedication on my part, and Atlanta now has a bevy of active, well-attended readings at her disposal, I would rather focus that energy where it is most needed: bringing more small press books to the city and championing them. It’s my hope to set up shop more consistently at the reading series that we’ve come to partner with over the years, and to act as a consult to different readings that take place – through assisting with their marketing, promotional and reviewing efforts.

I’m really, really thrilled about these advances. (I’ve already brought nearly a dozen new titles to the table since the Atlanta Zine Fest last month, and continue to place orders and plan reviews for the approaching weeks.) As stated earlier, a lot has changed in the past few years in my life, but if one thing has never wavered it’s my love of words. It could be easily argued that has been the cornerstone of my persona since childhood – having grown up so nomadically, uprooting from state to state every few years with my family, I never had the benefit of having life-long friends (aside from my sister). What I did have were books, my constant companions. Whenever we moved to a new town, the second we had things at home in order, my mom would haul my sister and I off to the library and get us our cards. To this day you can find me accompanied with a pile of four or five titles I’m devouring on hand. In short: books are my anchor. So it only makes sense for me to advocate them with boundless fervor – literature has given me everything, I’ll never stop giving back.

Downtown Writers Jam

12 Jun

Vouched Indy will be at the inaugural Downtown Writers Jam on Wednesday, July 23,  at Indy Reads Books. The Writers Jam will be a new kind of reading: no podium and no papers (or iDevice in hand), just a writer telling a story from their work. Organized by The Geeky Press, a loose collective of writers, the Jam promises to a sock-rocking event all about promoting writers and facilitating conversation and awesomeness. Anyone is welcome to submit their work for consideration. Read the guidelines here. And Jared Yates Sexton will be there, so I think it’s safe to say that a good time is guaranteed. See you there!

Event Details

What: Downtown Writers Jam

Where: Indy Reads Books, 911 Mass Ave, Indy

When: Wednesday, July 23, 6:30-8:30

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/708880852487090/?fref=ts

Awful Interview: Benjamin Carr

19 May

1486752_10152081831194820_45510406_n

This is Benjamin Carr. After reading at just about every other reading series in Atlanta he’ll finally be reading at the next Vouched Presents on Wednesday, May 28th. In Atlanta’s literary realm this accomplishment equitable to EGOT-ing (winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award, respectively), launching Benjamin to a tier of literary performers prestigious and rare. We had the privilege of interviewing him, awfully, prior to the big night.

Benjamin, what’s it like having a name with a built-in nickname? Is it as awesome as it seems? Do you prefer Ben, Benji or the full Benjamin? Does it fluctuate?

It’s been hell. I grew up as Benjie (yes, with an ‘e’) around the same time those dog movies became popular, so there’s been that my whole life. I hate that damn dog. In college, I wrote a column in the newspaper about how I fantasized about running down that dog with a car. But now, after years of therapy, those things just strike me as funny.

As for the name I prefer, it does fluctuate based upon when you met me, how you met me or where you met me. Everybody from my hometown or from college knows me as “Benji” because nobody remembers to spell it with that ‘e’ my parents were so fond of. If you’ve met me through one of them or just socially know me, you call me “Benji.” My byline when I wrote for newspapers was always Benjamin, even when I was in high school, so those people call me Benjamin.

And at my current job, Jerad Alexander was one of my first supervisors and always called me “Ben.” I think the on-site military told him I was Ben. Everyone in the office calls me Ben. But it’s the first place I’ve ever been Ben anywhere. Before this job, I avoided that name out of fear that it would lead people to call me “Has-Ben” or, worse, “Ben-Gay.” Now, if someone called me that, I would just think they were ridiculously moronic.

So, no one’s ever called you Benny? Is that a name? Did I just make that up? Also – are you kind of nervous sharing the stage at this reading with your supervisor?

No one’s called me Benny. I have no jets. My nephews don’t even call me Uncle Ben, so I never bring them rice.

Benny is a name, though I can’t think of anyone of note who managed to go by it past the age of 10.

It’s sort of hilarious, but I got really, really excited when I found out Jerad was in this show and went over to his cube, like, “We’re doing a show together!!! We’re doing a show together!!!! We haven’t shared a stage before!!!” And he looked at me the way he used to when I was a wayward, goofy employee, the sort of glare that just says without a word, all Marine-like, “Calm your shit down, crazy person …”

Jerad Alexander is the sort of guy you want in charge of something, passionate enough to fight, common-sense enough to not suffer fools and smart enough to know when to stay quiet. He keeps me in check, at work and as a friend, and I think he’s the best.

He’s in a different department now. I miss him. Luckily, he is now part of the community. He’s done Write Club, Carapace, Naked City. But we’ve never been onstage in the same show before. I’m super excited. And intimidated.

