Tag Archives: Vouched Visitors

National Poetry Month at Vouched

26 Mar
Hey Vouched readers,
Got National Poetry Month on the brain, April just about to kick open this door. We here at Vouched are bugged up to beef up the blog for some extra great chatter about small press poetry stuff.
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While us Vouched contributors will be hollering several posts a week, we’d love to get some guests, some of you dear readers, on board for some posts throughout April as well.
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Posts can be anything you want regarding small press poetry, but here are some ideas to boggle in your brain: poetry book reviews, poetry videos/recordings, new poetry on web, revisit favorite books/poems/stuff of the recent-ish past , mini interviews with poets/poetry editors we like, posting a single sentence from a poem/about poetry/something that might inform poetry and/or a single-sentence review of a small press poetry collection/journal/chap, (thinking about how the rest of life informs poetry) posts about about nonpoetry stuff/its influence on poetry.
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What you think? Wanna hangout here with us? Feel free to share that/invite pals to join in. We think it’s gonna be an awesome month here at Vouched.To be involved, send your submission to laura@vouchedbooks.com anytime throughout April (or before!).
Stay stoked,

Tyler Gobble

Visitors: “If I Am Burning” by Rachel Marie Patterson

17 Oct

Vouched Books is all about rocking the bells for small press literature. In this space, a range of writers have pulled your coattails to the exciting work they’re reading that demands a wider audience. One of the books I’ve read in the past few months that fits in with all this goodness is “If I Am Burning” a poetry chapbook by Rachel Marie Patterson, which is out on Main Street Rag.

In these pages, you’ll get hit upside the head by a couple of ghazals that fight the form (one is called “Bipolar Ghazal”) while still delivering terrific couplets and delightful repetition. These poems are about being a woman, about exploring the way woman are judged, touched, and ultimately shamed. And about how this narrator—with wit, insight, precision, and compassion—fiercely fights back.

Picking just one poem to highlight for you, but perhaps my favorite, the most haunting, is “Piano Lessons.” What’s striking about the poem is the way the narrator’s mother continuously disappoints and endangers her child, who has caught the attention of an unsettling, predatory teacher. The poem doesn’t dwell in it, but treats this lack of protection as matter-of-fact, an understatement that embraces the subtlety and terror of the moment.

You can read “Piano Lessons” here and, since you’ll be on that page, snag a copy of Rachel’s book, too! While you’re at, visit Four Way Review, Four Way Books brand spankin’ new journal where Rachel is the co-editor.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Visitors: Two Readings, One Book

16 Oct

With book publication comes book promotion. In the last ten days, I’ve given two readings, one in Chicago at DePaul University, and one in my current hometown, Columbia, Missouri, at Orr Street Studios Hearing Voices/Seeing Visions series.

I gave my first public reading when I was in graduate school, probably in 2004. This was in a small room at the Millennium Student Center as part of some kind of “Attend UMSL!” promotion. Or maybe it was for something else. Anyway, I read a flash fiction piece, my voice cracked, sweat poured down my arms, and I was grateful that it was over. Since then, I’ve maybe given a reading a year—for graduation from my MFA program, on stage with ten other readers at a public pavilion where I read dead last and it was so dark by the time I was up I literally couldn’t see anyone in the front row, with the poet Richard Newman at Chesterfield Arts in suburban St. Louis, at Dressel’s Pub along with five other readers, Get Lost Bookshop here in sunny Columbia—and, yes, actually, that might be it.

Not a lot of practice. And certainly not with a book in hand, which, I was warned (thankfully) is much harder: can’ t let that sucker snap shut on your fingers, the print is probably smaller than you’re used to, the spacing on the page is smaller, all things that I needed to keep in mind.

Chicago: I had to be in the Windy City for work anyway, the writer Amina Gauter invited me to read at DePaul University in a reading pitched as “Writers as Editors, Editors as Writers.” I read with Phong Nguyen, who runs the wonderful journal Pleiades. We were in one of the multipurpose rooms; windows to the right, good soundsystem with a mic (though both Phong and I used our “professor” voices and skipped the tech help), sandwiches and snacks (nomomomom…), plenty of rows of chairs, and a terrific crowd of about forty people, mostly made up of DePaul students and faculty.

