Grist: The Journal for Writers -- Issue #4 & AWP

I'm pleased to announce the publication of Grist: The Journal for Writers, Issue #4, the journal produced by the Creative Writing Program at the University of Tennessee. An update of the website will come in the days following AWP, including a number of samples from the issue and a new Emerging Writers feature, but I wanted there to be some kind of announcement since AWP is this week.

If you've seen Grist before, you know that each year we designate a "Special Genre" for the issue. In our second issue we published an excerpt from a graphic novel, and in last year's issue we published a few short plays. This year, our "Special Genre" is Creative Nonfiction, and we've got one helluva lineup! (See contributors list below.) I'm also happy to report that, starting next fall, we will be adding creative nonfiction to our regularly scheduled lineup of poetry, fiction, essays on craft, and interviews.

We've got a crazy good lineup for this issue in all genres thanks to all the hard work of the readers and editors and our amazingly talented graphic designer.

So, if you're going to be in Washington, D.C., for this year's AWP Conference, stop by our table at the Book Fair. You can find us situated at Table C-21 alongside the wonderful folks from 32 Poems Magazine. Come by to say "Hi," and come by to take a look at the new issue. We'll have it available for a discounted price. And we'll also have free Grist tattoos!

I really do hope to see you there. Oh, if you're a contributor, you can come by and pick up your copies which will help us save money on mailing them to you later.

Grist -- Issue #4 (front cover)
Grist -- Issue #4 (back cover)

It's time to celebrate!

Congratulations to my friend Lory Bedikian, winner of the 2010 Levine Prize!

Yeah. That's "Levine" as in Philip Levine, y'all. This is huge.

Here are a few poems from Lory's forthcoming book, The Book of Lamenting. This will be just the first posting promoting this book. I'll provide more info when I have it.

Night in Lebanon

The youngest boy, with his ulcer,
sleeps. His lower lip pulsates, a small fish
breathing. A bed of torn pillows, cradles four
of them, two brothers, two sisters —
curved, quiet on the living room floor.
Buzzing, the open window has its mouth full
of street lights, mosquitoes, those who stay
awake. Peeled paint on the ceiling, the door

sheds the skin it wore through
a drawn-out, twenty-year civil war.
The parents sleep in a room full of faith
hammered to the walls. Posing, a copper
cross, its inscription in Armenian asks
for blessings of God upon this home.
Through the mother’s sleeping lips a prayer
slips, rises, drifts and hovers above the boy

who dreams: he’s a grown man
spinning yarn around their home
until it’s as thick as a bombshell.
Then, cane in hand, walking through a cedar
grove, he drops his string of worry
beads into a well. Cracking a pumpkin
seed open with his teeth, he tastes
childhood in each closed casing.

In the morning, a thin scroll
of bread filled with tomato paste, oil, mint
will start the hurried day. But now, he sleeps
as he did the day he was born. Stillness
enters his lip, his mouth finally rests,
breathing as he will when he is older
than this war whose finger has carved a scar
in him, the size of an eye that will not close.

The Mechanic

Stretching over the carburetor,
he shouts about the quality of life here
compared to back home, how they stood
in line for bread, how there were no cedars
more green than those by the shore.

He could be my uncle in Syria, 1948,
a man taking in fumes, a cigarette balancing
on a fender, hands lined with grease,
saving coins in a jar for his newborn,
losing relatives to malaria, to civil war.

But today we’re in Hollywood. The palms
are dry. This man speaks to me in Armenian.
He remembers working late into the Lebanese night,
the plaza’s noise of backgammon boards,
headlights beaming beyond the Mediterranean.

Now, he’s used to customers calling out
his American nickname, while he wrenches
spark plugs into place, the old country preserved
on a calendar page. He’s used to this
new world of dollar bills, available parts.

I say bless him and this hand-made auto shop,
the first opening and closing of hoods, of pistons.
And bless the one who never made it over
the Atlantic, an arm extending into the engine,
a scar exposed, the shape of an eagle’s wing.

Lory Bedikian
from The Book of Lamenting, forthcoming from Anhinga Press

The Monday Tape - AWP Edition

This week's Monday Tape is, of course, the AWP edition. There are a zillion panels and off-site events, far more than a top five can handle, but for what it's worth: Top Five 2011 AWP Events.
#5. The PSA Presents: A Reading and Interview with Stephen Dunn. (Robert N. Casper, Stephen Dunn) Pulitzer Prize-winner Stephen Dunn will read his poetry, followed by an interview with Poetry Society of America Programs Director Robert N. Casper. Thursday 12-1:15 @ Omni
#4. Riders on the Storm: Strategies for Getting (and Surviving) the Tenure-Track Job. (Hadara Bar-Nadav, Miles Harvey, John Struloeff, Irina Reyn, Simone Muench) In these difficult economic times, many colleges and universities across the United States are in financial crisis, which has led to hiring freezes, furloughs, and even firings. As recent tenure-track hires, we will present strategies for securing tenure-track jobs. We also will discuss ways junior faculty can survive and succeed in these precarious economic times, while balancing academic responsibilities with our creative lives. Friday 12-1:15 @ Marriott
#3. Diode/Blackbird Off-Site Reading - 8pm @ Avalon Theatre: Dilruba Ahmed, Victoria Chang, Erica Dawson, Oliver de la Paz, R.H.W. Dillard, Matt Donovan, Claudia Emerson, Beckian Fritz-Goldberg, Bob Hicok, T.R. Hummer, Christine Klocek-Lim, Brian Teare, and G.C. Waldrep
#2. Pedagogy Forum Session: Poetry. This session is designed to give contributors to the 2011 Pedagogy Forum an opportunity to discuss their work, though all are welcome. The papers themselves will provide a framework to begin in-depth discussion in  creative writing, pedagogy, and theory. A pedagogy speaker will contextualize the discussion with some brief remarks before attendees break out into small discussion groups. These groups will be facilitated by trained pedagogy paper contributors. Friday 9-10:15 @ Marriott
#1. Carpetbagging for Poetry. (Stuart Dischell, Mark Cox, Alan Shapiro, Thomas Lux, Joseph Millar) A Reading by Six Northern poets—Mark Cox, Stuart Dischell, Dorianne Laux, Thomas Lux, Joseph Millar, and Alan Shapiro—who live, write, and teach in the South. Saturday 1:30-2:45 @ Omni
Obviously there are many other panels and readings I could have posted, but this conference is overwhelming and decisions will need to be made. What are you going to?

