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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.

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

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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,
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.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: Toby Altman

10 Dec

bannerWell, The Offending Adam, once again, has put together another terrific profile of a writer’s poetry. This week, which is the 164th installment of the weekly online magazine, features selections from Toby Altman’s Arcadia, Indiana.

In his introduction, TOA edtior Ryan Winet says of Altman’s sonnet-sequence-and-verse-play-hybrid that the excerpts “indulge in the ventriloquist’s joy, in the play of voices, puns, and adopted speech patterns. The very structure of these poems suggests voice and echo, call and response.”

I agree with what Winet has to say and would like to add that “Landscape With Wind” is fucking awesome. Here is the sonnet half of the poem in its entirety:

I find I am a great many people
each one networking with the wind.
I find I am sexed by the scent of things:
severe and stormy–somewhat cheerful.
I find I am fragile as the weather:
weather that weather composes.
I find I am populated by roses,
dusky flesh and bush of leather:
built by thought and thrilled by startled songbirds,
which rising choir I call “brutes,”
I call “exemplary bodies,” call “use,”
since all at work with time, you lunch your words
      at this table of wind and breast,
      which I call “certainty,” call “rest.”

The poem’s anaphora offers a sonic repetition, working through a series of standard poetic tropes. But Altman tweaks those tropes for our contemporary moment, such that the Whitmanesque “I am a great many people” refers to the “networking” of hyper-capitalism and social media. Likewise, the invocation of “weather” becomes tautological, and his “songbird” becomes a mockingbird through the direct quotation in the concluding “call” section.

I would highly recommend reading the verse play half of this poem, as well as the other selections from Arcadia, Indiana. And, while you’re at it, check out this video of Toby reading the poem at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo, NY earlier this year.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: Collateral Light

3 Dec

Julia-Jules-Cohen-Collateral-LightSure, it’s easy to read Julia Cohen’s second full-length collection of poetry, Collateral Light (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2013), and get lost in the odd, little worlds that it creates in and with language.

If one was so inclined, this would be a relatively easy way to approach the book: as a text that builds itself, its surroundings, and the parameters of those surroundings through bizarre imagery, abrupt non sequiturs, and meta-linguistic statements. Take, for instance, the following excerpt from the title poem:

Pour your wicked
cornstalks over my what

Everyone likes to look
at the moon

Show me mine

Chew a page

Here comes something


Play with
the biggest face

Do you get a bee?

Blue is a very
good color

You happen


I am watching bees
traverse your jeans

I bit the point
of the strawberry

Off to the left
I’m seeding

The light peels back
a ringing splint (29-30)

Outside of a few images that one can easily visualize (e.g. “I bit the point / of the strawberry”), one finds little within this poem that connects directly to the outside world; rather, the poem is very much in and of the world it creates for itself. In fact, the poem self-reflexively announces this hermetic state of being when the speaker declares: “You happen // Here.” Yes, you, reader, occur, exist, and experience the poem only within the poem: in other words, “Here.”

To this extent, reading Cohen’s poems as self-contained objects dedicated to world construction through linguistic play and a poetics of the absurd would seem all well and good. The following excerpts from the poem “We Clamor We Like The Sound Of It,” and their insistence on inventive language use, reinforce this view:

I took
the word for fireworks
Found my mouth
in the knuckle rhyme (76)

It turns
out language
is the other people

Is another person’s
language (77)

The image is a mortal thing
To dwell, to leaves traces (78)

Are your sounds inside
the paper asylum? (81)

                     We broke

the clasp of the orange
dress acquired through language (82)

Whether conflating words with fireworks, redistributing sound throughout the body, exploring the ontology of images, confusing the speaker of a poem, interrogating the origin of sound, or debunking language myths (i.e. “nothing (half) rhymes with orange”), Cohen’s poems call attention to the manner in which her texts use language poetically.

But, to my mind, a more productive way (or, at least, a more interesting way) to read Collateral Light is through the lens of how the poems challenge their own (and our) emotional formations and registers.