Prior to the reading, Phong and I talked about reading preparation  I said I was nervous; he said he never became nervous before a reading. We both had our “reading copy,” a version of our book that was dogeared and marked up, the passages and words, sometimes whole paragraphs, we didn’t need crossed out. I waffled on what to read: an excerpt or an entire story. Amina insisted I had time to read a whole story. Phong read first, and was phenomenal. I read second and was shaky: mispronounced words, a tendency to trip off my words, dry-mouthed (I forgot my water!).

After, we took questions about journal editing. I rambled, bounced from subject to subject, often forgetting what the question was, unable to come back to earth. Phong was a pro, answering questions with precision like Roger Federer chewing up an unranked opponent. Lesson learned: clear mind, clear reading. Also, sandwiches are good. I ate two of ’em.

Columbia: A bonus of this reading is that I had been to the venue many times before—Orr Street is a reading series unaffiliated with an university, and I’ve heard a range of terrific readers there before. It’s intimate and cozy, with wonderful artwork on the surrounding walls. In Chicago, I didn’t bring my own books. This time? Sho’nuff! I also brought beer koozies with my book cover on ’em (yes, yes I did), slapped a couple of PBRs in ’em, set up my Mr. T figurine (yes, yes I did), and plugged in my Square thingamajig into my phone to hock some books. About as different from Chicago as it could be.

Once again, I read second, following Peter Gardner, an emeritus professor of anthropology  And like last time, I was unsure what to read. Because my friend Alison was there, and she had the same affinity as I do for him, I read my story “Sparring Vladimir Putin.” I only had time to read the second half, which was okay with me, and while no one every comes up to you and says “Your reading blew goats” I got the feeling that people that were there did dig it. Still, some mistakes, some mispronunciations, tripped over words, etc. I’ll get the hang of it.

What mattered was that some of my close friends and favorite people (like this poet and this poet) were in attendance. That I had blast. That there were beer koozies! Hopeful my next reading, which is in my hometown, Cincinnati, at this joint, will be just as much fun.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Visitors: Allow Me To Introduce … Myself

2 Oct

I’m Michael Nye, the third installment/writerly person in the Vouched Visitors series, following in the steps of Robert Stapleton of Booth and Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius. I’m the managing editor of The Missouri Review, and this month (today, actually) my debut short story collection, Strategies Against Extinction, is out in the world.

SAE (as the kids call it) is published by Queen’s Ferry Press, a new small press publisher of literary fiction. You can bounce over here if you so desire and read the mission statement to get a sense of what QFP is all about. But I’m not sure this gives you a true sense of what the press is about, and the kind of wonderful work Erin McKnight, the press’s founder and publisher, seeks in the work she publishes.

Last week, I was on the phone with my mother. I had sent her a copy of my book and then waited a good two weeks before she called to say she read and wanted to talk about it. This is all new to me but I would imagine for every writer, there is a certain level of anxiety about what people who are close to us are going to think about our work. I’m sure other writers can say they genuinely don’t care. I’m not one of those writers.

My mother wasn’t embarrassingly effusive, but she also wasn’t entirely articulate either. She read all the stories, she said. She understood things better, she said. What things, I asked. My stories aren’t particularly personal, though all writers steal from their own lives (and others, of course), but my collection is comprised of stories that go back at least seven years. Which means much of the work was written, and before that marinating, in my twenties. I’ve always been a pretty independent person, but still, there is a separation from our childhood homes and parents that happen in our twenties that is a bit painful for both the parent and child. But she saw something there, in all those stories, the way they work together, compliment, create friction, deepen, and complicate each other. At least, I think that was after.

Which is what Erin McKnight saw, too, though she would say it quite differently. Publishers have a different eye than our parents, and knows the writer only based on the work. Erin promised to agonize over each word, and this ended being completely true, even if we were awfully pleasant about our agony (there’s a famous quote allusion there, I think). Publishers, of course, need to make some bank, and also have a vision of what they want their list to be. There’s something incredibly reassuring about a publisher who recognizes what I do as a writer—pacing, narrative arc, and character interiority. It made me comfortable with her editorial vision and the press. I couldn’t be happier with how the book turned out.

