Tag Archives: Sundress Publications

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

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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…
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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.

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An Interview with Katie Longofono

Katie Longofono is the author of Angeltits (Sundress Publications, 2016). Her poems traverse between intimate and breathtakingly visceral imagery, between narratives on the body and the objectification of bodies, into a lyrical testament and commentary on sex and modern-age relationships.

Longofono spoke with our editorial intern Brianna McNish to discuss her literary inspirations, her writing process, and the influences that helped create the poems in Angeltits.

Brianna McNish: What were your biggest literary inspirations while writing Angeltits, and why?

Katie Longofono: As I recall, I was reading a lot of essays and fiction at the time I was working on these poems. I had just finished my MFA, so I guess that was my rebellion from soaking in poems pretty much exclusively for two years. Specifically, I think I was re-reading Mary Reufle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, which has some great thoughts on sentiment which stuck with me. I was (and remain) super into being overly sentimental, or obvious, on purpose, in poetry. I’m the kind of weirdo who thinks it’s fun to see how many times I can say “very” in a poem without inducing gagging (or maybe in order to). I played with that idea a lot in these poems, I think.

I also was very inspired by Plath’s journals, which most people would be able to point to immediately. Lots of anger at men, etc. You know the drill!

BM: What left me in awe about your poems was how your fixation on bodies creates beautifully visceral language. What does the body represent in your poetry, and why do you use it as a common motif in your work?

KL: I guess this might be a disappointing answer, but really the body represents… the body. These are all poems that are pretty explicitly about sex. Sometimes it’s joyful, but now that I’m looking at it, yeah, these are poems about the ways a body can be in pain, the ways a body can let itself be hurt, the ways sex reveals the bodies’ soft spots and the aftermath of that vulnerability. I’ve always been fixated on the body in my work. I’ve written ecstatic body poems in the past, but for this collection, the central idea was objectification—hence the title, Angeltits—because so often women are reduced to their bodies. Fine, dudes, you wanna play that game? I’m gonna lean into it, then. Here’s an entire book about tits. It’s not sexy. You’re welcome.

BM: How would you describe your writing process?

KL: It’s definitely a cycle—I’m not one of those people who can sit down and write every day. I have, for short bursts of time, been able to force myself into that routine, but mostly I just try to remain aware of when I feel ideas forming and allowing myself a moment to write them out. I was lucky to have a pretty low-pressure job at the time I was working on Angeltits so I could easily switch into writing mode for the amount of time it took me to at least jot something down.

BM: What’s also striking about your chapbook is how the poems develop from “Who can fault me for loving / the fault, for tonguing the crack / we crumble within?” in “Dollface” to “I am not a bird or a symbol. / I am a woman burning,” in “We Grind Ourselves Out”. The poems unravel in a linear fashion with effortless transitions from the next poem to the next, which leaves me curious about how you would describe the development of the women who inhabit these poems from “The Outline” to “[When a man says no]”?

KL: Well, people are complicated. It’s amazing and weird that a person can hold defiance, rage, and two middle fingers inside the same body that also holds shame, loneliness, and hurt. It’s really difficult to capture all of that in one poem, let alone one book, so this was my attempt at trying to get all of those angles. A big part of this series was thinking about how (personally) I often feel victimized because of my body, but not like a victim—I really resent that label. That comes out in these poems—there’s a lot of anger here, a lot being challenged because I think it’s reductive to put people into boxes.

BM: What is the best piece of advice you have received as a writer?

I’ve received a lot of helpful advice over the years, so this is hard to narrow down—but what comes to mind is early on somebody told me, at the end of the day, you get to call the shots. You can (and should) listen to advice, tips, workshopping comments, whatever, but you don’t have to use it all. It’s your writing and your process. It was really helpful for me to basically be given permission to ignore advice if I didn’t think it was coming from a useful place for my writing.

KL: If you could describe yourself as a poem, which poem would you be?

A dirty limerick. I think this question was probably meant for a specific poem but I don’t feel justified in comparing myself to any of the poems I admire!

Katie Longofono’s Angeltits is available as an e-chapbook on Sundress Publication’s website here.


Katie Longofono received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder of Dead Rabbits Reading Series, a monthly literary salon that takes place in NYC. Her first chapbook, The Angel of Sex, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2013. She has a chapbook forthcoming from Sundress Publications titled Angeltits. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tinderbox Poetry Journal, South Dakota Review, Juked, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She may or may not be on Twitter. She lives in Brooklyn.

