Review of “Memoranda” by Michael Martone

Michael Martone’s little—quite literally—chapbook, Memoranda, does a good amount of work considering how much empty space is found on every page. With each ‘chapter’ focusing on another soul in the workforce, readers are left with a detailed, sometimes grimy view of society, as the readers take a glimpse into various aspects of the daily lives of different professions.

Structurally, this book is full of very, very small chapters, each averaging out to about forty to fifty words. These chapters are short in the extreme. The content of each follows a central theme of working life. That is to say, each chapter is a small peek into a different world of work. While one chapter may look at a Forest Service Forester, another follows a stenographer.

One of the things to be loved about Memoranda was its pace, which lets the reader read more in one sitting, compared to longer chapter books. Contrastingly, at least for me, this also meant having to go back and reread parts as I would begin to pick up pace and stop actually reading the content. And that’s where the stories actually take place: the content. Of course, the short style does have its place in the text: the shortness of the chapters can be seen as representative of the fact that there are so many different jobs that could have filled the pages. There isn’t possibly room for everyone, so Martone uses short chapters to quickly delve into one, then come back up for air almost immediately, before going back for another. It’s what Martone puts in each of those chapters that brings the book to life. Little splices such as “black box isn’t black but orange not orange more blood red not a box so much but not not missed” offer a look into the horrifying job of trying to transcribe contents of a cockpit recorder after being recovered from a wreckage site (13). The emotion Martone  fits into the few lines that each chapter contains is a deep can of sardines, packed in so tight that at first glance the reader can miss part of it. This was another part of the book that I loved: the little things really do matter in Memoranda.

Indeed, these little chapters pack quite a punch most of the time. Of course, every positive has its negative. While short chapter lengths are a great way for the reader to get quick, clean snippets of someone’s life, they also lend themselves naturally to being read too quickly. The chapter on the surveyor, which discusses “this fungus, 2,000 acres, like the antennae we’re installing” is a quick line that doesn’t hold much at first glance (6). As with the stenographer’s story, there is more to it that that. The size of the fungus is crazy! The surveyor’s account of an “Unexpected Environment Impact” has a massive amount of imagery associated with it (6). The only problem with that imagery is that Martone only gives the chapter two sentences to force the imagery into the reader’s mind. When a reader starts to pick up momentum, the little details can be easy to miss, and with chapters this short, everything is a little detail. Some readers enjoy this, but I prefer being able to at least get the gist of the surface meaning on the first round, then go back for the between-the-lines metaphors and imagery. Unfortunately, I just don’t get that with Memoranda. Indeed, this book seems to be asking its readers to read at what may be a different pace than they normally would in order to fully enjoy it.

Even still, Martone shows how a few good words can have more meaning than a hundred weaker words. When actually noticed, the imagery and emotion in stories, such as the when the climate analyst says, “Knowing more, we know less […] that blue cloudbank, disguised as smoke, it turns out, is smoke,” which offers insight into the realization that the climate is changing in a negative way,  is beautiful and insightful, but can also be easy to miss depending on your reading style (9). My main complaint was that this book forced me to read in a way that I normally don’t, but I think the content and skillful writing done by Martone more than makes up for the personal quarrels I may have with Memoranda. Because of this, I highly recommend reading it at least twice (to ensure nothing goes unnoticed).


10410600_10203829371801978_8128860793081392665_n_0 Michael Martone has written several chapbooks as well as works of nonfiction and fiction (including a fictitious autobiography). Martone was born and grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He attended Butler University and graduated from Indiana University. He holds the MA from The Writing Seminars of The Johns Hopkins University. Martone has won two Fellowships from the NEA and a grant from the Ingram Merrill Foundation. His stories and essays have appeared and been cited in the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Stories and The Best American Essays anthologies. He is currently a Professor at the University of Alabama where he has been teaching since 1996.


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.

 

Review of “Bright Dead Things” by Ada Limón

Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón is a compilation of work that describes what it is to be at home, how to identify the self in physical settings; how to “be” in the “where you are”. The quality of the poems themselves is like miniature stories, each with their own tiny crescendos and fades that follow recognizable story arcs, making a number of the poems prose poetry. The poem “Mowing” serves as a perfect example of Limón’s ability to capture depth in small moments. She writes “The man across the street is mowing 40 acres on a small lawn mower. It’s so small, it must take him days, so I imagine that he likes it” (7).  It is this quizzical nature that is an aspect of Limón’s voice that I appreciate as a reader the most: she observes ordinary instances and can expand upon the details.

In Ada Limón’s book, the sense of questioning surrounding spaces is easy to connect with. Her writing is fixated on two concepts: space and identity. These two themes intermingle in her poems throughout the book, but appear prominently in the poems “The Great Blue Heron of Dunbar Road”, “Prickly Pear and Fisticuffs”, and “Before”. Her ability to marry these ideas, one tangible and one only conceptual, in a way that is relatable into a wide spectrum of readers is where her skills are truly exemplary.

Limón does not need to depend on metaphors that are unrealistic, or evoke a kind of mystical, transcendent story-telling to be a compelling poet. Her writing is based in a realism that is both relatable and unique to the author’s world. It brings realness to Limón as a person as well; she becomes more than just an author; she becomes a character herself in the poetry. Her insight on her own world and ability to transfer these feelings into poetry is another element that makes Bright Dead Things so bright.

If you are looking for poetry that reminds you of your home, your childhood, and of all the small pieces of life that exist, then Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things, will be the ultimate book of poetry to read.