To explain this statement a bit further, take the second section of “Practice By Fire & Doubt.” In this poem, the speaker defines a “poetics of doubt” as follows: “You see something, you feel / something, doubt” (87). Her poetics of doubt, then, requires that we complicate both how we feel–and how a poem induces us to feel–strangely.

Of course, the impetus for this poetics of doubt stems from the speaker’s desire to do something with her feelings, such that she is not simply a passive receptor of them. Indeed, she even mentions that to do nothing with her feelings is untenable: “I can’t just sit here with feelings” (34).

And what does the speaker of these poems do with (her) feelings? Well, sometimes she toys with an unnamed you for the sake, it appears, of spirited play:

But I want to give you a new feeling               one you can’t
get rid of right away
but in the end            it’s just a white bottle
I don’t believe in either (37)

Infusing “you” with a “new feeling” that he/she “can’t / get rid of,” the speaker finally concedes that this feeling was nothing more than a “white bottle” she doesn’t even “believe in.” To this end, the feeling shifts from a persistent or inescapable emotional state to a banal object that cannot be trust: a trick of perception wherein an internal condition mutates into an external form.

At other times, though, the speaker simply acknowledges the fatigue that often corresponds to the need/desire to name and perform our feelings: “It’s exhausting everyone asking to feel alive” (40).

Finally, while categorizing feelings too rigidly would undercut the uncertainty of her poetics of doubt, the speaker comes close to articulating her, our, and the poems’ feelings during the poem “Fill Me With Poison!” In the second section, she works programmatically through negation so as to vaguely define feeling through the process of subtraction:

nobility is not a feeling
cunning is not a feeling
decency is not a feeling

A feeling no an empty space

Here a localized wanting, a text (19)

Of course, she preserves the uncertainty attendant to doubt in that she doesn’t provide us with a conclusive definition or strict parameters for feeling. Instead, we’re informed that it is a “localized wanting” confined to a “text.” In other words, feelings are contextual: shifting responses by/for/of an individual within the limits of a poem and predicated upon what we desire at the moment of encounter. Yes, even the description of feelings remains elusive.

And this, I think, is what makes Cohen’s collection exciting. Instead of reading Collateral Light as book of poems invested in language play and bizarre images (Yawn. What book of poems worth its salt doesn’t?), Cohen asks us to enter into each poem as we would an emotional field wherein our feelings alter and shift from word to word, line to line, and stanza to stanza, recalibrating our psychological and emotional responses as needed.

Therefore, when the speaker of “Fill Me With Poision!” inquires of us “What’s your capacity of mutation,” we can read this interrogative as a veiled imperative that those who wish not to immerse themselves within the poetics of doubt—with its protean emotional registers and ambiguous affective responses—should move on. Yet, if we are prepared for the task at hand, then we can we bath in the glow of an “uncertain moon” (22) and “destabilize / the center of the center” (36) of our feelings.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Month: Chapbooks

18 Nov

chap3chap2chap1chap4During overly hectic periods in my life, it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to invest in a full-length collection of poetry with an intensity that gives due diligence to the aesthetic, emotional, and poetic content of the poems therein. For this reason (among others), I enjoy reading chapbooks. Engaging a poet’s work within the confines of 15-30 pages enables me, as a reader, to spend more time with individual poems, to think about the conceptual framework of the entire collection in a more concentrated manner, and to do so in a relatively truncated time frame.

The past few weeks, for me, have been rather busy and, thus, I’ve not been able to dedicate my time to reading any full-length collections. Luckily for me, though, a stack of recently acquired chapbooks have gathered in my apartment; this was the perfect opportunity to read these little books.