Of course, I’m not sure this tells you much about Queen’s Ferry Press. When asked what a story is about, the best answer is “Read it.” It shouldn’t be easy to sum up. Which is hopefully true of a collection and of a press. So to find out what Queen’s Ferry Press is about, it isn’t enough to say it’s a boutique press of literary fiction, focusing on short story collections. Instead, you should check out Bayard Godsave’s fantastic Lesser Apocalypses and its tales of broken survivors trying to hold themselves together. You should snag Kevin Grauke’s collection that’s on par with the masculinity of a Shaun Ray or Benjamin Percy. You should be anticipating the debut collection from Janice Deal and the latest and greatest from Ethel Rohan.

Maybe by reading all this terrific work you get a complete, true, and perhaps tricky to articulate sense of  what Queen’s Ferry Press is about. The kind of work, as my mentor Lee K. Abbott would say, that’s as clear-eyed and honest as a fistfight.

Follow Michael on Twitter: @mpnye

Cadiz, Missouri by Robert Long Foreman

29 Jun

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Robert Stapleton, founding editor of Booth. His work has appeared with Word Riot, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. He teaches at Butler University.

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The new issue of Agni (#75) arrived in my mailbox last month, and my favorite story from it is Robert Long Foreman’s “Cadiz, Missouri.” Foreman spins an unconventional tale–often the best kind–that impresses the reader with the creeping idea that you’re lost on a map until you crest a random hill and arrive, instantly, at ground zero.

There’s little direct tension here. And yet, I couldn’t put the story down. Here’s the deal: Karen, our narrator, has just relocated with Charlie from Boston to small town Missouri, a region haunted by tornadoes and cave crickets. Karen says:

I try not to complain too much to Charlie; he was equally reluctant to relocate for his work. Mostly I confine my grievances to conversations with my sister Anne, who is sympathetic enough from her end of the line. She has the luxury of sympathy, living back in Boston in the house where we were raised. She has yet to visit.

When a twister levels the neighboring town of Cadiz, Karen gets weird: “Having seen nothing of interest in Cadiz when I was there in person, now—through my TV and computer screen—I could not take my eyes off the place.” Cadiz refugees infiltrate their neighborhood, but Karen declines the community organizer who asks about harboring these newly homeless because “accepting a refugee would be like adopting a child. We wouldn’t know we’d gotten a psychopath until it was too late.”

The story gets a little weirder when Karen replaces her daily walks with virtual tours:

Touring Cadiz on Google was like traveling one week back in time. According to Google, the courthouse was still standing. The hospital was whole, the trees had their leaves and weren’t broken in half, and although the sandwich shops were missing, they hadn’t been there before the tornado either.

Foreman’s “Cadiz, Missouri” gathers force like a brewing storm. Ultimately, it’s a story about regional identity and alienation and in Karen, Foreman has cast a slightly demented narrator that speaks for anyone who has ever nursed a bruise from feeling out of place.

“Happy Birthday, Clementine”

18 Jun

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Robert Stapleton, founding editor of Booth. His work has appeared with Word Riot, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. He teaches at Butler University.

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Over the next week or so I’ll highlight some pieces I love from current issues of lit journals.

“Happy Birthday, Clementime” by Lisa Glatt
Gulf Coast. Summer/Fall 2012.

As our culture increasingly prizes hipster irony and the pursuit of more authentic living (see HBO’s Girls, Bored to Death, etc), I find myself drawn to literature driven by character and heart rather than nostalgic self-consciousness. I’m reminded here of William Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel prize acceptance speech–when he advised that “the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

Glatt’s narrator, a twenty year-old about to have sex with a married man at a party she helps throw for her recently mothered best friend, wields a corrosive self-awareness, though without the ironic smarm. She’s lost weight—knows it may return at any time—and longs for someone to kiss her “hello and goodbye, again and again and again.” Andre Dubus’ “The Fat Girl” faintly echoes here, though Glatt moves this tale into a larger exploration of sex, abortion, and rebirth without the fated pathos of Dubus’ story and sans the nauseating–aren’t we hip–shock humor of the Girls abortion episode.