Brianna McNish is an undergraduate student studying English and literature at the University of Connecticut. Her fiction has previously appeared in or forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Juked, Unbroken, among others.

 

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Sundress Academy for the Arts’ CookBook, Featuring Poet and Filmmaker Nicole M. K. Eiden

CookBook, a video podcast branch of Sundress Publications, is pleased to announce the latest episode featuring poet, filmmaker, and award-winning baker Nicole M.K. Eiden. This episode, as well as all previous episodes, can be found on our website.

nicoleCookBook is a video series brought to you by SAFTA, and hosted by poet and food-enthusiast Darren C. Demaree. Each episode features Demaree and guest as they prepare food (recipe provided by the guest) and have a conversation about anything and everything. Guests on CookBook range from writers, artists, musicians, publishers, and community members, and come from all corners of the world.

Join Darren and Nicole as they prepare an amaretto pear and dried cherry leaf lattice pie and discuss her poetry, Ohio, and the challenges of baking in 90-degree weather.

Darren C. Demaree is living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children. He is the author of five poetry collections, and is the recipient of six Pushcart Prize nominations. Currently, he is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.

Nicole M. K. Eiden is an award-winning poet and filmmaker whose work captures the simple challenges and beauty of ordinary life. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she has made New Orleans her home for the last seventeen years. Nicole holds a Master of Fine Arts degree in film from the University of New Orleans and a Bachelor of Communications degree in video production from Ohio University.

For more information regarding CookBook, check out our website, and be sure to follow us on Twitter (@SAFTAcast) and Facebook!

 

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Lyric Essentials: Janeen Pergrin Rastall reads “Weather Picture” and “Allegro” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton.

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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 Janeen Pergrin Rastall reads “Weather Picture” and “Allegro” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton.

Janeen, I’m a total lover and believer in the power of the small poem and we’ve got that going on here in both the poems you’ve read for us today. Is brevity and concision typical of Tranströmer’s poetry? Are those characteristics something you implement in your own work?

Janeen: While Tranströmer does have some longer narrative pieces like “The Baltics”, brevity and precision are characteristics of his poetry. Tranströmer wrote, “I have tried to write as unsentimentally and nakedly as possible…” I, too strive for a stripped down poem. I try to write with immediacy; perhaps my decades of writing computer code could be to blame. I admire Tranströmer’s ability to create drama with so few lines. He wrote collections of haikus including this one:

Here’s a dark picture.
Poverty painted over,
flowers in a prison dress.

From The Great Enigma: New and Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton (New Directions, 2006)

Chris: Why did you choose to share these two poems together? Is there a similar essential feature present in both? Or, does each poem have its own unique essential elements?

Janeen: I chose these two poems to show Tranströmer’s use of language. Both poems are concise yet approachable and full of amazing imagery.  The subject matter and tone make his poems feel contemporary. “Weather Picture” is from an early collection, Secrets on the Way and is a classic example of how he captures a place, in particular the sea and islands of Sweden. Living across from Lake Superior, I connect with these landscapes. The line “a dog barking is a hieroglyph…” is such a perfect and unexpected simile. Reading his poems is like having synesthesia or living in a Dali painting. The world becomes hyperreal. Like so many of his poems, “Allegro” appears deceptively simple. Tranströmer played the piano and music was a vital part of his life. The poem could be seen as a joyous celebration of the Hayden’s compositions. Tranströmer was a psychologist. Is the poem also a prescription: wave music, a haydenflag against depression?  “Allegro” was published in 1962 shortly after Tranströmer’s trip to the Middle East, the building of the Berlin War and dark days in Vietnam, Hungary and Alabama. Perhaps the poem is a brave statement about how art can teach us to survive and protect us from the madness of the world?

Chris: “Allegro” is interesting to me because it has the potential to be horrific, especially with the couplet “The music is a glass-house on the slope/ where stones fly, the stones roll.” There’s no way this glass house is going to make it, but Tranströmer negates the whole scene when he states that each stone passes through the house and “each pane stays whole.” Which, it just dawned on me, is that a play on whole/hole? But more seriously, what do you make of this sort of duality of the home—a thing seemingly fragile yet it’s able to go unharmed?

Janeen: Exactly, Chris. He is waving his haydenflag, letting us know as the stones are flying at us, when we feel most vulnerable that we will be okay. We will not splinter, crack. We have music and art. We can take everything thrown at us, absorb it and remain unchanged.

