Review of “Steal It Back” by Sandra Simonds

Sandra SimondsSteal It Back is a call to action for readers and a personal reflection that gives commentary on modern social topics including feminism, capitalism, and motherhood. Simonds takes the reader through her personal journey of stealing “it” back – everything from femininity to power, adventure to vulnerability – and along the way, readers are prompted through Simonds’ breathless, fierce writing to steal “it” back as well – whatever that may be to the reader.

The most unconventional poem of the collection is also one that best encompasses Simonds’ unique style. “Occupying” is a single paragraph that extends nearly seven pages without a single period. Though there is the occasional exclamation point or question mark, the lack of periods adds to Simonds’ quick-paced, intense voice and forces the reader to consume the poem in one breath. Simonds also utilizes repetition effectively in this poem, and in others of the collection. The line, “They are building a Catholic schoolgirl” is repeated throughout the poem. This draws the reader’s attention to Simonds’ idea that “they,” whether it be her parents or another authoritative figure in her life, tried to shape her into a good, Catholic girl, for better or worse. Simonds talks to the reader in meta fashion and seems to be replying to her critics, writing, “Oh you think this is so terrible? Well / you try to write a better one, friend.”

While it may seem like the nonstop, continuous, repetitive nature of such a poem could lose the reader’s interest, Simonds manages to transition between different subjects and scenes seamlessly; she recognizes when the reader’s mind may begin to trail off and regains traction with a fresh image or line.

Simonds’ most effective technique is to juxtapose heavy topics with the everyday. McDonalds, Sephora, and Lady Gaga all make appearances alongside feminism, the monotony of unfulfilling jobs, divorce, and the trials of motherhood. She uses her personal experiences while still relating to the larger issues at hand in the world. In the poem, “I Grade Online Humanities Tests” she writes about her complicated relationship with a mechanic, but also about the larger issue of men feeling entitled to things because they are used to being in power. She writes, “the guns are male because he owns the guns . . . and Home Depot is male because he owns and owns / and owns and all he can do is own / everything that will rot / like privacy or speech or porn or black swans / or my big tits.” While her poetry may have started out for Simonds as a release for her own emotions, she expands and touches on the bigger problems in society that her life experiences bring up.

One aspect of Simonds’ writing that may not appeal to all readers is her tendency to write poems that clearly show a passing of time during her writing process. She separates some of her poems into pieces on different pages and the subject changes slightly on each page. The disconnect suggests that she may have left the poem and returned at a different time to finish it. In “A Poem For Landlords,” Simonds outright states, “I am writing this so fast. / I will not be able to look / back at it but just now / I am looking back at it since I made / dinner and cleaned the house.” Some readers will be turned off by her blatancy in stating these actions and describing her writing process, however, it adds honesty and an interesting pacing of time to the poems. She may also be giving commentary on the futility of poetry in enacting change.

Simonds has created a collection that is not easy to digest, or to forget. By the time the reader reaches the final lines of the book, “I know what is real / and I know how to steal / back what is mine,” they won’t be able to resist the urging of Simonds to do the same.


sandra-simonds About the Author: Sandra Simonds’ poems have been included in the Best American Poetry consecutively in 2014 and 2015, and have appeared in many literary journals. She is an Associate professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Georgia, and lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

 

Review of “Yearling” by Lo Kwa Mei-En

Yearling is a collection of poetry which delves deep into a complex network of introspective philosophy. Lo Kwa Mei-En wades through incredible, abstract language that leaves the reader to interpret her ambiguous scenes. There are times when the reader feels as if they had been dropped into an unfamiliar jungle, left to fend for themselves. For example, in her poem “The Jubilee Year of the Dead Inside of a Banyan Tree”:

            The underworld is what you thought it’d be,

but not where. We who know not what we are,

tick the record of animal loss off our fingers.

We give names to the faces: badger, black canary,

Mei-En’s style is fragmented and difficult to follow, yet enticing in its abstraction. Her work is dense with allusions to referential stories and animal symbolism. There is a darkness lurking behind every line, a mystery that begs to be discovered, explored, dissected. Mei-En drops the reader off within an unknown point of view. Who is the “you” referring to? What are our expectations of the underworld, and where does it reside? The reader begins asking questions immediately upon entering the first line. By the end of the first stanza, they’re stuck untangling the ambiguous identity of “we” and the purpose of the various animals invoked. But Mei-En does not allow for pause, the reader is whisked immediately into the next stanza. Later in the poem, Mei-En creates a metaphor for her reading audience:

            Oh phoenix. Come brighten. Wade

in the year of your acre and flood, a mere, lit fig

hung from your neck to lantern you back and forth

to a place where we will speak your name again.

Mei-En’s poems, like the banyan trees of her childhood, are “more stranger than strangler,” in that they approach recognizable issues on body image, immigration, and cultural symbolism. However, there are moments when the reader feels lost, like the traveler being led through a flooded field with nothing but a mere fig lantern to guide them.