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably already aware that there is no dearth of wonderful chapbook presses across the country releasing limited-run titles. Of these, my favorite presses take an artisan approach to constructing their artifacts, creating books that demonstrate a particular type of craftsmanship, attention to aesthetic detail, and a general love of book-making. While I find presses that release chapbooks that embodied a D.I.Y. and/or zine-style approach to their artifacts interesting as well (but for different reasons), I find a certain pleasure in fetishizing a finely-wrought chapbook.

To this end, I would like to offer brief reviews of four chapbooks that are both well-constructed and filled with well-conceived poetry.

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Brown, Lily. The Haptic Cold. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.

In “I Tie Down My Fill, Close the Sky,” the opening poem of Brown’s newly released The Haptic Cold, the speaker says:

When I went outside and spoke, metal
was coming out of my skin.
I spoke backwards and others
rotated the phrases back for me.

However strange we need to be to get there.
The skin’s scales speak of failure
to do something. Easy to fail all day,
then use the word to show
a state of non-achievement.

The speaker attempts to articulate herself, but she voices her phrases “backwards” and in a “rotated” manner, thus obfuscating her desired meaning or intent. Moreover, her speech, instead of communicating a message, effects some strange bodily transformation wherein metal comes out of her skin.

To this end, “I Tie Down My Fill,” and The Haptic Cold, in general, address a particular “failure” of language to do “something” which its speaker intends. But this “state of non-achievement” becomes an achievement in and of itself–at least to the extent that these poems disorient their readers, situating them in a linguistic field marked not by utilitarian ends, but by its ability to disrupt understanding through the “violence of artifact” and artifice.

As such, when we encounter strange passages, such the following lines from “Taxonomic”:

I swallowed the doorjamb’s

shine. The threshold
breaks off as I use it.
The water has a breeze

says the dog-eared lady
who owns both.

we need not so much worry about the poem’s discernible logic; but, rather, we should focus on the haptic effects that such linguistic and cognitive dislocations render within and upon our bodies.

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Falck, Noah. Celebrity Dream Poems. Portland, OR: Poor Claudia, 2013.

Falck’s chapbook Celebrity Dream Poems consists of twenty poems, each composed of four couplets that he titled after the name of a famous person.

The poet prefaces his collection an excerpt from Berryman’s “Dream Song 14,” which simply reads: “Peoples bore me.” While, no doubt, the epigraph acknowledges the vacuous nature of celebrity culture, these absurdist poems do not work in service of reinforcing this claim; rather, Falck’s poems enliven the celebrity machine by infusing it with quirky humor through a re-orientation of context. Take, for instance, the poem “Lebron James”:

There is a lake on the moon on fire.
I hold your hand and try to explain

everything as if it were written by
Dr. Seuss. I will not lose anymore

not in the dark, not in the park, Sammy.
Though, I will win seven rings in Miami!

Your tears came out as small green hams. You stood
near a window pointing to the fire on the moon.

Similar to the gossip and entertainment magazines found in the checkout lanes at the grocery store, the poem provides a brief engagement with a celebrity figure. But unlike those magazines—which frame their subject as person who is “Just Like Us” through images and captions of him/her performing banal tasks—Falck’s poem creates a little, surreal world for us to lose ourselves in momentarily.

And that world, populated by burning lakes on the moon, tears composed of miniature green hams, and an impromptu Dr. Seuss adaptation, is decidedly nothing like the one in which we normally find Lebron James. Instead, this world effects a bizarre yet enjoyable milieu, wherein an NBA superstar is a rhyming astronomer who watches the moon burn impossibly.

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Fortin, Jennifer H. Give or Take. Salem, MA: Greying Ghost Press, 2013.

Give or Take is a series of fifteen prose poems that, more often than not, offer reflective meditations on a particular subject matter. For example, the collection’s first poem “Hawaii” begins:

My work is to point out the inescapability of neglect and call for a slower, deeper interaction with it. As we reached the end of our inaugural experience of neglect, our attention returned to skin, the sonic sibling of skim. Neglect just means you don’t pick something up, and you don’t or can’t handle it.