His writing is fucking incredible. Did you read his book? Can I take the opportunity to plug his book? It’s a novella called The Life of Ling Ling, available for digital download. I read it in a Walmart storefront Subway restaurant one afternoon, and the narrative took me away from all the other Walmart shoppers and placed my imagination in a war zone. It was great.

“Excited and intimidated” is a good way for me to behave around Jerad, though. So this is going to be a great night.

Laura, this conversation is going more smoothly than any other conversation we’ve ever had before at the Vouched Retail-Display Table of Wonder. Is that the name of the table? Does the table have a name? Perhaps we can call it Benny.

Wowee! That was a plug. I think you just life-blurbed Jerad Alexander. Congratulations, Jerad! And you’re right, this conversation is much more smooth than any we’ve ever conducted over my unnamed Vouched table. If we name it Benny, is it technically your namesake? What are some alternative names? I’ve already got a dear lamp named Doey Zeschanel. Not to mention the ghost of a beloved, lovely assistant, Lauren Traetto.

I miss Traetto. I did a HydeATL show with her right before she left town, but she was just lovely. Perhaps we should name the Vouched booth “The Traeble” to honor her.

God, I’m nervous about this reading.

Don’t be nervous! Just imagine everyone in the audience naked, right? Yeah? Is that still a thing? And yes, let’s call it the Traeble!

I think Lauren would be honored. And, if not, we just don’t have to tell her and could call it the Traeble behind her back. By moving from Atlanta, she lost her say in the matter.

I’m not going to imagine the audience naked. We know some really cute people. That just seems problematic. I’ve never understood that advice. I mean, yeah, everyone naked is without their defenses, vulnerable and less threatening. But, I mean, boobs, six-pack abs and stuff. I’d be afraid to step away from the podium. Fear of my own tumnescence.

Aren’t you reading at this event too, or is it another Laura?

It’s another Laura. You’ll like her a lot, I think.  Do you like most Laura’s for the most part? I can never tell how to feel about women named Simone at first.

OK, again we’re on what names mean to me. The first Laura I ever knew was Half-Pint on “Little House on the Prairie,” and I had a crush on her. So, as a result, every Laura has benefitted from that, considered to be good, fun, decent and a pioneer capable of running down a hill covered in flowers while in a gingham dress. I assume you could rock some pigtails.

My first Simone was the waitress who took a bus to France in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, so, consequently,  I always assume they have mean boyfriends and like to watch the sunrise from inside a giant, hollow brontosaurus.

Culture’s been so unfair to certain names. (I still hate that dog.)

 So, nervousness aside – what are you  most excited about for the reading? Also, how should I introduce you? Ben? Benjie? Benny-Boy?

The thing that most excites me is that I’ll finally have gotten to officially do an event with you, which has been long planned. I’m trying to get some sort of Atlanta Lit Scene triple crown by doing all the major events or, at least, contributing work to all the major players. (Is it weird that I think we have major players?)

Introduce me as Benjamin Carr. If people think that I’m all serious and professional, what I bring to the stage might surprise them more. This should be fun.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Dear Corporation

7 May

 

Adam Fell’s second collection, Dear Corporation (H_NGM_N Books, 2013), is written to the gods of the twenty first  century, those entities capable of bending the course of history that are simultaneously indifferent to the lives of people who will live through it. Fell’s epistles are survey responses given as manifestos, comment cards in the form of maltov cocktails.

Fell’s Dear Corporation is a call to riot. It screams in the face of welling indifference and easy neo-liberalism that characterizes the opening of our new millennium. He writes:

Politicians never counted on us. Wall Street never counted on us. The cadaverous yuppies and their screaming vegan babies never counted on us. Investment bankers swear they keep finding our faces burned into their zeroes and ones like belligerent, binary Marys. They feel our fingers down the throats of their housing bubbles, our teeth foreclosing on the napes of their uninsured necks. To put it more delicately: I want you to fuck the fiscal responsibility out of me. I want you to fuck me until universal health care. We are the only thing that is too big to fail, so put down the briefcase and come skin the rabbit with me.  (22)

Fell wants to stain the immaculate corporate surfaces over which we crawl like ants looking for spilled Coke. He strips out the eggshell-painted drywall, pulls up the laminate flooring made to look like real wood grain to show us the chaos a corporation is trying to cover with its flattening of human experience. Fell states:

[S]o let me get my wolf cub teeth right into the deer heart of our matter: there is a brimming and braveness and feral intelligence to you that I’m taken with. Where I suspect a wilderness may be, a wilderness usually is, and I can’t help but explore. My dear Corporation, you are the PJ Harvey of the investment banking world, the Margaret Atwood of subprime mortgage lenders. You say you are unfamiliar with the taste of man, but I know a dive bar in Red Hook that proves you a liar.  (54)

Fell uses the corporation to represent everything that isn’t corporeal. Just as the word no longer contains the human body, the corporation Fell addresses is one that has moved past the human experience, and the letters Fell writes could be as easily addressed to Target as the US government.

