Tag Archives: poetry

2017 AWP Roundtable 4: Hybrid Practice: Poems in Space, Double Ekphrasis, and Art Outside the Silos

 

The following is the fourth in our series of outstanding AWP panels that were not selected for participation in the conference but deserve to be heard. Today, we’re featuring five multidisciplinary artists, Amaranth Borsuk, Genevieve Kaplan, Addoley Dzegede, Cole Lu, and Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer.

First, tell us a bit about your work and how you’d describe your practice. 

Amaranth Borsuk: I consider myself a poet working with text’s materiality, both on and off the page. My practice spans interactive media, installation, performance, and book arts—I make text-based art in whatever form the work seems to call for.

My interest in materiality comes through in an attention to sound, the use of found material in some cases, and particularly in my construction of artists’ books and ephemera that put the book’s form and content in dialogue. I’m especially interested in the intersection of print and digital media, and the materiality of the digital—something I began to explore in Between Page and Screen (Siglio, 2012; SpringGun, 2016), a book of augmented reality poems created with Brad Bouse. The pages do not contain text, but rather abstract shapes, that, when shown to your webcam, make poems pop up in 3-d space. The poems are written as a series of playful epistles between P and S, two lovers trying to make sense of their relationship, as well as concrete poems that use the language of their letters. We chose to use augmented reality because it requires the viewer to have both a print artifact and a digital one—enacting a dialogue between the two.

That book started as a limited-edition artists’ book and then became a trade edition, but I continue to have a book arts practice, creating small edition works that conceptually integrate form and content. I collaborated with the artist Carrie Bodle this spring on a sound art installation that reflects on the historically vexed relationship of poets and scientists with the moon, treating it as a passive reflector in the sky. In the gallery, visitors standing between two industrial megaphone-style speakers heard a sound poem passing back and forth between them—a call and response between Earth and the Moon in which we can feel their pull on one another.

We extended that project this summer in a limited-edition volvelle that uses our sound poem, a word ladder (one word per line, with only one letter changing in each line), to create a lunar calendar that doubles as a poetry generator. We gave these away at a couple of public participatory performances that were part of the Henry Art Gallery’s Untuning of the Sky, a series of events in relation to the night sky. There, the circular dial of the volvelle allows the reader to see a single word of the poem paired with a lunar phase for the month, and as the dial is turned, both the poem and the moon change incrementally. In the center of the dial, openings reveal words from a cento composed of lines from poems about the moon, with which one can create one’s own poems. In performance, the 31 or so participants seated inside the James Turrell Skyspace, Light Reign, became those 31 lunar phases—their faces in the dim light ringing the space.

Volvelle-Front

Lunar Volvelle

Genevieve Kaplan: I’m primarily a poet, but I have a background in letterpress printing, weaving, and book arts. For the most of my poetic career I’ve practiced a more traditional poetics of-the-page –specifically the 8 ½” x 11” printer page. Recently, in a bit of writer’s-block-funk, I found myself returning to some more hands-on book-arts techniques as a way to escape that funkiness: I used cut and folded book forms to jump-start my drafting process, I hand-set and hand-stamped a series of short poems, I created a group of miniature poem-books. In these works, my final intention wasn’t to write a poem or to make books, but to think about the creation of the book or poem object as an extension of and complement to my drafting and writing processes. As I worked, I became more interested in exploring the relationship between the act of writing and the act of creating objects, and in thinking more deeply about writing—and potentially reading—as a physical, visual, and tactile event.

All of which has led to my current project, a series of woven broadsides. I don’t have a letterpress, but I do have a loom. So, I took the printed broadside—the poem as art object, to be both read and displayed, to be hung on the wall—as inspiration, and I began. For this project, I sew the letters on a line of ribbon to form words and phrases, creating a poetic line, and then I weave the ribbons/lines together to create the poem. The final iteration will eventually be a tactile, inviting, mostly-legible series of sewn and woven one-of-a-kind poetic broadsides.

Addoley Dzegede: My work is project-based and idea-driven, investigating notions of home, belonging, hybrid identity, and existential migration, which I express through a multitude of forms—ranging from  interactive projects and videos to artist books and textiles.  I create works that are meant to entice viewers to pause, and to question commonly held ideas about what it means to belong. Using both personal and public archives, I contemplate the forces of history, experience, and location, and how they essentially work together to tell a story of longing as a state of being.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: I maintain a hybrid practice of poetry, critical writing, and visual work, which is sometimes collaborative (see below). I am primarily a poet, but I studied sculpture, photography, and writing, so I consider everything an act of making. Writing doesn’t give the same satisfaction as the physical labor of sculpture, but it scratches the same itch. I’m also working on a bunch of picture book manuscripts and a YA thriller.

 

How do you use language as material and/or material as language?

Amaranth Borsuk: While working on artists’ books and ephemera, I also continue to write poems for the eye and ear—my most recent book, Pomegranate Eater (Kore, 2016) is full of word play and etymological experiment (a recurring interest) as a means of getting personal material I otherwise wouldn’t say into a poem. In particular, the book opens with a series of poems addressed to different fruit in which I think of myself as being on both sides of the conversation—an approach to interrogating myself for my assumptions, privileges, and self-representation. I find I’m often trying to write into language as sonic texture, sometimes without worrying about meaning so much as feeling.

In Abra (1913 Press, 2016), a collaboration with Kate Durbin, this comes about through a long and baroque poem that mutates as you progress through the book. As you turn the pages, the poem animates like a flip book, heaving itself open and shut in a way that is supposed to be erotic and grotesque at once. While the book’s themes—excess, mutation, fecundity, hybridity—are clear, the text doesn’t behave as though it wants to communicate something specific to the reader. It mostly wants to blossom and collapse in the reader’s hands. We collaborated with the poet and artist Ian Hatcher on a free app through a grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts that makes it possible for readers to mutate the text further, using their fingertips to prune the poem and graft new language into it. From a feminist standpoint, this seems to be what Abra was trying to do all along: push itself off the page and away from our authorial control over it. That’s what we started from—a sense that language is material and that it belongs to the reader.

Genevieve Kaplan: Johanna Drucker defines an artist’s book as a book “which is a record of its own making” (The Century 191), an idea I continually return to; I’m fascinated by the notion of presenting the poem as a record of its own making, which I think may also mean 1) allowing the audience to participate in the poem as it unfolds and 2) presenting the creation of the poem as a worthwhile labor-intensive pursuit. These goals are tangential, but potentially integral, to presenting the poem as a beautiful object to experience.

If what I’d like is the poem as a type of record, one question I’d like to answer is how best to record it. I think I’m getting there. In part because this sewing and weaving process is so time-consuming, and because I’m allowing myself to be consumed a bit by it, the sewing time becomes also a time to allow myself to think and reflect: on the letter, on the word, on the poem, on the project, on the process. I’m very interested here in making the poem as tactile as possible – not just for me, but for the reader as well. I want the space of the poem to be a physical space that can be entered, the fuzz of the yarn to be an invitation to experience.

Which is where I’m beginning to answer this question. Yes, the letterforms, the words, the lines—phrases that existed before only in the non-space of my head, or on the two-dimensional space of the page—when woven literally become material; they become three-dimensional, they become cloth, and they hold together.

nothing, to watch the weeds grow

I think the poem, for a non-poet or non-reader, can be a little daunting to enter. By creating the poem as a visual and tactile material, in contrast to creating the poem on a page or in a book, I’m inviting a different, softer type of interaction.

Addoley Dzegede: A lot of my work comes out of time I have spent abroad, nearly always merging these international experiences with materials that speak to both my identity (which I always bring with me) and the specificity of the location. I try to incorporate some aspect of the country’s language into my work, and by language, I also mean material as language. In Finland, the spongy, mosquito-filled forest was a kind of language that found its way into my work. But I was also interested in the way the Finnish language uses compound words to form new words…how kahden (the two of you) and kesken (between) marry to become kahdenkesken (in private). It seemed appropriate then to make a video (titled Failure to Communicate) where I cut up lines from a 1970’s Finnish book on romantic relationships. Given the length of Finnish compound words, the majority of lines in the book required a word wrap. My main criteria for selecting a line of text was that it was whole, which resulted in an absurd text which is read aloud by the computerized voice of Google Translate in English.

More recently, in Iceland I made ceramic versions of the historic wooden bread boards I saw in an Icelandic turf house museum. Text is carved backwards into the material to create a mirror image that imprints a proverb onto the bread dough. I can’t read Icelandic, especially when it’s backwards, so I chose an English proverb (the crow went traveling abroad and came back just as black) and a Ghanaian one (when the snail travels abroad it finds shelter with the tortoise), both referring to travel and ideas of home.

Crow_Jessica_800_1200

Breadboard with proverb carving

I often use hidden or double meanings when titling my work. “Duly Noted” becomes “Dually Noted,” referring to Du Bois’s “Double Consciousness,” and most recently, “Farewell” (the title of my most recent exhibition) became “Fare well,” opening the word up to more possibilities than “goodbye.”

Cole Lu: I have always been restless in my interest and realization in language. I am aware how I use language (collage or appropriate it) as a visual artist opposes to a person who writes art (poet). I see language functions several levels in my making— as it continually goes back and forth between meaningful and material. I started my visual art practice with photography after having completed a degree in linguistics. A photographer is someone who draws with light, writing and rewriting the world with illumination and shadow; a linguist is someone who scientifically studies language and its structure. I learned how visual meaning was constructed after I devoted myself to artmaking, realizing that perspective focuses everything on the eye of the beholder.

The blindness of earlier social understanding is the result of my addiction to the language in the making. Before I understood language beyond gender; social status, physical ability and disability, and cultural and national borders, I was viewing language purely as a tool for communication. My earlier work parses communication and miscommunication through various mediums and gradually evolves into language that speaks of the identity of minorities, in racial, gender politics, and geographic marginalization.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: My poems are foremost concerned with sound—I can’t begin a poem if I don’t hear the musicality of it first. That said, I find that my ear grips onto often distinctly unmusical bits of language—the idiosyncratic cadence of the human utterance, especially if it’s something ordinary and idiomatic and plain. All of the poems in Cleavemark were prompted by the cadence of someone else’s language. Sometimes it was Bible verses, which my grandmother (who we called Nan or Nanny) was forever scribbling onto scraps of paper and napkins. Those can be crushingly musical or excruciatingly dull. Other times, it was from movie dialogue that I’d hear a hundred times. Like this scary live action thriller Disney made in the 80s called The Watcher in the Woods—the girl in it has visions and utters these simple little phrases: It hardly ever happens you know or It’s nearly too late. In all of the language, there’s an urgency and often a plangency to the sound—someone is going to die unless you stop it (and, BTW, you can’t stop it). I like to play with the frankness of speech and the baroqueness of sound. Language has to be a lure, whether it’s a warm handholding, or someone dragging you through fire.