This story is a relief map of the body. These characters eat, drink, fuck, smoke, and snort because they’re after something just beyond their reach, something electric and unnamable. Early on the narrator muses, “I was the girl you thought might be athletic under her clothes but when you got me naked, I was all soft with a marshmallow belly. I wondered if the guy I loved who didn’t love me back was disappointed when he touched my belly on the way into my panties and if that had any effect on his decisions.” Imagine Girls written with Richard Ford poignancy (Rock Springs era). Get your hands on this one.

Visitors, Awful Interview: Dave K. and Stone a Pig

17 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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Baltimore writer and man-about-town Dave K. just released stone a pig, a collection of short stories. It was part of his MFA program at University of Baltimore (disclaimer: this is the same MFA I went through). The requirement for the program isn’t just to complete a manuscript, but to publish it as well. Dave’s book is great. Below we talk about what it is and what it’s like to have to publish a book this way. (Oh, and I forgot that it was supposed to be an awful interview. My questions are as bad as ever, but Dave’s responses are as generous and smart as everything else about him.)

STEAMPUNK

How does the term “steampunk” apply to typical story elements like plot, character, setting — particularly in relation to your book?

Oh, man. Steampunk is kind of a weird animal to describe, but it generally combines an anti-establishment tone (hence the “punk” part), optimism about human potential, and speculation about how modern conveniences would have been achieved by Victorian/Edwardian technology. The plots and characters of steampunk literature tend to be as grandiose as their surroundings, which has led people like Charles Stross to accuse it of whitewashing the nastier parts of that era and focusing on rich guys in airships.

Would you describe stone a pig as steampunk?

My book, which I do consider to be steampunk, was meant to oppose that criticism by focusing on the grittier, darker stuff going on during that time, with the tech functioning as a surreal but familiar element of setting (a technique I borrowed from Philip K. Dick). My characters are at odds with their culture, but not out of a no-gods-no-masters sense of rebellion – rather, the people in my stories are very alienated, and they’re trying to overcome that sense of alienation to act in a more communal way, for good or ill.

One of my professors prefers to call my work “Dickensian futurism,” which is an awesome term that I can’t use because I sound like a tool whenever I apply it to my own work.

THE BOOK: DESIGN AND WRITING

Do you have a favorite part of the book, something you’re most proud of, something that you think you really nailed? Can you say what it is?

I think the design of the book – the cover, the page layouts, the visual elements – looks great, better than I’d expected or hoped. Some people see mixing graphic elements with prose as an artful dodge around bad writing, but creating those images helps me put the words together because I’m seeing what my characters see.

Continue reading

Vouched Visitors: Great Books

10 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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Yesterday I was asked in an interview about the cultural relevance of reading — why do I think reading is important personally and culturally?

It nearly put me in crisis mode. I am 96% oriented toward books. It’s all I ever do, and it makes me feel pretty one-dimensional, even flawed. If you survey my email inbox, which I just did, you have to scroll past 30 emails to find one that isn’t about making or reviewing or reading books (that 31st one is about softball, my other obsession).

I hemmed and hawed a bit at the question of relevance, and not only because the novel I had just finished was Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (which I admit I enjoyed a lot). I have a gut-level conviction that art is an essential balancing element in a precariously-balanced world, and that, in a real way, it will “save us all.” Even books that befuddle people into not reading them are necessary. I understand that almost everybody in the universe isn’t going to read John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath — I didn’t, more or less — but that book makes many other books possible.

In the interview I said, “I see a grand metanarrative to life, one that is affected by everything that happens, and the most important element of this metanarrative are the small narratives that comprise it — sharing our own stories and listening to other people’s stories is the way to peace.”

I’m pretty pleased with myself, yes.

In his recent, long post at Inside Higher Ed, Virgil W. Brower explains his rationale for taking a Great Books approach in his philosophy classes at Chicago State University, which is a mostly minority school. “I don’t teach my students how to write, but rather try to teach them how to read,” he says and goes on to say that this has the happy effect of making them better writers. It’s a fascinating essay, one that thoroughly justifies and vouches for spending serious time with great, or nearly great books. It’s actually exciting when he recounts the logical fallacies that are uncovered through reading a Malcolm X speech. The idea of assigning Gravity’s Rainbow to illustrate the concepts of analytic philosophy is motivating — but the essay is most exciting when he talks about the way the students respond:

Once a student, who has not yet given her or himself over to a consistent practice of reading or, perhaps, was simply never encouraged to do so, knocks out Kurt Vonnegut’s Galàpagos in a week — and is a bit surprised to have done so, quite easily — he or she is likely to make it through Aristotle’s Parts of Animals in the following weeks, and within a month is working through Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man with a working set of intertextual concepts that feel quite close to home.

