Archive by Author

Awful Interview: Mark Cugini

10 Oct

Mark Cugini and Tyler Gobble gambling, which is a sin in the eyes of our Lord.

Mark Cugini is a certified badass dipped in gold.  He’s the founding editor of Big Lucks and recently announced the launch of Big Lucks Books, which will be releasing its inaugural titles in 2014.  I’m pretty sure we both played a lot of N64 games as kids, but that’s speculation based on circumstantial evidence.  Anyway, I convinced Mark to let me interview him about Big Lucks Books.  Here’s what happened.

So you recently announced the birth of Big Lucks Books–congratulations! Did you smoke a cigar like a proud papa? Have a glass of bourbon?

Oh man, I smoked about 13 cigarettes in three hours and then you told me to drink bourbon but I didn’t have any bourbon so I drank something called “Whipped Cream Vodka” and now I have a headache but at least I smell like a banana split. So yeah, good thing we aren’t talking about a baby here.

With that many cigarettes, I imagine you’ve got a hint of biker bar thrown in there too.

Thank you for making me sound more masculine.

So what started you thinking about publishing books through Big Lucks? If we’re continuing the metaphor here, what was Big Lucks Books’ *moment of conception?* (cue Usher’s “Nice and Slow”)

Oh man, we’re three questions in and I’m already uncomfortable.
I’ve been sporadically thinking about starting a press for about two years: it just seemed like the next logical step once things illogically took off for us. I got the final nudge in April 2013 on a car ride to Buffalo with Adam Robinson. It was still winter but the weather was perfect and the only way to get to Buffalo from Baltimore is by taking a series of really weird one-laned highways that are built into too-beautiful, too-green mountains but also the power lines are too low and the turns are too sharp so of course you’re going to get stuck behind about 150 trucks that are stuck in ditches, because sometimes it’s like the whole world is playing this terrible-yet-perfect poetic trick you’re supposed to get stuck in.
Anyway. We talked about my plans for Narrow House Books and I just started asking him questions about distribution and ISBNs and press releases and plus I had just read this amazing chapbook (cough cough Layne Ransom’s) that had me really excited about poetry and publishing and old-fashioned, full-hearted-and-fluffy goodness and I just kept thinking, Wow, what if BIG LUCKS did books, and then Adam said, “really, I think the smartest thing would be to start doing your own books,” and I was like well.

So, yeah. Big Lucks was conceived in a Chevy Corolla. With Adam Robinson. I do not remember if either of us showered the night before.

You are too kind. I never knew you and Adam Robinson conceiving anything together in a Corolla could sound so lovely, but I can’t deny the magic. And the idea of daily showers is totally overrated anyway, right?

I don’t know, I’m from Staten Island, I used to wear COLOGNE EVERY DAY. But Adam is one of the smartest people I know. Without his advice and encouragement, I would be utterly rudderless. And that would be a big problem, since our logo is a submarine.
Wait, do submarines have rudders?

Yes. I just imagined you guys piloting a submarine together, which was ridiculously endearing and a good premise for a bizarre-yet-wholesome Saturday morning cartoon series.
You said you’re excited about publishing “old-fashioned, full-hearted and fluffy goodness”–can you elaborate on that, the sort of creatures you want to release into the indie press ocean? (I am real good at metaphors.)

That’s tough, you know? When I think about my favorite indie presses—Publishing Genius, Hobart, Caketrain, Wave, Octopus, H_NG_M_N—I feel like I can never sum up their style in simplistic terms. If I do this right, you’ll never be able to articulate the Big Lucks vision in a way that does it justice—instead, you’ll just feel it, and you’ll want everyone you know to feel it, too.
But I will say this: I’m not interested in any theoretical, inaccessible hublub. I’m 100% more concerned about honest-to-goodness sentiment. Those are the sort of books I’m looking forward to publishing—the sort of books that make you say abstract nonsense like “old-fashioned, full-hearted and fluffy goodness;” the sort of books that make you feel like you’ve got an IV of high fructose corn syrup in your arm and it’s ruining your cardiovascular system. Maybe those books will take nontraditional forms, but at the end of the day, I want to publish books that make you feel excited and light-headed and terrified about the awesome potential of human possibility. I know that sounds a little nebulous, but I think the books will speak for themselves—especially the ones that are already lined up.