That poem is but one example within a wonderful collection that begins with the foreshadowing lines “Temper, temper” and ends emphatically with the phrase: “How a wolf watching water is how I want / how I want to love the new apocalypse for good.” By the end of her book, the reader just believes that perhaps the best mindset is to embrace our inner animal and learn to love the pain of the coming apocalypse. Her poems are a mixture of self-deprecating and empowering. Fluctuating from images of imposed sexuality – “I thought myself ready, / restless in the register of hips and eyes” – to moments of empowering femininity – “The body that has something to say / knows better than that. / Lights everything on fire with one hand / and tends coals with the other.” There are moments depicting physical abuse where the narrator seems ambiguous as to her feelings about it. These poems are raw, and they are real. They do not flake away from the messy edges of her experience, nor do they indulge in mainstream Liberal didacticism. If Lo Kwa Mei-En’s poetry could be compared to a breath of fresh air, it would be like the first step out into city pollution after spending all day within a padded, sterile room; the air is dirty. Paradoxically, in her misdirecting metaphors, she reveals herself completely.

Lo Kwa Mei-En’s Yearling shows that she is an incredibly innovative and aspiring talent. She displays a mastery of poetic conventions, causing any sense of narrative to be speculative at best. Her poems are fragmented and rely on parataxis between seemingly abstract images, allowing for ambiguity and multiple readings. However, while this ambiguity is one of her greatest strengths, it also proves to be one of her greatest weaknesses. Mei-En’s poetry, while incredible, is not accessible. Each poem requires contemplation in order to decipher meaning; Mei-En makes no attempt to cater to the reader. Because of this, Mei-En’s poetry remains barred from most audiences, but within this lies her true power. Mei-En does not shy away from her intellectualism. Rather, she fully retreats into her dense, introspective language and provides a portraiture of her unique experience. This is a book of highly philosophical, intellectual poetry which is aimed at likeminded readers. Mei-En’s poetry is difficult in subject-matter and pyrotechnic in form; or, as she would say in her own words: “I’ll keep it real, go / hurt something to love it, real, good, find the center / of aurora in me, the second of ignition.”


lo kwa mei enAbout the Author: Lo Kwa Mei-en is a poet from Singapore and Ohio. Her first book, Yearling, won the 2013 Kundiman Poetry Prize and is available from Alice James Books. The Bees Make Money in the Lion, a new book of poems, won the CSU Poetry Center Open Competition and is available from Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Other work includes Two Tales, a chapbook from Bloom Books, and The Romances, a chapbook forthcoming from The Lettered Streets Press.

Review of “There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé” by Morgan Parker

Morgan Parker’s work, covering every topic from the first Black President to Beyoncé celebrating Black History Month, is dynamic and intriguing. It’s a testament to how dynamic poetry can be, and is.

The cover itself shows a woman sprawled on a couch with mascara rolling down her face. The image for me shows exactly what happens in the book: a person that is usually seen as a strong powerhouse, broken down and beaten, and shown in a new light.

For example, in the poem “The President Has Never Said The Word Black,” Parker thoughtfully goes through why it hurts so much that the first African American President of the United States never called himself “Black,” or referred to his “brothers and sisters” as “Black.” It’s a powerful piece that really brings to attention what it feels like to be a Black American. It’s also a wonderful example of the pain that can be felt when you don’t beyonceget your way, another example of intriguing work.

Another poem that is just as powerful is the piece “Afro.” In it, Parker explains the tragic ups and downs that make up being African American, or Black, in what feels like a mash up of this and the past century. It’s a creative piece, calling on “Auntie Angela,” “Miss Holiday,” “Michael,” and “Dave Chappelle,” all major African American and Black figures of yesterday and today. It’s a powerful piece with a title that evokes thoughts of strife and majesty.

The next poem that really zeros in on what it feels like to be a Black person in today’s society, particularly a woman, is “13 Ways Of Looking At A Black Girl.” The poem is what seems to be a randomized list of terms, names, and phrases that may come to mind when thinking of a Black woman. Parker throws out words and phrases like “dead,” “dying,” “carefree,” and “exotic;” phrases like “chickenhead,” “at risk,” and “I am hungry,” which show the negative and the positive sides of how society looks at a Black girl. Parker then throws in names of women such as Nikki Giovanni, Sandra Bland, Whitney Houston, and Shonda Rhimes. Powerful names. Names of significance to the Black community and society as a whole, again showing the ups and downs of what it is to be a Black woman.

The shortest poem in the book, “Beyoncé Celebrates Black History Month,” is only five lines, two short sentences, that perfectly makes up what it means to hold on to what some people call being “Black,” a term that can be used in both negative and positive terms:

 

I had almost

forgotten my roots

are not long

blonde. I had almost forgotten

what it means to be at sea.

 

As a whole, Parker’s work in the book is thoughtful, kind, yet brutally honest and thought provoking. “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé” is a fantastic read for anyone and everyone. If you’re in the “Beyhive,” don’t be offended at all; it’s a great read about a wonderful person!