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Ada Limón is the author of four books of poetry, including Bright Dead Things, which was named a finalist for the 2015 National Book Award in Poetry and one of the Top Ten Poetry Books of the Year by The New York Times. Her other books include Lucky Wreck, This Big Fake World, and Sharks in the Rivers. She serves on the faculty of Queens University of Charlotte Low Residency M.F.A program, and the 24Pearl Street online program for the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She also works as a freelance writer splitting her time between Lexington, Kentucky and Sonoma, California.


About the author of this post:  Ryann Overstreet is a junior at North Central College where she studies Writing and Philosophy. She has two orange cats that she is obsessed with and eats a box of pasta a day.

 

Interview with Oliver de la Paz

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Oliver de la Paz is the author of four collections of poetry, including Names Above HousesFurious Lullaby (SIU Press 2001, 2007), Requiem for the Orchard (U. of Akron Press 2010), and Post Subject: A Fable (U. of Akron Press 2014), as well as the winner of the Akron Prize for poetry chosen by Martìn Espada. He is the co-editor with Stacey Lynn Brown of A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (U. of Akron Press 2012). He co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, a non-for-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Asian American Poetry and serves on the Association of Writers and Writing Programs Board.  A recipient of a NYFA Fellowship Award and a GAP Grant from Artist Trust, his work has appeared in journals like Virginia Quarterly Review, North American Review, Tin House, Chattahoochee Review, and in anthologies such as Asian American Poetry:  The Next Generation. He is the music editor for At Length Magazine and he teaches in the MFA program at Western Washington University.


 

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

My first publication ever was a sestina about Filipino rooster fighting, and basically I published that poem right after college in West Wind Review. All told, it didn’t take me long to get published the first time. However, it took a few years to get published after that initial success.

Do you make your living as a writer, and if not, do you aspire to?

I make a living as a teacher and academic BECAUSE I write. I never made much money for my writing, but I certainly have crafted a life because I can do what I enjoy and because I can share what I do.

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

Read. Read. Read. First way to have a good two-way conversation is to choose to be a listener. Know what the publishers want and read selections of their presses. I learned about great presses by reading great books and then tracking, via the acknowledgments page, the journals that had first published some of the work.

How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

I used to have lots of time to spend on a poem and I would do that—revising incessantly. Now, with a steady job, three kids, and lots of advocacy work and service, I have no time. So I developed shortcuts—I tend to write in sequences now more than I ever had. I use similar titles for poems as ways of getting me started quickly into the work. And I’m more patient with staying still on a tonal premise.

Is there anyone’s work you are currently reading that you find exciting?

I’ve been reading a lot of hybrid stuff—work that combines visual images and poetry/text. Among the books I recently read that do this sort of thing are Monica Ong’s Silent Anatomies, Todd Kaneko’s The Dead Wrestler Elegies, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Philip Metres’s Sand Opera, and Matthea Harvey’s If The Tabloids are True What Are You.

How did you get starting in writing? and did you always want to be a writer?

Oh, that’s tough to answer. I was always writing as a kid because I was an only child and my family lived in the barrens of Eastern Oregon (If you watch the news, the takeover of the Oregon Wildlife Refuge happened not an hour and a half away from my home town). It was, however, mostly a hobby. I lived in my imagination to keep myself company and I had a healthy imaginative life with lots and lots of books and lots of trips to the library. I, of course, had no ambition of becoming a writer. Like all immigrant kids, I was expected to become a doctor or a lawyer, but that didn’t happen.

Is there a reason plenty of your works have a country setting?

I mentioned just above that I grew up in Eastern Oregon and that landscape codified my aesthetics. There’s a particular smell and texture of the air there that’s difficult to articulate to someone who’s not from there. And part of what I try to do to non-Eastern Oregonian readers is show what that’s like, even though I’ll ultimately fail at it.

Was there anything from your youth that inspired you as a writer?

Oh, all of it! I was a big reader, but also a kid who was outside almost every day. Ontario, Oregon had its specific rural narrative and tone. Much of that life I draw from, though sometimes other passions take hold. Right now I’m inspired by grotesque photographs, but I think part of that inspiration comes from my mother’s medical books which she had everywhere in the house. I used to gawk at all the pictures of the diseased subjects with the black bars over their eyes. Strangely, that’s my latest inspiration.


About the author of this post: Josh Soldati is a senior majoring in Media Studies with a passion for animation.

Review of “War of the Foxes” by Richard Siken

Richard Siken’s book of poetry, War of the Foxes, explores the inner and subjective world of emotions, self-perception, and the imperfect pursuit of artistic expression. Within most of his free verse poems, Siken consistently uses the metaphor of painting to express not only the act of making art, but also the processes of human perception, connection and communication. The collection will especially delight readers familiar or interested in both the fine art of painting and creative writing. The poems function on multiple levels of visual aesthetics simultaneously, blurring the line between images evoked by the written form, and those in traditionally viewed in pictures and paintings.

By using the imagery of painting, Siken creates a strong metaphor for the act of making art itself. The opening poem begins with a discussion of the art’s inability to perfectly imitate reality, yet despite this, asserts art’s value and purpose: “The paint doesn’t move the way light reflects,/so what’s there to be faithful to?/ I am faithful to you, darling. I say to the paint.” (lines 1-3). The purpose of art is not necessarily to be true to reality, but rather to be true to the artist’s personal perception of reality, and to act as a tool of communication. This metaphor allows Siken to delve into the role aesthetics play in the navigation and negotiation of identity and interpersonal relationships through the art and aesthetics of the actual poems. While this approach may seem metaphysical, complex, and confusing, the poems read and present themselves naturally and seamlessly, and the emphasis on images and their intuitive, imprecise nature works, for the most part, to capture the intangible and abstract experiences involved in identifying and expressing the self.