 

Do you ever work collaboratively, especially with people outside your genre? Please describe. 

Amaranth Borsuk: As you can probably tell, I spend much of my time working collaboratively. Before Pomegranate Eater, I published As We Know (Subito, 2014), a book-length erasure collaboration with Andy Fitch, who writes more prose than I do—he has a couple of books published by Ugly Duckling Presse that involve narrated walks, which I love. For our project, I selectively erased portions of his redacted diary. The resulting voice is, we hope, a collaged speaker—a bit of both of us, but also neither. Given how popular erasure has become, we wanted to draw attention to its act of silencing, which to us seemed a useful way to intervene into the history of male editors heavily manipulating (and taking credit for) the work of female authors. We also wanted to create a work of non-fiction that points to how constructed even the most unmediated-seeming writing—a person’s daily journal—really is. Based on what we chose to leave in from the redacted passages, you get a sense of someone shaping themselves for a reader’s eyes, but also deeply neurotic about how they come across.

I am not a programmer myself, so my digital projects also draw on the expertise of others. In addition to enabling me to create work that I otherwise couldn’t, I’m drawn to these collaborations because they teach me to see the work from a different perspective and help circumvent some of my assumptions about what it is I do. I’m always highly aware of how my gender, race, class, sexuality, and other factors situate me, and I seek collaborators who help to keep me honest with myself. My other digital collaborations include an erasure bookmarklet, The Deletionistwith Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul, which generates erasure poems from websites; and Whispering Galleries, another work with Brad Bouse, which uses a gesture-based controller to sense reader’s hand movements, allowing them to manipulate the text of a historic diary and reveal whispers from the past.

Addoley Dzegede: I have worked collaboratively with three poets: Phillip B. Williams, Justin Reed, and Aaron Coleman, and with a PhD candidate in Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology, Cameron Evans. I also work collaboratively with Lyndon Barrois Jr. as LAB:D. These projects come out of conversations we have and the places where we find overlaps in our work. With Cameron, for example, we made a silent video, Misperception, on the subject of implicit bias, using clips from film and television, and providing duck-rabbit cards directing viewers towards Harvard’s Project Implicit. With Phillip, in Conversation: Tree and Cotton, we merged his poem with my animation of black hair, some of it his own and some of it mine.

Cole Lu: I work collaboratively with various artists, writers, designers and curators for curatorial aspect or as part of a program in predominately institutional-based project, which is very different from the collaboration that I had in my work. The desire to write in the English language is accompanied and nearly drowned by an opposite desire: the desire not to write in the English language. As a person who reads written text fanatically almost like a disease, the entropic tendency of both wanting and resisting to composing a piece regarding written text has always been a driven force for collaboration. It never happened easily, it almost always occurred as an accident, as stumble upon a piece of written text or a visual work and felt propelled to work with that particular person collaboratively.

Two of my collaborative works are composed in the distance and also with artists who are (mainly) outside of my genre. Palimpsest (2013) is a piece that I collaborate with Philadelphia-based fiction writer Dolly Laninga; the piece is essentially a fictional correspondence, through the erasure of the last two pages of “Love (Puberty)” by Andy Warhol in The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975). Oops// All Ball Sad Bad (2016) is a composition of digitally printed photo, headline vinyl letters, and a 10 x14-inch Utility Mailer. The piece is made after Beth Caird, a Melbourne-based artist and writer, for a text piece she produced during “Common Characters,” a project by artist Heman Chong. It was a 24-hour workshop that took place at Artspace, Sydney as part of The Bureau of Writing by the 20th Biennale of Sydney. I am currently working on a new video piece for future collaboration.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: I often collaborate with visual artists. Sometimes it’s on expected projects, like illustrated books, which I’ve done with Jeff Pike (Strangers with a Lifeboat) and am hoping to do with this project I worked on with Jana Harper and her mother, Joie Bourisseau, that Yew was kind enough to publish online. Harper has worked with this cache of cloud images that her mother, who suffers from Bipolar I, and I wrote a series of ekphrastic poems inspired by those images and my discussions with Jana about her relationship with her mother. I write a lot of ekphrastic pieces, and I work that way visually, as well. The sculptural installation Cleavemark Drive that I collaborated with Cheryl Wassenaar on was based on the poems in Cleavemark, so that wound up being a kind of double-ekphrastic. I’m really eager to do more of that, but where I’d write the initial ekphrastic, and then hand it over to a visual artist to make a piece based on the poem based on the art. Like a game of operator. Except art operator. I love the back and forth between artists. When Cheryl and I were installing Cleavemark Drive, she had what I thought was an INSANE idea to paint one of the walls a bright, dark blue. Cheryl is a color genius, but I really couldn’t see it. Until she painted it. And then I was like, ohhhhhhhhhhh. Cheryl often works with text, so she took the text of my poems and visually reinterpreted them on the gallery walls in cut vinyl lettering, and I visually reinterpreted them in domestic objects and materials, like spools and soap and pickling salt. We also letterpressed some of the text into the sugar, and I’ve done another video (The Mouse in Me) with that technique in salt. We’re hoping to do a second iteration of this piece, but we need to find the right venue for it.

 

Schlaifer-Wassenaar from Cleavemark Drive

From Cleavemark Drive 

 

Who and what is influencing your work and your thinking the most right now? Where do you see your work going in the next five years? 

Amaranth Borsuk: My research into the history and future of the book will probably continue to trickle into my work over the next five years. I’m thinking a lot about sound lately, and working with it where I can.

What is perhaps most influencing me is the work of the contemporary poets and artists I am reading as I seek models of how to make work in this scary, bleak time. I’m most looking forward to a symposium my colleagues and I put together that will take place at the Simpson Center for the Humanities at UW Seattle this February—Affect and Audience: Activist Poetics. We began work on it last year, and it feels even more urgent to me now to hear our participants—Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Carmen Gimenez-Smith, C. Davida Ingram, Dawn Lundy Martin, Kai Green, and Layli Long Soldier—speak about their work. I’m grateful to and inspired by my collaborators in this event, micha cárdenas and Sarah Dowling.

Genevieve Kaplan: Certainly many poets and artists are influencing my current work: Johanna Drucker, Susan Howe, Cecilia Vicuña, Jen Bervin, Jen Hofer, Jill Magi, Emmelea Russo. My fellow panelists. In particular, the poets and artists who are exploring and questioning ideas of “work” and materiality – how to justify taking up the space in the world to write the poem, how to present the poem as something built and scaffolded and fought for, something simultaneously meaningful and inviting.

An artist friend of mine recently suggested “letters of the poem as big as a head,” which is an idea I’m intrigued by – beyond this current broadside project, I’m looking forward to thinking about the sewn/woven poem on a larger scale. More billboard than broadside, the poem as forcible—but soft, inviting, woven—encounter, a sort of (more or less) pleasant entrapment.

Addoley Dzegede: Right now, as always, my work is influenced simultaneously by my current circumstances and location in a constant conversation with my ever present past.  I’m thinking a lot about Ghana, and how long it has been since I have been there. As a place where so much of my identity and history is tied, I feel the strong need to stay connected to it materially, as time increasingly fades my memories of times spent there and people who are now lost to me.  Some of my newest work is coming out of West African traditions like kente weaving and adire, as well as the very hybridized history of wax prints.

In the next five years, I hope that I will get another opportunity to live and make work abroad, long term. While I have always felt a sense of foreignness about my identity in the US despite being an American all my life, I revel in truly being a foreigner and find that the work I can make in other countries has a sense of playfulness that I am unable to conjure while stateside. That may also have to do with just being away from the preoccupations of daily life, away from US-style bias and racism, and more, but I think there is definitely a feeling of freedom that I get from being overseas. In the next five years, my main goal would be to remain open, to continue to be responsive to place and conditions I find myself in, to live and make fearlessly.

Cole Lu: My new work always came from the residue of my old work, the work that is required as a point of departure, a place of contemplation. It mainly generates from my desires, and my desires generate from what I read, what I watch, what I listen, and who I talk to. Language has always been a persistent existence, as the form required its presence, visually or spatially. Lately, I had an installation debuted in June 2016 that contains my personal library, from a general point of view, books shapes, creates and participate our cultural mythologies, and can be used as an archive for a past incident, or a reminder of the memories being forgotten. I see the library as a self-portrait, and I am interested in the idea of copy, to create a library from a library as a fictional self-portrait out of the original. I am also working on an installation as a continuation of a project that I did which related to Asian culinary culture and philosophical absurdities, and a piece for a cartoon based on Finnish literature. It is almost impossible for me to predict my work even three months from now, though I had a concrete plan, it usually changes as it goes. I hope in the next five years my work can build a new vocabulary that explores the intersectionality, the richness, and the complexity of our culture, and hopefully the capable to generate the act of self-reflection.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer: Obviously the current political climate is at the forefront of my brain, and it’s already making its way into my work. Those poems come out fast and urgently. I’ve never been a prolific writer or maker, but these are dangerous times. The kind that say sit your ass down and respond. I’m always influenced by whatever music I’m listening to, and I tend to listen obsessively. For a while it was The National’s Trouble Will Find Me, and I still listen to the albums my sister introduced me to when she was in art school—Peter Gabriel’s Passion, the soundtrack to Tout Les Matins Du Monde. And Bach. I played piano, so I’ve been pre-programmed to perk up to that. I’ll always have my go-to favorite dead writers—Moore, Bishop, Celan, Eliot, Rich, Plath—but the living writers whose voices really guide me, those push me in a different way (present company included)—Bridgette Lowe, Jessica Baran, Jeff Hamilton, Shane McCrae, Robyn Schiff, my thesis advisors from grad school, Claudia Rankine, Cole Swenson, and James Galvin, and many others. Claudia and John Lucas’ video work, too. That’s been hugely influential. And visual work—highbrow, lowbrow—everything. Everything tethered to acute observation. As for where my work is going: I want art to be bigger and more present. I want it to be important as a value. I want it to be un-cloistered and brave and more authentic. So I’m working for that.