Ah, Miami

Our LegalArt residency is in an area of downtown that is deserted for five days a week, then comes alive on the weekends with clubbers coming and going at all hours. Last night I trekked up to Fort Lauderdale for a Sound Art exhibit in their gallery district. Rumpus poetry editor Brian Spears hosted me with his lovely wife, Amy Letter. Beers were had; laughter was loud. I got home around 1 AM and promptly fell asleep to the lullaby of booming bass from cars as they parked in the lot across the street. People were getting out of their SUVs with beers already in hand.

Around 5 AM I woke up to a lot of "Wooooo." "Wooooo, you can do it! Yeah! Yeah!" This is nothing unusual--ravers emerge from the night before as late as 2 or 3 PM the next day. I went back to sleep.

Around 6 AM I woke again, this time with the glow of sunrise on my face. "Wooooo! You can do it!" A wail of sirens, also nothing unusual. I pondered whether this was a sign I should get up and do work. I went back to sleep.

Fifteen minutes later a resurgence of cheering and two, maybe three more wailing police cars woke me up again. A raid? I thought hazily. Would not have been the first.

Around 9 AM I woke up and they were going full tilt--"Wooooo, you can do it! Yeah!" Jesus, I thought. What the hell are these kids rolling on? I got up and tottered grumpily to my blind-free windows, and looked out.

There was a marathon running up North Miami Avenue. 

Ah, Miami. I'll miss you during the next week, when I return to DC for AWP. But I have also missed the ambient noise of home--the bells of the National Cathedral. 

Some Readings Coming Soon

Feb. 17th:  I'll be the featured poet at Benedict St. Marketplace's Poetry Night, just southwest of St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Shawnee.  The reading starts at 7:00.  I'll be bringing along some of my most talented students to share their work as well.

Mar. 13:  I'm reading at "The Depot" for the Performing Arts Series in Norman at 2:00 (Hope to see some of my many OU friends there!)

Mar. 31:  I'm reading in the Scissor Tail Creative Writing Festival in Ada.  My reading is at 2:00, but you should also come for the many fine readings that will run from Thursday through Saturday.

Apr. 20-23:  I'll be reading at the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association annual conference in San Antonio.  Exact details to follow

Apr. 26:  I'll perform my poem "A Love Poem" as a recitation in concert with OBU's Bisonettes Ensemble at 7:00 P.M. in Yarborough Auditorium on the OBU campus.  (Poetry backed with choir, orchestra, and multimedia presentation -- this will be fun.  And I've always wanted to be a Bisonette).

Sep. 29:  I'll be the opening night entertainment at the Conference on Christianity and Literature at Hardins Simmons University

More to follow. . .


Hi, Poetry People.

I've started this blog as a way of updating interested folk regarding upcoming readings, recent publications, interesting links, etc.   I might also occasionally offer my own review of books I like (or hate).

"Love Poem for Los Angeles"

It's a gift that in this time during my LegalArt residency down here in Miami--which is in part devoted to collaboration, to using one art to respond to another--I would learn that my reading of "Love Poem for Los Angeles" (from I Was the Jukebox) has been used in this stunning short film by Dylan King. Enjoy!

Los Angeles: A Love Poem from D. King on Vimeo.

Will Work for Hammock

I've been away from the blogosphere for a few days, but I hope to pick it up again regularly. A lot going on the last week with Issue 4 of Grist: The Journal for Writers, revising my essay for AWP, planning for AWP, and teaching a class I've never taught before. Well, I've taught fiction writing before, just not a purely fiction class. As with any new course, there are many hours of planning required, and many hours of unforeseen problem solving.

Anyways, I just wanted to hop back online and mention that I received a wonderful surprise in the mail a couple days ago: Nick Demske by Nick Demske sent by Fence Books on behalf of Nick Demske!

Really looking forward to reading it (and maybe reviewing it) after things settle down into the post-AWP ennui. Should be a good pick-me-up.

I've previously posted thoughts on Nick's poems at Against Oblivion here, but I also want to point you toward a few recent reviews of Nick Demske:

Elisa Gabbert review @ Like Fire
Blake Butler review @ HTML Giant
Joyelle McSweeney @ Montevidayo

A couple quick things about the book that I didn't realize until holding it in my hot little hands. From all the pictures on the interwebs, it looks like a regular 6x8" poetry collection:

Nick Demske - regularized

But in actuality, the book opens horizontally, thus making the cover all the more disturbing and the handling of the book disorienting. Like this:

Nick Demske - actual
Something else about this book worth noting: the back cover.