Morgan ParkerAbout the Author: Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House Books, 2017) and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books, 2015), which was selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize and a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Parker received her Bachelors in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Columbia University and her MFA in Poetry from NYU. Her poetry and essays have been published and anthologized in numerous publications, including The Paris Review, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, Best American Poetry 2016The New York Times, and The Nation. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel in New York. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She is a Sagittarius, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Ross White Group Interview Part 3

ross-whiteRoss White is a poet and teacher living in Durham, NC. With Matthew Olzmann, he edited Another & Another: An Anthology from the Grind Daily Writing Series. He was the 2012 winner of the James Larkin Pearson Prize and the Gladys Owings Hughes Prize. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2012, Poetry Daily, New England Review, The Southern Review, and others. He is a four-time recipient of work-study and administrative scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and currently teaches poetry writing and grammar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.


You’re a teacher as well as a poet and editor – how do those three jobs affect one another?

I think all three are born of a curiosity about the human condition and an unflappable belief that it is mutable. Mutable in the sense being apt, and perhaps likely, to change, but also in the sense of being inconstant in one’s affections. Editing is the act of allegiance to a manuscript while pushing for it to become something else, whether that something is a set of copy edits or a change in the project that steers it more clearly toward its true intention. Teaching is the act of allegiance to the student as a person, even as the education you provide changes who that person is. Writing is the act of allegiance to the human experience and a desire to transform it into something new.

I try to approach all three with tenderness. I try to approach all three with ruthlessness. The balance between those two is always in flux. What I learn on one side of the equation is often reflected on the other– as soon as I am smart enough to adjust. Though I am often not quick to adjust; so much of each of those roles comes first from the gut, and I often need a lot of time to reflect on what I have learned by doing. Only then can I transfer the knowledge from one discipline to another. Early in my career, I overthought so much of my writing and teaching, but I had so little experience and knowledge that the base of what I was thinking about was narrow. Whatever towers I was building were so easy to topple. The more I read, the more I experiment, the more confident I become in trying things that I haven’t seen before, in trying things where the outcome remains uncertain and mysterious once I’ve begun.

What is one piece that you have accepted for the press that has changed your perspective on reading and writing, and how has it done so?

I can’t say that there’s a book, poem or story we’ve accepted that changed my perspective on reading and writing. I can say that some of the pieces we’ve accepted changed my perspective on what it is to be human. They made the world at once more vast and more intimate, and I’m truly grateful for that. As poetry requires that the reader use imagination and empathy, so too does it provide an imaginative kindling, and the books that have changed me have left me with new space to explore what lived experience might mean. Tommye Blount’s What Are We Not For is a profoundly animate book, one I have savored every time I’ve read it.

What is your personal writing style and preferences, and how does this affect the works you choose for publication?

I always have the hardest time answering questions about my own style. I think that’s because I’d prefer not to have one– if there’s something I can’t do yet, I’m probably trying to learn. I don’t think anyone who reads my poems would call me a formalist, but I aspire to that; I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being an experimentalist, but I aspire to that too. I love reading a little bit of everything and when I sit down to draft poems, I find myself borrowing strategies from whatever has me enthralled at the time.

As a reader, I know I have a bias for the unfamiliar. I love strangeness in its many forms– the grotesque, the absurd, the dissociative, the transgressive– because strange poems are so often, for me, the jumper cables that recharge my own sense of wonder at the world. But when I encounter a poem or a chapbook that gives me that jolt, the editor in my brain almost immediately converts to the role of skeptic. I begin interrogating the poem like it’s a Russian spy. I begin wondering if I’m falling for a misdirection or deception because it supports my pre-existing view of the world.

I also want poems to feel lived in, which is something I try to do in my own work. I mistrust poems that rely on centuries’ worth of someone else’s feeling, and add little to that field of feeling. I generally call these poems “pretty birds and trees” poems out of snarkiness, but really, they’re poems that pretend to join the long poetic conversation, where poets ranging from Lucille Clifton to George Herbert to W. B. Yeats to Emily Dickinson are speaking to each other, without ever adding something new, something vital, about the world as it is today.

Part 2

Ross White Group Interview Part 2

 

ross-whiteRoss White is a poet and teacher living in Durham, NC. With Matthew Olzmann, he edited Another & Another: An Anthology from the Grind Daily Writing Series. He was the 2012 winner of the James Larkin Pearson Prize and the Gladys Owings Hughes Prize. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2012, Poetry Daily, New England Review, The Southern Review, and others. He is a four-time recipient of work-study and administrative scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and currently teaches poetry writing and grammar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.


How has your definition of success changed since becoming an active member of the publishing world?

Becoming a publisher helped me redefine success in my own writing life. When I was starting out, editors were such mysterious creatures. I would invest a great deal of time in thinking about a journal and what its aesthetic is, agonizing over which of several poems would be the best ones to send in. I would take each rejection as a small failure– and, of course, let those failures pile up. Success seemed so far away.

Oddly enough, now that I’m an editor, I’ve come to understand that a rejection is still a success.