In Dear Corporation Fell wants to anchor humanity in people instead of the illusory capital, both economic and cultural, held in corporations. Fell writes:

Adam and Eve with the apple unbit never had to un-coin their eyes to imbalance, inequity, the ingenuity and ignorance and incessant allure of the world. To wake in the dark of the woods and realize we have been created at all is to realize we have not always been, that we will not always be. We are not born to stake a claim, but to claim a stake in each other, to burn alive if needed in the pure resurrection of our simultaneous decay. (27)

Fell locates himself with people. Fell is like a human submarine sending out waves of noise in the hopes of having someone give him a signal as to where he is. Ultimately, Dear Corporation is a letter asking us to write back.

And that’s what I found so successful about this book, it’s willingness to be human, to say anything to get us to connect with it as a human document. Dear Corporation is prosaic. It digresses. It writes vaguely inappropriate postcards. It sings with the radio when it’s drunk. It may, at times, lack artifice, but never art.

Awful Interview: Daniel Lamb

4 Apr

Daniel Lamb!

This is Daniel Lamb – a member of the literati in Atlanta, and a contributor over at The Five-Hundred! He’ll be reading at the next Vouched Presents at the Goatfarm on April 10th. (The reading that was delayed by an epic ice storm) in the spirit of that reading, he let me interview him waaaaaaaay back in February. It went pretty well. We talked about bars a lot. Come see him read, yeah?

Vouched: So Daniel, you work at Manuel’s Tavern, right? What’s it like to work with a chicken coop over your head?

Yes, I’m one of the weekend day-time bartenders; I’ve been there for a few years now.  It’s a really different kind of bar- there are always actors and musicians and writers hanging out there, as well as a really eclectic older crowd of politicians, business folk, lawyers, and crazies. It’s a pretty good place to work if you want to collect ideas for fiction work.  At first, I had my doubts about the chicken coop.  When the owner, Brian announced to the staff that we were building a roof-top chicken coop, people started looking bewildered and, quite frankly, a little grossed out.  I wasn’t sure if this was a serious deal or just a crackpot notion.  I was very, very wrong- obviously, you can see the coop today from the street. That project took about six or eight months to come to fruition.  A few months back, Brian brought in some baby chicks when the coop was yet in its infancy, and I was sold.  Those little birds brought a sense of hope and wonder to the place.  I get to tell the chicken story a lot these days while I’m working, and people have a really childlike curiosity in their voices when they ask the chicken question.  Now, if you’re lucky enough to stop by when Brian is around, he’ll talk you into going up on the roof and visiting the hens and the super green sustainable luxury coop they live in.  They are very social and like the attention.  They will peck your feet and untie your shoelaces.  Their eggs have been helping business, too.  We use the eggs during brunch, and they’re quite tasty- we sold out last week.  If you really want to read more about the chickens, the coop, and the eggs, there’s a lengthy post on the Manuel’s Tavern Facebook page.

 

Vouched: Who are some of your favorite regulars? How does working at the bar influence your writing work?

I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some really interesting people.  It’s always really nice to see my friends come in to the bar.  Having said that, some of my favorite regular customers are people who I probably wouldn’t cross paths with socially, by circumstance, not virtue.  There’s this guy we call Angry Dan.  He’s in the construction business, and sometimes he’s angry- but he’s a really interesting guy who loves to talk about music, especially classic blues and rock, and likes sharing his knowledge.  There’s a couple, Harriet and Doug, who some of us call the Tavern grandparents.   They’re residents of Candler Park and they’ve been patrons since the 1950’s.  Harriet likes to order a “grandma beer,” which is a Yuengling in a short glass.  Her husband prefers pints.  My very favorite customers always have a story to tell.   Author Charles McNair frequents the Tavern and is always very encouraging.  I wait on GIE (Government in Exile) and the Seed-N-Feed Marching Abominable most Tuesday nights- both of these groups are comprised of some of the most intense personalities in Atlanta, and the keep me on my toes.  I really like waiting on the Metro Atlanta Task Force For The Homeless- Jim and Anita are two of my favorite people in Atlanta- Anita always brings me a hug when she stops by.  I also love the literary crowd that inevitably comes in after Write Club or Scene Missing- there’s always hullabaloo when Nick Tecosky, Myke Johns, Jason Mallory and their posse come by.  I know I’m probably forgetting some key people here, but there are just so damn many of them!