Nick lives in Racine, Wisconsin, and his U.S. Congressman is Paul Ryan. Yep, that Paul Ryan. The one who gave one of the rebuttals to President Obama's recent State of the Union Address and said the following:
"Our nation is at a tipping point. We are at a moment where if government's growth is left unchecked and unchallenged, America's best century will be considered our past century. This is a future in which we will transform our social safety net into a hammock, which lulls able-bodied people into lives of complacency and dependency."
As you might guess, I take issue with the majority of Ryan's and the Republicans' claims, but I struggle to locate the language for a summation of my reaction. Therefore, I'll let Eric Laursen at Fire Dog Lake say it for me: "But the Ayn Randian in the boyish congressperson from Wisconsin couldn’t help preaching against the moral iniquity of social insurance, just for a moment." Or, as Johnathan Chait at The New Republic noted in a column last spring:
Ryan would retain some bare-bones subsidies for the poorest, but the overwhelming thrust in every way is to liberate the lucky and successful to enjoy their good fortune without burdening them with any responsibility for the welfare of their fellow citizens.
This is the core of Ryan's moral philosophy:
"The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand," Ryan said at a D.C. gathering four years ago honoring the author of "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead." ...
At the Rand celebration he spoke at in 2005, Ryan invoked the central theme of Rand's writings when he told his audience that, "Almost every fight we are involved in here on Capitol Hill ... is a fight that usually comes down to one conflict--individualism versus collectivism."
The core of the Randian worldview, as absorbed by the modern GOP, is a belief that the natural market distribution of income is inherently moral, and the central struggle of politics is to free the successful from having the fruits of their superiority redistributed by looters and moochers.
Anyway, take of that what you will. But look at the back cover of Nick's book! It's a letter to Nick from Paul Ryan. The timing could not be more perfect! And it really is a nice, friendly letter. Can't wait to read Ryan's forthcoming review which I'm sure will be published in Rain Taxi or at The Rumpus real soon. I'm so so sure, in fact, that I am holding my breath....

Nick Demske - back cover

Far & Near

You need to see this clip:

I am no huge fan of Russell Brand. I'm not sold on Julie Taymor's vision of The Tempest. But what I love about this video is that you see RB completely escape his planned poise, as his physical self--the long curly locks, his lean but ripped physique, all the things I have ever found dandyish and distracting--falls away here. He's in it, improvising like mad. And Alfred Molina is envious! That is an enviable thing.


In other worlds: the new Blackbird is out, and it includes my review of two impressive first books (or rather, first full-length collections) from the poets Allison Titus and Mathias Svalina. If that's not enough to tempt you, the issue also includes...

  • Audio readings by Philip Levine, David St. John, and Peter Campion
  • “Ochre,” a twenty-five section, ekphrastic poem by David Wojahn with accompanying images
  • A suite of poetry in translation from the Arabian Gulf in translation from the Arabian Gulf
  • Other translations of Patrice de la Tour du Pin, Aleš Debeljak, Philippe Jaccottet, and Tomaž Šalamun
  • Poetry by Bruce Bond, Christopher Buckley, Cori A. Winrock, and others
  • Fiction by Neil Grimmett, Nicola Mason, Jamie Quatro, Wendy Wimmer, and others
  • Critical essays by Nicky Beer, Peter Campion, Matt Donovan, James Hoch, and Anna Journey from Larry Levis: A Celebration, a three-day conference at Virginia Commonwealth University

...Philip Levine! David Wojahn! James Hoch! Anna Journey!


Miami? Highlights: Returning to Books & Books and meeting Adriana Trigiani.

Seeing a dolphin loping 20 feet off shore from downtown Miami during a banal afternoon walk. Late-night cheap wine and dollar-bill coloring.

Cooking pasta for my fellow residents. With chicken, simmered in the tomato sauce. And a toasted almond and artichoke salad. Mmmm.

Hearing Edwidge Danticat read from Haiti Noir at MOCA; meeting Bruce Weber in the MOCA gift shop afterwards, and impulsively splurging on his portfolio of heartbreaking "Little Haiti" photographs so he could sign it.

Reading reading reading, most recently Danticat's Brother, I'm Dying, and Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, which gave me a restless night's sleep wondering about the monstrosity that is the Department of Homeland Security. But god, those books make me want to write, and write important and difficult things.

Seeing brilliant works on paper in the artists' studios. Walking along the shore of South Beach. $2 mackerel nigiri and ikura, $3 roast eggplant with Thai chili sauce.

Hearing two very smart, talented residents share their advise on Facebook marketing for a crowd of 4o. And afterwards they shared their dumplings.

Knowing that somewhere out there, God and the UPS man willing, my galley of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl will land on LegalArt's doorstep tomorrow.


Just in case you think I'm being too highbrow, this ominous quote from the most recent Bachelor, who has clearly not heard of the importance of line breaks for emphasis:

"I want to continue this. Badly. With you. I really do."

You've Got Mail!

No submissions notifications yesterday, and today I'm on campus so it'll be another few hours before I make it home and can check the mail. Right now, I'm sitting in my office all antsy to get home and open the mailbox, and what do I receive in my Google Reader "Mac blog" alert? The following helpful video:

Now I just need to get my hands on a Verizon iPhone. That or stop obsessing about the mail.... But anyway, pretty cool don't you think?

Great Interview...