There are few poems that do not touch on the metaphor of painting, and those that do not follow so closely to the theme of identifying and expressing the self that they hardly feel out of place. It is therefore interesting to find that the title poem, “War of the Foxes,” does not reference the process of painting. Instead, the reader finds vivid images of animals, nature, and people populating shifting and surreal anecdotes that flow into each other throughout the poem, centering on the struggles of finding, maintaining and communicating the self to others. At the beginning of the poem, two “twin” rabbits are chased by a fox, and to escape, one hides inside the other, and the fox is tricked into letting them go because he believes he can catch the remaining rabbit that must be unable to run away (l. 1-18). This instance is a vivid contemplation on the issue of the self and how it is or isn’t to be surrendered in a relationship or even community. To survive, one of the rabbits completely loses itself as an individual by merging with the other rabbit. Even though they animals survive the fox, the question is raised, at what cost? And more circumspectly, and much in keeping with Siken’s cyclical themes, a second question is raised: were the “twin bunnies” that different in the first place? The third stanza states: “This is the story of Pip and Flip, the bunny twins. We say that once there were two and now there is only one” (l. 12). The notion is troubling, and by the end of the stanza, it’s clear that losing one’s identity is disturbing, and possibly unavoidable to some extent when negotiating a relationship with others: “Together we trace out the trail away from doom. There isn’t hope, there is a trail. I follow you.” (l. 18-19). “War of the Foxes” works to solidify the discourses presented in the poems before and after it, clarifying what it means to express the self in any way, and the dangers that follow suit.

If the collection warrants criticism, it’s that the poems feel obsessive over the theme of negotiating and navigating the self. By the latter portion of the book, it’s predictable that, thematically, the poems will not bring about a satisfying resolution to the challenges that come with defining the self. They end presenting an existential sense of aimlessness in the speaker and other characters, and while the act of expression via art and aesthetics offers some relief and outlet for this conflict, it is a partial relief. It is not the theme itself that is problematic; that conflict is essential to the collection. Rather, it’s that readers may not need to witness every poem to understand the main conflict; once this was discovered, there was no further place to progress and each subsequent poem felt less significant. However, with this repetition, Richard Siken could very well be demonstrating the cyclical nature of the mind, and the illogical cycle of preserving and discovering the self while trying to sustain outside relationships from others that simultaneously demand compromise of the self. Nevertheless, Siken masters poetic and artistic imagery, and his description of human consciousness is striking and perceptive.


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Richard Siken is a poet, painter, filmmaker, and an editor at Spork Press. He is a recipient of two Arizona Commission on the Arts grants, two Lannan Residency Fellowships, and a Literature Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 

 

 


About the author of this post:  Meaghan Green is a senior at North Central College majoring in English Writing and Studio Art. She’s inspired by history, nature, and storytelling.

Interview with Corey Van Landingham

 

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Corey Van Landingham is the author of Antidote, winner of the 2012 The Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry. A former Wallace Stegner Poetry Fellow at Stanford University, her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Best American Poetry 2014, Boston Review, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is currently the 2015-2016 Emerging Writer Lecturer at Gettysburg College.


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

I always worry that this story sounds a little precious, but it’s true: one day, when I was about five, I walked into the kitchen and told my mother that I was going to write a poem. Of course, I couldn’t write it down, so I dictated it to her, and she transcribed it into this tiny notebook with multicolored teddy bears across the cover. It’s still lurking along with other sentimentals, somewhere… But, this didn’t come out of nowhere, as my mother read me all kinds of poetry when I was younger, like Silver Pennies, Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, etc. Looking back on that first poem I “wrote,” I knew what a poem should sound like—I had some sense of a rhythm in my head—but that was also the sing-songy procession of poetry written by people long since dead. It wasn’t until college, really, that I started reading contemporary poetry. And one can’t really say that they’re a writer in all seriousness until they know the world they’re writing into, I don’t think. Though writing sometimes took a backseat, I always thought of myself as a poet (for better or for worse). After changing my major to English my freshman year (I went with International Relations in mind, but, after the first English course I took—The History of Lyric Poetry—I knew I was in the wrong world), the writing track stuck.

How long did you have to submit before you first got published in a journal? If you could do it again, what would you do differently, if anything?

Like most writers, I probably submitted too early, and too often. But that isn’t to imply that I would change anything. It’s a necessary—and ecstatic—moment, thinking that your work is finished, that it’s worthy. It was probably two years, between when I submitted by first poem and when I had one accepted. I sent garbage, mostly, though I didn’t know it at the time. Through this process, however, I got used to rejection. It helped me to view my poems more objectively, less like precious gems. Yes, they were flawed. I could come to see that, after a poem was rejected over and over again. That said, it also bolstered some of my style, my voice. There were things I would never change, no matter how many journals rejected it. That was important, developing my poetic backbone, in a way.

Do you have any writing rituals? What is your process?

I have had many rituals, ones that I sometimes return to, dip back into, ones that morph, ones I shed. Hopefully I’ll have many more down the line. As for process, I think: do what works. For some people that will always look the same. For me, it changes, just as I change, my location changes, my circumstances, moods, relationships, jobs change. In college I would write to music (whatever indie band I thought I should like at the moment). In graduate school, I went to the same coffee shop and sat at the same window seat and ordered the same thing. For many years I had to leave my house to write; there was something about not contaminating the poems with my mundane existence, where I slept and ate and swept dead ladybugs into the trash. Too, whatever I was writing in public had to be really good, I thought then. Someone might peer over and think, she’s spent three hours on that?! For years I would do elaborate word clusters—filling up pages of my journals with words from whatever I was currently reading, sometime copying down the syntax of a poem or two that I liked—before I could begin a poem. Now that I don’t have as much time to write, I get going a bit faster. I keep notes on my phone for poem ideas, for lines, so that when I have a day free to write, most of what I need is already available. Necessity for writing always: a hot beverage of some sort.