When reading through manuscripts– whether they’re chapbook-length collections for Bull City Press or a set of five poems for Four Way Review– I’m keenly aware of my own fallibility. There’s a lot of incredible poetry out there, far more than any one journal or press could ever print. I cannot tell you how many times I have had to turn away work that I thought was excellent, because it just didn’t fit with what we were hoping to do next. At Four Way Review, it might have something to do with a poem’s fit (or lack thereof) with a set of poems we’ve already accepted. At Bull City Press, we might pass on a great book because it’s too close to a project we’ve recently completed.

Editors, like writers, want to improve throughout their whole careers. So my strategy of obsessing over exactly which poems to send to a journal was foolhardy– I was sending poems to where I thought the editor was, rather than where they wanted to be next. And that’s impossible to predict. So now, I read the journal to get a rough sense of the aesthetic, but I don’t worry too hard about which particular poems I send, as long as I feel those poems demonstrate the craftsmanship that the journal will require and are in the ballpark of subject matter and aesthetic.

Maybe it’s not as painful as receiving the rejection, but I do feel disappointment each time I pass on work that I admire. So, on the writing side, I now view each rejection as a kind of success– I’m celebrating the fact that I keep sending work out, knowing that the road to publication is difficult. The more I have relaxed, the more pieces I have had accepted for publication in journals I adore. Dream journals.

When reading already established literature, one feels it is the reader’s duty to decipher meaning from the text. When reading submissions from un-established authors, do you feel the impetus is placed upon them to impress you, and, if so, how does that affect your reading of literary works?

I don’t think I read much differently when reading submissions. They’re really just books or poems or stories that aren’t yet published, but some– a lot of them, really– will be. I’ve read a number of chapbooks from my favorite presses over the last few years and thought, “Oh, we had the chance to consider this at Bull City Press. I liked this a lot.” The sad fact is that we routinely turn away great work. I mean, great work. If I had no shortage of time or money, we’d probably publish a ton of books.

So, yeah, I guess, when I open a submission, I work from the assumption that the work deserves publication. I’m just trying to figure out whether I’ll have a hand in that publication, whether I believe it fits with what our audience hungers for, whether it fills a space in our catalog or magazine that nothing else could possibly fill, whether it does so with a tenacity and exactitude that stuns me. When I first started editing, my litmus test was, “Do I think I’ll still love this so fiercely in ten years that I’d publish it again?” Now, a decade in, I’m feeling like the younger me made some pretty good decisions.

Certainly, I feel the responsibility to impress me rests with the book– whether Simon & Schuster just published it or it comes to us through one of our reading periods. I think the onus is always on the writer to present the information in the most compelling form appropriate to the material. And I think the onus is always on the reader to participate, to bring the requisite imagination needed to transform words on the page into a populated, textured world in which to live for a while. The transformation simply must be initiated by the words at hand, and while I may or may not reliably make the meaning the author intends (and may or may not make meanings that the author did not intend but are indeed both reasonable and quite satisfying), the richness of the transformation that the words instigate determines the success or failure of the piece.

How much truth do you believe the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” still holds? And with that said, what are some criteria you consider when choosing cover art?

I don’t know that it holds any truth at all. There are some lovely covers on bad books, and bad covers on lovely books. Sure. But I absolutely want Bull City Press books to be judged by their covers. From our earliest days, Philip McFee at Flying Hand Studio has been an indispensible partner in the creative process. He is exact in his attention to the manuscripts we’ve accepted, and his designs are often stitched together from various images. A few times, he’s presented a cover, and I’ve asked, “Hey, that photo is terrific… where did you get it?” And he’ll reply, “That’s eighteen different photos composited together.” He combs each manuscript looking for its relevant imagistic systems, but when it comes time to create the final art, he often steps just to the side of a literal representation of those images. So the covers almost always evoke, in some sly way, specific things you’ll find in the book, but they never give any part of the experience away. Philip has designed all but two of our books, and is even redesigning our re-releases of some Origami Zoo Press titles.

Part 1                                                                                                                                             Part 3

Ross White Group Interview Part 1

ross-whiteRoss White is a poet and teacher living in Durham, NC. With Matthew Olzmann, he edited Another & Another: An Anthology from the Grind Daily Writing Series. He was the 2012 winner of the James Larkin Pearson Prize and the Gladys Owings Hughes Prize. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2012, Poetry Daily, New England Review, The Southern Review, and others. He is a four-time recipient of work-study and administrative scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and currently teaches poetry writing and grammar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.


How did you start Bull City Press and what inspired you to do so? What was the original intent behind starting this publication and what kind of values does Bull City Press hold?

The press is a happy accident. I was working an office job with two friends, and we discovered blink, a tiny magazine Robert West had published for several years. Though we didn’t know it, the magazine had changed editors and gone defunct. But we were so entranced by it. We wrote to the editor and asked if we could become her staff; we sent in money for subscriptions. Several months passed. We asked again. Nothing. So we wrote to Robert and said, “We’d like to start a magazine like blink. If you’ll share your subscriber list with us, we’ll send our new magazine to them for a year.” He did.