 


Amaranth Borsuk is a poet, scholar, and book artist whose work encompasses print and digital media, performance and installation. Her books of poetry include Pomegranate Eater (Kore Press, 2016); As We Know (Subito, 2014), an erasure collaboration with Andy Fitch; Handiwork (Slope Editions, 2012); and, with Brad Bouse, Between Page and Screen (Siglio Press, 2012), a book of augmented-reality poems. Her intermedia project Abra (trade edition 1913 Press, 2016), created with Kate Durbin and Ian Hatcher, received an NEA-sponsored Expanded Artists’ Books grant from the Center for Book and Paper Arts and was issued in 2015 as a limited edition hand-made book and free iPad / iPhone app. Her other digital collaborations include The Deletionist, an erasure bookmarklet created with Nick Montfort and Jesper Juul; and Whispering Galleries, a site-specific LeapMotion interactive textwork for the New Haven Free Public Library. Amaranth is currently an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington, Bothell, where she also teaches in the MFA in Creative Writing and Poetics.

Addoley Dzegede is a Ghanaian-American interdisciplinary artist based in St Louis. Her practice is idea-driven, mixed media, and through a combination of words and images, investigates notions of belonging, home, location, and identity. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe, and she has been an artist-in-residence at the Arteles Creative Center in Finland, Foundation Obras in Portugal, and Nes Artist Residency in Iceland, as well as a post-graduate apprentice at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia. She received a BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art, and was awarded a Chancellor’s Graduate Fellowship at Washington University in St Louis, where she completed an MFA degree in Visual Art in 2015. Recent exhibitions and screenings include In Deep Ecology at Tenerife Espacio de las Artes in Spain; Now & After ‘16, at The State Darwin Museum in Moscow, Russia; 2015 St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase Experimental program at the Tivoli Theater in St Louis, Missouri; Fare Well at Fort gondo  Compound for the Arts in St Louis; and the triennial Concept/Focus, at the Hardesty Art Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Recent awards include a grant from the John Anson Kittredge Fund; an honorarium from the Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition; a Creative Stimulus Award from Critical Mass for the Visual Arts; a St. Louis Regional Arts Commission Artist Support Grant; and a Graduate Student Grant for the Mellon Vertical Seminar: The Role of Arts Practice in the Research University at Washington University in St Louis.

Genevieve Kaplan is the author of In the ice house (Red Hen Press, 2011), winner of the A Room of Her Own Foundation‘s poetry publication prize, and three chapbooks: In an aviary (Grey Book Press, 2016); travelogue (Dancing Girl, 2016); and settings for these scenes (Convulsive Editions, 2013), a chapbook of continual erasures. She lives in southern California and edits the Toad Press International chapbook series, publishing contemporary translations of poetry and prose.

Cole Lu is an artist and curator. She received her MFA from the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Art at Washington University in St. Louis. She holds a B.A. in linguistic from Ming Chuan University, Taipei Taiwan and A.A. in Japanese in Jinwen University in Taipei, Taiwan. Lu is known for her varied, multimedia practice, which articulates the subject of a contemporary, fragmented identity. She uses text, installation, sculpture, and video to explore the complex layers of what is lost in the era of digital communication. Her work has been included in exhibitions throughout the US, UK, Brazil, Greece, Mexico and Taiwan. Lu’s work has been exhibited at venues including the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (St. Louis, MO), Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts (Omaha, NE), Pulitzer Arts Foundation (St. Louis, MO), Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI); The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY), The Luminary (St. Louis, MO), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA), AHHA Tulsa (Tulsa, OK), Roman Susan (Chicago, IL), Westminster Press (St. Louis, MO), Fort Gondo compound for the arts (St. Louis, MO), CENTRAL BOOKING ARTSPACE (New York, NY), K-Gold Temporary Gallery (Lesvois Island, Greece) and Invisible Space (Taipei, Taiwan). Her videos and fine art books have been included in numerous national and international fairs and festivals including The 3rd New Digital Art Biennale – The Wrong (Again)FILE: Electronic Language International Festival (São Paulo, Brazil), I Never Read, Art Book Fair Basel (Basel, Switzerland) and Printed Matter’s New York & LA Art Book Fair (New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA). Additionally, she has been awarded the Concept/Focus Artist Award, and residencies at The Wassaic Project (Wassaic, NY) and Endless Editions (New York, NY). Her Risograph publication, “SMELLS LIKE CONTENT” is in the public collection of the MoMA Museum of Modern Art Library (New York, NY). Her latest endeavor in The Soothing Center at Satellite Art Show (Miami Beach, FL) opens December 1st, 2016. She is the Assistant Director at the 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts forum Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts.

Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. Her debut collection of poems, Cleavemark, is just out from BOAAT Press. Schlaifer has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her poems have appeared in Georgia Review, AGNI, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Fence, and elsewhere. Schlaifer was a semi-finalist for the 2015 Discovery/Boston Review Prize, and she was selected for Best New Poets 2015. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Jeff Pike on the illustrated chapbook, Strangers with a Lifeboat, and with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation Cleavemark Drive. Schlaifer is a compulsive baker and also very handy with a pitchfork. Schlaifer’s work can be viewed at criticalbonnet.com

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lyric Essentials: Nicole Rollender reads “A Summer Garden” by Louise Glück

NR

Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Nicole Rollender reads “A Summer Garden” by Louise Glück.

Nicole, there’s a lot to love in this poem. One of my favorite aspects of “A Summer Garden” is the play with time and space. I feel like Glück is a master at transporting the reader into specific psychological spaces and physical landscapes. What makes this poem stand out to you? Does “A Summer Garden” exemplify a specific quality of Glück’s work that you admire?

Nicole: For me, Louise Glück is kind of the über-narrator, and as you observed, a master at whisking the reader into suspended hyper-emotional spaces/physical spaces.

Back in 1975, Helen Vendler wrote a review in New Republic of Glück’s second book, The House on Marshland. This quote captures for me what’s so powerful about these complex narratives Glück has been composing for more than 40 years now: “Glück’s cryptic narratives invite our participation: we must … fill out the story, substitute ourselves for the fictive personages, invent a scenario from which the speaker can utter her lines, decode the import, ‘solve’ the allegory.”

What attracts me most to “A Summer Garden” is the narrator’s really overt attention to memory/nostalgia (which is a huge preoccupation in my own work), as in the first (“Indeed, dust covered everything: it seemed to me the persistent/ haze of nostalgia that protects all relics of childhood) and second parts (“the past is buried in the future”) – yet within this overtness and drama creates a sense of wistfulness/urgency/longing that doesn’t read as, “Oh, OK, we’ve heard this all before.” Also what Glück does well: She pulls us into familiar emotional landscapes (isolation from family, rejection from a lover, reckoning with our own mortality). I mean, she makes me care hard in this poem.

I get what’s happening here: You find a photo in a marked-up copy of Death in Venice of your mother who has since died, and you’re existing in this weird place of multiplicities, all different times, but against a summer garden. You’re going into the photo’s park/garden landscape and sitting with your mother; you’re remembering her alive then (maybe it was even before you were born); you’re remembering her right before she died, and in her moment of death. Yet, she’s really never totally alive and dead, since she exists within these multiple conscious spaces. And I think the idea, when we’re in certain places and moments of our lives, that we really feel like time and our lives are infinite – and then we look back at those times and remember.

One last thought: I’m obsessed with Czeslaw Milosz’s book Bells in Winter and the first poem, “Encounter,” where the narrator recalls with a certain wonder how he can recall a wagon ride during a winter dawn many years earlier with a friend, how they sighted a hare: Yet now, in the moment of recollection “Today neither of them is alive,/ Not the hare, nor the man …” It’s this particular gaze informed by the acute awareness’s of life’s temporality, which we all experience – it just depends to what hyper-aware degree. I’m just fascinated again and again by memory’s power to let us mingle again and again with the dead, but also how it teaches us how quickly our lives move away from the current moment.

Chris: The third section stands out to me in particular. It feels sparse, compared to the other sections, but also makes what feel like loud assertions—there’s the presence of the “immodest god” and at the end Glück invokes an ominous vibe with the mention of Pompeii. What do you think is being communicated with this sort of turn at this point in the poem?

Nicole: I remember back in grad school, one of my professors kept insisting that Pan was a real spirit that manifested most clearly at noon. I remember considering that as a possibility and the strange feelings it evoked in me. This third section echoes the moment I felt Pan’s presence: silent, no wind, very bright, behind me his shadow the only thing moving across the lawn. In this poem, the ominous sun/shadows and then super brightness it creates (“He must be very close/ the grass is shadowless”) communicate to me the relentlessness of how our lives move. Even as we stand young and lush under the noonday summer sun, Pan will exist as he is forever, as we are every moment passing away. Yet, as in Pompeii, where the ash shells of those humans’ final moments exist in a way, our tiny momentary triumph may be that we existed here – and that we realized our smallness, our transience, yet our place among the largeness of the universe and its change/immutability.

Chris: Is graduate school where you were first introduced to Glück’s work? And what was her influence like when you began reading her — was it immediate, or did it take time to get into Glück’s complex narratives?

Nicole: It’s funny: I can’t remember when Glück’s work came into my life. Does that mean I’ve never been without her? And her so many books? When I first awoke to poetry as a young teen, her books were among the first books I bought, along with those from Jon Anderson and Denise Levertov. I connected really quickly to Glück’s introspection/weaving narratives and an underlying melancholy or sort of understanding of mortality. Like, every minute you’re alive you’re also cognizant of death. I read Firstborn and The House on Marshland a lot, early on.

Chris: You mentioned Czeslaw Milosz earlier. Who else plays with memory/nostalgia in their writing that you admire? And, in addition to “A Summer Garden,” what are your must-read Glück poems?

Nicole: That’s such a good rabbit-hole of a question, since the use of memory and nostalgia is so important to me in poetry. But, here’s a short list of some poets and particular pieces that really resonate for me (of course, the list is always growing and shifting):

Ocean Vuong’s “I Remember Anyway” in Guernica

Kaveh Akbar’s “Unburnable Cold Flooding Our Lives” in TriQuarterly

Maggie Smith’s “Your Tongue” in Memorious

Ada Limon, “The Last Move” and “Relentless” from Bright Dead Things

Walt Whitman’s “Poem of Joys”

And same with Glück: I suppose it depends what day you asked me which poem of hers was essential to me. Today, it’s “For My Sister.” Before Glück was born, her sister died. She wrote in an essay, “Her death was not my experience, but her absence was. Her death let me be born.” People should read “For My Sister” in The American Poetry Review; these lines especially:
Now, if she had a voice,

the cries of hunger would be beginning.

