My Writing Process Blog Tour: Sex and God

A wonderful writer named Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams recently asked me to join a literary blog tour about the writing process, and I happily agreed.

Hannah received the 2013 Whiting Writers Award for her novella The Man Who Danced with Dolls and her memoir-in-progress The Following Sea. She has also received a Rona Jaffe National Literary Award and a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship. Her work has most recently appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Oxford American, Carolina Quarterly, and Mayday Magazine, among others. Abrams currently teaches in the Department of English at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

My answers to the blog tour questions are below.

What are you working on?

I’m working on what I think will be two different collections of poems—one very brash and loud and full of sex, the other a more quiet and contemplative collection, influenced by mysticism. Sex and God: my favorite subjects. I’m also trying to publish my second collection of poems, No Place, which has been a finalist in a few contests, but hasn’t yet found a home. It’s still undergoing minor revisions, but some of the poems in this collection were written simultaneous to The Rusted City, so I’ve been at it a while. Most of the poems I’ve placed in journals over the last few years (including my series of towns with strange names) are from No Place.

How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?

Answering this question seems to require a certain amount of arrogance. I haven’t read everything there is to read (yet). I used to try to write poems that would be immediately and irrefutably recognized as Good Poems. Now I’m more concerned with doing something new, challenging, or important—which makes me feel like a perpetual beginner, and thus humbles me in a productive way.

Why do you write what you do?

I choose topics based simply on what’s interesting to me—usually things that are dark and that deal with the body in some way. I primarily write poetry because it allows for a level of vocal drama and music that prose often does not. It’s probably no surprise that when I do write prose, it’s a bit purple. I want to poke at people with my writing, or even shake them a bit, and inhabiting a voice that is unstable, disturbed, or just melodramatic is the best (and most fun) way I know of doing that.

How does your writing process work?

It begins in starts and fits. I rely on sudden inspiration from images or phrases. Once I get going on a larger project, however, it consumes my attention and the inspiration develops its own self-sustaining ecosystem in my mind, so I can return to it at any time. I tend to obsess over subjects that move me, so single poems often turn into series or even book-length projects. Hence The Rusted City.

Next week, follow the blog tour to meet these three fabulous writers at their own blogs (linked below) and learn about their writing processes.

Lisa Ampleman is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily and Verse Daily.

Anna B. Sutton is a poet from Nashville, TN. She is on staff at John F. Blair Publisher, a co-founder of the Porch Writers’ Collective, web editor for One Pause Poetry, and on the editorial team at Gigantic Sequins and Dialogist journals. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Barrow Street, DIAGRAM, Superstition Review, Weave Magazine, Tar River Poetry, Third Coast, and other journals.

Landon Godfrey is the author of Second-Skin Rhinestone-Spangled Nude Soufflé Chiffon Gown (Cider Press Review, 2011), selected by David St. John for the Cider Press Review Book Award, and two limited-edition letterpress chapbooks, In the Stone (RAPG-funded artist’s book, 2013) and Spaceship (Somnambulist Tango Press, 2014). Her poems have appeared in The Collagist, Beloit Poetry Review, Studium in Polish translation, Best New Poets 2008, Verse Daily, Broadsided, and elsewhere, and are forthcoming in Waxwing. She is co-editor of Croquet, a letterpress broadside magazine, which debuts in 2014.

News & Links

Prairie Schooner included The Rusted City in its February edition of Poetry News!

I recorded a few poems for the audio archive over at One Pause Poetry, including my own “Poem in Which I Play the Runaway,” from Best New Poets 2013, and one of my favorite poems, “With Mercy for the Greedy” by Anne Sexton.

The great people of the MFA program at UNCW did a little writeup on The Rusted City on their blog, and it includes one of my favorite poems from the collection.

White Pine Press has started a Tumblr, and they’ve been posting excerpts from The Rusted City for the last few days.

See you at AWP in Seattle!

I’ll be signing copies of The Rusted City at the White Pine Press bookfair table (P32) on Friday, 2/28 at 2pm.

I’ll also be at the Fairy Tale Review table (K26) on Sat, 3/1 at 12:15pm.

I’m reading offsite Friday night for Versal and Saturday night at the UNCW alumni reading. See my events page details.

The Rusted City Now Available!

