Archive for July, 2010

Saturday Morning Bits

I’ve been a bit MIA this week.  A big house without a cat seems…well bigger than it should be.  In an effort to move back to the poetry world, here are some bits-n-pieces of blogging news.

First, book news galore.  Martha Silano has won the Saturnalia Book Prize for her manuscript, The Little Office of Immaculate Conception.    Justin Evans book, Town for the Trees,  has been picked up for publication.  And remember when I reviewed Erica Wright’s chapbook, Silt?.  Well, I just found out that Black Lawrence Press will be publishing her full length collection, Instructions for Killing the Jackal.  I’m a bit out of it — apparently this announcement was made way back in January.  Congratulations to all!

Katie Cappello has a great post about the literary journal Gulf Coast which is hosting a subscription drive to help the cleanup of the Gulf.  Take a look and consider subscribing.  I do not know the literary journal, Gulf Coast, but I’m planning on picking up a subscription and reading…

Finally, there’s been a lot of talk about online submission managers, whether or not poets should pay to submit, etc…  I have mixed feelings about paying for submitting; however, submission managers scare me, and I will tell you why.  I have never had a poem picked up for publication through submission manager.  Yes, I’ve had publications through snail mail and through email, but never through a submission manager system.  While I am sympathetic to literary journal editors (I used to be one, myself), I am wondering if online manager systems simply make it too easy to hit “Reject.”   Yes, I am a bit nervous about this shift in submission policies out there….

RIP: Toni Weyant-Patalano (1993 – 2010)

May the other side hold fat mice, chicken bones, and lots and lots of catnip.

RIP: Toni – We miss you. This house is empty without you here.

CSLC Book Six: A Poetics of Hiroshima

Yesterday afternoon, I gave a brief presentation on William Heyen’s A Poetics of Hiroshima, a poetry collection that continues in the “Heyen tradition” of Holocaust study but also approaches other atrocities of the war, including the Hiroshima bombing.  This collection of poetry is part of Chautauqua’s book club selection for this summer.

It’s interesting but when the head of CSLC asked me to review A Poetics of Hiroshima, I really thought he meant review it — but then I found out that he wanted me to introduce the text to an audience who may not know a lot about poetry(even though they are readers — they belong to a book club, afterall).  To use the cliche’ — that’s a whole different ballgame and to be honest, a lot more fun than writing and presenting a more formal review.

Still, A Poetics of Hiroshima is a challenging read.  Heyen takes risks with form, and his mix of poetry and somewhat prosey verse may be confusing to some readers.  And of course, the subject of the atrocities of war is always hard to read.  All in all, I liked A Poetics of Hiroshima well enough — in fact, I went back to read several of Heyen’s earlier works, and it’s interesting to see the progression of his work. 

Saturday Random Thoughts on Revision

I’ve been working on a presentation this evening, and I have discovered that I enjoy revising more academic, literary essays and reviews more than my own creative works.  I came about this observation this morning when I sat down and took a good long look at what I want to get done in the next few weeks when it comes to revising. 

First, I have three poems sitting at the top which I love.  However, it seems that no one else loves them.  I wrote all three last summer and they keep getting rejected again and again, with the final rejection coming in my email last night.  I’m not especially hurt by this — only bewildered, and I can explain.  I have gotten a lot of “ink” with these three poems.  Editors have said they liked them, keep up  the good work, send them more poems, etc…yet no one has taken them.  So, do dive in and do radical revisions?  Do I fine tune them, when I don’t really know what needs fine tuned?  I have had all three poems workshopped and read by other poets, so I don’t want to travel down that route again.  The worst part?  I really like all three of the poems.  So do I risk radical revision and perhaps revise myself out of a good poem (which I have done before), or do I simply believe in these poems and send them back out in the world?

Second, I love the poems I did last week, but there are days when I still feel like I am writing the same poem again and again.  I don’t know why that is considering that one poem takes place in my mother’s kitchen, another poem takes place on the slopes of a strip mine and the third is set in the evening of an old family farm.  I guess I feel that all my poems have the Rust Belt woes, and I wonder if that is a good thing.

So now, as painful as it is, I am sitting down to take another look at these six poems.  I am determined to send out more submission packets by the end of July — more literary markets are opened than I ever imagined.

Emerging from Place & Other News

No, I have not melted into a puddle from another heatwave.  I just finished up my Chautauqua poetry workshop #1 for the summer.  Under the direction of poet Maggie Anderson, I studied sense of place.  I’m always happy if I can get one good draft from a one week poetry workshop, and this past week I have three.  Next week, I will be working under poet Stephen Haven.

In other news, have you read the newest issue of Boxcar Poetry Review?  There’s a great conversation between Suzanne Frischkorn and Brent Goodman about first books.  Take a look.

Finally, and this is really great news, Paula Bohince’s second book of poetry titled The Children will be released from Sarabande Books in 2012.  Fans of The Scrapper Poet know how much I loved Paula’s first book, Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods, so I’m excited about this new collection (even though I have to wait until 2012). 

A Stray Home

It seems a bit fitting that I just finished reading Amy M. Clark’s Stray Home, when I am still finding my way around our new home.  Just the other day, I found a box of stuff I had not yet unpacked.  When I opened the box up, I had no idea why I even kept some of the junk inside.  *Sigh*

Now on to my review:  I have a love/hate relationship with poetic form.  I love reading poets’ works when they excel at form, especially the sonnet and the sestina.  Once, I even had a student who wrote a funny sonnet about his landlord.  I, however, struggle with form, and the only form poem I have ever written (and been happy with…) is the pantoum.