 

I don’t write much about the Tavern in my fiction or about the people I’ve met through work, but working behind the bar has made me a much better listener.  I think, as a writer, listening is definitely more important that talking.  As a writer, I have all the time in the world to think about what I am going to say, but I don’t know how much time I’ll have to hear what others have to say.  People in bars are very generous in telling their stories, and when I have the time to really listen, it’s like reading some of my favorite authors- it can be a transcendent experience, and ultimately, it’s part of how I make a living.

 

Vouched: Man, I need to hang around Manuel’s more often. Sounds like you have some incredible folks there. What are you working on these days?

I’m still feeling the effects of Write Club victory euphoria at the moment.  I’m wearing a few different hats right now, writing-wise.  I’m in the Rhetoric & Composition undergrad program at Georgia State, so I’m writing lots of papers, and  I’m  the ads and specials items that go up on Manuel’s Facebook page on the weekends.  I have a some writing assignments I am working on for a couple of live lit events that are coming up: a book review for an online magazine, Scene Missing (The Show) in February and the Vouched Books reading next month.  I am writing primarily short stories, some fiction and some creative non fiction.  Ideally, I’d like to find a home for some of these pieces.  Some of the stuff I’ve done is over at Scene Missing and some at The Five Hundred.  For a while I was tossing everything I wrote up on my blog, but maybe it’s not the safest bet to throw everything up there, all willy-nilly.  Back in November, I attempted NanoWriMo, and “lost” pretty bad, but I mined a lot of ideas.  I’m still sifting through what’s there to mold more short stories, and composing a little music (for fun) on the side.  I have a vague idea for a web-based chapbook that would pair flash fiction stories with soundtrack-like audio via soundcloud, but I’m still meditating on that one.  All in all, I’m keeping busy and trying  to find the stories and tell them in the best way I know how.

 

Vouched: Sounds like a lot of good stuff in the works, then. Tell us – what are you most looking forward to about the reading?

I think what’s really exciting is the interest people are taking in the literary community in Atlanta.  It’s really exciting to become a part of this body of creators that really is very supportive- everyone I come in contact with is really engaged in the discovery of new, good writing.  People have a lot of options as to how they spend their limited free time, and it’s awesome to see crowds patronizing these readings around town.  About The Five Hundred:  I really like a lot of the stories that I read there, and I’ve really enjoyed writing the pieces I’ve done for the publication.  What’s interesting about the whole thing is that it’s kind of an online writer’s workshop.  Everyone comments on one another’s work, offering suggestions on how to make these pieces into stronger, clearer works of fiction.  Flash fiction is a genre I really enjoy reading, partially because of my exceedingly short attention span, and partially because of the intensity that a 500 word story brings.  There’s a sense of urgency with flash fiction that longer work doesn’t necessarily lack, but the flash narrative really captures.  I’m excited to meet some of these writers (very good ones) that I’ve been reading and with whom I’ve corresponded.  Some of these folks are quite accomplished writers, and I’m humbled to be invited to read along side them.

All Of Our Pieces Are Impossible To Collect

20 Feb

The Incredible Sestina Anthology, recently published by Write Bloody, demonstrates editor Daniel Nester’s penchant for greatest hits. On a Wednesday night at the NYU Bookstore, Daniel Nester is excited, and he bounds to the podium each time another of the poets, recently published in The Incredible Sestina Anthology, finishes their piece. During the reading he sits in the front row in his usual pose, hand on cheek, rapt, along with the rest of the audience. Compiling a varied collection of more than 100 sestinas, the collection is reawakening a genre. Obsessive and enchanting, The Incredible Sestina Anthology is a pleasure to flip through, and an essential to own. For interviews with many of the sestina authors, visit here, for a sestina sampler, see below.

sidebartisa2
(Edited by Daniel Nester | Write Bloody Publishing | $25.00)

Beth Gylys NOT AN AFFAIR: A SESTINA
You’re crazy if you called this an affair.
We slept together, and I made you come.
No big deal. You’ve got a lot of strange
ideas. You think you know so much about me,
think because you’ve seen me naked that counts
for something. Just because I put my head

Victor D. Infante SIX PORTRAITS OF DISINTEGRATION
This is where we meet, in the crumbling,
navigation by skin flakes, chips of bone,
these trails of ourselves that we leave behind
as we learn what’s breadth and what is breathing,
that baby teeth were our first offering,
hard truths that fell unbidden from our mouths.

