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).

 

Poetry Workshop at the Hinge

Beginning September 27, I’ll be leading an eight-week poetry workshop in Chapel Hill for the Hinge Literary Center.

The Hinge is a Durham-based organization that relies primarily on volunteer work by Triangle people who care about writing and literature. In addition to classes, they’ve got great events and readings happening all over the place. I think the workshop will be fun, and I’m looking forward to teaching a poetry-specific course again.

Registration is open here!

World’s Best Short Short Story

In the first fiction-writing workshop I ever took, my instructor passed around a one-page photocopy of a very short story. At the top of the page, it said “World’s Best Short Short Story,” and I suppose I believed it. The story was less than 500 words, written in deceptively graceless dialect, and reading the last sentence felt a sucker punch. I was in love. When I first started writing flash fiction,  I was thinking of this story. I saved the photocopy, and four years later, I was passing it out to students in my own creative writing classes. The name of the story is “The Custodian,” by Brian Hinshaw, and it won the Southeast Review‘s World’s Best Short Short Story Contest in 1996. You can read it, in its two-paragraph entirety, on this webpage. 

Last week I discovered that a short-short story of mine (“Impossible Child”) was selected as a finalist in this contest, and will be published in issue 31.1. Needless to say, I wanted to win, but the honor of being named a finalist is doubly special to me, since my very first publication (a poem titled “Faye Does Bonnie”) appeared in the Southeast Review. It’s the little things that keep me going.

Online Writing Course – Short Forms

I am so excited to be teaching creative writing again this fall! I’ll be leading an online course in short forms for the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. The course is carried out entirely online, so neither I nor my students will need to go to Minneapolis (though I hear it’s a great town). The Loft has become somewhat well-known for their writing courses — especially the online courses, which attract instructors and students from all over the country. If it sounds like I’m pitching the course, that’s because I am. Registration is open now, so please spread the word!

Open to all levels, the course is six weeks, and will begin October 1. Here is a description:

In a Flash: Short-shorts, Micro-memoir, and Prose Poetry

Flash forms of less than 1000 words have become quite popular in the world of contemporary literary publishing. These very short forms are inviting to busy readers, who can devour a wholly satisfying story on the bus ride to work. For writers, flash forms provide an excellent opportunity to sharpen our skills, because they require a great deal of restraint and precision. In this class, we will learn and practice the fundamental elements of each micro genre, including short-short (or flash) fiction, micro-memoir, prose poetry, and even hint fiction, by reading published work, as well as writing, sharing, and discussing our own work.

Register here!

The Poet/Purist Catch (Make Me Herman Melville)

What follows is a response to a great article published on The Millions yesterday. In “A Passion for Immortality: On the Missing Pulitzer and the Problem with Prizes,” Benjamin Hale discusses the Pulitzer Prize Board’s decision to not award a prize in fiction this year, and various prize choices in previous years. He also writes about the difference he sees between MFA culture, which seems to value art over hype, and New York book culture, which seems more focused on fame and market trends.

As I see it, this difference is part of the catch-22 of money in art. In order for art (and artists) to thrive in a capitalist economy, it must be infused with money; once art is infused with too much money, it tends to lose its intrinsic integrity, and ceases to become art. Once you have written ten versions of the same story in five years, because they keep selling, are you still making art, or are you making a product? And where is the line between product and art if you are publishing what you write, and selling what you publish? Money doesn’t automatically ruin art, but I think that once the monetary value of a creation surpasses the artistic value of that creation, it has become a product.

Image

As for the poets? In many ways, I’m happy that poetry is as good as exempt from what Hale refers to as “the kinds of gossipy, facile book conversations you have in New York, where everything is in some way tainted with commerce.” In articles like his, poets are always mentioned, briefly, as artistic purists in default of marketability, but I like to think that the choice to be a purist is a deliberate one, and that perhaps the decision to be a purist comes before decisions about genre, and thus simply lends itself to poetry, the “purest” genre. Perhaps the moment that one decides not to be a purist coincides with the decision to focus on a different genre—any genre but poetry? This is not to say that fiction and nonfiction cannot be pure; only that poetry does not allow for much commercial impurity—not because it is inherently superior, but because of market trends. So I’ve worked my way back to square one. Maybe we are purists by default.