My friends were content with our magazine, Inch, but I wanted to start working on books. My initial plan was to make all of our chapbooks by hand– saddled stapled on good paper, just as Inch is– but when I solicited a book from Ellen C. Bush, what she sent was so stunning I couldn’t imagine it as anything other than a perfect-bound book. So I got into publishing as a kind of hobby, and the quality of the work made me get really serious about it. I wanted to do a service to the authors who’d entrusted me with such fine poems.

Over the years, a number of volunteers have become part of Bull City Press. When Origami Zoo Press was planning to shut its doors, we acquired all of their titles and Rebecca King came aboard. One of our former contributors reached out to help us form a partnership with The Frost Place, which has led to astounding chapbooks coming our way and some very special opportunities for our winners. What’s so special about that spirit of volunteerism is that it’s made us such a community-oriented press. None of us has yet had to draw a salary from the press, so we’ve been selling our books as cheaply as we can and committing to our authors for their whole careers– whether or not they continue to publish with us.

Don’t get me wrong– we do pay authors for their work, and one of my goals for the press is to one day be able to pay our editors, too. I think that’s ahead. Our core value has always been treating people right and being great literary citizens.

What types of positions are there at the press and how do they fit into each other? What is a typical day like at the press?

There is no typical day for a tiny, volunteer-run press! I think that’s what I love so much about it. We use Slack to communicate, so in an average day, I might talk with Noah to let him know about some good news from a former Inch contributor, chat with Cameron about how we can help a new title reach its readers, or compare notes with Julia about a fiction manuscript she’s editing. If I’m lucky, I’m boxing and shipping orders for at least a few minutes every day. Some months, I’m reading submissions for our chapbook contest or reading period until my eyeballs are about ready to fall out. Other months, I’ll be more focused on working with an author on the editorial process or producing envelopes for the new issue of Inch.

Our positions generally break down into Associate Editors, who work on acquiring and editing books, our editors and readers at Inch, and some support staff who help with a range of tasks associated with getting the books into readers’ hands– publicity, social media, contributor news. And I kind of do a little bit of all of that, as well as running our little warehouse in my basement.

What are some of the major challenges you have faced in establishing your own press?

Since the press was a happy accident, I had to learn everything from the ground up. And believe me, there was a steep learning curve. I made mistakes on just about everything at first, and almost killed the press outright a few times by over-ordering some of our early titles. Thankfully, I had a day job for the first ten years, so I was able to pump cash into making books and magazines.

The wonderful thing about the publishing industry is that so few small presses feel like they’re in competition with other small presses. There’s a ridiculous amount of support out there, whether it’s from CLMP or directly from people at other presses. For example, Martha Rhodes at Four Way Books, who seemed to me like a big New York publisher, has never hesitated to answer any question I had, no matter how insane or inane.

How has your work experience prepared you for this job?

I’ve worked in some wonderful and bizarre places: public schools, comedy theaters, a factory that made water monitors for nuclear power plants, a comic book store. Each one had something to teach me about the writing life and this press.

In public schools, I became convinced of the infinite capacity for good created by a dedicated group of individuals. The national narrative around the “greedy teacher” that grew out of Scott Walker’s battle with the Wisconsin teacher’s union could not have been more wrong. Most teachers aren’t greedy, because if they were, they’d be in another line of work. These are people who show up, day after day, in some of the most discouraging conditions in our country, and they go to battle for their kids. Because they believe. They believe in the power of an education to change lives. I learned in public schools to empower those believers, and to keep cultivating a sense of opportunity, because they really could do just about anything– an experience that’s been echoed by the impossibly talented and dedicated volunteers that have built Bull City Press over the years.

From comedy theaters, I learned some hard lessons about creative anxiety. I was the artistic director and director of the training center for a theater where talented performers would sometimes struggle for months on end. When you live in your head, where you develop a vision for the world as it doesn’t yet exist, that can be extremely frustrating, and recognizing that the tools available to you to express that world are still developing can be acutely disquieting. I learned in that environment to anticipate that anxiety– and to orient creative people to it. It’s easy to assume, “Oh, your book has been accepted for publication, so everything must be peachy,” but in truth, the editorial and design process is punishing and vulnerable for a lot of writers, especially if they’re doing it for the first time.

While I was in college, I was a stockboy in a factory that made water monitors for nuclear power plants. My days consisted of counting and re-counting diodes and transistors, and passing orders for the requisite parts to someone at another location. The stockroom was 100 degrees most days, and I was the only person working in the factory who didn’t have a Ph.D. in chemical or mechanical engineering, so you can imagine what the lunch-table conversation was like. It was drudgery, seemingly endless drudgery, but it taught me a lot about the painstaking precision that goes into anything worth doing. I still marvel at the fact that as a 19-year-old, I could make a small contribution to a device so indispensable, but of course, all great efforts are the product of hundreds and thousands of smaller efforts.

Part 2

Review of “Dynamite” by Anders Carlson-Wee

Within the pages of “Dynamite,” the reader will find a collection of poems that explode with emotion as Anders Carlson-Wee’s speaker experiences love and loss off and on the streets of America.
The first poem in Carlson-Wee’s chapbook is titled, “Dynamite” and speaks of a childhood game he and his brother used to play, where everything they threw at each other was dynamite. They would hurl everything from pine cones to choke-chains at each other until they were bruised and bloody. He ends this poem by saying:

I say a hammer isn’t dynamite.