My book, The Rusted City, is now available to order directly from White Pine Press via this link, as well as through large distributors like SPD and Amazon. You can also search for the The Rusted City at local independent bookstores through IndieBound. Information on The Rusted City, including blurbs and excerpts, can be found here on my Books page.

I will be promoting the book at several events this spring, including a book signing at the AWP Conference & Bookfair in Seattle and several offsite readings. I’ll also be reading in Chapel Hill, Cincinnati, Columbus, Youngstown, and Akron later this spring. Details on all of these upcoming events can be found here on my Readings & Events page, which will be updated throughout the year.

RS

Holiday Time is Anthology Time: A Favorites List

Everybody loves a list, especially at the end of the year. In the spirit of rounding up, collecting, and recommending, I give you a list of poetry anthologies–a collection of collections, if you will.

First, a few of my favorite poetry anthologies in no particular order.

The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Poetry and its international counterpart, The Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, both edited by J.D. McClatchy: These are old standbys that I often use in poetry classes. Most of the big names of contemporary poetry are in there, but they do lack some newer and more experimental work.

Family_PortraitFamily Portrait: American Prose Poetry 1900-1950, edited by Robert Alexander (White Pine Press): This anthology of prose poetry examines the form as a Modernist genre and includes amazing prose poems that I hadn’t even seen before by poets like Amy Lowell and William Carlos Williams.

Postwar Polish Poetry, edited by Czeslaw Milosz: I discovered this one in a poetry course this year, and while it’s pretty specific, it’s definitely worth reading for the richness and variety of postwar Polish poetry.

grind

Another and Another: An Anthology From the Grind Daily Writing Series, edited by Matthew Olzmann and Ross White (Bull City Press): This comes out of a daily writing series, which makes the poems that much more impressive and inspiring.

Great Poems by American Women, edited by Susan L. Rattiner (Dover Thrift): Not a  not contemporary anthology, but this spans several centuries and features some classics (Emily Dickinson, Phillis Wheatley) as well as many, many women poets that have been somewhat overlooked by Norton and other anthologies.

hybridAmerican Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry, edited by Cole Swenson and David St. John: This is a great supplement to the Vintage and other traditional anthologies because it presents a wide view of the more experimental side of contemporary poetry.

narrative (dis)continuities, edited by Kristina Marie Darling: an e-anthology (go read it for free right now!) that just came out on ‘prose experiments by younger writers.’ While there certainly are (what I would call) prose poems included, this is not all poetry, but it’s full of really interesting and formally innovative work.

outlaw

The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry, edited by Alan Kaufman and S.A. Griffin: If you’re hoping to go beyond Norton and Best American Poetry, this is great. It features poems from experimental writers like Alice Notley and Anne Waldman, as well as work from less ‘academic’ poets and musicians like Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Tupac Shakur.

 

There are also a few great-looking anthologies out there that I haven’t quite gotten to yet. These will be definitely be on my wish list this year.

Lit from Inside: 40 Years of Poetry from Alice James Books, edited by Anne Marie Macari and Carey Salerno

A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry, edited by Stacey Lynn Brown and Oliver de la Paz (U of Akron Press)

ApocalypseNowCoverApocalypse Now: Poems and Prose from the End of Days, edited by Alexander Lumans and Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum (Upper Rubber Boot Books)

 

Part of my anthology enthusiasm this year is due to my own inclusion in several new anthologies:

I have a poem in Best New Poets 2013, edited by Brenda Shaughnessy and Jazzy Danziger (U of Virginia Press). This anthology series publishes 50 emerging poets every year.

Poetry-to-the-People

Poetry to the People, edited by Abby Wendle and Scott Gregory (This Land Press) also features a poem of mine. This anthology is focused on life and culture ‘in the middle of the country.’

And finally, The Body Electric, edited by Aimee Herman features one of my poems. This one pays homage to Whitman through work engaged with conceptions of self and the body.

Double Blogging

Loft

I wrote a blog post over at The Writers’ Block, the official blog of the Loft Literary Center. The post covers the rise of flash forms–briefly, of course–including those that I’ll be teaching in my online course with the Loft this fall. You can read it here: Flash Forms: The Coolest Literary Clique in the Room.

.