I should go to her;

perhaps if I sang very softly,

her skin so white

her head covered with black feathers…
_________________________________________________________________
Nicole Rollender is the author of the poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love (ELJ Editions, 2015), and the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), and Bone of My Bone, a winning manuscript in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Memorious, Radar Poetry, PANK, Salt Hill Journal, Thrush Poetry Journal, Word Riot and West Branch, among others. She’s the recipient of a  2017 poetry fellowship from the New Jersey Council on the Arts, and poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Princemere Journal and Ruminate Magazine. She earned her MFA in poetry at the Pennsylvania State University. She’s the editor-in-chief of Wearables and executive director of branded content & professional development at the Advertising Specialty Institute. In 2016, she was named one of FOLIO’s Top Women in Media. Visit her online at www.nicolerollender.com.

Chris Petruccelli is doing his thing, he guesses. Some new poetry recently appeared in Crab Fat Magazine. You can find his work in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. Chris is still running and drinking whisky.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Sundress Reading Series presents Andrea England, Minadora Macheret, and Clay Matthews

16665081_777994242347742_1337177507865829270_o

Join us on February 26 at 2PM at Bar Marley for the February installation of the Sundress Reading Series!

Featured readings will include:

andrea-englandAndrea England is the author of two chapbooks, INVENTORY OF A FIELD (Finishing Line Press) and OTHER GEOGRAPHIES (Creative Justice Press). She has been a finalist for Four Way Books Levis Prize and Intro Prize, and has been awarded residencies from the Vermont Studio Center and SAFTA. Currently she lives and works between Kalamazoo and Manistee Michigan, where she works as an adjunct and serves as a board member to the non-profit organization, Friends of Poetry. More information about Andrea England and her poetry can be found at andreajengland.com.

minadora-macheret


Minadora Macheret is a graduate student at Kansas State University, where she received the Graduate Poetry Award and Seaton Fellowship. Her poems received the Isabel Sparks’ Poetry Prize. Her work is forthcoming from The Deaf Poets Society and has appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Rogue Agent, Connotation Press, and others. She lives in Manhattan, KS, with her dog, Aki.

clay-matthewsClay Matthews has published poetry in journals such as The American Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Black Warrior Review, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. His most recent book, Shore, was recently released from Cooper Dillon Books. His other books are Superfecta (Ghost Road Press), RUNOFF (BlazeVox), and Pretty, Rooster (Cooper Dillon). He teaches at Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN, and edits poetry for the Tusculum Review.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lyric Essentials: Claudia Cortese Reads “Notes on Desire” by Eve Alexandra.

author-pic-march-2015-2

Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Claudia Cortese reads “Notes on Desire” by Eve Alexandra.

Claudia, this is a wonderful and intense poem you’ve read for us today. Before we dive into “Notes on Desire,” what can you tell us about Eve Alexandra and her work?

Claudia: Eve Alexandra has disappeared. She published one book, The Drowned Girl, from which this poem comes, and as far as I can tell, has published nothing since. I have scoured Google and social media for her and found nothing. The Drowned Girl won the Wick Prize in 2003 while I was a student at Kent State—that’s how I heard of her—and we all got the book, became obsessed with the book, let the book tear us open and transform us. When I say “we,” I mean my little crew of poets that sat on my wood-rotted porch drinking boxed wine (a liquid delicacy only undergrads can truly appreciate) and reading poems and crying and talking.

I still remember hearing her read a poem about date rape, simply called “Rape,” when she gave her Wick prize-winner reading at Kent State. The poem describes assault in plain-spoken and direct language. The speaker asks if the rapist’s penis is in her vagina or her asshole—no euphemism or pretty language, just the confusion and trauma expressed directly: “His penis is in your vagina. / Or is it up your ass? / This is what you don’t understand: / how you lose track / of your own body.” Listening to Alexandra perform the poem, I cried harder than I have ever cried at a reading, and I wasn’t the only one. The packed room shook with grief as we all bore witness to Alexandra’s work—and by “work,” I don’t only mean her poems: I also mean The Work (with a capital w) that they were doing.

Chris: The amount of power in this poem is incredible. The repetition combined with the brevity of the lines and strong language makes the act of recollection so visceral. Do you create similar effects in your writing? What are the elements in this poem that make Alexandra essential to you as a writer?

Claudia: “Notes on Desire” cracked open poetry for me. Before reading it, poetry unfolded in neat and precise boxes: event A followed event B followed C and voile! at the end is a lovely epiphany earned by a story well-told. This poem showed me how to queer form and language—that the self’s desires are so fucking complex and the denial of that is based on our profound fear of pleasure—the fear that we are capable of infinitely more pleasure than our heteronormative culture deems imaginable. The speaker of the poem fucks men and fucks women; she likes her sex soft and she likes it rough; she comes when her lover calls her “whore, bitch, my little slut.” She entered “into the world . . . with the knowledge of her own sexual power” and yet her power is just as often compromised. In other words, her desire brims with contradictions that are not actually contradictions—the body can hold that much complexity.

The choppy sentence fragments which are not broken into lines or stanzas—the poem is a block of prose—leap without warning between genders and bodies and scenes, which mirrors the realistic ways that we experience memory and body: one moment we want to have rough sex; another moment we may suddenly feel turned off. One day, we feel like we are completely straight and the next day we see someone of our same gender (or of neither or both genders) and we think, Daaammmnnn!

I just published a book of prose poems and flash fiction stories called Wasp Queen. The book develops and focuses entirely on a character named Lucy. Each piece is a character study, a vignette, a small piece of a not-so-small girl. Sometimes, Lucy calls herself a fat cunt. Sometimes, she wants to rub “her bottom part” against her best friend, Stephanie, and other times, she yearns for a boy who lives in the forest. Sometimes, Lucy sweetly pets the edges of her favorite ribbon and other times, she tears her dog’s fur with her teeth. Alexandra showed me I can say “cunt” in a poem, and she showed me how to create a character whose desires and life are as complex as all of our desires and lives.

Chris: It’s wild that Alexandra’s The Drowned Girl had this profound impact, going so far as to influence your book Wasp Queen, and then she virtually disappears. Who did you read after poetry cracked open for you? Who else is writing today that helped inform your poetry in a way similar to Alexandra?

Claudia: Meghan Privitello’s A New Language for Falling out of Love!!! Dear God, Meghan can WRITE. The book is a collection of prose poems. I totally have a crush on the prose poem and I totally have a crush on Meghan’s poems. What I find so exciting about her work is that I never know what she will say next: each line veers and twists and contorts away from the previous line, though somehow the car of coherency never falls over the cliff into meaninglessness.

CA Conrad’s Book of Frank and Shannon Hardwick’s Francine poems showed me I could pour my monstrosity—all the vulnerable, horrific, strange parts of myself that scare the shit out of me—into a character that isn’t me, and by not being me, she could be more completely me than I had ever been before.

Some other writers that take the top of my head off: Grey Vild, Gillian Cummings, Lidia Yuknavitch, Aaron Apps, Toni Morrison, Megan Giddings, Natalie Eilbert, Morgan Parker.

Chris: To end on “Notes on Desire,” is there a particular section of the poem, or an image that you can’t get enough of? I love the lines, “She said Yes, yes. It was summer. In trees. By the water. No moon. No stars. Just dark. The dark and their tongues. Their eyes. Their Hands. Their scent.” This whole exchange is bracketed by one of those gender-desire shifts you talked about and it all works together so wonderfully. The dark and absence of light work to symbolize the traditional ideas of “danger/impurity/ending,” but they’re also contradictory and can represent a sort of celebratory revelation—maybe an orgasm? Totally babbling at this point, but what is or what are the parts of this poem that still resonate with you today?

Claudia: Haha! The best poems inspire the best babbling! “She came into the world like this. A child with the knowledge of her own sexual poem” still shocks and amazes me. The image of a child experiencing her sexuality at such a young age, and feeling her sexuality not as a possible source of trauma and, thus, powerlessness, but rather as the place from which her power would spring is shocking, taboo, fierce, and fearless. I hope badass and brilliant Eve Alexandra reads this interview and comes out of hiding! The world needs her.
_________________________________________________________________
Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her first book, WASP QUEEN, was published by Black Lawrence Press in early 2017. She has had work featured in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast Online, and The Offing, among others, and is a book reviewer for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey. She also lives at claudia-cortese.com

Chris Petruccelli remains unsure of what he is. His poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. Chris’ chapbook Action at a Distance is available from Etchings Press.

Tagged , , , , ,

Now Accepting Applications for Fall Artist Residencies

Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is excited to announce that they are now accepting applications for short-term artists’ residencies in creative writing, visual art, film/theater, music, and more. Each residency includes a room of one’s own, access to a communal kitchen, bathroom, office, and living space, plus wireless internet.

The length of a residency can run from one to three weeks. SAFTA is currently accepting applications for our fall residency period, which runs from August 21st to December 31st, 2017.   The deadline for fall residency applications is May 7th, 2016.

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-2-00-27-pmFor the fall residency period, SAFTA will be pairing with VIDA to offer two fellowships (one full fellowship and one 50% fellowship) for a week-long residency to two women writers of
any genre. VIDA’s mission as a research-driven organization is to increase critical attention to contemporary women’s writing as well as further transparency around gender equality issues in contemporary literary culture. Fellowships will be chosen by guest judge, Idra Novey.

Idra Novey is the author of the novel Ways to Disappear, winner of the 2016 Brooklyn Eagles Prize and a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Her most recent poetry collection  Exit, Civilian

author-photo-idra-novey

Idra Novey

was selected by Patri­cia Smith for the 2011 National Poetry Series. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into ten languages and she’s written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Paris Review. She is the recipient of awards from the National Endow­ment for the Arts, Poets & Writ­ers Mag­a­zine, the PEN Trans­la­tion Fund, the Poetry Foundation, and the Poetry Society of America. She’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H.

The SAFTA farmhouse is located on a working farm that rests on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. Located less than a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city of 200,000 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, SAFTA is an ideal location for those looking for a rural get-away with access to urban amenities.

The residency bedrooms are 130 sq. ft. with queen-size platform bed, closet, dresser, and desk. There is also a communal kitchen supplied with stove, refrigerator, and microwave plus plenty of cook- and dining-ware.  The facility also includes a full-size working 19th century full-size letterpress with type, woodworking tools, a 1930’s drafting table, and an extensive library of contemporary literature.

To apply for the Sundress Academy for the Arts residency, you will need the following:

  • Application form (including artist’s statement and contact information for two references)
  • CV or artist’s resume (optional)
  • Artist sample (see website for more details on genre specifications)
  • Application fee of $25 or $15 for current students (with student email) payable online*

For more information and application material, visit our website or find us on Facebook or on Twitter.