I was gonna say, you’ve got a pretty damn impressive lineup for 2014 releases: Mathias Svalina, Carrie Murphy, Sasha Fletcher, Mike Young, and Mike Krutel–whew. With such solid writers, I have to ask: if they were pitted against each other in a cage match, who would win?

Oh god, what a terrible question. Mathias would be the odds-on favorite, considering he has a good three inches on everyone. I’ve seen Krutel read and he is a flamethrower—I think he’s the dark horse. Mike Young has amazing lateral mobility, so he’d most likely be a Floyd Mayweather-type. And Carrie Murphy would be dressed impeccably.
I think the key to this whole thing is Sasha. He’ll probably try to out-love and out-shout everyone, which might turn the whole thing into a big cuddle party. If that’s what happens, we’ll all be winners.

You’re right about the question and I can’t even be mad.

In all seriousness, you’ve got a fantastic group of writers to start out BLB with a bang.  In addition, you’re holding an open reading period from October 1 through November 30, so, wahoo! More people can join the party. Say there’s some folks out there with a manuscript who are on the fence about whether to submit to the open reading period–what do you want to say to them?

Well, first I would tell them that people shouldn’t spend too much time on the fence. The fence is uncomfortable. Not much gets done on the fence. The good stuff gets done in the mud. Send me your good stuff and we’ll get in the mud.

The second thing I would say is that if you’re working with me, then you’re going to be working with someone who’s committed to you. I’m not going to take on too many projects, and I’m not going to go disappearing for long periods of time. I’m going to send out ARCs and I’m going to manage my budget and I’m going to pay you. I’m going to make sure orders go out on time and that book never goes out of print. I’m going to find you new audiences and get you in some really cool bookstores. I’m going to work long and hard to make sure you’re happy because chances are I’m going to be really, really, really, really happy and excited to do your book.
The last thing I’d probably say is let’s go steal some Four Loko and you know, dance.

Why have I never danced drunk in some mud? Suddenly, my life’s purpose seems clear.

Hey Layne—what’s the weirdest thing that happened to you this week?

The other day I was making this salsa that Amy McDaniel brought to a shindig I was at with Tyler in Atlanta while having this magical visit with Nick Sturm and Laura Relyea, both of which blew my whole goddamn mind (the visit and salsa). And so I’m opening a can of corn to add to the salsa-in-progress and it spews a bunch of corn everywhere. I’m on my hands and knees picking the kernels off the kitchen floor and out of nowhere just shove a handful of corn in my mouth. After a second I said, “What the fuck am I doing.” Then I ate another handful. I am a graphically sexual person.

Oh, man. I can’t wait for your next dinner party.

New Love: Amanda Nadelberg

17 Aug

Less than a week ago I moved to Austin, Texas and since then every sense I’ve got has been overloaded like BOOM and whoa near constantly, which is beautiful but draining in a way that feels like being streamlined to fit in a place already bursting with glass bottles and hungry birds and long hair.  Drinking excessive water is a survival basic. Surfaces that have no reason to be painted smile with circles the color of Easter chicks and Tiffany boxes, just for the sake of paint.

There’s this whitewater rollicking poem in the latest jubilat by Amanda Nadelberg called “Mont America” that has been grabbing at my hands a lot during this week, demanding attention when so many other things also beg.  It trumpets its fullness so much that I can’t ignore it.  See here:

Screen Shot 2013-08-15 at 5.49.12 PM

Nadelberg also has, to my joy, a recent interview at Coldfront (which named her second full-length collection Bright Brave Phenomena eleventh out of their Top 40 Poetry Books of 2012, by the way) conducted by lovely poet/eternal friend Nick Sturm. They chitter about putting eggs in baskets and bravery, and afterward Nadelberg has a new poem called “Symphony of Leaves,” which sings like

O say more they’re beautiful
(a road to the sea to feel sing)
the refrigerator’s small war.
A day named for daughters
or a man running tenuously, half
marm half monster a wild thing
in the woods. We’ve been chalking
fixes between one house and others,
portioned middling hellos, reason to
nod at disaster riding his bike at night.