He reminds me everything is dynamite.

Carlson-Wee turns this last stanza into the thesis of his chapbook, showing his readers through a series of poems that every encounter in one’s life leaves a lasting impact. Carlson-Wee backs up his claim by writing about everything as common as a photograph, to something as catastrophic as a flood and showing readers how each instance affected his life.

These pages are filled with the skeletons of those long ago lost, but not forgotten. Carlson-Wee writes as though their ghosts are whispering in his ear; his words occupy a space somewhere between reality and those he has lost. Carlson-Wee writes about the nursing home he grew up visiting his grandmother at but now, years after her passing, as he hitchhikes down Country 19, he can’t help but feel drawn to the lot where the nursing home once stood:

The woman asks me where I’m going

And I say as far as you can take me,

But as we pass the old folks home, I tell her to pull over.

He organizes his poems to tell a story. Each poem is plucked from the days Carlson-Wee spent hitchhiking or bumming rides on freight cars and is filled with the people or places he met on his journey. By the time readers reach the final destination, they will know every screw, every rail, and every nail that built the track of Carlson-Wee’s journey and where it lead him to”

It’s not about suffering. It’s not about fear.

We must peer out the *owl’s eye.

—from “Riding the Owl’s Eye”

Carlson-Wee swings from word to word, doing the poetic monkey bars; every word and phrase has a purpose and is connected, such that each poem hits the reader like a stick of dynamite.

 

*”circular hole on the porch of a Canadian Grainer train car, in which a train hopper car can ride in concealment” (Carlson-Wee 27)


anders_headshot-300x200
About the Author: Anders Carlson-Wee is a 2015 NEA Fellow and 2015 Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. His work has appeared in Narrative, New England Review, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Blackbird, Best New Poets, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading series. Winner of Ninth Letter’s Poetry Award and New Delta Review’s Editors’ Choice Prize, he holds an MFA in poetry from Vanderbilt University.

Review of “The Anatomist” by Taryn Schwilling

In Taryn Schwilling’s book of poetry The Anatomist, the desire for the body and the desire for knowledge of the body dominate her collection of poems. The detailed descriptions of the human body, as well as graphic descriptions of the bodies of animals in the section “Meats,” sensualize and romanticize parts of the body that are often seen as repulsing. The Anatomist is a must read with its unique writing style, and gripping, forceful imagery.

The erotic descriptions that permeate Schwilling’s poetry are seen in the collection “Hyster,” in the first section: “Venus rises on her pink shell/ Stem Swell upward and out”. Using Venus, the Roman goddess love and sexuality, Schwilling introduces her main subject- the female body. By focusing on Venus and the act of her rising from the ocean, Schwilling creates a sensual tone, making every aspect of the female body beautifully poetic. The diction used in this first section describing Venus rising from the ocean is sensual, with the repetition the word “swell,” which Schwilling uses throughout “Hyster” either as an illusion to a sexual organ or to a general sense of sexuality. In the ninth section of “Hyster,” she writes: “your appealing emptiness/ her slim his swell/ reminiscent promenade”. The “slim” and “swell” mentioned represent the different sexual organs of a man and woman, with the illusion to the sexual act seen in the combination of these two in the last few lines of the poem. In this poem the sexual act is not explicit, but rather the language Schwilling uses leaves the reader wrapped up the lyrical sound of the poem and unique diction, giving the sexual act and the sexual organs themselves these same qualities, making them a beautiful essential part to the poem.

Schwilling’s poetry appeals to the senses in way that is truly remarkable. The section “Meat,” features descriptions that project clear images and are hard to forget. The descriptions of the different animals and how they are butchered are detailed, leaving a clear image in the mind, however the descriptions play a specific function as parallels to the female body. Schwilling uses the various animal descriptions as a metaphor for the objectification of the female body, which is made more impactful with the gripping imagery of animals being slaughtered. In “A Vision of St. Eustace,” the speaker creates an artificial woman, with specific features: “Arrange the skin Grecian. I’m contemporary & you’re human. So lifelike. Arsenic soap or salt or alum. Your new museum eyes. Sewn up, splitting forth”. In the creation of this artificial female body, the poet shows the physical expectations society places upon women, and how only a man-made, artificial being could live up to every physical aspect society places upon women. Words like “soap,” “salt,” “sewn,” and “splitting” all have the same sound that the beginning creating a an almost robotic, artificial, like sound when combined with the short sentences.

The punctuation and line spacing Schwilling uses throughout her poems, is interesting in that punctuation is often not used or hardly used at all in certain sections, instead she uses larger spaces between words to show a change in thought. While this writing style does increase the tone in some poems, it can make the flow hard to follow, and the meaning elusive at times. The lack of punctuation can be seen in first stanza of the poem “Eris”: “She is laid out supplicant/ in a posture the opposite of/ feral heaviness”. The quote shows not only the lack of punctuation, but also the unique spacing, seen between “feral” and “heaviness” and between “posture” and “the.” While the spacing functions as a kind of punctuation, in that it forces the reader to pause, it can also be difficult to follow.