...on a timely topic: When to go with a small press for your poetry collection, versus entering contest after context for big prizes. Kelli Russell Agodon interviews Jeannine Hall Gailey (two incredible, tireless, inspiring poet/bloggers) and here's an excerpt...
KRA:  Your next book will be published by a micropress. Tell us a little about the press, your book and how the partnership between you came about.
JHG:   My first book, Becoming the Villainess, was published by a small press, Steel Toe Books, run by Tom Hunley, and my second book, She Returns to the Floating World, will be published (in July!) by Kistune Books, another wonderful small press, edited by Anne Petty and Lynn Holschuh. They do fiction and poetry, as well as pop-cultural criticism, and put out a handful of books a year. I know they're putting out at least one other book of poetry next year, by poet Helen Ruggieri. 
I actually found them while I was researching another article for Poet's Market on speculative poetry (that article was in the 2010 edition, I believe.) I loved their name (since one of the main persona characters in my second book is a kitsune, which means fox-woman in Japanese.) And I did my research - I read a book or two that they had put out, followed them on Facebook and Twitter. It was actually their twitter feed than convinced me they were the right press for me - they would tweet about anime they liked, or J-pop, or teas...I mean, the editors and I had a lot of things in common. I had a really good feeling when I sent in my query, and a few weeks later, I had the good news!
You can read the whole post here.

My take: I've been really lucky to work first with a university press, Western Michigan University's New Issues, then with W. W. Norton, so I know firsthand the perks. I would say the main ones are having a professional, paid staff--so there is accountability, and you don't have to feel apologetic about making requests--and distribution in major bookstores. 

Then there are the things that everyone seems to think are perks, but don't actually exist. Help setting up events? Nope, other than maybe one or two events right when the book first comes out. Budget to travel for festivals or readings? Nada. 

Some of the things we get most worked up over, such as cover design, are a roll of the dice at any size press. I'm consistently blown away by the work of presses such as Wave Books and Switchback. I am often bored by the static landscapes or ugly font-work used by the big guys.

There are also a couple of advantages specific to small presses. One, you usually have access to a lot more bookstock to do with as you see fit. When I won the Barnard Prize, Norton gave me 15 copies of the book. Total. So when I do readings for I Was the Jukebox in clubs or other venues that aren't attached to a bookstore, I buy my stock off Amazon for around $18 a book. Even though I could then charge the $24.95 price, I invariably cut it to $20 to prevent having to make change. So my "profit"? $2 a book.

Copies to send off for post-pub book prizes, review opportunities, trading with fellow readers at events? I lose money on those. 

Another advantage of small presses is that their editorial teams are so focused, which can solidify an aesthetic identity that helps promote your book. Ugly Duckling Presse and Octopus Books come to mind. I confess, there's a cool-kid factor at work. Who wouldn't want to have their work accepted and then published by a poet as amazing as Zach Schomburg? Black Ocean Books has got people tattooing themselves

This is why Jeannine's point about loving the Kitsune Twitter feed is so relevant. If you share a common culture with your press, to publish with them is really like joining a tribe. That can result in some fabulous road-trip multiple-author reading tours. Two other small presses to watch in that respect are Bloof Books and No Tell

It would be disingenuous for me to say that I haven't been very, very lucky to publish with the presses I have. I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. But there are a lot of different paths in the poetry world, and each one has its pluses and minuses. When you Google "Coach House" the poetry press isn't even one of the first five hits, but Stephen Burt reviewed Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip in The New York Times

If you honor the poems you need to write, stay generous to your fellow writers, invest in the presses you want to invest in you, periodically confront your expectations and fears, keep writing, keep sending, keep at it, you'll get out there. I believed that before I ever published a book. I believe it now.   


This seems like a good time to thank everyone (including Kelli!) who have helped spread the word about the trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl. I was thrilled to get 500 views in the first week. Crown will keep an eye on the view count for the first month. So if you haven't viewed it yet, please take a look--or if you know someone who might be interested in a memoir about food allergies, send it on...

Close but no cigar

Thomas Dolby - Close but no cigar EP

Wow, I sure did come home to some good mail this evening.

First up: a letter from Carnegie Mellon University Press saying my manuscript Praise Nothing was selected as a finalist for the 2010 submission period. So that's good news. Would have been amazing to have placed the manuscript with them since they've published some of my favorite poets (Larry Levis and Arthur Smith, among many others),  but since it didn't work out this time, I'm looking at the rejection as a positive sign, for sure, that this thing is publishable. Maybe. Not to get my hopes up too much. So...yeah..."maybe" is the word for the day, and with that I'll just keep watching the mail.

I also got my two copies of Copper Nickel 15 which includes my poem "A Gathering of Fire, a Patterning of Ash." I can't really express how rewarding it is to see this poem in print finally as it's one I've been kicking around for a long time, one of those poems composed in the mind for many years, and then one day all of its parts assemble on the doorstop and declare their arrival.

And check out the list of other poets in this issue. Wowza! The list includes: Sandra Beasley, Traci Brimhall, Curtis L. Crisler, J. P. Dancing Bear, Kyle G. Dargan, Adam Day, Natalie Eilbert, Tarfia Faizullah, Rebecca Morgan Frank, Suzanne Frischkorn, Anna Journey, Joshua Kalscheur, Marc McKee, Wayne Miller, Adam Million, Jenny Molberg, Nick Norwood, Soham Patel, Pablo Pschiera, Jon Pineda, Anne Shaw, Sandra Simonds, Ashley Toliver, Jeffrey Thompson, Ross White, and the 2010 Poetry Contest Winner Susan Grimm.

You might also be interested to know that Copper Nickel has an off-site reading planned for AWP. It'll be on Friday night at The Black Cat. Readers will be: Sandra Beasley, Kyle G. Dargan, Merrill Feitell, Anna Journey, David Keplinger, Michael Martone, and Wayne Miller. Here's a link to more info about the event.

I also received my copy of Luke Johnson's After the Ark which was just released by New York Quarterly Press.