If all broke free o mordant earth,
if the rings of Saturday were on our lips
or there are sleeping people no place
in the sanctuary, the dew knotted
horses agreeing to meet at seven
by the sea. I repeat. Beer is
not a woman though clearly part
of an American conscience,
we think about the moon and
then none of us go outside.

The elegant bomb-blasts that litter Nadelberg’s poems have my attention. Check out more of her things with me.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: “In first grade” by Andrew J. Khaled Madigan

26 Jul

Over at Hobart Andrew J. Khaled Madigan has five poems, all of which are scrappy and deadpan and thoughtful, but this particular one is a total slam dunk. (I couldn’t help but read it aloud on the porch, accompanied by the comic-ugly whining of goats.)  It recounts said first grade kids making a booklet about their dads to show to the class, and how the narrator decides to portray his father. A chunk:

There was a flag
on either side of him
and one of those executive

pens sets front and center.
On the next page
I drew a picture

of my dad holding
a rifle and another guy
with bullet holes

all over his body. Since
he was Vietnamese
I made him wear one

of those triangular hats
with the chin strap.

The ending stanza is flawless.  Head on over to Hobart to check it out.

Best Thing I’ve Read This Week: An Assessment of Fast Food Hamburgers in the Southeastern United States by Joseph R. Worthen

4 Jul


In my nearly quarter-century of existing as an American, specifically a Midwesterner (and Hoosier if you wanna get technical), I have eaten maybe, possibly five McDonald’s hamburgers.  Maybe. (What an un-American thing to confess on our nation’s birthday, I know.)  And no more than ten fast food burgers period.  Even this is probably an overestimation, as I have no recollection of eating a fast food burger in the past decade–in fact, I have exactly two somewhat hazy memories of eating them ever.  Red meat makes me nervous, and breaded chicken is my downfall.

This is one of several reasons that, when reading the first of four installments of Joseph R. Worthen’s “An Assessment of Fast Food Hamburgers in the Southeastern United States” in Hobart, I could not help grinning like an idiot all over my insides and outsides.  Now, thanks to Worthen, I can be intimately familiar with the all-American experience of consuming a fast food hamburger without spending the requisite money or feeling like a pile of vomit.  (At one time I could beat just about anyone at the gallon challenge but alas, now I’m a gastrointestinal wuss.)

Worthen’s observations are deadpan and hilariously, pitifully honest; nothing and no one, not even himself, is spared the “scientific” lens of his scrutiny:

I unwrapped my tiny hamburger. It smelled like McDonald’s, a warm salty smell, like the breath of a healthy German Shepherd. The bun was smooth, immaculate, and pliant. It held my caress like memory foam. The burger consisted of a thin strip of meat, mustard and ketchup, two tangy pickles and some chopped up shit that was probably onions (speculation). I took my first bite. I didn’t taste hamburger or meat. I tasted the wonderful flavor of salt. I experienced a sudden clarity. The McCafe was not a restaurant at all but a shrine where people of all races and creeds could go to worship sodium and check their email.

Despite these facts, my mood was extremely good. Respectable, attractive people surrounded me. They all looked so sharp and professional that I even started to consider my own career choices. I found the inner fortitude to consider night classes in computers, medicine, or business. My work ethic surged. I believed in McDonald’s. I believed in myself. I experienced pride, ambition and the bittersweet arrival of a partial erection.

Worthen’s documenting of his own oft-conflicting physical and psychological reactions to his experience are tragicomic and totally familiar, providing the–I’m so sorry for this–meat of his “assessments.” The “celebrated Worthen Burger Index (or WBI)” by which every burger is judged provides further interest, especially in Wildcard Points, in which any number of factors (partial erections, for one) can contribute or subtract from the burger’s overall numerical value.  Also, the worded interpretations of said scores are a treat–seven out of fifteen earns a “VERY NARROWLY BELOW AVERAGE” title.

The first installment weighed the merits of burgers from McDonald’s and Sonic; Hardees, Wendy’s, Burger King, Cook Out and Five Guys will be scored in the next three installments. I can’t wait to see how the next five fare, and will stick to chicken fingers in the meantime.