The Anatomist presents the female body in a uniquely poetic light, using every part of the body to create a story with sensual imagery that is hard to ignore or forget. Schwilling challenges the way society portrays only certain aspects of the female body as beautiful, and uses brilliant metaphors to show the unrealistic and dangerous beauty standards placed on women. By making aspects of the female body, like the womb, beautiful and brilliant, Schwilling works against the notion that a woman’s reproduction organs are gross and not something beautiful.


taryn-schwillingAbout the Author: Taryn Schwilling is a recipient of a Fulbright grant. Has recently lived, taught, and conducted research in Cambodia and Iraq. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Boise State University, Taryn is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Denver


About the Author of this Post: Madison Rehovsky is a senior at North Central College majoring in English Studies and History. She loves reading, drinking coffee, and collecting old books. She plans to move back to Minnesota to pursue a career in publishing or museum work.

Interview with Joshua Robbins

robbinsJoshua Robbins is the author of Praise Nothing (University of Arkansas Press, 2013). His recognitions include the James Wright Poetry Award, the New South Prize, selection for the Best New Poets anthology, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of the Incarnate Word. He lives in San Antonio. 


How did you get started writing? And did you always want to be a writer?

I suppose I started writing poems in high school, mostly imitations of Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds, David Bowie lyrics, as well as some fiction/prose modeled after William S. Burroughs and Jean-Paul Sartre. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing in terms of craft, nor did I plan on “becoming a writer.” But I do think those first steps were toward a path of apprenticeship in poetry that began in earnest in college and in my MFA program. I had no sense of writing as career choice until my poetry teacher in college, Laurie Lamon, pulled me aside and told me I could “make a career of poetry.” At the time, I was excited by the notion, but had no idea what that would mean for the future and the trajectory of my life in poetry.

 How long did you have to submit before you were published in a journal? 

I started submitting work in earnest around 2001 when I discovered that my MFA peers were doing so and finding success. I placed my first poem in The Canary River Review (which became The Canary and, later, Canarium Books) in 2002.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Wait. Be patient. Don’t submit your work until it’s ready. (You’ll know when that is.) Focus on learning the craft. Read, read, read. Read widely and deeply. I realize none of my answer so far is about actually trying to get published, but I’m reticent to give nuts and bolts advice to young authors because I’ve found that, over the last 5-10 years, undergraduates are incredibly anxious about publishing, which is astonishing to me. It’s a considerable problem with the po-biz and the focus on being a career writer. Believe me: there’ll be plenty of opportunities for worrying and publishing later. Now’s the time for reading and studying, searching your own poetics and voice, figuring it out. But, if you do need me to answer directly, I’d say look to get involved with literary publishers and literary arts organizations in your area. It’s important, I think, to get a sense of how publishing works and how other writers do it. Get involved in your school’s literary arts journal. Put together a reading series with some friends. Share your work in public. Give your poems an opportunity to interact with the community of actual people around you, then you can look to submit for print publication.

 Do you think there are any special challenges associated with getting a poetry book, such as Praise Nothing, published, compared to a novel?

I’ll be honest and tell you that the process for publishing a novel is one I cannot relate to in any way. Sure, it’s all “writing,” but the business end of fiction is wholly different from poetry, for the most part. My fiction-writer friends talk about getting agents and landing contracts, “advances,” which don’t exist in poetry. (Especially the advances.) For me, publishing Praise Nothing was the result of submitting the manuscript to contests over a two-year period. Sometimes I think people don’t realize that, for poets, getting a book published within the contest system can cost a significant sum of money, which also, I think, results in slamming doors in the faces of many writers who can’t afford to participate in the game. It’s really unfortunate.

 Do you have any writing rituals?

I used to get up at 4am every morning, make coffee, and get down to business writing. If I had any “rituals” in the past, I suppose they were more object oriented, more like talismans: a particular coffee mug, earplugs, hooded sweatshirt, a specific pen and notebook. Now that I have children (three boys: 4, 2, and 3 months), time doesn’t afford rituals. Or talismans. I jot notes on whatever’s around: receipts, envelopes, my arm. I’ve recently started making notes in Evernote on my phone and have found that, when I do have an extended period of time to just write, I can get into drafting much more quickly because I already have the raw materials at hand.

Could you explain your writing process to us?

I usually begin drafting longhand in a large notebook or on a legal pad and listening for the emerging language’s cadence and the line’s natural measure. After that, it’s long process of making pass after pass over the poem: counting syllables and scrapping the excess. In the past, I would usually work toward a three- or four- or five-beat line. Now, that’s not so much the case. For me, though, the process of revising is how I come to figure out the poem’s content, movement, figuration, etc., and what questions I want the poem to ask, what arguments I want to make.

 Who or what influences your writing? Do you have literary heroes?

I think influences change over time. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Adrienne Rich, Robert Lowell, and Charles Wright, were very important to me when I first started writing. I’d put all of them on my “literary heroes” list. Most recently, I think what influences my poetry most are my readings in theology, particularly in the area of theodicy and theopoetics.