*Application fee will be waived for those applying for the VIDA scholarship who demonstrate financial need. Please state this in your application under the financial need section.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lyric Essentials: Dan Albergotti reads “A Stubborn Ode” by Jack Gilbert.

dan-at-home-march-2014-crop

Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Dan Albergotti reads “A Stubborn Ode” by Jack Gilbert.

Dan, as I searched for a copy of “A Stubborn Ode” I came across your recommendation in Post Road Magazine in which you mention a moment when a friend read “A Stubborn Ode” to you out loud. Was that the first time you were introduced to Jack Gilbert’s work? What else can you tell us about that moment and about discovering the work of Gilbert?

Dan: That was basically the first time. The friend in the anecdote is Melanie Carter, a fine poet whose amazing “Water to Sky” I once discussed in an essay on metaphor in Poets & Writers (Jan/Feb 2012). She’s the person that introduced Gilbert to me, most definitely. At the time, she had recently discovered his work when she attended a summer seminar at Bennington where he was a visiting faculty member. She came back from that seminar singing his praises, but I was skeptical and resistant. In fact, I think her reading that poem aloud to me was probably provoked by a question from me along the lines of “What’s so great about this guy’s work?” I can still almost hear the poem in her voice and see the image of her clutching the book to her chest when she was finished. Within a year, I was a devotee, a full-fledged member in the cult of Gilbert. If any of your readers are unfamiliar with his work, I would encourage them to rectify that tragic situation as soon as possible, starting with his magnificent third collection, The Great Fires, in which “A Stubborn Ode” appears. (I would also encourage readers to seek out Melanie Carter’s work, some of which is available online.)

Chris: What are the particular elements in this poem that illustrate Gilbert’s essentiality?

Dan: The poem seems to compress everything—and I mean everything—down into a hard, sharp gem. It is intimately specific and broadly universal. There is achingly personal grief (for his late wife Michiko, “buried in Kamakura”) and pure empathy for the suffering of others. In one way, it seems like anything but an ode with its aggressively prosy diction and line-breaks. Yet it is certainly what its title claims: an ode, and stubbornly so, damn it. It’s even coyly sonnet-esque in its 14 lines. In a way, the poem seems like it could be a response to Theodor Adorno’s pronouncement “No poetry after Auschwitz” (that’s a common reduction—I think the actual quote is closer to “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”). The poem catalogs disappointments, injustices, griefs, savagery, and despair. It quietly says, yes, yes, yes, yet nevertheless.

Chris: So was it Gilbert’s ability to compress emotion that finally won you over then? Or was it something else in that year of becoming a devotee that made you a convert?

Dan: As with most passions, it’s hard to point to one thing or to condense the experience into a pithy description. All I can say is that “A Stubborn Ode” led me to read The Great Fires, and it was over from there. I jokingly (somewhat) referred to “the cult of Gilbert” above, but my conversion experience is not uncommon. If you want evidence, check out the prices listed for signed first editions of his work by second-hand book dealers.

But in an effort to more fully answer your question, I will point to something I wrote for Borderlands in 2005: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/coming-end-his-triumph-retrospective-jack-gilbert. That piece began as a review of his fourth collection, Refusing Heaven, and metamorphosed into a short career retrospective. In that essay, I refer to Gilbert’s entire life being a poem. It’s easy to become a devotee when you perceive that. Happily, I turned out to be wrong about his imminent death and no fifth collection. The Dance Most of All was published in April 2009, and Jack died in November 2012.

Chris: I completely lose it at the tenth line, “All of us wane, knowing things could have been different.” There are several succinct, declarative lines like this in the poem that make the piece—I like how you said it—“a hard, sharp gem.” Is there a line or part of this poem that is especially poignant for you? What do you hope readers of this poem will walk away with?

Dan: The poem begins with a three-word fragment: “All of it.” And it ends with a four-word sentence: “And I say, nevertheless.” Even in their brevity and simplicity, each feels especially poignant to me. Between them in the poem, I believe there is, as I said above, everything—all of it. Everything that Gilbert provides, and everything that the readers feel as well: their own horrors, griefs, sadness, despair. I hope readers feel all of that when they read the poem, and I hope they walk away saying stubbornly, with Jack, “nevertheless.”
_________________________________________________________________
Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008) and Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), as well as a limited-edition chapbook, The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Five Points, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and two editions of the Pushcart Prize, as well as other journals and anthologies. He is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University.

Chris Petruccelli doesn’t know what he is anymore. His chapbook Action at a Distance won the 2014 Etchings Press Chapbook Contest. His poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. In his spare time Chris enjoys running and whisky.

Tagged , , , , ,

An Interview with Sundress Author, Colleen Abel

abel
As a poet, Colleen Abel is a shape-shifter. In her chapbook, Deviants, you’ll find couplets, flash CNF, lists, lyric essays, sectioned verse, and poems that morph across the page. What takes this formal variability to another level is that Colleen’s work is also about form—about the human body, about boundaries and celestial bodies and the Venus of Willendorf. These thirty pages are about a lot. We talked with Abel about Deviants, the way these forms find themselves, and how she found her way to poetry.

Colleen Abel’s Deviants won the 2016 Sundress Publications 5th Annual Chapbook Contest. Her first full-length collection, Remake, won Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize and is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of Housewifery, a chapbook (dancing girl press, 2013). A former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at UW-Madison, Abel has published work in Pleiades, Colorado Review, The Collagist, Southern Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. She lives in Wisconsin with her student loans.

Sundress: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Colleen Abel: I have always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was four. I wrote my first short story around that time, about a vampire and his wife. (I illustrated, as well, but happily I abandoned notions that I was a competent illustrator pretty much immediately.) But even though I always wrote poetry, when I was a kid, I saw myself becoming a novelist. It wasn’t until college when I was encouraged to do an MFA in poetry that I thought, hmm, maybe this is going to be my path. Not that you have to pick a genre and stick with it! The older I get, the less interested I am in staying within genre boundaries.

Sundress: How do your pieces find their form? Do you draft in the form a piece eventually takes, or do you think about form later?

Colleen Abel: I almost always draft a piece in the form it ends up with—the form dictates the intellectual and sonic moves the poem makes, usually, so I like to find the form first. It’s sort of like picking a vessel to hold the thought. But sometimes in revision, I do figure out that the vessel is wrong! “The Photographer’s Model” is an example of a poem that was restless in the original form I had chosen for it.

deviants

Sundress:Formally, Deviants is a very eclectic bunch of poems, but the book’s foundation seems to be the 18-page piece titled “Fat Studies.” Speaking of genre, how do you classify “Fat Studies”?

Colleen Abel: I would say “Fat Studies” is a lyric essay. I have been trying to write about obesity for over a decade in my poetry and it never worked–not once. I couldn’t really figure out why. It wasn’t until I shifted my thinking about form that I was able to write about obesity in a way that I was happy with–and “Fat Studies” was the result.

Sundress: In “Fat Studies,” the speaker’s body is described as “deviant.” The piece goes on to investigate the speaker’s life and mind within this “deviant” body. How did this piece come about? Is this stigmatized subject you’ve dealt with before, or is it something that required the building of experience and courage to write about so directly, frankly, and beautifully?

Colleen Abel: As I mentioned, I’ve been wanting to write about obesity for a long time, but could never make headway. A couple of things happened right around the same time that broke open the essay for me. I was sitting in on a fiction class at the school where I was teaching at the time, in 2014. So I was thinking a lot about prose. Then I stumbled across the theories of stigmatized identities by the sociologist Erving Goffman. He had this list of ways that people could respond to having a stigmatized identity, and I immediately thought: that list would make a great backbone for an essay. The third thing was that I had read an essay about physical fitness by John F. Kennedy and was trying to write a poem about it (and failing; see above.) Somehow those three factors collided and “Fat Studies” was born.

Sundress: In “Poem Beginning With A Zen Proverb,” (which, is such a great title), you create a list poem of places to “hide your body.” What are other list poems you have loved or that have influenced you?

Colleen Abel: Great question. The list poem that I think I go back to the most is Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another.” I’m fascinated by how list poems make their way toward endings. They are so hard to write!

Sundress: What’s something you used to believe about writing that you no longer think is true?

Colleen Abel: Wow. I can think of probably a hundred things, from small to hugely philosophical. I was very young when I went into my MFA program and for a while I think I absorbed a lot of the aesthetic preferences of my teachers and saw those as rules of a sort. Eventually, I shook those off–as writers need to do with their mentors, often. I had a teacher who thought poems shouldn’t have questions in them, for example, and for a long time I was scared to ask questions in poems. That’s a small example, but I think the more I read and write and live in the world, the more expansive my idea of poetry becomes.

Sundress: What are three things that every poem needs?

Colleen Abel: 1. Attention to language 2. Attention to arrangement 3. A desire to communicate something to an audience.

Sundress: Can you tell me a little about writing community? Where is yours? What is it like? What were the best writing communities you’ve ever encountered, and why?

Colleen Abel: I am about a month into a two-year writing fellowship. There are about a dozen of us who comprise the inaugural class of Tulsa Artist Fellows, so I am excited to see this fledgling community grow and evolve, especially since it’s multi-genre. I was very, very lucky to be a part of a small group that met frequently for several years in Chicago. I probably won’t ever find anything quite like that again, but I still carry their generosity with me even a decade later.

Sundress: What projects are in the works for you now?

Colleen Abel: [My full-length collection] Remake is coming out this spring! I’m super excited. I have a full-length collection called Caryatid that’s seeking a home, and right now I am just trying to generate work without thinking too much about how it will shape into a book. Wish me luck!

Colleen Abel is the winner of Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize for her collection Remake, which is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of a chapbook, Housewifery (dancing girl press, 2013) and a former fellow at University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Phoebe, West Branch, and many other outlets. She was recently named a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow.

Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT, a literary organization focused on community-building, surprise, and discomfort. An MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, he edits fiction for the Blue Earth Review, co-hosts the radio show Weekly Reader, and leads writing workshops for senior citizens. He’s currently creating a flash-fiction podcast called SHOW YR WORK that will be available online this summer. This winter, you can find his short stories in Midwestern Gothic, Little Fiction, matchbook, NANO Fiction, and No Tokens (and you can always find his jokes at @goftyler). Tyler is originally from York County, Pennsylvania, where, once, as a teenager, he saw a sweatshirt that read “York’s Not Boring…You Are,” and his life changed.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

AWP Roundtable with Chen Chen, Muriel Leung, Jessica Smith, and Sarah Viren

“It is my history raiding me”: Exploring Representations of Public and Private Violence

chen-chen-by-jess-chenmuriel-leungjesssmithsarah-viren

Welcome to our Sundress Roundtables, a celebration of exceptional, not-so-lost AWP panels which did not make the AWP final cut for 2017.