Chris: You mentioned that reading Tranströmer is like living in a Dali painting. Is embracing the weird (for lack of better words) something that you always enjoy doing when you read poetry? Or is Tranströmer’s weirdness just particularly well done? And, if you enjoy embracing the weird, are there other poets who you enjoy reading that make you feel like you are in a Dali painting?

Janeen: I love poems that lead me to unexpected places. I also love Imagists. I have a list of poets’ whose books sit beside my bed. Some of them are: Czesław Miłosz, Charles Simic, Wisława Szymborska and Anna Swir.

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Janeen Pergrin Rastall lives in Gordon, MI (population 2). She is hopelessly in love with Lake Superior, the great saltless sea. She is the author of In the Yellowed House (dancing girl press, 2014) and co-author of Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, 2016). Her chapbook, Objects May Appear Closer won the 2015 Celery City Chapbook Contest. Her work has been twice nominated for a Best of the Net Award and for the Pushcart Prize. Visit Janeen at her author page: janeenpergrinrastall.wordpress.com

Chris Petruccelli is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). His poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and Still: the Journal. Chris is currently severely hung over in East Tennessee.

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Lyric Essentials: Caolan Madden reads “Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices” by Sylvia Plath.

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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 Caolan Madden reads “Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices” by Sylvia Plath.

Caolan, this is a really interesting, unique, and powerful poem you’ve read for us today. I’m sure Sylvia Plath needs no introduction, but what about this poem? Who are the three women?

Caolan: Three Women is a verse play that Plath wrote in 1962, not long after the birth of her second child. I had always kind of assumed it was a closet drama–a play that wasn’t meant to be performed–but it was apparently commissioned by the BBC and produced as a radio play in August of 1962, with three different actors voicing the three women. So the “three voices” were really three different voices, not three voices that you imagine inside your head, or three aspects of one voice like they are in my recording.

At the beginning of the poem, each of the three women is pregnant. (The setting for the play–the only stage direction–is “A Maternity Ward and round about.”) They go on to have three different experiences of hospital birth or miscarriage. The First Voice’s story is maybe the most familiar–it’s the kind of birth narrative that our culture, and even more so Plath’s 1960s Anglo-American culture, tends to celebrate: she gives birth to a baby boy and brings him home to the nursery she decorated for him. The Second Voice, a married woman who has been trying to conceive, has a miscarriage. The Third Voice, an unmarried college student, has a baby girl and gives her up for adoption. In the excerpt I read, which is from the very end of the poem, the women have all left the hospital and are starting their lives back up again, with or without children.

Chris: What made you decide to read this Plath piece above all her other poetry? What’s in this poem that makes it essential to you and your writing?

Caolan: Plath was the first poet I really loved–I first read her poems when I was thirteen, and for that reason she might be the only poet whose work I will ever love in this fundamental, visceral way. Obviously falling in love with Sylvia Plath at the age of thirteen is not an uncommon experience! But I wish more people were aware of the tenderness and humor and wonder in her work, as well as its fascinating, ambivalent relationship towards women’s popular culture. When people talk about, for example, Plath’s Mademoiselle internship or her desire to be the perfect housewife, they talk about these things as oppressive structures Plath had to strip away in order to become her true self, the avenging spirit of the Ariel poems. In reality that relationship is much more complicated and was, I think, much more generative than these narratives allow.

So that’s one reason I didn’t pick a really famous Plath poem like “Daddy” or “Lady Lazarus”–I love those poems, but I love to introduce readers to less familiar aspects of her writing. I’ve always been especially drawn to Plath’s accounts of domestic interiors, to the clear, focused attention she brings to the details of home décor, children’s toys, clothes, accessories, stuff, and the processes of maintaining and preserving that stuff–painting, sewing, polishing, gardening. I think Plath uses this stuff to write about love–not necessarily as metaphors for love, although that’s probably true, too, but more as a way to enact or perform love within the poem and in the real world.

“Three Women”–particularly the section I’ve read–is really a goldmine for that stuff. The First Voice painting the nursery and the Second Voice sewing her material are both doing creative, domestic work that is also protective or reparative. There’s darkness there–traces or more than traces of acquisitiveness, selfishness, compulsion, codependence, delusion, denial, complacency–but there’s also so much tenderness, determination, courage, generosity, creativity, resourcefulness, patience, attention, labor, care.  All those things are part of how I understand my own writing process, as well as my own relationship to the people I love, and the spaces and things I love, too. And I tend to express love, too, by making things and places and poems for people, and I think that’s one thing that draws me to good-student-Plath and happy-housewife-Plath, the Plath who a lot of people dismiss or deride.