Noelle Kocot WHY WE GO TO COUPLE’S COUNSELING
In spite of all common sense, I make my home in the rotisserie
Of your teeth. This was all prewritten on the gravity
Of a giant planet, and those slightly corrupted
Particles of light that formed the stars.
You say the Eternal. The eternal is not mine but has a Big Mission.
Despite our differences, we manage to create a hoax.

Eric LeMay THE SESTINA OF O
Rule one: The mouth rounds open as an O.
That shape’s yours, Slave, to lavish and caress
Whatever Master thrusts in you. It’ll go
Hard on your ass unless you mouth, “O yes!”
Drool, too. Unlike love, drool’s a no-no.
Droolers are beat in a big and baby’s dress.

Florence Cassen Mayers ALL-AMERICAN SESTINA
One nation, indivisible,
two-car garage
three strikes you’re out
four-minute mile
five-cent cigar
six-string guitar

Jeffrey Morgan WHEN UNREAL GIRLFRIENDS DIE: THE MANTI TE’O SESTINA
Sadness pulls its drawstrings tight and a tragedy
that never happened becomes loss we
can’t answer for by carving a rectangle in the ground.
This kind of duplicity is so much more than two.
A tabernacle of coaches, a clowder of teammates;
we are poor indeed when only life measures death.

Amanda Nadelberg MY NEW PET NAME IS MOZZARELLA
My new pet word is mozzarella
and I like how it sounds. You
mozzarella me when you park the
car. When you open the mail with
your teeth. Teeth are not tools my
friend’s mom says and she’s a

dental hygienist.

Kiki Petrosino CRUSADERS
The note you dropped became a bird.
It sleeps in my chest.
Wings abjure in dreaming white.
How fast it dreams.
How slur.
A silence in the canebrake.

(One of the) Best Things I’ve Read in the Past Year

25 Jan

The moment I loved best in Michelle Orange’s Sicily Papers (published by Short Flight/Long Drive Books, a division of Hobart) was this:

But I’m terribly nostalgic. Been that way since I could pronounce it. Always afraid of time passing, hating change. I tell this story a lot but I remember feeling like my world was ending when my dad changed our kitchen garbage bag under the sink from a paper bag that sat on the floor of the cupboard to one of these new-fangled plastic jobs that screwed into the inside of the door. I was inconsolable, I begged him not to do it. I felt it was the end of an era. Everything was before and after for me. I was four years old.

I can’t be the only person out there who absolutely identifies with Orange’s expression of loss, of terror of the unknown and new and different. When my parents painted our kitchen cabinets white (over a color I can only describe as rotten avocado), I was totally thrown off. I was also four or five. What’s so perfect about Orange’s above passage is the specificity of the moment, the tiny thing that completely upset her.

This relatable specificity runs throughout the pages of this compact volume chronicling a month in Italy (it’s made to look like a passport! gold stamping and everything!). Orange’s wry humor makes me want to sit down with her over a cup of coffee and laugh. She writes in real time, so we learn about the bros that sit near her on her flight—one of them is looking forward to “hott” Swedish girls—and her terror of an “ancient white spider” in her skirt while she’s resting near some ruins. She sounds like that friend you have that’s crazy enough to always be fun but stable enough to be able to listen and give some kind of meaningful advice.

She’s also not afraid to confess her fears and shortcomings or to express her displeasure or bouts of dislike for B, the person to whom she’s addressing all of the letters in The Sicily Papers. We don’t learn too much about B. We assume that Orange and B are together, in some sense of the word, since she talks about missing B, wishes B were with her in certain moments, chastises B for not writing her more. But it’s apparent she’s in love to some degree. She plans to surprise B in New York at the end of her trip in Italy. My stomach turns a bit when I read this. There’s just something about not seeing B’s replies. There’s something about what we don’t read, even in Orange’s letters. It’s what’s left unsaid. Orange is meticulous in describing lava formations (she uses the word credenza!), the faces of young Italian boys, and the awkward configuration of her first apartment’s shower (too many windows for construction workers to peep through). The letters are firmly not love letters to B. There is no pining for B’s presence. Orange writes that every year she has extended her stay in Italy, attempting to retain the peace and relaxation the vacation gives her Italy is her love affair. She expresses distaste for the 9-to-5 grind and yearns for the sunny carefree-ness of Italy. Of course, she has a vacationer’s view, even though she sticks to small towns and shuns hotels in favor of apartments. She improves her Italian and practices her French. She chats with locals and suns on beaches. She doodles to B while taking a break from tours of ruins and catacombs. It’s no wonder she prefers this life to Toronto.