Who or what do you think is the main influence on your writing? Do you have any literary heroes, and if so, what do you love about their writing?

Just as I change, as a writer, so does my influence. It used to be poets whose language was lush and surreal, poets whose words were strange and luxurious and beautiful. Something I’ve always been drawn to, however—now more than ever—is poetic statement, moments when lyric imagism is ruptured by some rhetorical force. Jorie Graham has been quite influential, for a long time, for this, as well as Joanna Klink, and, more recently, Linda Gregerson, who I would name as a literary hero. I’m enamored with the performative rhetoric of her poems, how she interweaves narratives while constantly resisting narrative’s tyranny. She is smart as hell, and I’m constantly learning from her poetry. Not just from her elaborate, winding syntax, her trenchant eye and ear, and her keen sense of drama, but from what populates the poems: history, myth, art, science, politics. This layering of the reading experience—the sheer pleasure of the language, the deftness of craft, the insightful statements—is what I’m always looking for in poems; work that sustains after multiple readings.

What have you read recently that made you excited?

While I haven’t read the actual book yet, as it comes out in March, I’m excited to read Kimberly Grey’s The Opposite of Light. Her attention to how language is constructed, to how it constructs us, is fascinating. And the poems are just breathtaking. Vievee Francis’s Forest Primeval, Rickey LaurentiisBoy with Thorn, Casey Thayer’s Self-Portrait with Spurs and Sulfur, and Phillip WilliamsThief in the Interior are all newer books filled with inventive, and important, work.

Tell us about your recent poem, “Epithalamium” and the story behind it. Do you remember when you first heard the story in the news? What prompted you to write about it?

I don’t remember exactly when I heard about the story in the news, but I remember how it seemed so episodic. Though this was the first time, I believe, that a drone strike killed civilians at a wedding, it’s something that’s happened for years across the Middle East. “Before any strike is taken,” said President Obama in 2013, “there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured—the highest standard we can set.” Utilizing the drone to set our highest standard terrifies me, for many reasons, but I also, of course, realize that the terror I feel is utterly removed from any real sense of personal threat or danger. How I, how many of us here in the United States, receive the news is always in some form of abstraction. Watching the news in the gym, say, from the treadmill, seeing death tolls scroll across the bottom of the screen, how language becomes a kind of ticker-tape—it mediates understanding, empathy. Empathy requires distance. So does poetry. So does the drone. I’m trying to figure out how these all relate, while being aware of my own distant position. The inability to fully understand or relate to the killing of civilians during a wedding in Yemen is part of the poem’s “problem”—it tries to latch onto the wedding as a common experience, and, ultimately, fails.

Your book Antidote has been described as emotive, dark, and even haunted. Can you explain some of the inspiration that drove the works it contains?

Well, the major inspirations were the death of my father and breaking up with my fiancé. The minor inspirations, however, are weirder and wider—my mother’s microscopes (she was a microbiologist), my father’s cameras (he was, among many things, a photographer), Indiana and its bizarro weather, Alain Resnais, the landscape of the small, mountain-valley town where I grew up in Southern Oregon, Isadora Duncan, Surrealism and surrealism, and a lot (a lot) of alone time in a creaky, old attic apartment in a house the town rumored to be haunted by one of its earliest residents.

Antidote is composed of over 40 works of poetry. This was clearly no easy feat. How long did it take you to put together such an extensive collection, and what did that process look like?

To be honest, most of it came quickly. Most of Antidote was written during the last year of my MFA at Purdue, when I had enough space from my father’s death to begin to write elegies and when I was in the white-hot heat of a breakup. That combination—the distance and the immediacy—propelled the book forward. I wrote at least three poems a week at that time, a period of production I doubt I’ll ever be able to reproduce. Of course, the poems have been revised and revised and revised, after, but the material seemed ever-present at the time.

What is the one question you wish people would ask you about your work? Will you answer it for us?

I wish people would ask about my fears for my work, about what I worry about most when writing, revising, etc. I’m always interested in hearing this from other poets, as more than anything it seems humanizing, something often more specific and relatable. We can talk in such grandiose, abstract ways about what we want our poetry to do, but talking about what we don’t want it to do might be more tangible.

As an answer, I fear that my older work is willfully strange, at times. That wild language can obfuscate meaning. That it relies too much on the insistence of anaphora and imperative. In my newer work, I am constantly worrying about responsibility. Why can I write/say anything important about the drone? With my reliance on statement, am I too didactic? Is there enough mystery? Do I aestheticize the suffering of others in an unthinking manner? I hope not, but that fear is ever-present.


About the author of this post: Crystal Ice is a sophomore 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.

Interview with Brian Brodeur

BrianBrodeur_profile_picBrian Brodeur is the author of the poetry collections Natural Causes (Autumn House Press 2012) and Other Latitudes (University of Akron Press 2008), as well as the poetry chapbooks Local Fauna (Kent State University Press 2015) and So the Night Cannot Go on Without Us (WECS Press 2007). New poems, essays, and interviews appear in American Poetry Review, Best American Poetry (online), The Hopkins Review, Measure, The Missouri Review, River Styx, Southwest Review, and The Writer’s Chronicle. Brian curates the blog “How a Poem Happens,” an online anthology of over 200 interviews with poets. Assistant Professor of English at Indiana University East, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Whitewater River Valley.