I've previously posted a few poems from the book (click here to read them), and I'm looking forward to some time this weekend when I can sit down and read it straight through.

Sandy Longhorn recently read it straight through, and she's written a thoughtful post about Luke's book that you should read by clicking here.

You might recognize the image at the top of this post as a play on Magritte's "This is not a pipe" painting. The image is from Thomas Dolby's EP Close but No Cigar," which released in 1992. Thomas Dolby is probably best known for his song "She Blinded Me With Science." Here's the video:

In Miami!

So, I drove to Miami over the weekend. Alllll the way down 95, a surprisingly humane trip--sunny weather, not much traffic. Feeling nostalgic at the parade of billboards, I stopped off at South of the Border to walk through one of their countless gift shops. The next day I called my dad and apologized for ever making them stop there. That place is seriously sleazy, even if they do sell real live Mexican jumping beans. 

The head of LegalArt was kind enough to come to the residency and get me checked in. It's a developing neighborhood--we were approached by a panhandler as we unloaded suitcases, and the shops six blocks up roll down steel shades over their windows at night. I am the first writer-in-residence, living amidst visual artists, mostly Miami locals but with one woman who came all the way from Argentina. So far our schedules haven't been in sync. But once I switch into night-owl poet mode, I suspect there will be late, long conversations over wine.

Befitting Miami's design aesthetic, the building is very modern, with lots of sharp contrasts and edges. Here is a glimpse of our common space, which includes a kitchen and living room. Typical of art colonies, it also includes a lot of found/assembled bits that might show up in work sooner or later: a stack of pine branches, a plastic Godzilla figurine, a sink of soaking gel-bubbles, a dilapidated amaryllis. We have the option of coming and going via our very pink stairway. 

And here is my studio, a corner unit with its own bathroom. I have a couple of specific projects to work on while I'm here--an essay about fathers & daughters, a travel piece on Miami--and I'll be running a few programs, including a residency dinner on writer/poet collaborations and a public seminar on strengthening artistic statements and project proposals. Also...I want to read. A lot. I stayed in my silver-sheeted bed until 1 PM today, finishing Sloane Crosley's How Did You Get This Number. Heaven. 

Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam

Martin Luther King, Jr. - Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam
Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967

"But our Princess is in another castle!"

image via

I received some news today: Praise Nothing, my first book manuscript, was named a finalist and designated first runner-up for this year's Brittingham and Pollak Prizes. Thanks to the judge and congratulations to the winners whose names will be announced in February.

I think it's okay to share this: the letter says they received over 900 submissions for this year's competition. Before receiving the letter today, I was just anxious. Now I'm feeling anxious plus some cautious hopefulness that this thing wil actually be picked up at some point.

Tucson Memorial Poem

To the New Year

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

W.S. Merwin
from Present Company

Whale Sound

Whale Sound

Yesterday, Nic Sebastian republished my poem "Theodicy" (originally published in Waccamaw) at her website, Whale Sound. If you don't already know the website Whale Sound, I urge your to check it out.

The project is run by Nic and seeks previously web-published poems submitted by the poets and/or journals in which the poems first appeared. Nic then interprets the poem through a reading which is posted with audio at Whale Sound, and made available to the public through the website or through an iTunes podcast. A fantastic project.

It was particularly strange to hear this poem read. "Theodicy" is one of the most personal, from-the-core poems I've written, and Nic's gorgeous reading of the poem allowed me to step away from the poem's subject matter and craft, and really just hear it. I was moved to tears.

click to listen

I want to also thank everyone who emailed and posted Facebook comments regarding this poem. I'm overwhelmed by just how many people have been touched by the poem and have identified with the experiences the poem describes.

The Book Trailer!

Check it out: the official book trailer for Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. If you know others who might be interested, please spread the word....


It's that time of the year, and looking at out from the kitchen window I'd say we got at least a good four inches of snow last night in our neighborhood, probably more, which would be fine anywhere else, but here in the South and in cities like Knoxville, everyone and everything hunkers down or stays closed. Lines from T.R. Hummer's poem "Half Life #1" come to mind: "A handful of powder can break a city's back, / a scatter of sleet, cloudlight, luminescence of salt." (See the full poem posted below.) I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto. And this would all be fine if today were any other day, but it's not.

I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home most days of the week, and plan errands like grocery shopping ahead of time so that, if the hill at our end of the street is too slick to drive down, or if the hill at the access to the turnpike doesn't have traction, I can just stay in. But, today, staying in is not an option, though I can't really discuss why. If you're wondering, I can say the reason we won't be staying home is not related to the manuscript, well, not related directly, but it's an appointment we cannot miss. Cross your fingers for us, please.

In other news, the coffee maker we received as a wedding present nearly ten years ago finally gave up the ghost. I shouldn't really say "finally" as that would imply that it has been working intermittently. No, there haven't really been any problems with it. It just quit. I think it may have heard me talking just yesterday about moving to a French press and carafe system. But that's just what I'm thinking. Anyone have a recommendation for a good coffee maker?


image source

Have you been following the latest foretelling of the Apocalypse? Or should I say "Aflockalypse"? No. I should not.

Last week I came across a poem at the blog Montevidayo that you should take a look at. It's called "Queen of Diamonds" and is by Brent Hendricks. Here are the first three lines: "Today birds are dropping from trees, / wires, leaping from rooftops and / ledges."


Half-Life Study #1

A handful of powder can break a city's back,
     a scatter of sleet, cloudlight, luminescence of salt.
At the taxi stand, a driver from Senegal practices
     thinking in English. Etoile, he whispers. No: star.