Yet she’s restless. Orange never stays in one town for very long before she’s picking up and moving on. She gives herself no chance to settle, to nest, to make more lasting connections with those around her. Is this what she savors? She writes to B that she loves traveling by train—“Something about being trapped in motion.”—and her later ferry ride enchants her. She glories in moveable stasis, where all she has to do is go with the flow. Her love of this type of travel, the limbo it puts her in, loops right back to her fear of change when she was younger, her current fears of change. While she’s on a train or ferry, things remain relatively the same. When she disembarks, that’s when she’ll need to engage with the wider world.

The Sicily Papers captures Orange in her 20-something limbo. She yearns for her group of friends from when she was 20: “I miss those people, that group of friends I had. That was the happiest time in my life. That’s the last time I remember feeling that I had a network of people around me I really liked and trusted.” After college and without grad school, it can be difficult to recreate that network of friendship and trust and love and support. Orange isn’t necessarily desperate for this company, but her touch of melancholy pervades the book and pulls a cloud or two over the brilliant Italian sun.

But Italy is that privileged space that lets her decompress and write and wander and eat fruit and admire Italian style (especially how leather jacket-clad teenage boys greet each other with cheek kisses). She, for the most part, eschews technology and e-mail in favor of old-fashioned, molasses-slow letter-writing. Everything was before and after for her, but Orange has found a way to escape that terrifying dichotomy: she travels to Italy so she can put time on hold and live in the in-between.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Meetze and Lee

30 Dec
DArt Pmoth

Recently, I stumbled upon two amazing, little books: James Meetze’s Dark Art I-XII (Manor House, 2013) and Sueyeun Juliette Lee’s A Primary Mother (Least Weasel, 2012). Both contain strong writing predicated upon extended meditations of subject matter simultaneously extraordinary and mundane; yet, each collection does so in its own unique manner.

Meetze’s monograph is the inaugural release for Manor House, which is an extension of the journal Manor House Quarterly. No “purchase page” exists for this collection as of yet, but I would encourage you to buy it as soon as one goes live. While Dark Art explores several themes and concepts, these poems foreground a meta-critical examination of poetry, which is “the darkest art” (14). Take, for instance, the following excerpts:

The story grows darker with the forest,
the poem in the space between trees. (11)

A realer cold gathering in the touch
of dreams of real people
as ghosts, saying words that won’t ever return.
The words have not unfinished business.
They are magicked into being
in our throats, our mouths, in air, to say
“where language fails, poetry begins.” (12)

I wanted to say without distortion:
language is just a tool.
Warped, it becomes a poem.
The order of the poem is arbitrary
like constellations are; the recipient
of it draws a line from here to here.
So we see a line.
Anyone can make a god out of it. (15)

These three passages provide a fairly accurate representation of the content of Dark Art, and, I think, offer some terrific insights into the nature of poetry.

In the first excerpt, the speaker understands the “poem” to be the “space between the trees”; in other words, we discover poetry in the negative space around an object, not within the object itself. To some extent, invoking the notion of negative space echoes Keats’ concept of negative capability, which is the ability of an artist to reside within “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

The second passage conflates the world of “real people” and their “dreams” in such a manner that poetry becomes an extension or product of the necessary (and, therefore, paradoxically affirmative) failure of language to accurately reflect this in-between space. To this end, the excerpt resonates with Wallace Stevens’ admonition in his “Adagia” that: “In poetry at the least the imagination must not detach itself from reality.” Such a melding of the real and imagined provides both the writer and reader of poetry with a glorious failure that enables us to access otherwise unattainable emotional and intellectual spaces with the aid of poetry.

The final passage offers two separate but equally compelling ideas about poetry. First, the speaker of this poems appears to engage—in a round-about manner—the purpose of poetry. Often times, critics (cultural, poetic, or otherwise) bemoan the fact that contemporary poetry is too insular and affects a flaccid l’art pour l’art stance; on the other side of the spectrum, there are complaints about utilitarian or “accessible” poetry succumbing to market demands and the lowest common denominators of nostalgia and sentimentality. Dark Art suggests that, instead, that we think of poetry as a “Warped” tool that creates a bent, melted, and distorted utilitarianism, such that it produces an ethics of happiness and suffering wherein the resulting outcomes are too convoluted to comprehend (but there are outcomes nonetheless): in effect, splitting the difference between the reductive binary. The second idea this passage forwards is that of the poem as constellation: an open text predicated upon both arbitrary and constructivist modes of reading.

If Meetze’s Dark Art explores the concept of poetry and the manner in which it avoids reification through protean definitions and explanations, then Lee’s A Primary Mother accomplishes a similar task with the idea of light. In fact, the poet prefaces the second half of her chapbook with an epigraph from Book III of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which asks: “May I express thee unblam’d?”