 

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

We’re beginning at the beginning! I’d always enjoyed making: building mud pies, writing songs, drawing caricatures, busking for beer money (I actually did this). But I didn’t get serious about writing until college when I took an introductory, multi-genre creative writing course that exposed me to the work of 20th century poets like Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, and Frederico Garcia Lorca. Before this, I didn’t know what was even possible in poetry: what poets could do with line, image, metaphor, tone, and form. Ever since, as Stevens characterizes the imaginative life, I’ve been trying to catch tigers in red weather.

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

I got lucky. My first published poems appeared in 2003, the year I began submitting to journals in earnest. Well, that’s not exactly true. These were the first poems of mine published in journals and magazines with which I’d never had an affiliation. Before this, I’d placed a few pieces (fiction and poetry) in venues associated with my undergraduate and graduate institutions. But in 2003, while I was taking graduate courses at George Mason University, I began to think I might actually have a future in poetry. Thus ended any chance I’d ever had of becoming wealthy.

Do you have an agent? If so, how and when did you get one? Do you think agents are necessary?

Poets don’t typically have agents, unless they’re doing fifty readings a year. I am not in high demand.

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

Don’t worry about publishing. Read everything. Write your face off. By which I mean: Try to figure out who you are and who you can become through writing and reading. Don’t get too cozy with any one style, form, or even genre. Don’t limit yourself because of prevailing tastes, politics, theory, or philosophy. Literature transcends these things. Don’t write for the market. The market does not exist. Stay away from abstractions and clichés. Don’t follow anyone’s advice too closely. Don’t listen to me. Stop reading this.

Do you have any writing rituals? If you do, what is your process?

Get up early. Drink coffee. Sit down. Write.

Who or what influences your writing? Who are your literary heroes?

The list is long. Here are a few poets I’m always returning to: William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Thomas Hardy, E. A. Robinson, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Robert Hayden, Donald Justice, Derek Walcott, Hayden Carruth.

 How do you think your writing has evolved over time?

This is a difficult question. I’ve become harder on myself, I think, particularly with issues of form. I’ve always been attracted to the old measures of English-language poetry, especially iambic pentameter, as well as the sonnet. But I’ve grown impatient with the slackness of line I used to allow myself to get away with. I also like splicing genres, seeing how far I can push a narrative-lyric poem, for example, without the piece degenerating into prose fiction. But, as intimated above, I’ve always felt an allegiance to the lyrical impulse that often occasions a poem. Song and story. Something embedded in my marrow bones won’t allow me to dispense with either.

What is the question no one has ever asked you about your writing? What is your answer to that question?

This may sound rudimentary or flippant or silly, but I’m curious about why writers aren’t more enamored with what seems the miraculous fact of any piece of literature: How does the writer, using only the signs and symbols of language, inspire, terrify, disquiet, and incite the reader? In other words, how does the writer make her work live on the page? I’m sure writers wonder about this all the time, actually, but we’re probably too embarrassed to discuss it in any public venue. It seems so simple, obvious—even absurd. But I don’t have an answer to this question. Or I have too many answers. Which is probably the same thing.

I’ve read several of your poems, but Holy Ghost and After the Accident both stood out in particular. Going off of the foreshadowing present in Holy Ghost, what made you want to write about the light being broken against the knives in the drawer? Did you consider writing those particular lines in a different way?

I like that phrase, foreshadowing present, even if “present” can be misinterpreted “gift.” Can you imagine that scenario? “Happy Valentines, Dear—I’ve purchased you an expensive foreshadowing present! You’d better unwrap it quickly, it’s … foreshadowing!”

After the Accident also seems to possess the same foreshadowing in a scene sometime in the future. Did you intend to draw parallels between these two poems when you wrote them? Are they both describing similar scenes?

Funny you should mention that. Both “Holy Ghost” and “After the Accident” appear as two parts of a four-part sequence titled “Snapshots” in my first book, Other Latitudes (2008). This book is filled with menacing images like glinting knives, and characters that find themselves in hospital beds or worse. But I promise it’s not all grotesquery and gloom!


About the author of this post: Lauren Banas is a sophomore at North Central College and is currently studying English Writing. Stemmed from a life-long love of reading, she is a constant writer of fiction, specifically that of the fantastical variety. She loves experimenting with new literature though and hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

Review of “Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals” by Patricia Lockwood

Poet Patricia Lockwood has received a deluge of positive reviews for her work, and 2014’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals will fare no differently. The new poetry collection features poems such as “Is Your Country as He or She in Your Mouth” – the poem from which Lockwood takes the name of the book – “The Fake Tears of Shirley Temple,” and, her viral sensation, “Rape Joke.” The cover art is an original work of cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt, the same artist used for Lockwood’s first publication. The two-tonal, white and green jacket art features an all-white silhouette of a hybrid human-deer, featuring two sets of sharp antlers, fanged teeth and a wiry tongue. This is set upon a heavily blue-green backdrop splattered with crude, toon-like details of leaves. This, along with the haunting title, sets the mood for Lockwood’s strange and elusive poetry; a mood that is tense with the unification of nature and sexuality, the human and the inhuman.

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Lockwood is unbelievably frank in her metaphoric and sometimes literal language. Her ability to marry the natural with the unnatural is as seamless as turning a deer into a porn star. Equally praiseworthy is her integration of pop culture into works that seem to belong in a culture all their own. In “The Whole World Gets Together and Gangbangs a Deer,” she writes “Every deer gets called Bambi at least once in its life, every deer must answer to Bambi.” Conjuring up images of childhood films, and walks in the woods, Lockwood twists the childhood imagery. The seemingly universal deer nickname suddenly becomes a frightening call to the loss of innocence.