 I noticed that in a few of your poems, religion, specifically heaven, comes up. I noticed this first in “Heaven As Nothing but Distance.” Would you be willing to elaborate on how/why this topic seems to influence some of your writing?

 

I am, quite simply, obsessed with matters of faith and doubt, with what I believe is a broken connection to the transcendent. Always have been. Poetry is my means for considering and examining this struggle. And it’s really the only mode of artistic expression I’ve got. The act of writing, the process, is the means by which I can begin to approach and, maybe, understand the disorder of my day-to-day life and, perhaps, become a means to locate some order, to locate meaning in the confusion and chaos of being.

 


About the author of this post: Nicholas Drazenovic is currently a senior at North Central College and is a co-editor of 30 North. He is studying English with a concentration in Writing, as well as Computer Science. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in either technical writing or software development.

Interview with Brittany Cavallaro

cavallaroBrittany Cavallaro is a poet, fiction writer, and old school Sherlockian. She is the author of the Charlotte Holmes novels from HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Books, including A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE and THE LAST OF AUGUST (forthcoming in February 2017). She’s also the author of the poetry collection GIRL-KING (University of Akron) and is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. She earned her BA in literature from Middlebury College and her MFA in poetry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she’s a PhD candidate in English literature at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She lives in Wisconsin with her husband, cat, and collection of deerstalker caps.


How did you get started writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer—I was pretty serious about it from a young age. I attended an arts boarding school and then went on to study writing through undergrad and grad school. I used to be a little concerned that I was missing out by not really exploring other paths, but I’ve come to realize that writing is less of a job and more of a practice, a way you collect and organize your thoughts and obsessions.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Focus for as long as you can on perfecting your craft. Read everything. Everything. Try to push yourself in new directions—write formally, write in genres you’re less comfortable in, take in different kinds of art. Try to wait until at least your last semester of undergrad before you’re really pushing to get published, so that you can focus until then on honing your work in a supportive environment.

Who or what influences your writing? Do you have literary heroes?

I think I have a lot of answers to this that aren’t necessarily the ‘right’ answer. I have writers whose work I love and admire—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, obviously, and Daphne du Maurier, John Berryman, A.S. Byatt. But I also read quite a bit of mass market fantasy (Mercedes Lackey, Jacqueline Carey), play a lot of immersive video games whose stories and characters get under my skin (Mass Effect, Bioshock), pull ideas from art history and YouTube and conversations with my husband. I think it’s really important to be honest about what inspires you, to try to be as porous as you can. There’s no reason to restrict yourself to loving things that other people have vetted as ‘important.’

Who are you currently reading that you find exciting?

I’m reading quite a bit of YA right now, which is always fun. I think that Parker Peevyhouse’s Where Futures End is an incredible, George Saunders/David Mitchell-inflected novel, and I really enjoyed Emily Henry’s The Love that Split the World.

Do you have any writing rituals? What does your process look like?

There are definitely things that I like to do or have around me when I’m setting up to write, though I try to be careful not to insist on them. Ultimately, I need to be able to work in a variety of places and situations! But I enjoy writing in my room, on my bed, with a candle burning. I try to light different candles for each project, which helps trigger some kind of sense memory. I also tend to play Dustin O’Halloran’s albums when I’m working—they’re familiar enough now that they serve as a kind of white noise, but they’re also atmospheric. I also do a lot of work in coffee shops, though, in the end, I find that’s better for more administrative tasks (email, email, email).

You’ve recently published your first young adult novel – congratulations! A Study in Charlotte (March 2016, Harpercollins) reimagines the classic tale of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson through the eyes of their young descendants Charlotte and Jamie. Were you a big Doyle fan growing up, or did you discover the fandom later in life?

Definitely a big Doyle fan when I was a kid, though my current obsession with Sherlockiana happened during grad school. I discovered the Granada television adaptation of the stories, and that led me back to the stories themselves. There was so much there. I felt like I could unpack them forever.

What inspired you to retell the story of Sherlock Holmes in a modern context?

Sherlock Holmes, as a character, has been reimagined in so many different ways—adaptations of the Doyle stories are really in vogue right now (though they’ve obviously never not been popular). But even though the story has been recast so many times, I was having a hard time finding an adaptation that was willing to imagine the genius as a woman. Which is crazy to me. When I have trouble finding a particular story, I try my hand at writing it. In the Charlotte Holmes books, I wanted to recast the detective as a troubled, morally ambiguous genius who happened to be a teenage girl, and then imagine how her life would be different because of it.

What do you want young readers to take away from A Study in Charlotte?

More than anything, I want to tell a good story that’s both an homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a feminist reworking of his stories. If A Study in Charlotte sends readers looking for the original Sherlock Holmes tales, I feel like I’ve done my job!


About the author of this post: Crystal Ice is a junior at North Central College where she studies English Writing, and is currently considering a program in Writing, Editing, & Publishing. A budding author, she enjoys writing in her spare time, and maintains two blogs while working on one of her many novels and poems.