Chris: What do you make of Plath’s juxtaposition of these three experiences? Why this sort of format as opposed to having three separate poems, or more than three voices?

Caolan: Well, we can read Three Women biographically, as describing Plath’s own experiences: she gave birth to both a son and a daughter, she had at least one miscarriage, she worried about unwanted pregnancies when she was a student at Cambridge. I hesitate to even say that, because readers’ fascination with Plath’s biography can get in the way of reading her actual poems. But in this case, I think biographical detail helps us understand that the poem is working both to represent a range of experiences with pregnancy and birth and to suggest how all of these experiences might be part of a single person’s life. There’s a productive tension in the poem between universality and particularlity, which is reinforced by the tension between the poem’s performance history as a radio play performed by three different actors and the experience you have reading the poem on the page, or listening to my recording here, where you realize Plath didn’t do much to differentiate the voices from one another in terms of diction or rhythm. One powerful effect of that tension is that it becomes almost impossible to make moral judgments about these women. For example, if these three voices actually belong to the same woman, we can’t think of the First Voice, who keeps her child, as a better person than the Third Voice, who doesn’t. Another effect is that the poem discourages us from psychologizing the woman or women as character(s), and instead focuses our attention on its concrete descriptions of what are often considered taboo bodily experiences. Earlier in the poem, describing her contractions, the First Voice says “I am used. I am drummed into use”–an incredibly evocative and brutal description of labor that I, personally, don’t think I fully  understood before the birth of my daughter, but that probably helped shape my expectations for what childbirth might be like.

So we can think of the poem as describing three aspects of one intense, complicated experience–kind of like  Robert Graves’s idea of the Triple Goddess, whose three aspects are the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Plath was really into Graves, and really into three as a magic number, especially when you’re talking about groups of women: there are three Fates, three Graces. So that’s one reason there are three voices, not four or five or six.

Chris: You spoke earlier of how you enjoy introducing readers to the less familiar aspects of Plath’s writing. Is this poem one you came to know early in your reading of Plath? Also, what Plath poems in addition to “Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices” showcase the things you love about her poetry?

Caolan: I remember reading this poem in eighth grade, when I was reading almost anything by Plath that I could get my hands on. But before I opened my copy of Plath’s Collected Poems to make this recording, I’d forgotten what an involved history I had with “Three Women.” There are notes in the margins from papers I wrote when I was in college and grad school; there are also notes that suggest I must have performed some of the Second Voice’s sections as a monologue in my high-school drama class. And in college I took the title of my senior thesis, which was about Plath’s depiction of domestic space, from one of the First Voice’s lines: “I Have Painted Little Hearts on Everything.”

If you’re looking for it, you’ll actually find a lot of the things I love about “Three Women”–the attention to material domestic detail; the interconnectedness of creative work and love and protection; the TMI physicality–all over Plath’s writing, including her most famous poems, her prose writing, and her journals. But some great poems to revisit are “Letter in November,” “Last Words,” “Nick and the Candlestick,” “Morning Song,” “By Candlelight,” and “Kindness.”
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Caolan Madden holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins and is currently a PhD candidate in English literature at Rutgers. Recent poems have appeared in Bone Bouquet, Cartridge Lit, glitterMOB, Split Lip, and Black Warrior Review; some of her essays on literature and popular culture can be found online at weird-sister.com. Girl Talk Triptych, a collaborative chapbook she co-wrote with the feminist poetry collective (G)IRL, was published this spring by dancing girl press; her chapbook VAST NECROHOL is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Chris Petruccelli is snackin’ on some cornbread and debating what kind of gravy he should have for breakfast–sausage, or red eye? His poetry has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. Check out his chapbook Action at a Distance from Etchings Press. In his free time, Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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Project Bookshelf: Kristen Figgins

Books pile everywhere in my house.  My husband and I are both voracious reader who are always saying, “I really shouldn’t” while at the check-out line at a bookstore.

Below is the bookshelf in our living room, what I think of as the NEAT bookshelf, because it’s full of things that we saw that were too NEAT not to buy, like a coffee table book about the circus.

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And these are the bookshelves that sit in the guest room, the books that live in and around my heart, the books that I read for fun, for classes, books that I read until their spines were falling apart and books that I read once.  I love these messy, lived-in shelves.