Which I think is the message I needed to hear, particularly with regard to the “set of intertextual concepts that feel quite close to home.” Sometimes I forget why I invest 96% of my energy in making books which — c’mon — are going to be unread quite a lot more than Ashbery even. But I do it for connections — intertextual concepts that create the web that feel close to home because they are home, life. Making these connections between books and experiences and people is what makes me feel like I am really here.

I never fret about the value of reading while I’m actually reading. And I never feel better about anything (even a well-struck softball) more than when I recognize some detail of a story or poem that resonates with who I am, who I think I am, who it is that is comprised of all these other stories and poems. Saying as much makes it seem so abstract that it’s meaningless. I recognize that, which is what I like about Brower’s essay. Taking pedagogy as a starting point allows him to voice what I’m thinking from a practical standpoint. He says, “If reaching an understanding is what they want to get out of a class … they are obliquely invited to consider that if they cannot use this understanding to understand something different or something more, then perhaps they (or we) have not understood it that well, at all.”

Vouched Visitors: “Poem” by Rachel Zucker

4 May

Visiting us this month at Vouched is Adam Robinson, editor of Publishing Genius Press and author of Adam Robison and Other Poems and Say, Poem.

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Here’s the poem I think I’ve read more than any other poem on the Internet. It’s by Rachel Zucker, and it’s called, “Poem” and it was in her book Museum of Accidents which came out from Wave in 2009. Read it, it only takes a breezy 3 minutes.

I don’t love it because it features a “who’s who” cast of cool poets, though that works nicely, or even for Matt Rohrer’s smart advice — “the next time you feel yourself going dark / in a poem, just don’t, and see what happens.” I have a predilection against poems that reference “poetry, writing of” because poems are for everybody, not just poets. But of course “Poem” is about what is happiness, and about we ain’t got it, and it does it with a light touch. Also it’s about motherhood — something I care for not a whit — I’m embarrassed by it! — but I feel like the poem is exceptionally well dressed and looking at me. The perfectly pitched, conversational tone! The turn at the end! The jokes! My favorite line is when she’s in Deborah Landau’s office — “and Deborah said, “Mark, I’ve got / Rachel Zucker here, she’s happy, // I’ll have to call you back.”

Even the sorrowful ending acknowledges more happiness than it should.

I don’t think I like the idea that we shouldn’t acknowledge how miserable life can be just because we are US Americans, and this poem doesn’t, but it is still aware of the problem of complaining.

And last night I was at an open mic reading that went on for 45 minutes. I loved it. Why are they so bad? The worse the poem — the more it drifts toward the dark — the more I like it. But I don’t really like it. I’m not moved by it — I just think, right on, way to go, no one gets me either. But I also wonder, like, how hard can it be to write a good, resonant, dark poem? Zucker’s “Poem” (such a relevant title) makes it seem not only easy, but like there is no other way to do it.

New Feature: Vouched Visitors

25 Apr

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new feature here, Vouched Visitors, starting in May. Essentially, there are a bunch of people we wish we could have on the team here vouching their favorite work online, reviewing their favorite small press books, talking shop about why they love reading, etc. but these people are as busy if not busier than we are, and being a regular contributor at Vouched just isn’t in the cards.

So, we’ve decided to start asking these people to visit Vouched for just a month and do just that. Every month we’ll have a new Visitor talking up some of their favorite small press goodness.

Starting things off in May will be the ever awesome Adam Robinson of Publishing Genius Press. It’s only fitting that Adam would kick this off, as he and PGP have been supporting Vouched from the very beginning. Adam is also the author of two collections of poetry: Say, Poem and Adam Robison and Other Poems by Adam Robinson. I highly suggest you check out both of these collections, as well as hop over to Publishing Genius and taking in all the amazing work he’s been putting out for the past 6 years.