Best Thing I’ve Read Today: A Conversation with Matt Hart at Rkvry Quarterly

3 Jul

A few months ago, Rkvry Quarterly published this devastatingly lovely essay from Matt Hart about hauntedness; if you haven’t taken the time to read it, you absolutely must.  It just about destroyed me in the best possible way.  For instance:

Every word is haunted by its own etymology. Its historical origins linger connotatively. These origins color the atmosphere of the language while remaining largely invisible. One doesn’t need to know, for example, that the word “haunt” derives from an old Norse word heimta meaning “to lead home, to frequent,” and yet these meanings are present in contemporary usage as a trace, an echo, a ghost. Every word is haunted by its past uses, and is also itself a haunting, a visit from the past into the present.

Poems deploy, destabilize, and explode the meaning(fullness) of language, creating fields of connotation, ambiguity, and metaphor, while playing on the history of words in the service of multiple possibilities. These are the ghosts of every line, every sentence.

Words are also haunted by other words, which in turn are haunted by still other words, and all of them are haunted by other languages, and language is haunted by human utterance as longing (a desire to meaningfully mean). This is art.

I just now caught that Mary Akers did this fantastic follow-up interview with Matt digging around further in what it means to haunt and be haunted, in poetry and in breathing wavering growling existence.  This part, which sent the most chills up my spine:

 I (used to?) have a recurring dream of walking down a dirt road in the woods in the middle of the night, and up on the left is an old gray house made of boards, and inside there’s a brightness, like a lantern light burning. The house is ominous, even evil. It radiates hostility and madness, something terribly gone-wrong and utterly sad— a big black negative negative. I know in the dream that whatever’s in there is going to be incredibly painful to me, that it might even kill me. And yet, I’m compelled to go to it, so I keep walking. There are some steps and a little porch. It feels like Tennessee for some reason (where my mother’s family’s from). When I get to the door, my fear is overwhelming, and that’s when I wake up.

In the broad light of day, the dream seems like a goofy Evil Dead type horror movie set, something more to laugh about than to be afraid of. About a year ago, I described it to a friend, and he immediately said that the next time I have the dream I need to make myself stay asleep and open the door—that I need to go inside the house. And when I asked him why he thought this he said simply, “Because it’s home.” I haven’t had the dream since, but before that I was having it four or five times a year. I think the dream is now haunted by me, and of course “haunt” comes from an old Norse word meaning “home.” Anyway, I will open that door the next chance I get.

New Love: Alicia Jo Rabins

22 Jun

What hooked me first, pun unavoidably intentional, was Alicia Jo Rabins’ poem “How to Confess an Affair” in Issue 47 of The Collagist:

Details are fishhooks that will remain in the lip of the small fish that lives inside your spouse and swims sometimes towards  you, sometimes away from you. If you love the fish, be careful.

If you love the fish, be careful.  I love this admonition, tiny and lasting like ocean ripples always traveling farther from shore.  I knew I had to see more of her work after this poem, and whew was I blown away. Rabins braids Judaism and Jewish mysticism and sensuality and pumpkin seeds and scrap metal into graceful, fiery cords again and again in her poems; for instance, this excerpt from “Malkmut,” one of four of her poems up at The Arty Semite:

The field of time stands up
and grows a face.
Arms sprout from his side,
wings from the arms, blue mouth

burning between the feathers.
The field of time changes the air
around him as a sunken pothole
changes the road, as a flaming tree

The landscapes and atmospheres of Rabins’ poems are hallucinatory, prophetic, and explosive; reading them feels like waking up in the middle of a twenty-first century creation myth.   Birthing and destroying and rebuilding and consuming the glory of the earth is always happening, and never cleanly–stones toppling in one country while little fruit trees first blossom in another.  Rabins saturates her poems with fire and meaning and weight, like little scraps of rumored apocryphal books.