So, I was delighted to come across Stray Home, Amy M. Clark’s first book of poetry and the winner of the 2009 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry.  Maura Stanton, in her backcover blurb, states that “Clark doesn’t hesitate to look at ‘the treasury of muck’ between the stove and the cupboard or uncover the uneasy feeling you have when someone hands you a new baby or you feed your dog a biscuit when you know she’s scheduled to die in the morning.”  And certainly, there is a darkness in Clark’s work, that blackness that is found in so many everyday life events and scenes.  For instance, in “Daughter for My Prayer” the speaker cheers on a daughter saying “I spot my daughter on the stage and blush/with love.  She is my own scrub weed among/other curious shoots.”  However, at the end of the poem we learn the truth about what turned out to be an imagined scene: “Unwind this song I’ve sung/I have no daughter.  She could be anyone.”

However, what I was most impressed with was the way that Clark plays with form.  Many of her poems are sonnets, and my favorite work titled “First Thing This Morning”  is one where the persona examines her kitchen in the morning.   What does she find? While cleaning the floor she states, “I can see clear into that awful half-inch slot/between the stove and the cupboard, a treasury/of muck.  I sit.  All these years/together, we haven’t been cleaning. Merely/rearranging.”

The title poem, “Stray Home” is found in the center of the collection and is composed of several smaller sonnets, most exploring the speaker’s relationship with the women in her family and with womanhood in general, especially with the body.  For instance, in one of the poetic sequences, the speaker explains that as a child she “lay face down/on my bed, scissoring my thighs like angel wings/calling ‘Mom! Try this. It feels so good”/She singed me to the core: ‘Don’t do that/anymore.  I didn’t.  For a good long time.”  In another part, the speaker compares her body with the bodies of her mother’s and grandmother’s, saying “We were three candle boats — my grandmother/mother, and me — moored, we bobbed together.”

Another favorite poem is not a sonnet, but has a form all of its own.  In “Dumb” the persona retells a childhood incident in rhyme: “But the babysitter said, ‘Lick/the porch railing.’  We watched her flick/an ash onto the snow, air thick//with her mouth’s steam.  Sugary frost/laced the black rail.  My brother crossed/his arms. ‘Girls first,” he said. I lost//right from wrong. I put my tongue/on the ice-hot iron/Tears stung/my eyelids.”  Certainly, the rhythm may sound like a light nursery rhyme, but the theme and underlying message is anything but.

Make no mistake — this collection is not a work of pure form.  Several poems, including “Looking for Z–” and “How to Be the Lady of the House.” (In fact, another poem, “The Grizzly Bear in February” somehow reminds me of Suzanne Vega’s song, “Tom’s Diner” ) follow a more prose poem form.   Still, because of common themes that hold this collection together, these more “prosey” poems never seem to be out of place.

Stray Home is a great read.  The poetic form found in its pages never feels forced or full of clichés.   Whether you are a fan of formal verse or just like to “dabble”, Stray Home is a collection to pick up this summer.

Too Hot to Type

Enough said.  I know that every other blogger on the East Coast has discussed the heat.  All I will say is that I will update my blog when my fingers stop sticking to the keyboard.

Nicole Cooley, Kirk Nesset at Chautauqua

I celebrated the Fourth of July at Chautauqua, walking the ground, visiting the awesome bookstore (best poetry selection in Western New York), and attending a reading by poet Nicole Cooley and fiction writer Kirk Nesset.  I have forgotten how hot Chautauqua gets in the summer — I just love meeting great writers when I am sweaty and tired.

But I digress.  Nicole Cooley read from her collection, Breach, a book  about the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans.   Cooley, who is originally from New Orleans, gave a lot of background information about each poem which really added to the reading — I could tell that a lot of people in the audience were either from New Orleans or visited there often and appreciated her stories and poems. I have a special interest in poetry and catastrophe and have read other books about Hurricane Katrina (See my review of two other “Katrina” books here), and I must say that Breach ranks right up there. I also picked up her book, The Afflicted Girls, a poetry book about the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

Kirk Nesset is a local writer (local by rural Pennsylvania/New York standards).  He read two stories from his upcoming manuscript, and I was able to pick up his collection, Mr. Agreeable  — I stayed up last night reading his work.  So far, my favorite stories are “Snakes Having Babies” and “Scream”.  In many ways, he is a minimalist writer — his work reminds me of the book I just read by Rusty Barnes, except Nesset seems to focus more on character than sense of place.

My booklist is still growing. It’s going to be a hot week, so maybe I can find some nice shade and get some more reading and writing done.

CFS: The Keystone Chapbook Prize

Time is running out!  The deadline for the 2010 Keystone Chapbook Prize (sponsored by Seven Kitchens Press) is July 15th.  This contest is for an unpublished, original chapbook of poems by a Pennsylvanian writer.  This year’s judge is Betsy Sholl.  Past winners include Underground Singing by Harry Humes, Soot by Jeff Walt and Long Corridor by Lisa Sewell.

Full details can be found at the Seven Kitchens website.

July, Already

The title of this post says it all — I can’t believe how fast the summer is fleeing.  I’m busy getting ready for my Chautauqua workshops, so this will be a post in bits and pieces.

First, Verse Daily today is hosting the poem “Ghost Lights” from Keith Montesano’s collection Ghost Lights.  If you haven’t picked up Ghost Lights yet — you really should.  Yes, it’s true that I feel a certain kinship with this book because many of the poems take place in Western/Rust Belt Pennsylvania, but I believe this is a must read for everyone — especially those interested in the contemporary elegy.

Second, I am a bit late about posting this bit of information, but Jeannine  Hall Gailey has some great news on her blog.  Her second collection of poems, She Returns to the Floating World, has been picked up for publication.  Congrats, Jeannine!

Finally, the poetry front has been a bit quiet for me this summer thus far, but on Monday I got an acceptance note from Cave Wall.  So excited about this — Cave Wall is one of my favorite literary journals!