Star, snow, diesel, moon, fatherland, wing,
     and the mystical incantation carburetor. Inside, beyond
Plate glass, a man and a woman stick in the throat
     of a life, in the gut of an argument, and one girl in pink

Is possessed by the Demon of the Grecian Urn.
     Atlanta airport: every snowbound flight shuts down.
Nobody's going anywhere. Bursts of bar conversation
     syncopate into sniper fire: Nice little culture

You got here. / If God intended folks to fly, we'd be born
     with more reservations. Dangerous vortices of rage
Burn on Doppler screens. Everyone here wants transcendence.
     No life in the moment. Bodiless lift. The lyric's

Poisonous glow. The father of the girl in pink
     feels the ticket in his jacket pocket discharge
Its singular pulse of frustration. The mother breathes
     on the window and draws a cartoon face that fades

As she watches. Through its left hemisphere she silhouettes
     the taxi driver against his yellow, rime-scummed Ford.
He, in turn, remembers the face of his own mother transfixed
     in the doorway the morning he took the road to Dakar

And the rotting shipyard. Then the sick grind of ocean. Then
     the Convention Center. She is still standing there,
Expressionless, almost swallowed in empty shadow.
     She will never move again. United, he thinks, Las Vegas, meter

Not running, each snowflake a punctuating loss.
     Coca-Cola. Please direct me to Peachtree Street.
Multiple avenues to salvation. De-icer: What's your angel's name?
     Whiteness fouls every access road in sight.

T.R. Hummer
from Useless Virtues

Support a poet and poetry! Click here to purchase T.R. Hummer's Useless Virtues from the wonderful LSU Press.

Other T.R. Hummer poems published @ Against Oblivion:
"Fallacy of Accident"
"Useless Virtues"
"Olive Bread"
"The End of History"
"Blue Alexandrine"


I am doing two official-type things at AWP, in addition to generally wandering the halls, chatting with writers and sharing from my flask.

Official-type thing #1:

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 4 ~ 9 AM to 10:15 AM

Diplomat Ballroom / Omni Shoreham Hotel, West Lobby

F117A. Potomac Review Celebrates Best of 50. (Julie Wakeman-LInn, Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capó Crucet, Marilyn Kallet) 

To celebrate its fiftieth issue, Potomac Review offers a sampling of its history with readings by Kirk Nesset, Sandra Beasley, Jacob Appel, Jennine Capos Crucet, and others. Based in the Potomac region, PR has always had concern for the environment at its heart, but over the past two decades, its focus has evolved nationally and internationally and culturally; the reading represents the diverse voices and styles who have appeared in the pages and taps our Best of the 50 issue.

Official-type thing #2:

A note on the Black Cat: IT ROCKS. Don't leave DC and think you've gotten to know our city unless you've been there. Great jukebox. Quarter pinball. Sweet Red Room bar. 

Head over via the Red Line metro (just one stop, which costs less than $2; go toward Glenmont; use the Q Street exit). From the Q & Connecticut exit, cross toward Kramerbooks bookstore (a nice 24/7 pit stop, BTW) using Q Street all the way to 14th Street NW. Black Cat is just a few blocks up, heading from Q toward S Street. 

Also...a big ol' updated spring 2011 schedule is displayed to your right, with some dates still to come. On the road, on the road, on the road. I'm going to be living off V8, bananas, almonds, and Triscuits. Ah, the glamorous life of a traveling poet! 

"I'll walk, I'll go with you."

Deborah Digges (via
This Christmas I received Deborah Digges's posthumous collection The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart, and I've slowly been making my way through it. One poem every few days is about all I can bear.

So far, these poems feel dense and solid, heavy, and there's also a sensation of feeling crowded, like the walls are squeezing in on me as I read, and this in turn makes me feel quite anxious when I read them.

There is, as one might expect, a heavy burden resting on these poems, holding them down to the ground, to our world, our lives. I think Brett Foster's recent description gets it right: "[In] this book, death has not been defied."

The poems here are both devoured by grief, but they are also grief-devouring. Although there's a dark sadness that runnels deep beneath these poems, there is also a kind of joy that emanates from the page in the musicality of Digges's language, in the repeating images of birth and rebirth, and just in the sheer fact that we have this final collection.

The wind blows through the doors of my heart

The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the mantle smashes birds’ nests, teacups
full of stars as the wind winds round,
a mist of sorts that rises and bends and blows
or is blown through my rooms of my heart
that shatters the windows,
rakes the bedsheets as though someone
had just made love. And my dresses
they are lifted like brides come to rest
on the bedstead, crucifixes,
dresses tangled in trees in the rooms
of my heart. To save them
I’ve thrown flowers to fields,
so that someone would pick them up
and know where they came from.
Come the bees now clinging to flowered curtains.
Off with the clothesline pinning anything, my mother’s trousseau.
It is not for me to say what is this wind
or how it came to blow through the rooms of my heart.
Wing after wing, through the rooms of the dead
the wind does not blow. Nor the basement, no wheezing,
no wind choking the cobwebs in our hair.
It is cool here, quiet, a quilt spread on soil.
But we will never lie down again.