Her viral sensation, “Rape Joke,” lives up to its fame. The irony of the piece is in the writer’s moment of worry that all she’d be known for was the poem about the rape joke.   Stylistically, the poem is denser than many of her others, less lyrical, and more like prose-poetry. Almost every line begins: “The rape joke is”, a statement that readies the reader for the following definitions of the rape joke itself. Lockwood often personifies objects and abstractions in her poetry, and the rape joke hauntingly takes the identity of the rapist himself, a chilling move which resonates through the rest of the book. She writes, “The rape joke is if you write a poem called Rape Joke, you’re asking for it to become the only thing people remember about you.” But, whether or not Lockwood is sincere in her fear “Rape Joke” becoming her signature work, it seems it already is. Rape Joke was selected to be in The Best American Poetry 2014 and won the Pushcart Prize, awarded to poetry, essays and small fictions etc., published in small presses.

Lockwood should rejoice; “Rape Joke” and her collection are worthy of any bookshelf for their strange charms and cultural appeal alone. The poetry in this collection is beautiful, dreamlike, and startling like a nightmare, all qualities which amount to some of the loveliest poetry conceived in the last few years.


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Patricia Lockwood’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Tin House, and Poetry. She is the author of Balloon Pop Outlaw Black (Octopus Books, 2012), Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals (Penguin Books, 2014), and the viral internet sensation “Rape Joke” (The Awl, 2013).


 

About the author of this post: Ryann Overstreet is a junior at North Central College where she studies Writing and Philosophy. She has two orange cats that she is obsessed with and eats a box of pasta a day.

 

Interview with Emilia Phillips

emilia-phillips-by-tracy-tanner-summer-2015Emilia Phillips is the author of two poetry collections from the University of Akron Press, Signaletics (2013) and Groundspeed (forthcoming 2016), and three chapbooks, most recently Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike (Bull City Press, 2015). She is the Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Centenary College of New Jersey, poetry faculty for the Tinker Mountain Writers’ Workshop, and the interviews editor for 32 Poems


Your poetry collection, Groundspeed, is coming out in 2016. Is there anything you’d like to tell us about it?

I wrote it because I was afraid not to write it. The poems were written during or after the death of my brother and while I was being treated for melanoma. It was compulsively written, born out of fear for my own life and those I loved, so for me the stakes are incredibly high. Because of the poems’ insistence, the language is much more straightforward than the poems in my first book; Signaletics wanted to preserve a connection to mystery and Groundspeed wants to—but, I’m afraid, doesn’t—get answers.

I noticed in the poems “Phaeacia’s Orchard” that you reference the Greek god, “Eros,” and in the poem “Groundspeed,” you mention the Norse spirit “Valkyrie.” Do you have an interest in mythology?’

You know, our greatest mythology is a complex system of symbols whose meanings, narratives, and details differ depending upon the slant, background, and experience of those revealing the mythology to us. That mythology is language. If someone has an interest in language—and Western culture—that person should have an interest in mythology. Our language and our cultural narratives are established upon the backs of that great turtle. If you’re a writer, you’re conversing with it anyway.

When did you first start writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

As a kid, I had an ongoing comic series called The Adventures of Really, Really Big Eyeball Man, and I wrote songs (the first one I remember was about a health food cereal my dad gave me and I rebranded as “Dirty Teeth Cereal” because it looked like stained baby teeth). I had lots of imagined narratives that I would entertain for years, many too cliché to indulge and divulge now. I also had an elaborate character system on AOL Instant Messenger that I kept up for years—you laugh, but I really think those were some of my first exercises in persona. Later, I got really into music and so I wrote some bad love songs to sing with my guitar, and I spun my wheels in the mud of some (now incredibly embarrassing) fanfiction. I had a quarter-long creative writing class in high school, which was fine but it didn’t really ignite the fire. I had a couple of great English teachers that at least got me to declare an English: Pre-Law major when I went to college. I had an Intro to Creative Writing class with a poet named Earl Braggs, and that’s when I fell for writing. From there I took poetry and fiction workshops every semester. I got involved in the writers’ conference there, and I went to Europe with other creative writing students. I had two other teachers—Richard Jackson, a poet, and Tom Balázs, a fiction writer—who set me on a good path in writing and reading.

When were you first published? Can you tell me about the experience?

I was first published in my undergraduate lit mag, The Sequoia Review, and then shortly thereafter, Pamela Uschuk and William Pitt Root, who I’d met at the Meacham Writers’ Workshop at my undergrad school, selected me as the “Discovery Poet” for the journal Cutthroat. They took four poems, and I suddenly felt like I could actually do this poetry thing. They were so kind and supportive, and I’m not sure I would’ve made that leap from writing to submitting without them.

How has your writing evolved over time?

Oh, man. You know, I did a reading last year in Venice Beach and the reading series’ coordinator told me that he read a lot of my work but none of it sounded like it was from the same person. I agree and disagree. I’ve taken a number of formal approaches, but I think there are certain concerns and obsessions—the body, forensics, ephemera and ephemerality, the ineffable, etc.—that carry through all these poems.

I will say that that the first book, Signaletics, was interested in liminal spaces, particularly as that concept relates to the body, e.g. forensics, criminality, automata, and so on.  I wanted to know, how can we reconnect the body to mystery? But it was also a book about anxiety, and so there are times when it uses mystery as a means for the speakers to be seen and hidden at the same time.

Bestiary of Gall, the chapbook after the book, was a palette cleanser; it was full of fragmented poems about animals or animalistic characteristics of humans. The poems were pretty experimental in terms of what they left out, what they weren’t willing to say.

