Archive by Author

Feed Your Cosmic Heart And Read This Elegy For NASA

21 Jan

Once I told a roomful of friends I’d marry Carl Sagan were he still alive. Maybe the verb wasn’t “marry” but this should be illustrative of my total butterflies and hand drawn notebook hearts for science and the people who ensure its continuing forward trajectory. Especially those who are/were constantly living out the idea that we are conscious marvels made of wild, scintillating  star stuff.

I’m enamored with this poem from the newest issue of DIAGRAM, “NASA Elegy” by Michael Canavan, and its marvelous messy real feelings about scientific progress and the optimism it can usher into a society, here specifically the U.S. during the Space Race. These lines emanate the most radiant ache:
                                                                         That time I heard
John Glenn speak his voice broke orbit, he let
……….the dream back into his voice. The flags on either side
of him blurred and stilled, as if trying to come true.
……….The Russians sent that dog up.
The corpse of that dog fell to earth in flames.
This poem so gorgeously details what happens to societies, us, when the spirit of progress and discovery is shuffled to the margins of our collective consciousness and individual cosmic hearts.  Head over to DIAGRAM, read the rest, mourn a sky emptied of shuttles.

RISE TIME by Nate Pritts

6 Jan

Last week in a mild New Year’s Eve hangover haze, I read three sections of Nate Pritts’ long poem “RISE TIME” in TOAD, and goddamn. It fireworks and booms and shines and settles all over the good earth. It’s a great thing to read just after the starting pistol of the new year, to keep you galloping post-champagne and sequins:

What I love about live is that it’s a problem
how you can never take things into yourself enough
or never see yourself reflected in every mirror at once
All you can do is ache         & stay alive.
Read the rest of these sections at TOAD.

An Unruly Collage of Strange and Intense Emotions, or Best Ofs For 2012

27 Dec

If I remember right, I saw Scott McClanahan give this performance after Abby Koski got me wasted on rum and Cokes then introduced me to Matt Siegel, and I had no idea what to do.  Or where anyone was.

I didn’t think, “Hey, where are all the people I know” until after.

You can tell I’m happiest not when I smile but slapped into dumb stunned awe like I was watching Scott bark his generations, a latter-day prophet too made of thunder and dirt-real truth for any church, so boiling over with harsh and angelic vision, soothing my frayed thoughts while setting the room ablaze.

I’m sorry, but I’m just not a cheerleader; I’m a lower-tier saint.

This was probably my best moment in the Beauty Bar at AWP 2012, followed closely by drunk hugs from Brian Oliu and laughs with a few others but roundly defeating some other interactions, Hellos I didn’t want to say, Nice to Meet Yous that felt everything but.  Again, some unraveling.  Basic kindness can appear to us as an unblemished lamb, so we take up our knives.

*   *   *

There is a place I go to read and write when I need to recalibrate and push off the stupid shimmery idea of being a writer or an indie lit writer so I can just do the thing without all the shit.  Two people know where that is.  Both of their names start with A.

I took Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby there during the ugliest time of year, when winter is worn out and spring is all, “Whatever, be there in a sec,” when I’m sick of wearing scarves.

I could barely hold a fork, knocked slack-jawed by Baby’s rapacious beauty.  I found myself mouthing the last story, “Zachary, Zahir, Zedekiah,” a real electric rush that swells like Explosions in the Sky, incanting

And then every morning, some new and constant sun, born upon the horizon.

and almost crying in my booth.  I paid, left, and stared at the iron atmosphere too much for safety as I drove.

*   *   *

The cover of Nick Sturm’s chapbook, “WHAT A TREMENDOUS TIME WE’RE HAVING!” with its birthday party horses is the perfect graphic representation of a genuine smile, which seems like the kind of person Nick is (Nick Sturm: A Genuine Smile) and the requisite spirit embodied in that joyous little book.

I remember for a while keeping it in the passenger’s side interior door pocket to show to anyone I gave a ride.  It seems like there are about three people at any given time who are riding in my car regularly, so my evangelism wasn’t far-flung but lacked no enthusiasm.  I generally showed my passengers the poem that ends

                                    …My spirit animal is a bear

with a confetti cannon strapped to its back

The point is to surprise you & then maul you

into pieces of joy

and thank goodness, no one ever said they didn’t understand why.