How is violence produced in a twenty-second exchange, perpetuated in a centuries-long system? This panel explores how writing can engage with the intersections of institutional and interpersonal violence. Through poems and essays, we share strategies, messy attempts, more questions. One common thread we trace is violence’s relation to intimacy. If we allow it in private, do we then more readily allow it in public? Is desire inherently violent? Or should we distinguish a more metaphorical violence from abusive dynamics, historical atrocities, present crises?

 

In your view, what is the relationship (overlaps as well as key distinctions) between institutional violence and interpersonal violence?

Muriel Leung: The public imagination of violence has always largely veered towards the interpersonal, I think, because it’s a bit more easy to detect and articulate since we are each experts in how our own bodies relate to the world. A solely interpersonal outlook on violence, though, is dangerously limiting. It obscures the larger forces at play that dictate how we relate to each other socially: how we are all influenced by a certain type of education, upbringing, privileged positioning, and opportunities we are afforded and not afforded. And these relations sometimes change or stay the same when we travel to a different state, region, or country.

The U.S. in particular is guilty of such failings in recognizing institutional violence as a legitimate source of inquiry and rage. The recent election of Donald Trump and the widespread approval of him by those who identity as poor or middle class white is pretty emblematic of that rift in understanding between institutional and interpersonal violence. Largely, poor or middle class white people have been expressing feelings of being shafted by progressive political actions that appear to provide opportunities in favor of those who are immigrant, non-citizen, and/or nonwhite. In other words, provisions of social or political rights to these communities means they lose out. The issue here seems to be that even the understanding of interpersonal violence is incredibly short-sighted. It’s the strangest correlation – the more privileges you possess in this country, the greater the level of threat of its loss such that one feels the need to hoard opportunities, to forbid others who may be further marginalized from access to them. I think this is what a limited scope of institutional violence can do – it turns social and political life into a never-ending blame game in which vulnerable communities are under attack rather than the systems that perpetuate the original source of the misery.

Jessica Smith: I think this relationship has to do with sustainability – what an individual is willing or has been taught, in private, to sustain. If one is subjected to gaslighting, violence, and subjugation in their home, the space that is supposed to be the most safe and sacred, then how can they hope to interrogate these same offenses at an institutional level?

One of the most difficult parts of fighting violence, or rerouting mindsets that lead to violence, is having to identify it when you are so consistently working to “recover” from it. How do we name what harms us when that harm originates from a place we trust – a parent, a partner, a university, a government? How can we explain what cruelty is to those who are in the position of teaching us right from wrong?

Trying to illuminate structures of oppression to the oppressor is not only painful and unfair, but nearly impossible, particularly when their behaviors are reinforced by an oppressive societal framework. I’ve found this space un-navigable – the space wherein the victim must be the one who is measured and thoughtful, where even the most basic explanation of decency feels like begging. We’ve seen this during the campaign and election of Donald Trump – calls for harmony and decency in the face of a man who ran his campaign on cruelty and harassment.

It is vital to interrogate this public-private connection because it is interdependent. Institutional violence relies on breeding acceptance in private. It needs people to expect it, or at minimum be afraid to fight it.

Sarah Viren: Sometime after the election I found myself rereading Gabriel García Márquez’s Nobel Prize lecture from 1982. I used to teach the lecture, but it had been a while. And also it was different reading the speech at this moment in time, when it feels like all forms of violence are under attack by those who would insist that they do not exist.

Though I love every part of that speech, there is one part that is particularly powerful. After listing innumerable instances of interpersonal, institutional, and state-sponsored violence in Latin America, García Márquez demands that this reality be what we recognize when we recognize his fiction:

A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.

(Read the original version of the speech in Spanish here.)

Interpersonal violence tends to be what we recognize as real violence. It is what we see on TV and in many movies and in so many of our fictions and nonfictions. And often in its representations and repetitions, in its sexy allure and sell-ability, interpersonal violence can appear more hyper-real than real. I cannot tell you how many bloody and dead women I have seen on a screen, their violated and abused bodies made into the mystery around with a male narrative will unspool.

Institutional violence is our refusal to also see the repetition of that dead female body as a form of violence. It is our refusal to read One Hundred Years of Solitude outside of any other context than the “magically real” hoisted on it by U.S. and European critics and academics. It is what García Márquez is talking about when he says solitude. Institutional violence is all those forms of violence—health care inequities, sweatshop conditions, historical revisionism, voter suppression—that are so often denied a reality in large part because they are so pervasive and engrained that we struggle to see at all.

Chen Chen: I’ve been thinking about the post-election rallying cry shouted or tweeted out by many liberals: “Love trumps hate.” But what do we mean by love? Do we mean feeling some vague but pleasurable harmony? Do we mean saying hi to strangers and holding the door open for them? Or do we mean something that actually requires policy change and systemic change? I return, always, to this James Baldwin passage from The Fire Next Time:

Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word “love” here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace—not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.

These days, I am also returning to an article by Jo Blaise, published recently in Kinfolk Kollective (and entitled “Your Love Won’t Trump Hate”):

Toni Morrison taught me early on that love is never any better than the lover. She warned us in the pages of The Bluest Eye that “wicked people love wickedly, violent people love violently, weak people love weakly…” So when I see exasperated faces and secret Facebook groups lamenting that love failed to trump hate, I must ask: Whose? Whose love failed us?

It’s important here to say that James Baldwin and Jo Blaise are both writing out of a history of Black struggle movements, some of which have been deeply transnational in practice (for instance, both Baldwin and Blaise make connections to Palestine). As a non-Black POC, I think that love also, on some basic level, means insisting on the fact that certain frameworks and strategies for resistance come specifically from Black resistance.

 

How can the genre(s) you write in get at the relationship between different yet interlocking forms of violence? What is it about a particular genre or way of writing that opens up the investigation into violence(s) for you?

Muriel Leung: I’m interested in how recent turns to hybrid genres or less clearly defined genres of writing seem symptomatic of a world whose set of complex relations seem to growing exponentially as the years progress. If genre and form is historically, politically, and socially influential to aesthetic development, then I think the growing tenuousness of containers for these genres and forms means that things are happening far faster than we can write them. In particular, writing violence and trauma demands a far greater set of responsibilities and ethical aesthetic practices now that I think ruptured forms and genres seem to address.

I’m especially interested in the essay now, the etymology of the word drawing from the French “essayer” (trial or attempt). Moving into the essay from poetry, I adapt a lot of poetic elements, particularly the lyric when it comes to phrasing, but how I think essays differ from poetry is the impetus “to try” to achieve a point of hyper-clarity, to arrive at some answer in the end. Poetry has always been, for me, about creating language landscapes of webbed responses. This abstraction is useful too, but experimenting with the essay as a form that responds to violence and trauma in a way that poetry alone cannot do is a necessary project for me. It forces a necessary toggling between poetry’s propensity towards abstraction and the essay’s need to establish a personal rhetoric. It is as if poetry offers sites of feelings for rage, anxiety, and depression, and the essay provides a set of guidelines for how to navigate them. When you put the two together, they do joint work to convey a perspective that may not possible if each genre were solely confined to their own rules.

Jessica Smith: Most of my work and research centers on intimate partner violence. One of the most illuminating things a counselor once shared with me is that society is structured to misunderstand victimhood – that the victim of sustained abuse (in any form) usually appears more scattered, damaged, and volatile to the outside world than the perpetrator. Victims are more likely to miss work, invent transparent lies to their loved ones, and be generally unslept, unkempt, and unhappy. The perpetrator of the violence is, conversely, accustomed to the dynamic and in control of it, thus appearing more “together” to observers. The victim’s reality is distorted on all levels.

This gulf between the realities of abuse and the understanding of it, I think, is best traversed by poetry. Ricardo Gullon said that poetry is the transfer of intuition – it privileges insight over information. If we are hoping to gain insight into sustained, systemic violence (institutional, interpersonal, both), then we have to close the space between representation and reality. As Rachel Louise Snyder put it in her New Yorker article on domestic violence, “A Raised Hand”:

“Between 2000 and 2006, thirty-two hundred American soldiers were killed; during that period, domestic homicide in the United States claimed ten thousand six hundred lives. This figure is likely an underestimate, as it was pulled from the F.B.I.’s Supplementary Homicide Reports, which gather data from local police departments, where homicide reporting is voluntary.

Dunne attributes the prevalence of domestic violence, in part, to a deep cultural misunderstanding of how violence operates. We assume that victims incite abuse, or that if the situation at home was truly threatening they would leave.”

Because I think that victim-blaming and gendered assumptions about who commits intimate partner violence are both erroneous, I want my work to focus on the collective societal issues that support a culture where intimate partner violence happens with such frequency, and in such secret. Poetry weds the private and the public – it distills the moment of crisis into a universal one. Poetry gives us the pinhole camera so that we can look directly at the eclipse. It is “…the language of intensity,” wrote C.D. Wright. “Because we are going to die, an expression of intensity is justified.”

Sarah Viren: I write in all genres and often I think that the way we separate our genres, especially when the deciding factor is whether the text is “true” or not, is itself a form of violence. So I’m not sure that the genres get at violence differently, but that readers’ understanding of genre distinctions can both open up and/or confine how violence is understood within a particular work.

I’m often struck, for instance, by how much more people will react to a description of violence if it is read within the context of a “true” genre, like memoir or literary journalism, as opposed to violence that’s been framed as fictional (but might still be representative of a real situation or injustice). Whenever I’ve taught Carolyn Forché’s poem “The Colonel,” I can see a change in the room—and in the reading of that poem—as soon as I mention that Forché has said that it documents actual events. Students suddenly take the poem more seriously and are also more interested in hearing about context. I wonder about that change. Because even if the Colonel or the sack of ears were invented, the violence they represent would still be symbolically true. More than 75,000 people were killed during the Salvadoran Civil War, a war that the United States helped prolong.

So rather than saying I prefer this or that genre when writing about violence, I think it’s more accurate to say that I tend to use the essayistic mode. For me, essaying is the form of writing that best replicates the mind on the page. It is not chronological or narrative in nature. It is not interested in replicating reality but rather commenting on it and trying to understand it, often by making connections, many of them non-intuitive. For all those reasons, it is the best way for me of getting at issues of institutional violence.