Then came a chapbook-length poem in sections called Beneath the Ice Fish Like Souls Look Alike, which I wrote entirely in one weekend, in a lull while working on Groundspeed. This chapbook responds to a number of influences: stop motion animation, especially Czech surrealist artists like Jan Svankmajer and Jiri Barta and the American duo the Quay Brothers; photographs of abandoned places found on the internet, also known as “ruin porn”; and the poems of my dear friend Gregory Kimbrell’s first book The Primitive Observatory, due out in March 2016 from the Crab Orchard Series, which have no allegiances to personal experience but rather, in some zoetropic view of a imagined, occultish past turned immediate. Beneath the Ice recounts the “lives” of objects in a place once abandoned, now reencountered by a new wave of people—of wanderers, if you will—who encounter the place, but because they aren’t native to the place, of the “old stock” now gone, they have no names; they are known by their roles, The Citizen, The Diplomat, etc. We focus on objects, animals, and people in equal measure. Because of the abandonment, even apocalypse, these are sparse sections, many of which started out as simply four lines. In some ways, the poems themselves allowed me to wipe the slate clean for my own process, in much the same way that the land is wiped clean.

A lot of your poems evoke strong imagery for me. What’s your process when it comes to writing poetry?

Sometimes I write in my head when walking or driving. Sometimes I write in my notebook. Sometimes I write with my students when I give them an exercise. Sometimes I have to go to the word processor. Sometimes I have to write and rewrite notes on a poem for months, even years, before I can ever write it. Sometimes an idea comes to me and I sit down and I write a nearly complete poem. Sometimes I’ll think I’m done with a poem (or a book, for that matter) and then I’ll send it to someone and, before they can respond, I know what I need to change. Sometimes I need an outside reader to know if it’s a poem, and sometimes I just know.

I will say that I keep a writing notebook, a leather-bound Cavallini & Co. with watermarked paper; it’s just gorgeous, and there’s something about it’s materiality that makes me think of permanence (this nice, leather-bound volume) and impermanence (it’s just markings with a pen on a page). I keep disparate notes on anything and everything. I have notes about poems. Quotes from what I’m reading (“My vagabondage / is unlonelied by poems” — Fanny Howe). Doodles. Strange things I overheard (“I ate one pound of Swedish fish!”). Odd business names (“A Leg Up Dog Grooming”). Roadsigns and roadside sights (Abandoned church with sign “New Hope Church”). Reactions to art in museums. A record of facts about oddities or alternative history. Notes about what I did that day (although these I find less compelling). I also listen to books as much as I read them, as this reminds of our oral traditions and reconnects me with sound. I try to read widely and uniquely. I indulge my obsessions.

Right now, while I’m teaching, I try to keep Fridays reserved for writing. I’m currently at work on a third manuscript, which is at 70 pgs., but I have more to do. This book is called Hollow Point, after the type of bullet, and it explores what I’m calling “the choreography of violence” many people, especially women, have to step through in order to live. I’ve also been working on lyric essays, but I keep going back and forth between including them in this manuscript and reserving them for their own book. I like to work on projects, as that helps me get started every time I sit down and look at the page, but I don’t necessarily think I engage on “project books.” I like looking at the macro and micro levels of writing, and I think the arc and tension of a poem should be duplicated in the arc and tension of a book.

Do you have any advice to offer aspiring poets?

Be generous to others—and yourself. Don’t expect everything all at once and, better yet, never expect anything. But don’t ever apologize for the quality poems or your short stories or your essays; know what they are and be proud of them. But never be prideful! Never “find your voice.” Always search for it.


About the author of this post: Brittany Nawara is a senior who studies graphic design at North Central College. She loves art and music and likes to bake in her spare time.

Interview with Rebecca Dunham

imageRebecca Dunham grew up on the coast of southern Maine and earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia, an M.A. from Hollins University, an M.F.A. in Poetry from George Mason University, and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Missouri. She has published three books of poetry: Glass Armonica (Milkweed Editions, 2013,) The Miniature Room (Truman State University Press, 2006), and The Flight Cage (Tupelo Press, 2010). Her fourth collection of poems, Cold Pastoral, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, AGNI, The Journal, FIELD, The Antioch Review, The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Third Coast, Crazyhorse, and Colorado Review.


How did you get started writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

When I was in junior high, I tried to write my own Nancy Drew mystery, mainly because I loved the female detective character and wanted to create my own mystery for her. That only lasted a few pages, at which point I realized that writing was a lot harder than I’d thought it would be! I haven’t always wanted to be a writer, but I have always been a voracious reader, and that love of reading led over time to my interest in writing.

How long did you have to submit before you were first published? If you could do it all again, would you do anything differently?

My first poem was published in Sycamore Review, not long after I graduated from college. I didn’t try to publish my writing while I was an undergraduate, which I think was a good thing, since it kept me focused on learning to write and not worrying about polishing something up enough so that it could be published.

Do you have any advice for young authors trying to get published?

For those writing poetry, I think it is important not to rush. Take your time. Hone your craft. It isn’t a race and whether or not a poem is ultimately published is not the final statement on its worth as a piece of writing. When you are ready to send your work out there, remember that publishing is the business side of writing and try to partition the business practice from your creative one. You need to submit regularly and widely, but you need to find ways to not let rejection in the publishing world leak into your creative life. Easier said than done, I know.

Do you have any writing rituals? Could you explain your writing process?

I don’t have any writing rituals, other than the requirement that coffee be readily available. I do try to start writing at roughly the same time each day—in the morning—and work for about three hours. This is the time of day that I feel most alert and mentally nimble, and at this point when I sit down with a cup of coffee at 8 or 9 a.m., my brain clicks right into writing mode.

In terms of process, I write a lot of terrible first drafts, but I write them pretty quickly. Most of my time is spent revising. Knowing it’s okay if the drafts are bad helps counter any sort of writer’s block.