For this reader, though, the Milton quote acts as a provocation for a series of questions more central to this collection, such as: Are we even able to express light through language? And, if so, can we do so directly? To my mind, A Primary Mother answers both of these questions: Yes, we can express light through language, but only in the indirect, warped, and failed manner in which poetry affords; or, as Lee writes, “the sound that fails” (5).

The first half of Lee’s chapbook, which is a series of seven, semi-related prose poems, opens with the declaration that:

Sunblindedness is no longer an epiphenomenon, an attendant attitude of danger buried under mounds of quiet. As a roving brilliance, those caught in it truly reckon how the meanest light defends you. (4)

This passages suggests that “Sunblindedness is no longer” just an effect of starring into the sun; rather, it allows for one not only to stare into the sun, but functions as the cause for doing so. To this end, the poem posits a reorientation of cause-and-effect relationships, and, to some extent, the relationship between language and the world.

And everywhere throughout the first section, the poems beg the question: Does light create the language we use to describe it, or does language itself create light as we know it? The poems, seemingly, never answer the question; but it is the process of continual linguistic displacement and re-orientation of light that, in fact, propels these poems forward:

If brightness is a quantity while oceans writhe and heave around it (4)

It is beautiful to remember pastels after sunsets (5)

This romanticism is a voracious shape between us, reminding us to stare upwards into the negative space that once stood for light. (7)

The inconclusiveness of feelings that arise move with a heat and dynamism analogous to the surface of the sun. (10)

Like Meetze’s poems, which address the negative space between the trees, Lee’s poems call attention to the “negative space that once stood for light” by measuring the ocean through “brightness,” or the remembrance of a beautiful sunset. By using language to provide secondhand definitions of light, these poems generate a sense of “inconclusiveness” about their subject matter because of its “dynamism” and ever-shifting nature.

Lee brings this elusiveness into greater focus during the chapbook’s second half, titled “On Light.” The opening section reads in its entirety:

Add light to light and you have darkness.
Add light to light and you have expanse.
Add light to light and you have memory.
Add light to light and you have light. (13)

Employing the synactical structure of mathematics, the poem is at once contradictory, tautological, noetic, inscrutable, and absurd. How can “light” become “darkness” through addition? How can one add more light to light? Can light be augmented, or is it simply a static state of being? What is the relationship between light and spatial (i.e. “expanse”) and temporal (i.e. “memory”) constraints?

The strength, I believe, of Lee’s poems is that they do not answer these question out-right or in a definitive manner; instead, they continually alter our understanding of light until we realize that it “is more complicated” (18) than we heretofore expected or thought. We might never crack the “cipher” of light’s “myriad message” (22), but in this there is no shame. It is simply enough to “Announce” and “Speak” (22) of light through the warped language of poetry.

Impossible List of Favorite Indie Press Stuff of 2013

20 Dec

Journals: Sixth Finch, iO: A Journal of New American Poetry, Heavy Feather Review, Forklift, Ohio, Sink Review, ILK

Presses: H_NGM_N, Black Ocean, Canarium, Octopus

Poetry (not necessarily published this year): Madame X by Darcie Dennigan, hider roser by Ben Mirov, A Mouth in California by Graham Foust, Maneater by Danielle Pafunda, How We Light by Nick Sturm, The Devotional Poems by Joe Hall, TINA by Peter Davis, You Are Not Dead by Wendy Xu, Flood Bloom by Caroline Cabrera,  Ethical Consciousness by Paul Killebrew, Song For His Disappeared Love by Raúl Zurita, translated by Daniel Borzutzky.

Prose Poetry (not necessarily published this year): Bob, Or Man on Boat by Peter Markus, Collected Alex by A.T. Grant, not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them by Jenny Boully, The Skin Team by Jordaan Mason, I Am A Very Productive Entrepreneur by Mathias Svalina

Chapbooks (not necessarily published this year): NODS. by Carrie Lorig, You Are The Meat by Layne Ransom, Imaginary Portraits by Joshua Ware, No Good by Alexis Pope, 22nd Century Man by Ryan Ridge, From The Fjords by Zachary Schomburg, NAP University by Roberto Montes, Family Album by Danniel Schoonebeek, Patriot by Laurie Saurborn Young, Sins of Omission by DJ Berndt

Various Things From Around The Wacky World (some not published this year): Russell Jaffe at Digital Roots, “Party Time” by Lina ramona Vitkauskas at Matter Monthly, Sister, Thank You” by M.G. Martin as Greying Ghost Pamphlet, “She Says” by Brandon Amico at Sixth Finch, Ashley Farmer at Everyday Genius, from Dear Disappearing” by Tamiko Beyer at Octopus Magazine, “the recorded world was set on fire” by Curt Miller, “In first grade” by Andrew J. Khaled Madigan at Hobart, “If He Hollers Let Him Go” by Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah at The Believer, Hoa Nguyen at Pinwheel, “Hand-Picked In The Dead Of Night” by W.M. Lobko at Phantom Limb