*   *   *

For some reason I read Matt Hart’s Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless a lot while giving plasma this spring, squeezing myself through a needle with one hand and holding the book with another.  Listening to Jimmy Eat World, Lovedrug, The Smashing Pumpkins, that helped too, to distract from the displaced queasiness that got better little by little but never went entirely away.

It makes sense that his poems helped the same way; the direct mention of Sunny Day Real Estate aside, the upfront guitar fuzz and gorgeous thrash of them calmed and exhilarated.  Every appointment I had a half hour to imagine where else I could be besides Muncie in February, March, April, still slushed and gray.  It felt holy, an internal push toward whatever better places there were to be.

*   *   *

Brian Oliu’s Level End is the first book I’ve ever delayed reading to intentionally take time to absorb its packaging.  I couldn’t stop just looking at the thing, turning it over and getting happier with every detail from a childhood and adolescence spent on four generations of Nintendo consoles, starting with the NES, a game for which the book’s design was modeled after.

When I finally did get to reading the thing the effect was much the same, a combined joy and relief that someone understood so well the real emotional tug 8-bit worlds have on us whose first big adventures included finding the Master Sword and discovering gold-littered shortcuts in the clouds above danger.  And rendered it so truly in its surreal beauty and sincerity; all nerd jokes aside, sitting in front of a pixel-laden TV screen with my big brother, defeating all number of monsters and villains, is one of the most loaded and precious memories I have.

*   *   *

I remember texting


to Chris Newgent as soon as I read it, and immediately claimed it in a tiny yet steady fashion for my own near future:  a beach, a flock of friends, an ocean, a slew of present moments far from Indiana.  I read the rest of Thomas Patrick Levy’s I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone with a similar hyper-focused sprint, or as a binge, on the couch in my beige and tan apartment and sunk into myself with relief, consuming its color and breathlessness.

*   *   *

There’s a modest handful of books that wind themselves around the edge of my thoughts almost constantly. I think this is in part a residual effect of being an expatriate of Christianity that took the idea of being in constant prayer deeply to heart:  once the verses about no hope for men outside of Yahweh and his son were discarded from whatever walled garden in me they occupied, there was left a decade’s worth of empty earth.

Ben Kopel’s VICTORY is one of those few books that immediately took root in me.  Fragments of it run through my head throughout the day, quiet meditations on how to stay vital and honest and brave.  This book was the first thing I wrote about for Vouched and it remains one of my favorite, most dearly loved books of poetry or anything else.  When I read it I feel like the first time I realized that wet pavement under streetlight is beautiful.  I feel fifteen, riding with my brother in his Explorer through cornfields at night, summer, hands out the windows, brushing fingertips with fireflies.

I could not tell you what my favorite poem is from the book, but there is one part from the poem “Because We Must” that heartbeats through my thoughts almost daily:

A prayer, now

& at the hour of our death—

Fill me with yr light inside this car.

Fill me with yr light.

*   *   *

Yesterday, Christmas, after my family ate a lot of things then opened a lot of things and then said even more things, I continued reading Sal Pane’s novel Last Call in the City of Bridges.  I get embarrassed with how often the book describes my own tendencies and identity:  self-doubt alongside a sense of superiority, a feeling of specialness bred in part by constant consumption of heroic narratives growing up, strong attachment to video games and college memories, yet another member of a generation that was told by parents and teachers to get good grades or else we’d have to work at McDonald’s then was chastised by parents and teachers for thinking we were too good to work at McDonald’s.  The accuracy is painful.

I’m only halfway through so I can give you no conclusions, other than to state that I’m curious to see what direction a story about the directionless will take, and that reading will take me into 2013, heading in one of many possible directions.

Thomas Jefferson Is Screwed: Anthology of Etiquette and Terrifying Angels With Many Heads

19 Oct

I can’t not smirk even when I look at the cover:  how tongue-in-cheek the design is, recalling something like the 1870-whatever edition of Paradise Lost I found in my hometown library in high school, This is what a distinguished piece of literature looks like.  There’s even a multitude of date stamps on the inside cover’s checkout card.