While the poem’s title references the island state of Hawaii, Hawaii is never addressed throughout the course of the poem. Hawaii becomes the neglected object through non-engagement. Rather, the speaker presents us with other subjects, such as skin, skim, apples, doorknobs, and forks. Most importantly, though, she addresses the concept of neglect itself. To this end, the title of the poem is a “cheap kind of attention”: in other words, invoking a term for the explicit sake of non-engagement.

The subject matter of each prose meditation alters quite a bit from piece to piece. One of my favorite reflections occurs during the collection’s title poem:

There’s a “you”—probably now a me—described that morphs from character into concept via the inappropriate. The absolute is all over the place. “You” is all over the place. When it comes to assessing you’s emotions, it gets very serious. And anytime there are big feelings involved, tender complexity is not far away.

In this passage, the speaker of the poem investigates the protean nature of pronouns and the manner in which the second-person pronoun can sometimes refer to the first-person through a morphing of character. Moreover, these alterations in antecedents usually correspond to some “serious” emotional states that tend to involve a “tender complexity.” Just like pronouns and the emotional states affixed to them, Fortin’s prose poems are both tender and complex in concept and delivery.

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Kaminski, Megan. Gemology. Houston, TX: Little Red Leaves, 2012.

Megan Kaminski’s chapbook Gemology works through a troika of tropes: the word, the flesh, and the city. The collection, in many ways, seeks to collapse these three distinctive terms so as to render their differences unintelligible. Take, for instance, the following excerpts:

                                    Name me perception
                                    name me economy
rows of turnstops
lanes of traffic
halls cubicles queues
                 order number and sign
                 away my body
                 one department or another (4)

We implore you exhale city smoke and invite us
within garneted sanctuary damp cavern
architectures making way songs and bodies
rending walls porous to sound silken soiled (5)

Vowels roll drip down thighs
conjunctions across backs

I put on my city

city built line on line body on body
alphabet buried beneath street
cross-sectioned-fluid-fattened (7)

Yes, the poet builds the “city” from “line on line” in the poem, but also of “body on body.” But these bodies themselves are made of language, such that “Vowels roll…down thighs” and one can find “conjunctions across backs.” The city, likewise, becomes a body, at the least to the extent that the speaker claims that she can “put on my city” as if it were a detachable skin. Furthermore, the city is language, wherein one can “exhale” it through articulation, capturing its “architectures” in “song.”

No longer can we tell where one entity begins and another ends. Instead, all three are enwrapped in a tri-folded chiasmus such that they are indistinguishable from one another.

Indie Lit Classics: Matt DeBenedictis

13 Nov



Man, look at Matt DeBenedictis. What a rad dude. Not only is he the brains behind chapbook champ Safety Third Enterprises, he’s a hell of a writer himself, and the author of Congratulations! There’s No Last Place If Everyone’s Dead He’s reading at the Letters Festival tomorrow night. You should go hear him!

Sometime ago, around the time Matt read for us at Vouched Presents in Atlanta, we conducted an Awful Interview with him. He said wonderful, memorable things to us like this thing about hugging bears.

I think the whole world would be a better place if we could hug bears. I know I’d be happy if I could wrap my arms around a rotund bear and just feel the earth hidden in its fur. But we can’t, they’ll eat us and turn us into poop. No bueno.”

and also this, about why he writes.

“Simply put it’s hearing and telling a good story. I spent a good chunk of my early 20s on tour, some by way of a band and some by way of being a preacher, and my favorite moments were always hanging out at a bar after the night’s events were done. Strangers coming together to find ways to no longer have a strangeness between them. You broke the ice telling stories, whether fun tales from touring or a humorous one from being a preacher, you had to say something interesting.

When I quit being on the road with bands and I decided I was no longer a man of religious faith I missed those story times. So I began to write.”

Sometime later he said equally indelible things about Greying Ghost Press and why they should be considered an Indie Lit Classic.

Well guess what, Matt? We’re throwing you in that canon, too.


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