As if Rabins’ poetry isn’t kickass enough, she’s also a musician with a project called Girls in Trouble that chronicles the lives of women in Torah.  It’s plucky, haunting indie rock with religion-infused storytelling, sometimes performed with a band but often just Rabins, her violin, and a looping pedal.  Here’s a great talk from Rabins about how she came to discover and love Torah, especially the stories of its women, concluded with a Girls in Trouble song about Hagar, Abraham’s concubine and his wife Sarah’s handmaiden, called “The Arrow and The Bow:”

Diana Salier’s “What I Say When You Ask What I’m Up To” (a Moving Poem)

29 Apr

Here we go, couch castles fortify against the blues in this video for Diana Salier’s poem “What I Say When You Ask What I’m Up To.”  I dig the paper room and its paper furnishings and paper Diana cradling a laptop or standing around, trying to figure out what indeed she’s up to, what she’ll be up to next, and after that.

I Feel Yes by Nick Sturm

17 Apr



When Nick gives us the chapbooks I, like everyone else, take it out of its Ziploc and lick it.  I lick too hard, with childish gusto.  The letters of “YES” are lemonade mix glued to the cover, and my Y is blotched with a wet tongueprint—temporary, but obvious in the moment.

Later all of us splayed out on two hotel beds reading our stories, poems, and in-betweens. After I say and this sadness shall not prevail against it Nick kissbites my shoulder.  It is really wonderful.  There are so many places and gatherings of persons where doing even a little too much of the right thing is wrong.  Their Yesses are not written in all caps, have no taste in their mouths or yours.

*   *   *

Sometimes this poem holds my face in both of its hands and it’s almost too much to handle.


All this is a fist full of telephones

filled with the same immense voicemail,

an almost translucent string of sounds

resembling light more than language,

the basic message being:  I feel fucking yes.

My heart making out with your heart in the mist

of sprinklers. our hips secret beaches sweet

with nonsense and campfire smoke and an illimitable

unspoken feeling that regardless of this being

a complete mistake it is, in fact, complete,

and amidst the ongoing collapse of laughter

my head fills with something that is not control

in favor of reciting sunflowers on some wet wet

interstate perhaps not so far from here where

this system is neverending sufficiently and I

might fall asleep in your daffodils with a smile

smashed against my face.


I mean just, Jesus—did you read that?  At a reading I read at recently, another reader—a poet—talked about how he didn’t want to hear about some poet’s feelings and telling a former professor this story I half-jokingly addressed the guy: “Oh man, you are gonna hate the next forty-five minutes; I mean, you better get ready to frown.”

But really, what are you doing in the space of a poetry reading or reading poetry if you’re not looking to encounter a heap of somebody else’s vital, genuine something?  Yes language and form and so on but if it’s not serving some central vehicle of a desire to express then why should anyone give a sincere fuck?

Disconnect and detachment are easy to find and harmful, and I’m just not interested.  Poems like this one, running and reveling like a goddamn stampede of joy are a huge part of why I’m consuming poems at all.

*  *   *

One night when I was fifteen I pressed my forehead to the rear right window of my friend Tina’s packed purple Camry and promised myself with all the fierce purity of a teenage promise that I would not forget that moment, the cold dew-dappled glass.  We were surrounded by southern Indiana swells and corn ransacked by fireflies.  I knew my heart was full in a way that seemed wrecked or exhausted out of most people I knew past a certain age.

Reading I FEEL YES is a small sadness in one way, in that its unabashed revelry makes apparent to me the myriad of little wrecks, tiny collapsings that have worked their way into me and people I love over the ensuing near-decade, how easy it was to get far removed from that precious internal space, because the ecstasy of it can seem distant.  But it’s also an incredible joy, a lightning storm of wonderful news, in that one route back is so easily, poignantly available:  a poem written and physically given to you by a friend.  This is the best kind of grace, the kind knotted messily to you by a heart in a body with a mouth that can bite you, gently, that can tell you Yes.

Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan

28 Mar

At AWP last year I heard Scott McClanahan’s name and him reading for the first time. It was biblical. I talked about that here.