Best Books (by Women) of 2012: A Collaborative List

I’ve been reading a lot of ‘Best Books of 2012’ lists lately, from big roundups to small personal lists (which are indeed full of great books). In doing so, I have formed a few notions, including this one: it’s been a great year for indie authors with male genitalia. Good for them—they are great, and they deserve recognition. However, I find it hard to believe that there weren’t just as many great books (indie and otherwise) written by women and published in 2012. So why aren’t more lists looking balanced? Maybe it’s just a fluke. Maybe books by men are more visible in certain circles for one reason or another. (In fact, this article at the Wall Street Journal references a study that suggests men are more likely to have read books written by men, while women are “almost as likely to have read a book by a man as a woman.”) Maybe, as someone recently suggested to me, I’m just reading the wrong lists—but if that’s true, so are other readers.

While gender bias on personal blog lists can be chalked up to taste (a taste for men, I guess?), even some of the big venue lists that should be more balanced (and sometimes are, slightly) still tend to lean toward male authors, like this one at The New York Times and this one at The New Yorker. Take a look at the Times Best Sellers List, where women only appear to be doing well as a group in paperback trade, mass market fiction, and children’s books. While bestseller lists are not always great places to find quality literature, the idea that female authors aren’t as literary as male authors–even in the bestsellers category–makes me cringe. Of course, it goes almost without saying that these highly visible lists would have one think poetry is dead. It is certainly not, as evidenced by the list below.

As much as I dislike lists that ghettoize female authors into specialized ‘good for a girl’ categories, as if they can’t compete with men (it’s writing, not wrestling), it is apparently still necessary to do so at times. Thus, I asked my friends and contacts on facebook to help me compile a list of favorite books by women (in any literary genre) published during the past year. This is a collaborative list, and I have read only a few of the books listed, but I’d like to think that those who made suggestions have trustworthy taste. Here’s the Amazon-linked list, starting with my two contributions (order is NOT reflective of value or popularity, and I have starred those books that were suggested more than once):

1. Murder Ballad by Jane Springer (Alice James, poetry)

murder ballad

2. Doll Studies: Forensics by Carol Guess (Black Lawrence, poetry)

3. Safe as Houses by Marie-Helene Bertino (University of Iowa, fiction)

4. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti* (Henry Holt, fiction)

5. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (Knopf, creative nonfiction)

6. Aerogrammes: and Other Stories by Tania James (Knopf, fiction)

7. Legs Get Led Astray by Chloe Caldwell (Future Tense, creative nonfiction)

8. Heavenly Bodies by Cynthia Huntington (Southern Illinois University, poetry)

9. On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths by Lucia Perillo (Copper Canyon, poetry)

10. Animal Eye by Paisley Rekdal (Pittsburgh, poetry)

11. Our Lady of the Ruins by Traci Brimhall* (Norton, poetry — this should have been one of my contributions, too)

12. Horse in the Dark by Vievee Francis (Northwestern University, poetry)

13. The Girls of Peculiar by Catherine Pierce* (Saturnalia, poetry)

14. Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel* (Houghton Mifflin, graphic memoir)

15. The Salt God’s Daughter by Ilie Ruby (Soft Skull Press, fiction)

16. Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee (Hamish Hamilton CA, fiction — US release by Algonquin in 2013)

17. The Temple of the Air by Patricia Ann McNair (Elephant Rock Books, fiction)

18. Thrall by Natasha Trethewey (Houghton Mifflin, poetry)

19. Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins* (Riverhead, fiction)

20. Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson (Counterpoint, fiction)

21. The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson (Norton, nonfiction/criticism)

22. Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch (Hawthorne, fiction)

23. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Holt, fiction)

instructionsforpreparingyourskin

24. Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle (Wave, nonfiction/theory)

25. May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes (Viking, fiction)

26. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (one of my favorite authors) (Grove, memoir)

27. Instructions for Preparing Your Skin by Ariana Nadia Nash (Anhinga, poetry — this is a bit of a cheat for the list because its official publication date is not until next year, but it is available for pre-release from the publisher now)

Happy reading!

For good measure, here’s a rare example of a 2012 list at a somewhat large venue that features more books by women (notice how many of the recommenders are women), and here’s VIDA’s list of under-acknowledged authors (neither limited to 2012 publications).