I once wrote an essay, for instance, about singing murder ballads to my newborn daughter to stop her from crying. All I knew when I started writing that essay was that there was something not right, or at least more complicated than I wanted to admit, about me singing her those songs, most of which are about murdered women. What I ended up working through in that essay were a series of connections, between those ballads and other stories of violence against women, between my desire to soothe my daughter and my own culpability in a system in which stories of violence against women—not to mention actual violence against women—are so common we don’t notice them at all.

Chen Chen: Most of the time, I am a poet. Lately, though, I’ve been working on essays. Lyric essays. Somewhat experimental, perhaps. The possibilities of creative nonfiction have opened up for me some new ways into difficult subjects. One essay I just revised is a meditation on the shooting at Pulse and on living as an openly gay person in a very conservative town in West Texas. Guns are a big part of the culture here, as are rather normalized (often coded) forms of sexism and homophobia—so before Pulse, I was already on guard all the time. I felt like I was back in the closet in certain contexts. After Pulse, a part of me wants to stay home 24-7; at times I feel deeply uneasy going, with my boyfriend, to the movie theater or to the local Barnes & Noble. Obviously, these places are not nightclubs, but the fact that a safe or sacred space specifically for queer people was attacked makes every space seem dangerous. The essay traces the social roots of anti-queer erasure and violence, including how internalized homophobia manifests.

At the same time, I have no direct connection to Pulse. I’ve struggled with how to represent the specific and enormous violence that occurred there. It feels necessary to document the violence because it seems like the violence has left the national consciousness so quickly. Part of the essay’s task is slowing down, making space for a longer memory to take hold. But I worry about reproducing violence. I worry about the reiteration of a certain form of tragic queer suffering. I worry about aestheticizing or narrativizing such immense loss. I worry about what it means for me—someone who is a queer person of color but who is not Latinx or part of an Orlando community—to write about this in the first place. In the essay, I try to acknowledge these worries and to critique my own tendencies/approaches. I try to keep distinct and particular the experience at Pulse and the experiences in West Texas. And I try to excavate why, exactly, I feel so much grief; why it is that this mourning feels already familiar. The piece is called “It Seems I Have Been Mourning for a Long Time.”

Writing in a lyric essay form has allowed me to bring together multiple threads without (I hope) conflating them. The form has also allowed me to ask questions about what it means to “research” an event so horrific and personally triggering—the fact that it became unbearable to read account after account from friends and relatives and beloveds of the people killed at Pulse. I couldn’t read more than two or three accounts in a single sitting. I couldn’t keep looking at the pictures: the smiling selfies, the couples in love, the people who were just going about their lives in their particular, beautiful, complicated ways. So, I had to slow down. I had to cry. I had to read more slowly and return to my essay, taking greater care with my language. It just seems so impossible that they are gone.

 

What are some examples of work that you feel interrogate, complicate, reshape our understanding of violence(s)?

Muriel Leung: There are so many writers and artists out there who challenge our understanding of violence in such a way that folds critique into our daily imagination of it. The first names that come to mind are always women of color: Claudia Rankine, Cathy Park Hong, and Bhanu Kapil. Each writer is invested in pushing or challenging presumed genre and formal boundaries in their discussion of race and national (anti)belonging. There’s also Douglas Kearney, Craig Santos Perez, Solmaz Sharif, and Robin Coste Lewis, whose works critique structures and forms of power from black history archives to Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. I think it’s powerful to consider one’s poetic practice as a part of history and history-making, to think about how reviewing the past can be a way of conceiving a certain type of future. Not necessarily optimism — I think these writers would agree that one should always be skeptical about overly idealistic renditions of future possibilities — but a complicated and weighted hope for some form of change.

Other writers I think who have been on my mind recently: Will Giles beautifully utilizes heartbreaking comedy and extended metaphors in his performances about substance abuse, history, and community revival. Vanessa Villarreal, whose book, Beast Meridian is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2017, is especially gifted in recognizing how the textures of the page can be a means of exploring how violence can be enacted through language. Kay Ulanday Barrett, whose first poetry collection, When the Chant Comes (Topside Press 2016) just came out and I think is one of the best texts on intersectional politics and what good allyship is out there. Jamie Berrout too, who largely self-publishes, has not only put out some amazing nonfiction, fiction, and poetry about being a trans Latina woman — her work gorgeously weaves in and out of time, place, space, and memory.

Jessica Smith: I was moved and devastated by Lacy M. Johnson’s memoir The Other Side, which explores not only the horrific crime her ex-lover committed against her, but the murky systemic issues around academic and sexual power structures that allowed her to sustain a relationship with him – despite his escalating violence – for so many years prior to this final attack. She complicates notions of how a victim should act or “heal” in the aftermath. The memoir is both lyrical and unflinchingly direct, which I think mirrors the ice-clear fever dream of working through “recovery.”

I am endlessly in awe of Vievee Francis’s ability, in her poetry, to be confrontational and still deeply vulnerable. She engages violence as a scope, not an isolated incident, and demands that her reader do the same. Though she is clear about the intensity and consistency of the violence in her work, she avoids the kind of “begging” explanations these narratives often devolve into. Her poems key into the strange familiarity of violence, and the way it parades, so often, as intimacy.  I go back over and over again to the end of her poem “Taking It,” where she writes:

“…Is this too dramatic?

Find another story. Find a lie. In love, body after body
fell beneath my own, though my own was broken,
and I made love like a sea creature, fluid as if boneless,
though my bones would rattle if not for the fat I cherish.
Wouldn’t you? How I grew to love the heavyweights,
myself with one in the ring. How I imagined him punching
me, and punching me again, saying I’m sorry, so sorry,
to have to love you this way.”

Any writer who can open their throat this way – who puts the words cherish and fluid and love in the same breath as punching and broken and heavyweights reveals that violence is not something that punctuates life but rather is woven into it.

Sarah Viren: Well, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a really good example of how fiction can address violence. The novel is allegorical, and so the stories of violence it tells are meant to be read both as specific examples of interpersonal violence and as representative of systemic forms of violence that happened and continue to happen (i.e. how poor people and poor countries are exploited by multi-national companies and how dysfunction within a family can be passed down through generations and, thus, perpetuated).

While we’re thinking about Colombia, I’d also mention Don’t Come Back by my friend Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas, which will be published by The Ohio State University Press this January. Lina’s descriptions of violence can be both beautiful and horrifying, but she never glorifies or sensationalizes violence, which is a danger, I think, in any attempt to write about violent acts. What her book does that’s particularly effective for me is that she uses descriptions of violence to unnerve the reader, make us uncomfortable and, then, force us to think about the world that engendered that violence.

Besides those two examples, I happen to be reading two books right now that also speak to violence in new and interesting ways: Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexiavich and 100 Chinese Silences by Timothy Yu. The first, “a novel in voices,” as Alexievich calls her oral histories, is collection of testimonies from people who came of age in the Soviet Union but are now adjusting to its replacement (i.e. a capitalistic society), and their stories show how the forms of violence that unfettered capitalism supports can sometimes be as devastating as the state-run violence suffered under leaders like Stalin.

Yu’s book talks about another form of violence: that of representation. His poems are a response to a whole body of American poetry that uses references to Asia or Asian people as symbolic stand-ins for stereotypical ideals/ideas. These are poems commit violence by silencing people, and Yu attempts to speak into that silence through parody. What I love about his book is that each poem mentions a specific U.S. poet and poem so that there is, in effect, a very real calling out, or confrontation, but also a conversation created between the original moment of silencing and Yu’s often funny but also fierce response.

Chen Chen: I’ll just recommend two amazing books that came out recently.

Aracelis Girmay’s poetry collection the black maria. A shattering and necessary book engaging the loss of “over 20,000 people [who] have died at sea making the journey from North Africa to Europe in the past two decades.” Specifically, the core cycle of the book speaks to the history of those of Eritrean descent (Girmay is part of the Eritrean diaspora). The second part of the book engages police violence against Black lives in the United States. From the acknowledgments on p. 112:

          I have struggled with this particular project, so steeped in violence, mourning, and grief. How do I work inside of such histories of violence without further brutalizing the black body in the work? How do I, especially here, make critical space for joy and tenderness in the remembering, so that my own imagination (gesture by gesture, line by line) isn’t rendered by the values of white supremacy or violence as I resist it? And how do I express, with tenderness, who and what this work/I love(s)? It is my hope that while these poems mourn the dead and the bleak circumstances of our present, violent day, they are also a tribute to black joy, black art, black making, black life.

Garrard Conley’s memoir Boy Erased. A deeply moving account of undergoing church-sponsored gay “conversion” therapy in the early 2000s. There is such heartbreaking tenderness and ache in Conley’s writing. From p. 148:

I had been wondering what it felt like to be in a straight mind my whole life, or at least ever since I discovered I was gay, when, in third grade, I’d first realized that my interest in our teacher, Mr. Smith, was much greater than that of my other male peers’. Though over the years I’d done my best to pretend otherwise, I’d had a string of male crushes that wouldn’t go away, a constant guilty ache that ran through my body for so long that I came to believe the feeling was just a part of what it meant to be alive. The only moments when the ache became a sharp pain were when I allowed myself to imagine a happy life with these crushes, a rarity to be sure.

 

How do you practice resistance to violence(s) in your work—as a writer, an activist, a teacher, an editor, a community member, etc.?

Muriel Leung: I think of my work as resistance and survival. I write about violence and trauma in my own work, especially in my recent poetry collection, Bone Confetti, which takes place in an especially violent landscape that forces its ghostly figures to find a way to reconfigure their notions of intimacy and desire in a time of loss. I also believe in exercising this resistance in editorial work with Apogee Journal as Co-Poetry Editor. I get fatigued with literary politics quite often so I think it’s important to take part in community building work that tries to work beyond representational politics — to offer a space to publish marginalized voices who may feel that their works are undervalued or dismissed by other literary spaces. I hope that we get to be a space where writers feel safe knowing that the editors are legible in race, gender, sexual, and dis/ability politics. This work, I think, is important to create alternative possibilities out there for publishing and engagement in literary spaces.

In addition to literary activism, I think there’s still a lot of work to be done in intersecting struggles from community organizing to direct service work. I’ve volunteered as a crisis counselor for an LGBTQ anti-violence hotline and just started as an abortion clinic escort. I think there’s such value to doing work that teaches you to confront emergency and to recognize that trauma surrounds us. We have a responsibility to know how to call it by name and support each other in our struggles. I think this work is just as important as supporting marginalized communities organizing for rights for undocumented workers, queer and trans youth, and anti-police brutality causes.