This year at AWP I saw Scott read again and after he was done, in the black and dirty gold haze of a basement bar he handed me this:
He swirled into the crowd after without comment, though I found him again and thanked him for the book. I’m sorry if I took away from the lovely quietness of how you gave me the book, Scott. I just don’t do well without saying Thank You, though you shouldn’t doubt this is a thank you as well.
I saw scraps of what others have said about Crapalachia before reading it, which pretty much all said *This is about death* and yes, so much so. I’m introduced to Uncle Nathan then he dies. I’m introduced to Grandma Ruby then she dies. I’m introduced to Mrs. Powell and the girl in the pink dress and her mother and they all die, and so do Rhonda and Bill and Naked Joe but not where they need a grave. They fade out, or are cut out, from what happens, though we know they’ll need a grave sooner or later.
And it’s not just the sadness or dirtiness of death, but also when it’s hilarious, when we try to overload it with meaning how it can flip us the bird:
………“We’ll now release a dove which is a symbolic representation of Ruby’s soul flying home to heaven.”
………And so they opened up the bird box and nothing happened.
………We waited.
………And then this sleepy-looking dove just crawled out, except it didn’t even look like a dove really but just a fat pigeon that somebody had painted white.
………It had a look on its face like, What the fuck? Seriously, people. What the fuck? It’s way too old to be doing this today.
………So the Wallace and Wallace guy tried to shoo it but it wouldn’t shoo.
………So the preacher repeated:  “We’ll now release the dove.”
………The Wallace and Wallace guy shooed it again. Finally the dove shot high up into the air and out and over our heads, but instead of flying away it just landed on top of this chain-linked fence. And so the Wallace and Wallace guy tried shooting it again and everyone giggled and gathered around in a circle throwing up their arms and shouting “shoo-shoo” at the bird high above. I shouted, “Shoo.” We were all shooing.
………But it wouldn’t shoo.
………And so it was.
Along with death Crapalachia doesn’t let you forget what it is to be poor. How Scott writes about Danese, West Virginia reads like a love letter to  living and feeling in a place designated by everywhere else to be a place to use poor people to get done what you don’t want to do, take risks you don’t want to take. There’s a beauty lacking all bullshit in loving these places without patronization.
……….Then we read about how you build civilization. They built the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel by digging a big ass hole in the side of a mountain.  They used a bunch of poor people to dig it.  A poor person means either their skin was dark or their accents were thick.  That’s the best way to do anything–get a bunch of poor people to dig it. So they cut and cut into the mountain but there was a problem. They didn’t wet the dust from the cut limestone–so the men developed silicosis. The men started dying by the tens and then the twenties and then the hundreds and then–the thousands? Since they were poor the company just buried them. There was an investigation a few years later but no one cared. They were poor people.
More history lessons about mine explosions and failed efforts at economic fairness in West Virginia punctuate the story, make sure you remember how little poor people seem to be given a shit about except to each other. The book is subtitled “a Biography of a Place” and Scott is forthcoming with West Virginian pockmarks and their origins, blemishes that seem unfairly inflicted rather than earned.
Vital here is repetition of a biblical kind and degree. Who begat who begat who and us, right now, squished between begats and soon a dead name in a Deuteronomy being constantly revised and updated. And there are beautiful, prophetic exhortations beside piles of dogshit and mine explosions and photo albums of dead people, all the gross truth of lives that end.
Toward the book’s conclusion, Scott talks about a flood resulting from a dam break that plowed through Buffalo Creek, West Virginia in 1972. The flood kills 125 people and afterward it’s not like anybody gets to start all over, like God could do jack shit to clean even this tiny part of the earth. Men still have to pull up the little girl in the pink dress buried in the mud and her mother’s corpse sitting under a tree, mouth filled with sand. And Scott’s last holy plea to us is not to forget and start over, but remember the names of the loved, with all the mud and sweetness and misery and they drag along behind them.
Get Crapalachia here.

“After He Is Gone & Killed I Will Come To You” by Portia Elan

28 Feb

I have to share this lovely poem from Portia Elan up on iO Poetry called “After He Is Gone & Killed I Will Come To You.”  A sliver:


Repetition in this has a sweet, metaphysical musicality; it reminds me of this, echoing parts building and building out into bigger and bigger worlds.  This is a canticle, a full glass of dry wine, a crown of wedding braids in spring.

Read it all, enter this tent.