Social Media: Nick Sturm, Cassandra Gillig, Sal Pane

Bookstore: Malvern Books (Austin, TX), IndyReads (Indianapolis, IN)

Reading Series: Vouched ATL, Big Big Mess (Akron, OH), Bat City Review (Austin, TX)

Readers: Matt Hart, Abraham Smith, Heather Christle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Danniel Schoonebeek

Indie Press Cheerleaders: Joshua Ware, Mark Cugini, Laura Relyea

Books I Didn’t Review But Really Liked

18 Dec

For many, many reasons, I’m unable to review a lot of the books I read. Instead of putting together a “Best of the Year” list, I thought it might be more interesting to create a “Books I Didn’t Review But Really Liked” list. Below, then, are a handful of titles I thoroughly enjoyed, along with an excerpt of a poem that I thought was particularly swell:

Blaser, Robin. The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006.

from “Image-Nation I (the fold”

the participation is broken
fished from a sky of fire
the fiery lake pouring itself
to reach here

that matter of language caught
in the fact      so that we
meet in paradise      in such
times, the I consumes itself

the language sticks to
his honey-breath      she is
the path of a tale, a door
to the perishing moonshine,
holes of intelligence
supposed to be in the heart

Gridlley, Sarah. Loom. Richmond, CA: Omnidawn Publishing, 2013.

from “Shadows of the World Appear”

It isn’t difficult to remember
how it went.

A wordless world would be a relief
until it expects you to see a horse.

Try to sing and stand where the aspens quiver.
The breeze will always

be almost there. Go back those few steps:
it isn’t difficult to remember:

the wind will always shine as if
it loved its armored riders.

Hall, Joe. The Devotional Poems. Sommerville, MA: Black Ocean, 2013.

from “Trailer Park”
In an algorithm of trees exploding in your face, shaved from soap
in a prison cell, in a pair of yellow finches
alighting from high power lines over all these dudes
lying on their beds, palming their cocks, waiting for me
leached from circuits in a baroque array of evolving graphical
representations of a black economy, cancer, subverting process,
O Beast! O Christ!
in the mother fucking sound and the mother fucking light
the iterations of thunder, the bass so high
it hurls you into the grass, Beast!

Hass, Robert, ed. The Essential Haiku: Versions of Bashō, Buson, & Issa. New York, NY: Ecco, 1994.

from Bashō’s “Learn from the Pine”

Learn about pines from the pine, and about bamboo from the bamboo.

Don’t follow in the footsteps of the old poets, seek what they sought.

The basis of art is change in the universe. What’s still has changeless form. Moving things change, and because we cannot put a stop to time, it continues unarrested. To stop a thing would be to halve a sight or sound in our heart.

Wieners, John. Selected Poems: 1958-1984. Santa Barbara, CA: Black Sparrow Press, 1998.

from “Poem for Painters”

                                                    No circles
                           but that two parallels do cross
And carry our soul and bodies
       together as the planets,
                      Showing light on the surface
                              of our skin, knowing
                      that so much of it flows through
                              the veins underneath.
                      Our cheeks puffed with it.
                              The pockets full.

Wilkinson, Joshua Marie. Swap Isthmus. Sommerville, MA: Black Ocean, 2013.

from “Upholsterers’ Moon”

so then the moon
drifting way too close
gets leaky

going through treeline when
a voice in the radio
accidentally says your name

Xu, Wendy. You Are Not Dead. Cleveland, OH: Cleveland State Poetry Center, 2013.

from “We Are Both Sure To Die”

Clutching a tiny molten piece
of someone else’s life. I tried sleeping
in a bed made of heavy light. I tried moving
out into the forest where everything
was a deer. Say you will be nothing or
beside me. How best do you correspond
in the darkness of a year? But look the year
rolls over and gives me a new face. Now
you go toward the ocean with a terrible
spirit of discovery. There is getting to know
your body and disowning it. The ocean says you
are not dead. What else did you want
it to announce?

Zukofsky, Louis. “A.” Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978.

from “A-12”

Together men form one sky.
The sky is a man,
You must know this to understand
Why places are different
And things new and old
Why everywhere things are different,
You cannot find out
By looking at skies alone
But from their effects.
One sky is rich in each of us,
Undivided.
When a child is conceived
It gets a sky for a gift.

I would suggest checking out all these books if you already haven’t. Each one will melt your face in their own special way.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,710 other followers