I think that’s why I find this collection so endearing, not just for the quality of writing but how through so many details the Anthology of Etiquette and Terrifying Angels With Many Heads, the new free e-chapbook from NAP, calls attention to its own unlikeliness of existing, and the absurdity that it actually does, reveling in it with total sincerity one second then riffing on its own ridiculousness the next.  And please don’t think by “ridiculousness” I mean “stupid.” This thing is smart.  I just mean the kind of ridiculousness James Tadd Adcox mentions in his Editor’s Note:

I want to thank as well all of the writers who were willing to contribute work to this anthology, taking it on faith that such a strange book would ever exist.

Matt Bell’s  “When Taking a Terrifying Angel With Many Heads As Your Lover” reads like a sex ed manual for Mormon teenagers from an alternate universe, or a flawlessly proper yet strangely sensually comfortable governess administering a heavenly rite of passage into adulthood, at times boxing your ears for your gross impertinence.  It’s kind of brutal and totally hilarious.  The reader gets constantly reminded of their own childish inexperience and insignificance before their lover:

If asked where you would like to sit at the pre-coital dinner, do not reply smartly: “At the right hand.” But if you do say this, do not also giggle and try to slide the terrifying angel’s own right hand into the drop of your lap. The terrifying angel with many heads is deadly serious about his duties, and will not enjoy your casual nature.

Another one of my favorites here is Joseph Scapellato’s “Thomas Jefferson,” in which said president lives through some dream-within-a-dream mash-up of one of Aesop’s fables and Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Throughout the story, Jefferson repeatedly “wakes up” from a progression of dreams in which he is taking part in typically Jeffersonian pursuits—reading books on a variety of subjects, inventing new machines, etc.—hoping to meet the morning as he does every day, only to find the morning absent:

Always they had shared an understanding, matching roles they donned each dawn like masquerade halfmasks, costumes that enhanced rather than concealed their character. Always he had woken into morning and met it with patience, contemplation, and productivity, qualities that came from and were homage to the morning, qualities that when given returned threefold. He headed for the highest hill, his beaded moccasins turning water, the trim of his smoking robe sweeping tips of  grass, his ivory hair-queue loosening with every step. Behind their old clear understanding he began to sense a darker and still older etiquette, artfully opaque, something like a dream that the morning had woken the world into, a dream that for however senseless it seemed was shackled to its own chilly iron logic.

Eventually Jefferson encounters a series of surreal temptations to betray his faith, not in any god but man’s ability and desire for fairness and enlightenment.  He repeatedly rebuffs his tempter, the Redcoat, but their exchanges become surreal and unhinged to the point that it seems hard to think that even Jefferson’s genuine love of reason and orderliness could ever overcome the increasingly nightmarish world around him.  Disorder claws at him, including in the form of a terrifying angel with many heads of his lovers, and we pretty much get that Thomas Jefferson is screwed.  Here, absurdity is not out for laughs, it’s trying to kill the third U.S. President.  Scapellato handles this fucked up morality tale or Bible story or whatever you want to call it with clarity and efficient description—there are just enough monsters present to imagine how many more might be lurking around the corner.

Also check out Vouched contributor Amber Sparks’ reflection about being a terrifying angel with many heads’ long-term platonic, silent companion waiting eons to hear it speak, and Colin Winnette’s story about a terrifying angel with many heads who is also the mother of an uneasy child with rumbling blood, and this chapbook’s many other lovely and unsettling and terrifying heads, here.

Questions about B. by Daniel Poppick

30 Aug

This jewel over at Petri Press, chiming about what we know and whether and how we shout or whisper it.  Unknown, wished-to-be-known and wished-to-be-forgotten sound alongside each other through gaps in branches:



I would like to tell you it is coming, frost and what

The porch light does to her

Lawn, it is midnight and the orchard is almost

Hilarious with swerve, I am trying

To tell the truth, so

Far that isn’t happening, forgive me once again


In truth I would like to tell you that in the evenings Bernice

Sits in a chair of red birds, watches


This thing is speckled with calm and beautiful objects but pleads with itself ferociously to be honest, to tell what is real and assuredly known, in a voice that knows this is a hard hard thing, that to try is the best hope.  We are offered grace and patience to come and know for ourselves, “I welcome/As many interruptions as you need to know me…”


Read the whole piece at Petri Press.