When we got married, we spent our wedding gift cards on the bookshelf below, which we spent three days putting together in our living room while watching documentaries about magicians.  This shelf is my favorite for a few reasons.  First, because it holds my favorite books: the collectibles, the beauties, the ones that we both need close at hand on a rainy day.  And second because it represents my husband’s and my collaborative effort to build a home of books; this bookshelf represents the culmination of a dream: the presence of a bookshelf in every room of our house.  It’s a meeting place of our minds and hearts and imaginations, and I love it.

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Kristen Figgins is a writer of fabulism, whose work has appeared in such places as The Gateway Review, Sleet Magazine, Hermeneutic Chaos, Sakura Review, Menacing Hedge, and more. Her story “Track Me With Your Words, Speak Me With Your Feet” was winner of the 2015 Fiction Award from Puerto del Sol, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Micro Award, and Write Well Award. Her first chapbook, A Narrow Line of Light, is available for purchase from Boneset Books and her novella, Nesting, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in the Summer of 2017.

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Lyric Essentials: Chen Chen reads “Lone Star Kundiman (For the Guy Who Seized My Arm After I Accidentally Cut the Line for the Toilet in Austin)” by Patrick Rosal.

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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 Chen Chen reads “Lone Star Kundiman (For the Guy Who Seized My Arm After I Accidentally Cut the Line for the Toilet in Austin)” by Patrick Rosal.

Hey Chen, before we get deep into this poem I’d like to start by saying that I’m a total sucker for long titles—I think it comes from my scientific background where for a while I’m pretty sure scientists were competing to give their articles the longest titles imaginable. This title takes the cake. So, first question, when it comes to a title are you a fan of the one worders—“Winter”—or obscenely long titles like the one you’ve read for us today?

Chen: Obscenely long. Yes. I mean, the title of my forthcoming book is When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities. And recently I had a poem published called “I am reminded via email to resubmit my preferences for the schedule.” I love long titles. I love titles that are full, obnoxious sentences. But I also love the one worders. It’s so bold just to call a poem “Winter” or “Snafu” or “Poem.” Louise Glück has the plainest titles and she makes it kinda badass. So in my book I also have very short, humble titles. Titles all in lower case. Titles that require a magnifying glass. Molecular, nano titles. You know, for balance.

Chris: With the pop song references, the triumphant double slap redemption, and those final two lines I find myself terrified at what the narrator experiences, but also laughing and cheering on their vindication. Am I reading more humor into this piece than is actually present, or is that something you experience in this poem as well?

Chen: Definitely humor here. Which we can also think about in maybe a darker way—that the humor in the poem indicates or registers the (enormous) extent to which the speaker has experienced these racist microaggressions and so has come to see them as almost everyday. Well, because these incidents do happen all the time.

This discussion is making me think of a great moment from a great piece by Jacqui Germain: the phrase “c’est la vie” pops up in the middle of this piece, which is about being a black girl and hearing one’s white professor and white classmates casually throw around the n-word in the middle of a literature seminar. Because the texts feature that word. Because of whiteness. The phrase “c’est la vie” is so funny, the way it just shows up in the midst of all this awfulness. But the phrase is also completely serious. There’s a shrug the speaker of the piece seems to do, a shrug of “c’est la vie,” as in, “well this kind of thing happens and happens and here we are again here we go okay but not okay.”

As a queer Asian American, I do see and use humor as a coping mechanism, a survival tool, a form of awareness and knowledge that lets me be inventive in the face of a violation or erasure. Still, it’s not exactly healing, this kind of humor. It can be a band-aid on a gaping wound.

That’s what Rosal seems to be getting at: the fact that the speaker and the man he accidentally cuts in the line, both of them are dealing with a lack. The poem’s wrestling with these notions of strength versus power, compassion versus domination, healthy personhood/agency versus toxic masculinity. The speaker questions his own capacity for compassion. The man the speaker cuts clearly needs to question his lack of compassion, or patience, in that moment in the bathroom line. The speaker, as a Filipino American man, as one historically and presently oppressed, points out how exiting the bar in Austin doesn’t really solve anything. He still has to face a city, a state, a country that tends not to see people like him. The other guy, the white man, can go on to use the encounter as a chance to really learn something or to dismiss it as some random, irritating event. The other guy can literally go “c’est la vie” and be done with it. The last sentence of the poem, “No white boy left behind” is similarly complicated in its humor, I think.