Of course, this is all complicated by the fact that many writers, including myself, work in more than one genre, and/or hybrid genres (which are perhaps as safe from commercial “impurity” as poetry). The problem remains: prizes = cachet = more prizes = a job. I like winning prizes. It makes me feel important, it reassures me that I am making good work (since I have already established a conception of the poetry-publishing world that allows for general trust in editorial opinions at-large), and it can sometimes carry with it monetary rewards, or even the promise of fulfilling future employment.

Being an ambitious purist is a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. When Hale writes, of the Pulitzer Board’s snub of The Sun Also Rises and The Sound and the Fury in 1930, “It’s perfectly natural they would make that mistake; back then, Faulkner and Hemingway were not yet Faulkner and Hemingway,” it strikes me as both cynical and dead-on, which then strikes me as quite sad. Then, I get dramatic: I, for one, don’t want—nay, I refuse!—fame, fortune, or favors as a result of anything other than my writing.

Ultimately, this sentiment (on Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow) that I share with Hale rallies my puritanical spirits again: “That is the nature of good art: it provokes.” I would go so far as to say that if a work does not provoke an intellectual or emotional response, it’s not art at all; it’s entertainment. Art wants to unsettle, while entertainment wants ultimately to lull. That’s why cliché serves the “Paranormal Romance” genre that now takes up 25% of Barnes & Noble so well. Encountering the same tropes and phrases again and again is comforting, even if the trope is painted with blood and gore, because we are never asked to understand the unfamiliar. For me, the line between art and entertainment has always been clear, but to think that this distinction excludes the possibility of art that is entertaining is too simple. Art entertains a different set of faculties—it challenges (through form, content, or both), and a challenge is only boring if you refuse it from the start.

Image

In poetry, the distinction between literary and popular does not always seem analogous to that in fiction or nonfiction. In prose, what is the most entertaining often seems to win popularity contests among the reading public (and those winners certainly are not always the winners of popularity contests among critics). In poetry, the few works that seem popular in the eyes of the reading public are not tripe or pulp. They are not (for the most part) about vampires or zombies or paranormal crime or werewolf drug addiction or undead teenagers having sex. Think of Rilke, Yeats, Robert Frost. (Some might see Maya Angelou or Billy Collins as exceptions here, but even they approach profundity at times.) This is both comforting and confusing to me.

Of course, the general reading public will never fall Hunger-Games-in-love with a poet as provocative as Johannes Göransson, a poet I like who occasionally does write about sex and teenagers and probably sometimes zombies (i.e. “In this chapter you will be played by the pretty little curly-headed singer from the Bangles; my dick will be played by a moron; Jesse Garon will be played – poorly – by the bored ghost of Bertold Brecht; and I’ll be played by an old homosexual with white wispy hair and glasses and a definite problem with booze and nostalgia. Don’t ask me how I’ll be able to make it marketable,” from “Dear Ra“)—but can it be that the reading public actually has moderately good taste in poetry? Or is it more likely that they aren’t given another option, because truly terrible poetry—and I don’t mean stale or unpolished poetry, but more like the verse equivalent of a Nora Roberts romance novel—rarely gets published. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I think it’s the latter. Large publishing houses aren’t going to buy that Nora Roberts sonnet collection (unless it’s ironic), because the bottom line is that poetry doesn’t sell. Thus, it’s left up to the small presses—nonprofits who have already made a decision to be purists (mostly). There is an odd sort of consolation in this.

Image

At the end of the article, Hale asks a beefed-up version of the old question: fame now, or immortality later? In his version, Satan is doing the asking on a game show: money and prizes now, only to be forgotten later; or nothing but apparent failure until after death, when you will be recognized and immortalized as a great artist (“In other words, you’ll be Herman Melville”)? Accepting the mutual exclusivity in this scenario as given, and readily accepting the position of purist-by-default, I (the weary poet) said to myself (and facebook): “Make me Herman Melville, only Herman Melville.” Then a fiction writer I know said: “I would punch Satan in the nose and take both prizes.” Why didn’t I think of that?