“This Time” by Chelsea Witton

11 Aug

Now I’ve been back in Indiana for a bit, just under two weeks but already feeling more home, more settled, more vital green like the country around me, no more grass gasping through sand. Bye ocean, hello fields and fields.

My heart toward the Midwest swirls wild/calm/rusty/glimmer and when I drive past the stalks at night I ask it to unravel.  Lately I want summer’s exiting fireflies to become fire-colored trees like come on already.  Change I know is coming is change that is safe.

This poem from Chelsea Witton in the Summer 2012 issue of Sixth Finch is a bedtime prayer to the graspable, breathable earth. When I’m begging it to be constant in its transformation it feels something like this, the truest words I could chant Please, please, please:

…Please stars. Please stars. Please silver

flask. Please whiskey. Please bullfrogs

back and forth. Please owl, somewhere,

hunting. Please little fire. Please music.

Please singing. Please all imaginary

instruments. Please splada. Please pish.

Please terrifying stories that could be true.

But please not…

Go here, read the rest.

“Witches” by Chad Redden

17 Jul

I don’t want to say too much about this gorgeous thing from Chad Redden before you read it, so please, go stare for several minutes and feel a choir of WOAH echo-swelling in you.  Thank goodness to UP for sharing this magic.

“An Apartment of Women” by Jessica Newman

24 Jun

The scraggly flock of kids I live with in North Carolina steals/scavenges/scrounges whatever we can:  toilet paper from the pier bar with ten cent shrimp, wardrobes and beach chairs abandoned to the sidewalk, unopened boxes of blue Gatorade offering themselves from the dumpster.  And internet, which is not entirely reliable; sometimes no connection feels like a sigh of relief, other times it’s just a pain in the ass.

When I recently, finally got to read this thing from PANK I was so glad to be connected, to feel it pulse like another body giddy to wake up.  Picking an excerpt is hard because every part is so intimate and brimming with presence, but this one is totally worthy:

Nan’s hair wished down to that part of skin where shoulder struggles. She unlayered, sprawled thin on the sheets. The unwrapping of her ribs. Laila echoed deep in her clothing, found in its cover the nakedness of knowing what it constrained, the plottings of her skin and the organs blossoming underneath. The ways her body betrayed her, misshapes and fleshenings. She took Nan’s skin for her skin. It was a night of sorts. Her body so briefly alive.

Bodies in this story are never just one thing, flawless or unwashed or aroused or frail, but a multitude of physical possibilities realized at once, each coloring the presence of the others.  I think of my roommates busting their faces on pavement and laughing as they scrape gravel and sand from their elbows.  I think of letting the ocean pick up and pummel me into shards of shells, hurting and happy.

Read the whole thing here.

They Are On My Side, or Books For My Summer

1 Jun

I am not a superstitious person.  I say that knowing that no one is entirely reasonable, that like anyone sometimes I think about objects as though just by having them around they can keep me safe, that they are on my side.

Last Saturday I drove 13-ish hours to live in North Carolina by the beach for two months.  The couple weeks beforehand were a slow emptying of closets and furniture, edging up to leaving.  I am so thrilled to be to living in this beautiful place with beautiful people for the summer, but I’d dreaded saying goodbyes – guh, see-you-laters – so much that I didn’t look at the fact of departure directly, not until I took my leave.  Even this one that’s only a couple of months. I left to live by the beach for a summer a few years ago, but then I didn’t dread going at all; there weren’t as many people it hurt to leave.

When I first thought about what books I would take, these I immediately knew I wanted to pack were ones I’ve already read, all multiple times.  If I’m honest about how I think of them, they are little guardians, voices of conscience, talismans warding against forgetting who I am/want to be and how important books have been to that personal trajectory.  When so much else gets uprooted their steadiness moors me to some wispy feeling of safety.  If there can be such a thing as holy books for an individual life then these I knew I would come with me are part of an ever-expanding gospel:

Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless by Matt Hart:  The music of Matt’s poems is totally wild but still steady, intentional, an ocean always coming back to where you can walk up to meet it.  Leaving this behind would’ve been like not having favorite albums to sing me the way here.

If I Falter at the Gallows by Edward Mullany:  Reading these poems feels like hearing prophecies of a strange god you know will be fulfilled.   Mullany breathes a quiet but swelling kind of truth, thunder or bells tolling to more bells.