Who are your literary heroes? What do you love about their writing?

I am drawn to women writers, in particular, in part because of the subjects that their work tackles. I love Margaret Atwood, for her range and gorgeous prose, Emily Dickinson, for her radical attention to language, and Muriel Rukeyser, for her commitment to writing that engages with the world around us. Compelling imagery, music, and a sophisticated use of form and diction always attract my attention, and some contemporary writers I turn to for inspiration in these areas are Eric Pankey, Sean Hill, Joanie Mackowski, and Lisa Russ Spaar.

Have you read anything recently that got you excited?

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, lives up to all the hype and everyone should read it. Likewise, Anne Carson’s Nox and Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion are amazing. I’m looking forward to reading Beth Bachmann’s new book, since Temper is an amazing collection that yields more and more on each reading.

Who or what influences your writing the most?

Where to begin? My teaching and my students have a huge impact on my writing. The ideas and texts we cover generally find their way into the poems I am writing at the time, and I am both inspired by the risks and energy that student writers bring to their work. My experiences as a woman often provide the catalyst for new work, driving me to connect my life to that of others, contemporary, imagined, or historical.

We heard your fourth book of poetry is in the works—congratulations! It stands apart from your previous work because of its ecological theme; what event(s) influenced you to write about that particular topic? Was Cold Pastoral a sole venture into green writing, or do you see this leading you into a new genre?

Yes, my fourth book, Cold Pastoral, is forthcoming from Milkweed Editions in early 2017. And it is, in many ways, a departure from my earlier writing. After writing Glass Armonica, a book with a very interior focus, I needed to turn my attention outward. Despite the fact that much of the poetry being written today is for an audience of literary readers, I believe deeply in the social impact that poetry can—and should—have on society as a whole. It’s this that draws me to the work of writers like Claudia Rankine, Muriel Rukeyser, Carolyn Forche, and Anna Akhmatova, to name a few.

When the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred, I found myself incredibly disturbed and researched the incident and its impact both in person and via secondary research. I wrote many of the poems for Cold Pastoral around the time of the 2011 Wisconsin protests (my home state), Occupy Wall Street, and the series of protests during what’s become known as the Arab Spring. These protest movements left their mark on the writing I felt was necessary during this time period.

While I am not sure if I will return to ecological writing, my interest in the documentary poem continues. I continue to explore this form in my current book-in-progress.

A lot of your work in the past has focused on feminism and women’s issues. How and when did you become so passionate about this subject?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about the issue. My commitment to reflecting on the challenges women face, both historically and today, is an integral part of how I experience the world.

You’ve covered a lot of ground in the time that you’ve been writing. How do you think that your writing has evolved over time?

In each book, I push myself to tackle new challenges, not just content-wise but in terms of developing my craft. This always leaves me with a difficult gap of time between books, a period in which I am writing—I am always writing something—a lot of poems that never find their way into a book. Eventually, I tend to find my way out of that morass, but it is never a comfortable process.


About the author of this post: Crystal Ice is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English and 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.

Review of “Double Jinx” by Nancy Reddy

Double Jinx Nancy Reddy

In Double Jinx, Nancy Reddy exhibits the growing pains of adolescence and young adulthood through an intensely sensual lens, twisting beloved fables and fairy tales into engrossing carnal imagery. Her style is deliciously dark, and her poems shed a harsh light on feminism, sexual abuse, and religious cruelty. Through this method, Reddy presents harsh truth. There’s something refreshing about being simultaneously disturbed and intrigued by a collection of poetry.

Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Nancy Drew all make appearances in Reddy’s imaginative poetry, engaging readers with their familiarity before morphing into poems of unsettling beauty.

“…and they knew she’d be a night-time princess

           only. They found her morning after on the cobblestones,

coach and driver vanished, her dress turned back to tatters.”

“Cinderella Story” – Nancy Reddy

Double Jinx is a unique collection, though it does quickly escalate from shocking to sinister—praiseworthy to some and discomforting to others. While fearless and unpredictable, it is a point to consider if certain moments are evocative if not simply to just be evocative.

“I’d find her facedown, smudged with earth

because a man like him will do that

when he loves. I pawed her

up again, I nosed the dulcet

rot of her, the savory flesh

of thighs and ass. I saw that she

looked nothing like me, not even

in the moss and rigor mortis of her afterlife…”

“Come Fetch” – Nancy Reddy

Of all the raw poetry contained in this volume, “Double Jinx”—the same poem as the title—creates the most provocative, ominous, and thrilling riddle. Nancy Drew’s lustful and murderous doppelganger presents a precise, edgy truth regarding female sexuality and domestic abuse.

“She’s in your town now. You’re in your hair.

One quick slit and you’re in the space inside

her skin. You hold your breath then whisper.

You thumb the ligaments. You kick the tires.

You loved that dumb boy, too. Before he died.”

“Double Jinx” – Nancy Reddy

Equally haunting as it is mysterious, Double Jinx is not for the faint of heart. But for readers intrigued by the macabre and attracted to surrealism, it’s a stab into the fierce tenderness of womanhood and a seductive shadow of modern poetry.


Nancy Reddy

Nancy Reddy‘s poetry has been published in 32 PoemsTupelo Quarterly, and Best New Poets of 2011 (selected by D.A. Powell), with poems forthcoming in Post Road and New Poetry from the Midwest. She lives in Madison, where she is a doctoral candidate in composition and rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin.


About the author of this post: Deana Becker is a junior at North Central College, majoring in English with a concentration in Writing. While others lament reading through piles of submissions, Deana joyfully fulfills her position as a reader and contributor of North Central’s literary magazine, 30 North. One of her favorite genres to read is Flash Fiction.