 Chris: It seems that Rosal’s use of humor is doing a lot of work in this poem as it raises the questions you’ve pointed out in regards to race, oppression, and the need to evaluate one’s compassion and empathy (or lack thereof). In addition to the humor, what is Rosal doing in this poem that you find to be essential to you as a writer?

Chen: I’m struck by his use of the pronoun “you,” which shifts from being the guy in the bathroom line (“how you eyed me to my place with your little smark”) to being, perhaps, the reader, or some generalized person (“In Texas, you can sit in a diner…”). But that second kind of “you” doesn’t seem generic to me, doesn’t seem to be a synonym for “one.” The “you” is at once another “I” and a kind of “you” that inhabits an othered, racialized body. I read the lines, “you practice what it’s like to be the last man on earth/or the first one to land in a city where no one sees you” as a particular experience, an experience of being an Asian American man. I’ve felt this kind of invisibility and erasure. I’m living in a Texas city myself at the moment. Few Asian Americans here, probably far fewer than there are in Austin, Rosal’s setting for this poem. I love Rosal’s use of the “you,” how the gaze of the poem shifts, how the poem asks a reader to inhabit an Asian American perspective as both “I” and “you,” how the poem asks the person who was “you” in the beginning to try seeing things as this “you,” this person who’s “in a city where no one sees you.” And when someone does see you, it’s to put you back in your (unthreatening, obedient, invisible) place. I think also of Claudia Rankine’s use of the “you” in her book, Citizen. The disorienting, destabilizing possibilities of the second person.

Chris: Do you have a favorite line, image, or scene in this poem that stands out above the others? Is there a piece of this poem that is most important to you, or does it change every time you read “Lone Star Kundiman”?

Chen:  My favorite lines are: “Truth is, I couldn’t stop to consider how we both live/in a country mostly afraid of the difference between/strength and power.” I’ve been thinking and thinking about this difference, how these two words can mean radically different things. How power depends on hierarchies, binaries, absolutes, forms of domination. How strength is rooted in the difficult/lucky practice of love, community, open communication, vulnerability, an embrace of the unknown. Thinking this way is making me rethink a term like “empowerment.” Do we want to be powerful? Is power all about our own individual success? Does power always reproduce itself? Its assumptions and structures? Are we making real decisions or are we merely helping to perpetuate the world as we know it?
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Chen Chen 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, Phantom, Drunken Boat, and Poem-a-Day. A Kundiman and Lambda Literary fellow, Chen is currently pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. For more, visit chenchenwrites.com.

Chris Petruccelli is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). You can find his poetry in Appalachian Heritage, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. Chris currently plays too much Civ V, nearly purchased the Sid Meier’s Civilization board game, and is searching couch cushions for enough change to buy a new desktop PC and a copy of Civilization VI.

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Lyric Essentials: Nancy Reddy reads “Walmart Supercenter” by Erika Meitner

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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 Nancy Reddy reads “Walmart Supercenter” by Erika Meitner.

Nancy, there’s so much to love here. I myself love the moist dimes being traded for honey mustard because I’m all too familiar with pulling soggy dollar bills out of my pocket to pay for a coffee. Also, coming from the bible belt I really dig “God is merciful and gracious, but not just.” What are some of your favorite parts of this absolutely brutal and beautiful poem?

Nancy: I love the (for lack of a better word) thing-iness of the poem, the way it’s full of the stuff of ordinary life – the honey mustard and moist dimes you mention, the flip flops and lounge pants, the plastic shopping bags. This poem takes in the world, and not just the parts that are obviously beautiful or “poetic.” And it places that stuff alongside these really sharp, moving explorations of mercy, forgiveness, justice, as in the line that jumps from the seven abandoned kittens to the cashier speaking about small mercies. It’s rooted in incredibly close attention the material world, but it’s also capacious in its scope.

Chris: How about the qualities that make this poem essential? What are the elements that elevate this poem above others?

Nancy: I’m obsessed with how this poem moves. It starts in this utterly ordinary place – a trip to Walmart for juice, Pampers, tube socks, and it arcs up into a meditation on mercy and justice. It alternates between the speaker’s maneuvering of the shopping cart and a multitude or quirky and horrible things that have happened at Walmarts all around the country. These are the kind of stories that seem to just constantly arrive unbidden – every time I log in to Facebook or flip through the radio dial or catch the local news, there’s some fresh horror, usually something unimaginable that’s happened to a child. As a poet and as the mother of two young boys, I don’t know what to do with that. But this is a poem that doesn’t look away. It doesn’t try to impose any kind of neat moral, but it grapples, and it holds these really lovely, tender moments – a friendly old man on a scooter waving, the girl buying honey mustard sauce – against the other awful things. To me, this is a poem that demonstrates just how much poetry can hold. I think we need more of that.