Come On All You Ghosts by Matthew Zapruder:  I’ve never read a book of poems and experienced as much gentleness and mercy and glimmer as from this marvelous thing.  It was given to me by someone who says I’ve called from them their ghosts.  I don’t know if that’s a thing I can do, but these poems help me remember how to inhabit haunted and fearful places with light.  They reassure me that a trembling heart is better than none at all.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman:  This is not the sort of book usually written about on here but yeah, okay, whatever.  I first read this just over ten years ago and my attachment to it still grows.  When I became an atheist after ten years of devout faith it took on special significance, this story of a ragged twelve-year-old girl pitted against a cruel, powerful god and his army of angels.

Several months ago I took the copy I first read from the public library in my hometown. I took it from the shelf in the young adult section I virtually lived in through adolescence and walked out.  There are some things that never leave you, and I had to go back for this one.

“Ghosts Keep Us Moving, Stella Said, Think About a Field At Night, How You’re Always” by Christian Anton Gerard

5 May

Camping last weekend was the first time I’d ever seen a Chinese lantern.  Men whose vehicles I’d earlier half-jokingly called “douche-SUVs dragging douche-boats” invited us – me, Ashley, Tyler, and Chris – to watch them launch it.  Someone drove by and joked about how the lantern was a large condom.  When it finally hovered from the men’s hands we watched for as long as possible, going back to our own earthbound fires while the one we celebrated burned itself out in the dark.

After we came back Sunday, Ashley posted on Facebook about the trip and our friend Joel commented asking what it’s like to go camping with writers.  We’d already murmured about it around the fire, how glowing we’d felt away from words.

*   *   *

April was National Poetry Month and of poems I saw posted online in commemoration, this one The Rumpus showcased on April 8 was my favorite, called “Ghosts Keep Us Moving, Stella Said, Think About a Field at Night, How You’re Always.”  From the title I was gone, hopeless; this wants you where it is, breathing its air from the first moment.  Here’s a part:

I love this because it doesn’t feel like reading so much as ingesting straight experience.  That this is how I most simply/honestly know how talk about why this moves me feels weird because 1) I really value and enjoy words in and of themselves, it’s not like I always want to forget they’re there 2) I make an assumption with that statement/sentiment that reading itself can’t be unfiltered experience, which I don’t actually believe, and 3) a poem getting me past its words seems benevolently deceitful.  It couldn’t get me past its words were it not for the quality of and attention paid to its words.

But sometimes I do want to forget they’re there.

*   *  *

Ashley and I perch on beached ends of dead trees criss-crossing the lake.  We trade “I remembers,” digging exes, family fall-outs, direct quotes from people who love(d) us from shallow graves ‘til we go quiet.  When we don’t talk it still feels like a confession, some knotty, delicate mess presented in absolute safety.

*   *   *
Tyler and I watch open-mouthed as grass shimmers, tree tops sway in and out of shapes like animal faces in the wind.  We laugh about being post-poetry, all I mean, who even needs words anymore.

*   *   *

Near the fire Chris tells me something I know, something about a pretty intense time in my recent past.  Something unsurprising, understandable, sad.  For a little while I thought that time was buried but it keeps coming back in my writing and conversations, refusing to rot.

That it haunts my thoughts is good, I’m learning.  It keeps them hurrying away from complacency.

Here is the end of “Ghosts Keep Us Moving…” which grabs me for a couple reasons:

What we need is often what we’ve tried to bury and will eventually unearth itself with vengeance.  How gorgeously  “Ghosts Keep Us Moving…” sings that here.  Like the title says, what stalks us keeps us living and pushing to be more alive.  That these phantoms exist in dirt doesn’t just make me think “buried” but also “tangible;” they wait in fields at night, flower-scattered woods, the material everything where living happens.

I couldn’t ever be permanently tired of words – I love them, how I lead my measly ghosts by the wrists at all is through them – but having the chance to forget or run out of or lay them aside is sometimes when I appreciate them most.  Like I said earlier, part of what I enjoy about this poem is how it feels more experiential than verbal.  There is graciousness to a medium that lets you forget its existence for the sake of worthy experience.

Here’s the whole poem at The Rumpus.