Deborah Digges  - Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Pasadena, CA, 3/5/2009


Scythe to root cut, rolled backwards into time,
the hut-round ricks lashed down four-square with linen
like bonneted and faceless women.
Timothy and bromegrass so lately harvested
for yield, tripoded, teddered in sunlight, brush-hogged.
And here on frozen ground, great bales of hay
hacked free, alfalfa, oats in clover woven, pitchforked
from truck beds for the horses.
We watched them for years, their grazing.
Heartbreaking now such symmetry,
which kept our earthly house
that you or I would ever cross the windrows
of a field ripe for the haying, one or the other lost,
head high until, at last, the field raked clean
showed nothing but the seeds, crows circling,
stumps and stones, such strident fog the ghost crowds
hauling willow baskets—
cinched till their fingers bled—heads down
over the husks stalked underfoot like thorns.
I'd try on death to find you, gown made of grasses
harvest time, early, the loose hay drying in the mow,
or knit from stores of birdsfoot trifold, the greener the crop less packed,
heaped in the air-strung lofts of winter barns,
or scattered here in almost spring,
the last of it, what falls outside the fence clenched in my glove,
kicked under slats to feed the broodmares.
I have lain down across such orchard grasses on your grave
smelling the deep that keeps you, tasting snow,
something gone out of me forbidden, beyond birdsong
or vision, mantle trivial worn by the living,
there grazed wild violets, stroked fire green moss
that glows all winter clinging to the stone,
slept there on top of you, as once we'd say
a mortal lie, I'll walk, I'll go with you.
I've lapped your freeze and thaw,
season of wildflowers, season of leaf fall,
as close as I can get to you here on a bed of straw.

Deborah Digges
from The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart

Make it official

image source
Well, this afternoon, I got what I've been waiting for: my first contest/open submission notification.

An official rejection.

It came as an email from the editors at one of my favorite presses, and their boilerplate "no" was quite kind.

Here's something odd: my initial gut reaction to this first rejection was to exclaim, "Good!" Not in a snarky or cynical way. I actually felt a little gust of pleasure at reading their phrasing: "We’re sorry to report that we have decided against publishing it." I guess you could say I savored a good amount of relief at finally hearing back from a publisher after waiting months. Here's to more!

I'm toying with the idea of using my computer to videotape myself reading rejections (or, with luck, an acceptance). I'm curious to see how my face reacts to these bits of news. Is that weird? Certainly it's disturbingly narcissistic.... Instead of spending all this money on reading fees and postage, should I have put the money toward some therapy?

On the flipside, check out this post by Christopher Hennessey regarding the recent news that his first book, Love in Idleness, will be published by Brooklyn Arts Press. (h/t lorcaloca) Here's an excerpt, but be sure you click over to read the rest. It's worth it:
Dear Love in Idleness,
Today is the day. Today I tell the world how much I love you, how happy I am for us. I don’t know if the other poets and books will think this letter to you crass, but right now I’m not thinking straight. I hope my exuberance can be forgiven, but it’s not every day a boy sees his first book of poetry accepted for publication. It’s been a long haul, with lots of rejections and lots of encouragement, but we made it, you and I! We found a home for you, someone who wants to take you out into the world to share with others, to repeat the sheaf of you numerous times, to sit you on shelves where I can stare at you longingly, hoping others are considering just what you mean. You and I have a lot to think about as this process moves forward, not the least of which will be what I am going to do without you to fret over. And while I adore you now, I know soon I will begin to think about the poems that will come next. Forgive me. Even now, the thought excites me. But enough, you’re not even in the world…yet.

Odds & Ends

A few carryovers from 2010:

Though I've shared the full-length interview I filmed with Poets & Writers for their 40th Anniversary, I'd never linked to the amalgamate video that they showed at their big gala dinner, which I got to attend this past March. The P&W folks just posted it a few weeks ago, so it is linked below. To be sitting in the ballroom of Manhattan's Capitale and see my face pop up alongside the talking heads of A. M Homes, Roxana Robinson, Jonathan Franzen, Peter look over at the neighboring table and see Tom Wolfe (in his white ice-cream suit) watching the screen on which I was yapping away...holy hell. One of the highlights of my life.

Also, Square Books just announced their list of 2010 Bestselling Books, and I Was the Jukebox snuck intot he mix--spot #100, to be exact. For a poetry book to clamber its way up among the Barry Hannahs and the Curtis Wilkies is kind of miraculous. I love those guys. I love that town.

I go to New York tomorrow to meet the publicist who has been assigned by Crown. She works on books by Frances Mayes! I vote that if my memoir merits a sequel, it be something like "How I Survived Eating Pasta in Every Town of Italy." The research would be brutal, sure, but somehow I would summon the strength to carry on.


The Three Magi

They will probably come just after the New Year.
As usual, early in the morning.
The forceps of the doorbell will pull you out by the head
from under the bedclothes; dazed as a newborn baby,
you'll open the door. The star of an ID
will flash before your eyes.
Three men. In one of them you'll recognize
with sheepish amazement (isn't this a small
world) your schoolmate of years ago.
Since that time he'll hardly have changed,
only grown a mustache,
perhaps gained a little weight.
They'll enter. The gold of their watches will glitter (isn't
this a gray dawn), the smoke from their cigarettes
will fill the room with a fragrance like incense.
All that's missing is myrrh, you'll think half-consciously--
while with your heel you're shoving under the couch the book they mustn't find--
what is this myrrh, anyway,
you'd have to finally look it up
someday. You'll come
with us, sir. You'll go
with them. Isn't this a white snow.
Isn't this a black Fiat.
Wasn't this a vast world.

Stanislaw Baranczak, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh
from Polish Poetry of the Last Two Decades of Communist Rule


Yesterday was a day of gifts—I ran into a couple friends I’d missed, got some kind and thoughtful emails, was mentioned on a couple blogs, and received some wonderful mail—though it didn’t start out that way.

I spent the early morning hours working on the next issue of Grist: The Journal for Writers, a labor (though enjoyable) that amounted to more or less writing and sending close to 75 emails. (Not the most favorite part of my job.) Then, I revised a few letters of recommendation and prepped them to send, and afterward did the home banking, made a grocery list, and sat idly by the front room window reading Deborah Digges's latest and waiting for the mail.

But, as the day went on, and after the mail failed to arrive at its regularly scheduled hour, the slight buzz of manuscript anxiety that lodged itself in the base of my skull last September just after I sent out my manuscript and which I could, for the most part, ignore, for the first time got ratcheted up from handsaw to circulating-saw levels.

While I still have yet to hear back on any submissions, I cannot afford to waste time and energy worrying about when. I'm not sure I ate yesterday, and apparently I left the milk out all day, and E. told me when she got home that I "smelled like an old person." I am writing this blog entry now as a way of reminding myself that the percentage of this whole process within my control is exactly zero. And all of my efforts to find control only compound my anxiety. And while I look for ways to control the anxiety, I neglect to both actually live my life and I fail to work well on the poems. These are reasons why the internet and the Google are bad for people like me. Google is an enabler and its search results for contest announcements are a plague on my day-to-day life.

So, anyway, as a way of combating my manuscript anxiety, I set about revising the work I’d written the previous day keeping in mind one of my 2011 Poetry Goals is to produce at least one draft every three weeks. For the most part all I did was tinker. I moved stanzas around, tried to find the proper measure, cut here and there. Productive, but not inspired, and really nothing new. Luckily, the mail truck arrived as I was frustratedly putting my notebook away. I flew down the driveway to the mailbox and opened the mailbox with all the hope and joy of an expectant boy on Christmas morning only to find a Restoration Hardware catalog and the proverbial credit card application. NO contest notifications. Bummer. And then, as I was closing the mailbox, I happened to glance something else that had slid to the back of the mailbox: an envelope from Sandy Longhorn!

Desk with Card
Inside the envelope was this beautiful poetry collage and inspiration card. It's perfect, and it came at such the right time, too. The card is gorgeous. And so fitting: the birds, images of lift and flight, the bright colors on the black matte background, odd imagistic juxtapositions, the text. Later today when I return to the draft, I will have this thoughtful gift as a guide and source of inspiration.

I've positioned it on my desk for easy observance and safe keeping, as you can see. Thank you, Sandy!

Sandy Longhorn - Blood Almanac
Sandy is also the author of Blood Almanac, winner of the 2005 Anhinga Prize for Poetry. Her second manuscript, In a World Made of Such Weather as ThisI think that's still the title—is currently out in the world seeking a publisher. Sandy's been blogging lately about this process of submitting to contests, revising, writing new poems, and waiting for word. If you don't know Sandy's blog, Myself the only Kangaroo among the Beauty, click the link and start reading.

Here are two scans of the card:

Also, thanks to Eduardo C. Corral and Luke Johnson for their kind words and recent posts linking to my blog.

The online poetry communal pool, which I’ve been somewhat apprehensive to wade into, has been much more manageable because there are such good people out there providing the necessary raft (not to mix my metaphors too much)—flotation device? water wings? kick board? life vest?—especially during the recent contest/open submissions waiting game. AWP is really starting to feel more like a pool party more than it is a chum-filled water swim with sharks.

Kauai Diaries

A typical shoreline in Kauai. And by typical, I mean "extraordinary."

The hurricanes of '82 and '92 liberated roosters from the farms. They now roam free, cawing at all hours, the prettiest pests you have ever seen.

The Kilauea Lighthouse, which had a nearby farmer's market that yielded a fantastic meal of roasted Opa with chives, island rainbow chard and hen-of-the-woods mushrooms sauteed with local ginger and garlic, and slices of fresh pineapple...

The incredible Napali coast! Just one of the waterfalls.

And another, nested within a shoreline cave.

One of my oldest friends, who helped me land in Hawai'i for New Year's Eve: "Eric, if only we could feature your glorious individually-toed shoes..."

"Did you really just do that?"

"Yes, you really just did that."

The beach at the St. Regis hotel in day.

The beach at the St. dusk. Made the mile-and-a-half walk home worth it!

O, Kauai. May I someday return to you with a love in hand. In the meantime I am grateful, grateful, grateful.


Here's a recent poem by Dorianne Laux published in Blip, the newish online journal formerly known as Mississippi Review Online. Click on over to their site to read a second poem, "Second Hand Coat," which is a 530 word prose poem, a form that I haven't seen Dorianne write in all that much.

Also, in case you haven't heard, Dorianne's new book is forthcoming from Norton. It is called The Book of Men, and it will be released toward the end of February (though these "strict laydown date" poetry books usually have a way of shipping earlier than the date stamped on the website). Here's a link to a poem forthcoming in her new collection: "To Kiss Frank."

First Light

Lightly, she had to touch him lightly,

because he almost wasn’t there, that first boy

who came to her beneath the drunken stars,

clothes unwound like ban­dages revealing

the flesh that glowed within like bread, salty

clav­i­cle, arched bone filled with marrow

she sucked as her womb shook, the bellows

of her breasts bil­low­ing, soft pillows

he now pressed his tilted head against,

his breath unspool­ing into the hollow

of her throat, lift­ing the finest hairs

at her neck’s nape. She stroked him then,

like a horse, his long back, his dark­ling spine,

and watched the grasses on the hills sway

and rip­ple, lis­tened to the loud crickets

chip away the night. She had stepped

into the old­est church, the windows

bro­ken, her bare feet on stones hauled up

from the val­ley below thou­sands of years ago,

the sun and stars still inside them, and she had

stood there, a non-believer, and wept.

Dorianne Laux
from Blip (formerly Mississippi Review Online)