Chris: Is that something you experiment with in your own poetry—testing how much a poem can hold?

Nancy: Absolutely. (I think our obsessions in reading often track really closely with our interests in writing, right?) So right now I’m working on a second collection of poems that’s about – in part – pregnancy and motherhood, and alongside those central themes, I’m also thinking about quantum physics and primates and evolution and human ancestors and theories of scientific mothering, among other things. Copia (the book this poem’s from) has been really essential as I write my way through connections and digressions and juxtapositions. Meitner’s work is just so capacious (to be a little punny), and it’s helped me to think about the poem in terms of capacity and breadth.

Chris: You discussed the movement earlier and it really is totally bonkers—it feels like a one player game of weird Walmart one-upmanship. In terms of the justice/mercy where do you think the narrator lands one the issue? Is Walmart and what it represents forever a place of struggle? Or, is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Nancy: One of the things that I really like about this poem (and about the other poems in this book, which take place in convenience stores and rest stop bathrooms and Detroit) is that it doesn’t judge the place. It doesn’t have an ironic distance from Walmart – like, oh isn’t it hilarious that I’m here, buying my domestic goods? – and it also doesn’t look down on Walmart or its shoppers, which would have been really easy to do. For me, the role of Walmart in this poem is just that it’s actually such a central place for so much of America. Part of my family lives in a pretty rural part of central Pennsylvania, and for my stepsister, growing up, Walmart was just where you’d go with your friends to hang out. If you stayed there long enough, you’d see the whole town go by. And in this poem, the same thing’s true at a much bigger scale – if you scan the news for Walmart long enough, all the horrors in the world will happen there. But there’s also some beauty and some kindness, too.
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Nancy Reddy is the author of Double Jinx (Milkweed Editions, 2015), a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Horsethief, The Iowa Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. The recipient of a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, she teaches writing at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.

Chris Petruccelli is eating offal and drinking Tecate in Northeast Tennessee. He is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press) and his poetry appears or is forthcoming in journals such as Appalachian Heritage, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere.

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Poets in Pajamas: An Interview with Sam Slaughter

The Poets in Pajamas Reading Series launches this week, hosted by Sam Slaughter, author of God in Neon and Spirits Editor at The Manual.  Below, Sam shares some of the inspiration behind Poets in Pajamas and what you should expect from this cozy new virtual reading series.  sam-slaughter

Kristen Figgins: What was the inspiration for Poets in Pajamas?

Sam Slaughter: We wanted to create a reading series that wasn’t contingent on location, one that would—as long as you have access to the internet—allow anyone to participate. Obviously, any major city is going to have multiple reading series to go to/participate in/etc., but not everyone can live in those cities. As writers, we’re often wherever the job market dictates—from Alaska to northeast Georgia to Thailand. Depending on the type of work we do, we can be just about anywhere in the world. Because of this, we wanted something that overshadowed that. That way, you would be able to participate and not feel like you’re missing out because you can’t be in Brooklyn or LA or Chicago.

KF: How are reading series important to the literary landscape?

SS: They provide connection with other readers and writers that we as artists need, considering most of us—regardless of artistic preference—spend a good deal of time alone, staring at a screen or a notebook or a canvas. They also allow readers and writers to show off their work or try out new stuff in an environment that is ready for it. You can get some immediate feedback from friends or other people there to see if that piece you’re working on is clicking or if you need to go back to the drawing board on it. Both of these points come back to the main thing: community. A reading series helps to build a community of readers and writers pursuing similar paths in the world and gives everyone an outlet to express themselves.

KF: What is your favorite memory from a reading series (either as an author or an attendee)?

SS: A great memory I have is from the first time I attended AWP, in Minneapolis in 2014. The first night I was there was the Literary Death Match, and I got to see readers like Matt Bell, Ben Percy, and Roxanne Gay battle it out, if you will.

A second fond memory I have is of the There Will Be Words reading series, hosted by J. Bradley in Orlando. I’ve been a part of it and I’ve attended multiple others and every time it was a great, engaging event. The people are great and the words are better.

KF: One of the great things about reading series is that they create a personal connection with authors and their audience.  How do you imagine retaining that personal connection while utilizing the Periscope app?

SS: Well, the easy answer is that there will be a ten-minute Q&A portion of each reading, allowing viewers to type in questions that the reader can respond to. Periscope has taken care of the interaction portion for us. Another thing is that a reading series like this can spread by word of mouth/Facebook post/tweet. Helping connect more readers and viewers can enhance the community and allow for new connections to spring up that might not have happened otherwise.

KF: If you could have a literary slumber party with any group of poets, dead or alive, who would be on the invitation list?

SS: My list wouldn’t be just poets, but regardless, I’d want to put together a slumber party that would be a hell of a good time—light on the slumbering, heav(ier) on the partying.

  1. TC Boyle
  2. Harry Crews
  3. Julia Child
  4. Anthony Bourdain
  5. Lorrie Moore

You can find out more about Poets in Pajamas including upcoming readings and how to get involved, on our website! Be sure to Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter as well!

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Lyric Essentials: Hazem Fahmy reads “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.

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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 Hazem Fahmy reads “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.

Hazem, this is an incredibly poignant, powerful poem you’ve read for us today. What can you tell us about Abdurraqib’s poetry for those folks who might not be familiar with his work?  Also, have you had a chance to read his new, debut book The Crown Aint Worth Much?

Hazem: Hanif’s work is so rich and captivating, I really don’t think there’s one way to exactly encapsulate its power. I’d say my favorite thing about it is his incredible weaving of pop culture and personal experience to create a mythos out of his native Columbus. I know of no other poet working today who has such an impeccable ability to immediately and thoroughly familiarize the reader with their hometown and, really, whole world.

I actually just recently ordered the book and it’s on its way now!

Chris: What are some of the elements that makes “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” essential to you as a writer? Are there certain qualities in this poem that you try to emulate in your own work?

Hazem: This poem really highlights three things I am actively concerned with in virtually all of my work. It’s a powerhouse narrative that works with culture’s relationship to trauma and empowerment and brings the history alive through the voice of a city. As a Cairo native navigating American spaces that continually demonize and ostracize my culture and identity, I find immense power in this kind of emphasis on cultural history as a means of validating both the self and the identity to which the self belongs.

Chris: I’m curious about your take on the opening line of “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” where the narrator says, “They listenin’ to the wrong music again, child.” What do you think the narrator is trying to communicate about the wrong music (“Mississippi Goddamn”) and right music (“Sinnerman”)?

Hazem: I am not very familiar with Simone’s work (let alone nearly as familiar as Hanif is), so I won’t attempt to analyze the dichotomy between the two songs too much. As I understand it, both songs are a response to extreme violence, but in slightly different ways. “Sinnerman” seems to be more concerned with sheer grief whereas “Mississippi Goddamn” focuses more on rage. This poem takes a long, hard look at the trauma and grief marginalized communities often can’t find the time for, often because the brutal marginalization is ongoing, and in that sense I see why Hanif would pay more attention to “Sinnerman”.

Chris: Cultural commentary, conceptions and receptions of the self, and “powerhouse narrative” as you put it seem especially important to poetry today which calls to mind a lot of incredible books—Marilyn Nelson’s My Seneca Village is one, Suck on the Marrow by Camille Dungy is another. Hanif tweeted the other week about his poem, “On the Filming of Black Death” being shared after the recent events in Tulsa and Charlotte (Hanif’s poem references a different, earlier shooting in Tulsa). Are there writers in addition to Abdurraqib that you feel people need to be reading right now?

Hazem: In general, people absolutely need to be reading more poets of marginalized identities, especially ones who’re actively attempting to craft new narratives out the of histories and cultures we’ve been born in. If I have to pick a few, I’d start with Safia Elhillo. Reading her work means being in a master class on how to see the world, in all its beauty and pain, through the smallest and most seemingly commonplace facets of our lives. Ocean Vuong has similarly changed the way I think of writing on the self, especially in the way he weaves his personal and family history with that of his country. I can also never recommend Danez Smith enough. I can’t think of any other writer who has such a thorough ability to wrestle with trauma and the horror of oppression while also creating space for hope and breathing.
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Hazem Fahmy is a poet and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Humanities and Film Studies from Wesleyan University. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Mizna, COG and HEArt. In his spare time, he writes about the Middle East and tries to come up with creative ways to mock Classicism. He makes videos occasionally.

Chris Petruccelli is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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