My hope for the future is that people can feel moved to support causes that are not necessarily pre-vetted by mainstream media as issues that matter. I hope that #BlackLivesMatter becomes more than just a hashtag and that we can work to undo anti-black racism in our communities on the institutional and interpersonal level.

Jessica Smith: As a teacher at a university that allows students to carry concealed weapons, in an isolated college town that is deeply pro-Trump (and was before Trump was a political metonymy), I have always worked to engage my students on what it means to be a citizen. What is your role in society, I ask them, and what is actually important to you? I try to bring conversations about politics back to the body – the bodies of their friends, their mothers, strangers, themselves – and ask what bodies matter to them. Politics is a question of where those bodies go, I say, and who gets to put them there.

I think this election has revealed to many (particularly white liberals) that activism is not a lifestyle choice but an imperative. Organize in your community. Talk to your family members. Educate yourself about the nature of systemic violence and suppression. There’s always more to know, and more to change. No one has ever regretted actions they take if those actions are rooted in advocacy and empathy.

Sarah Viren: I write a lot about crime and I just taught a literary true crime class and in both of those areas what I try to do is complicate our understanding of criminality and of the criminal act. I think one way we can do this is to consider the multiple forms of violence that cocoon any one crime. There is the violence of the crime committed, but there are also always violences that gave rise to that crime and that come out of it.

So, when I was teaching that class, I worked with students a lot to consider context when we discuss criminality and violence, but also perspective. We read a found essay about violence against transgender people, for instance, in which the author makes clear that these are crimes that will never be solved, in large part because they are continually minimized and erased by our culture. We also read an essay by Jose Antonio Vargas about being undocumented, which then allowed us to talk about what it means for a person to become a crime. If something that absurd is allowed to happen, where, then, is the violence occurring? My students were really smart about analyzing crime in these different ways and that class was one of the most rewarding I’ve taught so far in large part because I think we were really able to make some headway in our understanding of the interlocking forms of violence.

Beyond that, I also write a lot about my personal experiences as a queer woman and now a queer mother living in the far reaches of the south. And what I’m often hoping to do in that work is to break apart stereotypes that exist in both the larger culture, but also within queer culture, about what it means to parent. I’m very resistant to the idea that choosing to parent is inherently a conservative act and, in fact, I think the perpetuation of that stereotype is a form of violence that has a real silencing effect on families like mine. So my work in that area is also advocacy in that I want to speak to that silence and open up within it new understandings of what it means to parent or to start a family.

Chen Chen: I try to be constantly asking what people actually need—what is the support they need? Do they want support? I try to be constantly learning. Listening. Reading. Studying. Showing up but not taking up space that isn’t mine. Building and contributing to existing spaces for queer people of color. Improving my pedagogy. Speaking out on the corporate structures of the university, my university. Researching ways to create funding opportunities for queer people of color that are not reliant on university or governmental structures or on the nonprofit industrial complex. Celebrating the lives and resistances of queer people of color. Insisting on the differences between different communities and positionalities. Donating to Kundiman. Making English super gay.


Muriel Leung is the author of Bone Confetti (Noemi Press 2016). Her poetry, fiction, and nonfiction can be found or is forthcoming in Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish Magazine, inter/rupture, and others. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship and is a regular contributor to the Blood-Jet Writing Hour poetry podcast. She is also a Poetry Co-Editor of Apogee Journal. Currently, she is pursuing her PhD in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California.

Jessica Smith’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Waxwing, cream city Review, Sixth Finch, Phantom Books, Lumina, and other journals. She received her MFA from The New School and is currently pursuing at PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University, where she was the 2016 recipient of the Warren S. Walker Prize and is a co-founder of the LHUCA Literary Series.

Sarah Viren is a writer, translator, and former newspaper reporter. Her essay collection MINE won the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize and will be published by the University of New Mexico Press in the spring of 2018 and her translation of the novella Córdoba Skies by the Argentine novelist Federico Falco was published by Ploughshares Solos in 2016. Other essays, poems, and stories have appeared in the Oxford American, the Iowa Review, AGNI, The Normal School, and Hobart. Read more about her at sarahviren.wordpress.com.

Chen Chen (moderator) is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and forthcoming spring 2017 from BOA Editions, Ltd. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in publications such as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Best of the Net, and The Best American Poetry. He is a Kundiman Fellow and a Lambda Literary Fellow. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. Visit him at chenchenwrites.com.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ten Percent of all Sundress Publications Subscription Profits to be Donated to ACLU in the Month of January

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that in month of January 2017, we will donate 10% of all of our subscription profits to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country.aclu-logo

“Whether it’s achieving full equality for LGBT people, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age of widespread government surveillance, ending mass incarceration, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach.

“With more than 1 million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., to safeguard everyone’s rights.” (Source: ACLU.org)original

A Sundress subscription makes a great gift for yourself or a friend who is eager to stay connected to the literary world, support independent publishing, read new and exciting work from emerging and established authors, and this month, make a meaningful donation to an organization that is committed to establishing peace. Order 2017 Sundress subscription and get all of our 2017 titles including books from Natalie Giarratano, Sarah Marcus, Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick, Sarah Chavez, Stephanie McCarley Dugger, Jim Warner, and more! All subscribers will also receive Sundress swag and goodies and free entry into our contests!

Order a Sundress Subscription here: https://squareup.com/store/sundresspublications/item/sundress-subscription?t=modal-tw

Tagged , , , , ,

An Interview with Kelly Andrews, Editor of Pretty Owl Poetry

kellya
Jackie Vega:
How did you come to be involved with Pretty Owl Poetry?

Kelly Andrews: Pretty Owl Poetry was founded in 2013 by myself, Gordon Buchan, and B. Rose (Huber) Kelly. At that time, I was just starting my MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh and was involved with the program’s online literary journal, Hot Metal Bridge, as a reader, but I wanted more experience as an editor. I reached out to Gordon, with whom I had taken creative writing classes as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and Rose, who I had befriended while she still lived in Pittsburgh (she’s now in New Jersey). I had relationships with both in terms of sharing work and giving/receiving feedback, either via e-mail (w/Gordon) or through a low-key workshop setting (w/Rose). Though we were all IUP alums, Gordon and Rose didn’t know each other before Pretty Owl, and Rose and I met post-graduation through a mutual friend. All of that to say, they both were people who I trusted as writers and editors, whose taste in literature was similar to my own, and who had different skill sets than I do. From conception of the journal, we’ve worked collaboratively in all that we do when it comes to Pretty Owl, including decisions about how best to move the journal forward in the literary world. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work with Gordon and Rose on a journal we started from the ground up—they’re both such talented friends.

 JV: How would you describe your poetry aesthetic, and how do you bring that to the publication?

 KA: I’m mostly drawn to gritty poems with substance. Ones where the emotional motivation of the speaker is believable, though the poems needn’t be set in reality or be realistic, if that makes sense. Gage Ledbetter’s “Fully Drawn, Steady Breaths” from Issue 9 is one of my favorite examples of this. The imaginative space in which the speaker exists with their mother and the canyon is exquisite: “Your mother taught the canyon how to shoot a bow, being a champion, herself. The canyon felled entire flocks of birds and you ate well and, after, the canyon taught your mother how to reply the day you told her you have layers of colored sediment and fields of corn right next to one another but no gender.” I love that the speaker is grappling with gender identity in a surreal world. And that there are so many unexpected moves in that poem (“And your mother and the canyon were accused of being lesbians, like a lot.”)

I also love poetry that is inventive and creative in its use of language. One poem that comes to mind is Ryan Downum’s “Painfeel” from Issue 7. That poem has so many beautifully created words like “fieldbloom,” “nightmouth,” and “bloodloom.” I remember how excited I felt when reading that submission because it was like nothing I had read before. That feeling is rare as an editor and overwhelming in the best possible way. And I love poetry that is fraught with complicated emotion. Mostly, I want to feel things when I read poetry. I love when a poem (or any art form) can make me cry—or even better, cry and laugh in the same space.

JV: What do you value the most in poetry?

 KA: There’s so much that poetry can do for people. Writing poetry completely changed my life course—after graduating high school I was working multiple jobs and partying nonstop, with no real plan in place for what I wanted to do with my life. But then I joined a poetry workshop, and the encouragement I received from my mentors, Susanna Fry and Jessica Lauffer, really pushed me to apply to college. My future before taking that workshop was very uncertain and bleak. I can’t imagine what my life would look like now if it weren’t for their belief in me as a writer, if I hadn’t fallen in love with writing poetry.

More broadly, I value how poetry can affect people—it can be comforting in times of grief or pain; it can be an expression of love; it can evoke empathy; the list is endless of the things that poetry can do for people.

JV: What are some of the challenges of being an editor for an online publication? On the flip side, what are some benefits?

KA: One of the biggest challenges for us as an online journal is making sure our website is easily readable both online and on mobile devices. And because technology changes so often, nearly every year Gordon has revamped the look of the website in some way. Initially we started off with the work embedded into a web page, then moved to having it in a PDF. There is talk of maybe moving to a different platform like Issuu in the future, but that is probably quite a ways off.

The benefit of being an online journal is that we can reinvent our look/platform fairly often. Also, we can push our deadlines back if need be, whereas if we were a print journal, we’d have a much stricter printing schedule. And of course, the general cost of running an online publication is quite low. Since switching to Submittable, we’ve given readers the option to make a small donation with their submission if they’d like, but this is not required. The money is used to cover costs like our domain name/website and food/drink for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh. I love that we can share work with the world without having to charge readers a subscription fee.

JV: What can we look forward to from Pretty Owl Poetry in the next year?

KA: We have a great lineup already for our winter 2016 issue that will be released in early January, and we’re still reading submissions for that issue right now. Gordon just finished another revamp of the website’s homepage. I’m hoping to get some readers lined up for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh, with the possibility of some out-of-town contributors making an appearance. And hopefully, lots more great poems, art, and fiction!


You can read Pretty Owl Poetry here.

andrewsKelly Lorraine Andrews is an assistant managing editor for the American Economic Association and a recent MFA graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of the chapbooks The Fear Archives (Two of Cups Press, forthcoming), My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming), I Want To Eat So Many Kinds of Cake With You and Mule Skinner (both out from Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Prick of the Spindle, Weave Magazine, and elsewhere. You can read more about her past and future publications and look at a slideshow of her cats at her website.

vega

 

Jackie Vega is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University’s Writing program currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During her time at GVSU, she served as Editor-in-Chief for fishladder, their literature and arts journal. Her poetry has been featured in Brainchildand on WYCE’s Electric Poetry radio program. She intends to pursue an MFA in (you guessed it) poetry.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: