Thursday, December 8, 2011


Today, I got the proofs for my two poems that will appear in the new issue of Harpur Palate. I gotta say, I love getting proofs. It's like knowing there's a killer movie coming out and finally seeing the preview. Yeah, the release of the movie is best, but seeing that preview is awesome.

And I've been getting a lot of proofs lately. Meadowland Review sent me proofs. Third Coast sent me proofs. Accents Press sent me proofs for Bigger Than They Appear. And Blood Orange is going to send me proofs. Sweet. 

The first time I got to see proofs of my work was when Versal published "This small poem." It was so cool to see that email, download that pdf and then open the file. Especially for that poem, which is really a really small poem. It's two couplets. Four lines. Surrounded by a whole hell of a lot of white space (I love white space almost as much as I love proofs). And the title was printed in huge letters. The title was nearly as tall as the entire poem. 

And probably nothing beat getting the proofs for my chapbook, Paper Guillotines. Suddenly, there I was. Twenty pages of me. Plus Jim Daniels! How cool is that.

My grandma recently read some of my poems online. She said to me, "But they don't rhyme." I said, "Grandma, I don't write poems that rhyme." And I don't. I suck at rhyming. Not that I don't try. About a year ago, I tried to write a response poem to John Donne's "The Flea." I got this far: 
There are many reasons to like Renaissance poetry,
but John Donne's "The Flea" isn't one of them.
Yeah, then I couldn't come up with a word to rhyme with "poetry" (yes... I know, "flea,"  but seriously, I can't bring myself to rhyme "poetry" with "flea." It makes me itch just thinking about it).

I even wrote a sonnet made up entirely of Nirvana lyrics. You'd think that'd be easy to rhyme since, you know, the lyrics rhyme. But nope. No rhymes. It's also not iambic or pentameter.

But look here: Pemmican just published four of my poems. Proof I'm a poet!

It's X-mas time. Have you bought all your presents? If not, buy all of these chapbooks. And this chapbook. And this chapbook. And this chapbook. And this chapbook and this chapbook and this chapbook (though two of them are out of print so you'll probably have to look on ebay). And buy this book. And buy this book. And buy this book. And buy this book and this book. And buy this book.

When buying poetry is seen as economic stimulus, I'll see it as proof capitalism works. Until then, I offer:

(which, of course, is proof that Bob Dylan's music is awesome. When performed by other people.)

See you next year.

Currently Reading:
Anne Shaw: Undertow.
Melissa Stine: Rough Honey.
Sarah Fox: Because Why.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Meadowland Review (And More!)

The Fall 2011 issue of The Meadowland Review is now available. Go check out the killer poems, including my "Flannel Love Poem With a Touch of Sky."

In other news, the Fall 2011 issue of Third Coast (which includes my poem, "Prayers") is also now available (click here to order your own copy). It is phenomenal. Seriously, it is worth three times what the editors are charging for it.

Next, I get to announce three upcoming publications:

The fabulous Harpur Palate has agreed to publish two of my poems, "Love Poem With Callused Hands" and "The Man With No Pants at the Blue Öyster Cult Concert."

And the incredible Blood Orange Review will publish my "Last Night of Childhood, Nearly Thirteen" in a future issue.

I'll let you know when these three poems are available.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

To Pierce a Heart: Risking Sentimentality in Carey Salerno's Shelter

A lot of first books of poetry are byline-heavy. Flip to the back cover of nearly any first book and look at the description next to the author's picture. You'll often see a long list of chapbooks, journals, some anthologies, and likely a degree or two. This is, of course, true for most books of poetry, though as a poet becomes more well known, he/she sometimes trims the bio-data down to near minimalist proportions (see Michael Dickman's bio for his James Laughlin Award winning collection, Flies: "Michael Dickman was born and raised in Portland, Oregon." Seriously, that's the whole thing.) But for first books, the author bio of the unknown poet needs to help sell the book and the poet, in order to get a contract, often needs a hefty bio/acknowledgments page to get the book published. Which was why I was shocked when I flipped to the back of Shelter (Alice James Books, 2009), the first book by Carey Salerno, and found the following byline:
Carey Salerno has an MFA from New England College. Her poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and have appeared in Rattle and Natural Bridge. She lives in Boston.
A quick flip to the acknowledgments page found just as little information: a brief thank you to unnamed family, editors, mentors, friends and classmates and an acknowledgement that one of the forty six poems in Shelter had previously appeared in Rattle (and was an honorable mention for the Rattle 2006 Poetry Prize).

Then I started reading the book and had to ask why literary journals weren't scooping these poems up?

Shelter is a book length sequence of poems that takes place in an animal shelter. The speaker of the poems takes us through the lives of the people who work at shelters, cleaning up after the animals, helping people who bring in strays or runaways or hit-and-runs and, often, putting unwanted or injured or feral animals to sleep. The poems are, in one word, haunting. In another word, they are gorgeous. Salerno's use of language and lyricism in her narratives, almost all of which are written in un-rhymed couplets, is brutally and emotionally honest. And she sets the tone of the book immediately with the opening poem, "Fledgling." Here, two shelter workers, Tina and the speaker, are euthanizing seven kittens and the mother. "Kittens," she writes:
             velvet skeletons, wither
in my hands, cumbersome skulls

drooping without muscle.
The sonic effect of this three line description is both sorrowful (the way the kittens "wither/ in my hands") and resentful (especially the adjective "cumbersome"). And it is this duality of the job that permeates the entire collection. See the poem "Certification," in which an unnamed "she" attempts to get a syringe in a drugged cat's leg in order to be certified, the character ever "focusing/ on the twenty-five cent raise." And then, at the end, the poem's rage bubbles over:
                 Compassion: the slabbed certificate
on the wall reads so. In the name

of all holies she, he, anyone will-
ing to work for minimum wage may kill.
And then there is the poem "Asylum" (the sole poem mentioned in the book's Acknowledgments page), in which the speaker tries to capture a room full of feral cats and ends up drenching them all with cold water, "dous[ing] every/ pair of eyes I could see." The poem opens by saying, "I still hate myself for what I did" but it turns two-thirds of the way through the poem:
                                                        I hated them
because they were homeless ungrateful bastards, who had

created other bastards to replace them before they got here.
Because they could look me in the eye with no shame

or request for love ...
The rage in "Asylum" drenches the reader the way the speaker drenches the cats, but it is always complicated by that opening statement, "I still hate myself for what I did," which makes the final line, the harsh epiphanic truth the speaker conjures from this experience, all the more brutal (for the animals, for the speaker, and for us reading the poem):
              They snarled and swung out long
claws, curled around my hand as if

playing. I wanted to break that spirit.
Shelter does this over and over, placing us within the emotional landscape of a minimum wage worker dealing with the life and death of animals, doing dangerous, dirty and psychically damaging work. And it succeeds for the very reason the ending of "Asylum" and the ending of "Certification" succeed. It doesn't shy away from being sentimental in its descriptions and in the spaces it takes the reader. Instead, it remains completely honest and, in so doing, remains completely complicated. When Salerno pulls at the reader's heartstrings, when she effectively says, "look at how horrible this is... don't you feel sad?" we, as readers buy that sadness because it is surrounded by very real, very complicated images and descriptions. And because it is almost always accompanied by a counter emotion (rage, boredom, disdain, etc...)

This is not to say everything in Shelter is harrowing. Not all the poems take place in the e-room (euthanasia room). There are moments of euphoric joy placed perfectly among the terrors of the stacked bodies of dead animals. When reading "Skipping Stones," I couldn't help but smile and think warm, fuzzy thoughts about my own pets. This poem takes the speaker out of the shelter and to the beaches of Lake Michigan with her dog, a stray she has decided to take home. "Kennel rules disintegrate," Salerno writes, and the rules of the book also disintegrate as we get a series of snapshots of an owner and her pet acting as we might see them on a nice Animal Planet show. "You'll jump over the seat onto my back/," she writes, "and howl and drool and snivel..." And then, the ending image of the owner "watch[ing] you tear down the vacant beach."

But, it should be noted, "Skipping Stones" is a poem that treks dangerously close to the sort of sentimentality we as readers are supposed to be so wary of. Salerno keeps us reading, though, because the shelter remains in the background of even this joyous poem (she mentions the e-room twice in this sixteen line poem).

So I return to the question that started this review. Why aren't/didn't these incredible poems pop up in the best journals around the world? Perhaps we're so afraid of sentimentality that anything that remotely looks like it is simply set aside without question. Or, perhaps, it is just too much of a taboo to write about pets, no matter the actual content/context of the poems.

I remember attending a reading by Sharon Olds where she commented that she often had trouble publishing her poems because, in the paraphrased words of the editors of the time, "poems about mothers and children are better suited for magazines like Women's Day." I thought of that as I read Shelter and I thought of how many journals explicitly state (seriously or sarcastically) that they don't want to see any poems "about your dead cat." It is a common topic, especially among young writers. After four years of reading submissions for GlassI can attest to that. But Salerno shows that poems about dead or dying animals can be good when, you know, they're well written.

There is something about this collection that seems to require people to push it beyond its surface subject, though. One of the book's blurbs, written by Michael Waters, describes the book by saying, "Abu Ghraib haunts these lines as the shelter takes on harrowing, allusive dimensions, and as the narrator weighs her burden of complicity." I can certainly see what he is saying here. Look again at the lines quoted above from "Asylum" and you can see how easy it is to turn the feral cats into a metaphor for the prisoners at Abu Ghraib and how easy it is to turn the shelter workers into a metaphor for the soldiers and interrogators there. And reading through some of the poems, I definitely found myself wanting to take notes on the many issues of class appearing throughout the book (see "Certificate" again or the poems "Boss" and "Burnout"). I instinctively wanted to turn those notes into an argument about the Great Recession and how desperate people are having to do (and are becoming willing to do) terrifying things they never would have imagined doing.

But I stopped myself. Because this book isn't about the Great Recession or Abu Ghraib. And as wonderful as it is to make vitriolic statements about the economic and international horrors of the past decade, Shelter doesn't need those contextualizations to be a horrifically beautiful collection of poems. It doesn't need to "really be about Abu Ghraib" because being about an animal shelter is enough. These poems work, not because they speak to larger news headlines. They work because they are written by a skilled poet with an incredible eye for detail and an incredible ear for language.

I started reading Shelter two days after my pet, Gwen, was put to sleep. She was eleven years old and had suffered from a seizure disorder for eight of those years. The vast majority of her life was wonderful but her last day was the scariest of my life. She had numerous seizures in the span of a few hours, including one on the car ride to the emergency animal hospital where I was taking her to be put down. I have had bad experiences at that hospital. I won't go into detail but will simply say that I felt the workers weren't exactly compassionate. But that night they were beyond compassionate as I bawled my eyes out about my dying cat.

I can see why editors would be uneasy about poems about dead pets. I can already feel myself going to that bad place all poets fear, the place where craft and image and surprise are swept aside by the flooding emotions. And I know that poets and cats go together like peanut butter and chocolate so I know there are thousands of poets with thousands of dead cat poems bumping around in their heads.

But I read Shelter as I grieved the loss of my pet. And it was very difficult. But it was worth it because it gave me a clear insight into the lives of the people working on the front lines of America's pet landscape. It did so with poems that foreground craft and image and surprise all while not shying away from flooding emotions. To me, that is enough to make me want to re-read Shelter. I don't need explanations about why the poems "really matter" in the 21st century. All I need are poems like "Fledgling," the opening poem and the one I mentioned earlier about the two workers euthanizing the mother cat and her seven kittens. If you want to know why Shelter matters, you need only read that poem, read the ending as Tina moves to euthanize the mother cat:
                                   She doesn't fight
as Tina draws closer, knowing

the angle at which to pierce a heart.
See, Shelter really matters because it's really good and really smart and really complicated. No matter the length of the author's bio or her acknowledgments page.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Stop Buying Books by People Named Whitman, Dickinson, Neruda, Billy Collins and Tony Hoagland

So, shortly before Labor Day, I came downstairs from our home office to our living room where my wife was patiently waiting for me to finish checking my email so we could enjoy the last hour or so together before I had to go to bed. To explain why I had taken unusually long on the computer, I told her, “I got an email from a publisher interested in my book. Sort of.”

Some background: I have been “shopping” my book-length collection of poems to publishers for approximately twenty months. With little success. By which I mean, of the twenty or so places that have received my MS (or a sample), I have gotten a response from about six of them. The others, apparently, don’t think I deserve a “no thanks” letter/email.

Of course, my wife was excited by this news. Then I explained. I probably don’t need to do too much explaining to you. The email I received was from Geoffrey Gatza, editor/publisher at BlazeVOX Books, who has received so much attention from the internet’s poetry community lately when he was condemned by Brett at Bark: A Blog of Literature, Culture, and Art, for requiring a $250.00 donation of the authors he accepts, a post which then went viral among the poetry community thanks to people like Christopher Higgs of HTMLGIANT, who ran a post titled “BlazeVOX Goes Vanity Press?

I will discuss my decision regarding Mr. Gatza’s offer to publish my book for $250.00 later, but first, the comp/rhet/feminist/Marxist theorist in me is screaming for more context. So, read the following links:

From No Tell Motel/No Tell Books, two posts, both by Reb Livingston:

No Tell Books Supports BlazeVOX Books
the ease of selling poetry books”

From Slope Editions, by Christopher Janke:


Four posts from Versal/wordsinhere, which do not deal directly with the BlazeVox controversy but are incredibly important to this conversation:

A summary of advice, part 1
A summary of advice, part 2
A summary of advice, part 3
Oh, Whiny Writers. Or, on the use of the word "Repugnant" in response to a $2.00 submission fee.”

Anis Shivani’s Huffington Post article, which I’ve already linked to in a previous post:

Poetry Book Contests Should be Abolished: Why Contests Are the Stupidest Way to Publish First Books

And, finally, for now, friend and BlazeVOX author, Stacia Fleegal’s recent post:

My Name Is Stacia Fleegal, and I Donated to BlazeVOX, Or, a Lesson in Word Choice for Writers Who Should Know Better

Now, it only takes about a minute to google the term “vanity press” (holy aqua-Buddha, I’m using a Wikipedia link…) and get some basic information:
With vanity publishing, the author will pay to have their book published. Since the author is paying to have the book published the book doesn't go through an approval or editorial process as it would in a traditional setting where the publisher takes a financial risk on the author's ability to write successfully. Editing and formatting services may or may not be offered and they may come with the initial publishing fee (or more correctly, printing fee) or might be offered at an additional cost. 
Self-publishers undertake the functions of a publisher for his or her own book. The classic "self-publisher" writes, edits, designs, lays out, markets, and promotes the book themselves, relying on a printer only for actual printing and binding. 
More recently, companies have offered their services to act as a sort of agent between the writer and a small printing operation. In these cases, the distinction between self-publishing and vanity publishing is less obvious than it once was.
An important point here: “the book doesn't go through an approval or editorial process…” According to Gatza’s email to me, “Of the 928 manuscripts I received I choose 30 books to publish to finish out the year. There was a real system in choosing these texts and in my opinion this is better than holding a contest.” Fleegal makes a similar point in her post.

Unfortunately, duotrope has removed the BlazeVOX listing. Had they not, we could use their acceptance/rejection statistics to confirm whether or not there is an approval or editorial process. Sadly, we will have to wait for some brave soul to come forward and admit his/her book was rejected by BlazeVOX. With all the talk condemning BlazeVOX, I highly doubt anyone will admit they were rejected by what so many are now calling a vanity press.

But, it takes just a little effort to google the term “co-op publishing” (and you don’t find a Wikipedia link at the top!). According to the Fearless Books “How to Get Published” Guide:
A recent development in alternative publishing is the rise of co-op publishers, who charge authors fees for the production and publication of their works. This method is a step above traditional “vanity publishing,” in which authors bear the full cost of publication for a very small number of conventionally printed books.
The lines are blurry. But, I would point you back to BlazeVOX’s mission statement/slogan: “a refuge for innovative fictions and wide ranging fields of contemporary poetry. We are an independent publisher of weird little books.” BlazeVOX proudly publishes books that otherwise would not be published, books that are out of the mainstream, books that are weird, books that are political, books that traditional publishers are never going to touch. And for that I commend them. I also acknowledge that, within a culture where poetry already doesn’t make any money for anyone (except a very select few), BlazeVOX is publishing books that are going to have even worse commercial viability. Asking authors to invest in this “innovative publisher of weird little books” is not inherently evil, corrupt or immoral.

For more on the difference between vanity presses and co-op presses, I turn to Michael J. Bugeja’s Poet’s Guide: How to Publish and Perform Your Work (SLP Writers’ Guide, 1995), which, though seriously old, still offers some valuable distinctions. On co-operative publishing, Bugeja writes:
The poet works with the publisher and shares the burdens of publication.
Because of the declining market for poetry and the increasing costs of publication, a few smaller commercial publishers and many small presses require the poet to bear some of the risk involved in publishing a work…
Some cooperative agreements require the poet to pay certain costs of production. Others require the poet to participate in the printing or marketing phases of production. A few require the poet to contribute money in a fund for books by other poets … In any case, cooperative publishing is highly respected by the literary establishment, and you should look into it if you cannot place your collections with publishers offering standard contracts.
And on vanity/subsidy presses, he writes:
A subsidy company guarantees acceptance of your manuscript, and you pay all costs…
Some agreements are less predatory than others, but all bank on your general ignorance of publishing and willingness to pay handsomely to see your byline on a book.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees the difference between PublishAmerica, accepting everything and asking the poet to pay all costs and BlazeVox, presumably accepting 0.03% of manuscripts and asking those who are accepted to contribute 10-15% of publishing costs.

In the end, after much consideration, I ultimately declined Mr. Gatza’s offer. Not because I was offended, as so many poets seem to be, by Gatza’s business model. But rather it was because right now I cannot afford the $250.00. Also, having recently done a whole-MS revision during which the vision/argument of my book completely changed, I’m no longer convinced the MS fits the BlazeVOX line anymore.

I have no problem with the co-op model and am pretty sure more publishers will be moving this way in the near future. The only problem I can see in the way BlazeVOX publishes is that the co-op policy is not mentioned on the website. This is a moot point now as most everyone knows the policy. But Gatza should put it on the web site and include an explanation of why BlazeVOX publishes this way and how this is a better model than the now-traditional reading fee/contest model of publishing poetry (you should also know, if you don’t already, that BlazeVox does not charge a reading fee or run contests).

But I didn’t write this long blog post to talk about BlazeVOX Books. BlazeVOX Books, despite the attention it is getting, is not the disease. It is only a symptom.

Writing poetry is an art. Publishing poetry is an industry. Selling poetry is a business.

In the twenty first century, poetry has no working business model. The business of poetry is in dire straights. Hence publishers rely on grants, endowments, contest fees, reading fees and co-ops. Unfortunately, the economy is drying up donors and republicans across the country are cutting funding for and/or closing down organizations that provide grants for the arts. In addition to that, as noted by William Pierce of AGNI, in a 2006 interview with NewPages, “The stereotype is that lit mags are read by no one, and bought only by writers who want to appear in them. Dana Gioia [director of the National Endowment for the Arts] seems to accept the stereotype, and he’s been working to minimize the federal grant money supporting them.” Take that sentiment and amplify it for books of poetry, especially first books of poetry.

The result has been publishers turning almost exclusively to contests or to charging reading fees. Those who do not, close down for lack of funding. Why? The fact is that there are more poets than there are readers of poetry. This cannot sustain an industry.

There is no silver bullet to this problem, but that does not make it any less of a problem. The industry needs solutions so the business can continue. Otherwise, you can kiss the art goodbye.

Co-ops are one solution. Here, the artists invest with the business for the good of the industry. This is also, in my opinion, a much more fair system than the contest/reading fee system. Think about it. In a co-op, if it is done correctly, there should be no reading fees. Therefore, if you submit your work and are rejected, then you have paid no money. You only pay if you are accepted. You only invest in/support your work.

On the flip side, for reading fees and contest fees, you pay anywhere from ten dollars to thirty dollars just to have your work read. If you are accepted, great! Hey, if it’s a contest, you may even get some money out of the deal. However, if you are rejected, you get zilch. In the contest/reading fee system, you pay the winning author. You pay the contest judge. You pay the production costs of the book. You pay for the (limited) publicity. And many times, you don’t even get a copy of the winning book.

The production costs of all poetry books are subsidized in one way or another, often by authors. In co-ops, though, only the publisher and the published author are required to make that investment.

While reading about the controversy over BlazeVOX, I came across another potential solution that is worth discussing. Change the system of reading fees/contest fees by boycotting any publishers who charge reading fees or who run contests. Now, some publishers have both contests and open submissions, so I’m not sure whether we would be boycotting these publishers. I’m also not sure if we are only boycotting submitting to these publisher or if we are boycotting them for real, by which I mean we are no longer buying their books. This seems neither feasible nor reasonable nor practical. After all, the problem of there not being enough readers would still exist. The only real change would be that there would be fewer publishers (as many would have to close down). This, in turn, would put greater pressure on the remaining un-boycotted publishers, who would likely have to hire more readers to deal with the exponential increase in submissions, which would of course cost the publisher even more (without, necessarily, assuring greater sales).

But more to the point, consider what publishers and what authors you would be boycotting.

Seriously. Name me any publishers who accept unsolicited manuscripts of first books who also don't have reading fees or run contests? Off the top of my head I can only think of Press 53 (though they do run an individual poem contest) and Word Press.

But what about another solution? What if we all just bought more books of poetry? What if we all bought more books by smaller presses? What if we all bought more first books? What if we all bought books by people we’ve never heard of? What if we put our money where our art is?

Between September 1 and December 31, 2010, Tin House asked writers to include with their submissions a receipt showing they had recently bought a book. They called this their “Buy a Book, Save a Bookstore Campaign.” According to their website, “We experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly in response, but overall were encouraged by thousands of good words about bookstores.” They have returned to their normal submission process (though they continue to encourage writers to support bookstores).

I have one question for Tin House: What ugly? How could any writer, who hopes to publish in a journal and ultimately publish a book, which I assume they would want in a bookstore, how could he/she possibly be upset by a journal asking that writer to support a bookstore? Seriously?

This, to me, is the best solution to the co-op/reading fee/contest business models. Publishers should require the following: if you want to send your manuscript to us, send us a receipt that shows you have bought one, two, or three (I prefer three but two might be more reasonable) books of poetry within the last six to twelve months from a publisher other than us. In other words, if you are submitting to BlazeVox, show us you’ve bought a book from Sarabande and a book from Alice James Books.

There should be some stipulations here. For example, Knopff and Norton and other giant publishers like them should not be counted. But the basic idea is here. Buy books by people and publishers who need the financial support. In return, we’ll consider your manuscript. If enough publishers use this model, it is possible that readers will be buying books from all the publishers, thus creating the financial stimulus needed to keep all the publishers afloat.

Sarabande and Cooper Dillon already use a similar strategy. If you submit during their open reading periods, they will wave the reading fee if you buy one of their books. Imaginary Friend Press, who published my chapbook, also employ a similar publishing model. They don’t post their submission guidelines anywhere. Instead, if you want them to send you their guidelines, you first have to buy one of their chapbooks.

This is just a theory. It is still rough around the edges. But it could work. Or, at least, it could be a start. Until poets are willing to buy books of poetry – lots of books of poetry by lots of different poets and published by lots of different publishers – until then, poets will have to accept reading fees, contest fees and co-ops from publishers, big and small, who also will have to rely on grants and donations just to break even.

P.S. You should already own the complete works of Whitman, Dickinson and Neruda. By all means, keep buying new work by Collins, Hoagland, Levine, Olds, etc… I do. But I also buy books from a lot of people you’ve probably never heard of.

Currently Reading:
Neighborhood Register by Marcus Jackson
The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali
Fragment of the Head of a Queen by Cate Marvin

Monday, October 31, 2011

News and Blues, Part Two

Go to Accent Publishing's website. Pre-order Bigger Than They Appear: An Anthology of Very Short Poems. Enjoy the anthology when it comes out in December. Thank me once you've finished it.

Seriously, I got a chance to check out the anthology when the proofs were sent to me. Yes, my two poems are awesome:) But so are all of the other ones. Here's the full skinny from the publisher: "Bigger Than They Appear: Anthology of Very Short Poems is a 316-page volume of poems of up to 50 words, including titles. Whether poignant, funny, tragic, or inspirational, each poem is always complete and memorable, representing a world larger than the space it takes on the page. This book features work by 192 contemporary masters of the short free-form poem."

Add these wonderful journals to the list of markets that have ceased publication:

No Tell Motel
The Minnetonka Review

Read this blog post about the final week at No Tell Motel. Then cry.
Read this explanation about why Minnetonka decided to close doors. Then get pissed off at the world.

The editors at Black Lawrence Press have announced the finalists and semi-finalists for the 2011 St Lawrence Book Award. Check me out in all my semi-finalist glory!

Many thanks to the BLP editors. I am honored to be listed with these other wonderful writers.

R.E.M. have retired.

I have no words. In my mind, they're the best of the late 80's through the present. What can I say?


Pirene's Fountain has released my poem, "The Legal Team of Nietzsche, Freud, Darwin and Marx."

And! The Meadowland Review has decided to include my poem, "Flannel Love Poem With a Touch of Sky" in their upcoming Fall 2011 issue (to be released early in November). More once it is released. Until then, check out the Spring 2011 issue (same link as above).

Enough. For now.

Keep your eyes here, though. I plan to post a long discussion about the recent controversy regarding BlazeVox Books. Forthcoming.

Currently reading: The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding; Shelter, by Carey Salerno; and Post Moxie by Julia Story. And these online journals: Blood Orange Review, Cellpoems, Linebreak, and Shampoo. But mostly, I'm waiting for the new issue of Blood Lotus.

Friday, September 9, 2011

News, Blues & Reviews

Has it really been four months since I promised "to check in again before winter"?

There is much to say but first some important news. If you haven’t yet heard, RockSaw Press temporarily suspended publication. In addition, it cancelled its annual Blue Skunk Poetry Series Contest and returned the submission fees to entrants. From Jorge Evans, the managing editor at RockSaw: “Due to financial limitations, it is not possible at this time to keep producing the high quality chapbooks that we’ve become known for. Rather than lessen the quality of the books we produce, we’ve decided that it’s in the best interest for the press and all those involved to put a hold on all operations at the moment.”

RockSaw is not the only press currently on hold. Quercus Review has, since 2010, cancelled its annual book contest and its annual literary journal.

These are just two examples.

With Republicans across the country attacking the arts and with the continued economic recession, now more than ever those of us who love the arts must support them.

But, hope. Again from Jorge Evans of RockSaw Press: “We plan to reopen in the near future. We can’t be beat that easily.” I hope we all feel the same way. After incredible response from writers and readers, RockSaw has worked out a plan to reopen to new submissions, which is spectacular news since they are one of the best chapbook publishers out there. I would tell you to go and buy copies of any of their books that are still in print, but the website is temporarily  down while they prepare to reopen. Again, from Evans: “Look for the site to reopen in early September with guidelines, deadlines, and more announcements.” Once the site is back up and operational, buy everything they're selling.

Less blues, more news. I have a lot of poems recently released and forthcoming and, because I’ve been pretty crappy at updating this site, none of those acceptances/releases have yet been announced. So here goes:

Tulane Review  has published my poem, “Exodus Laughing” in their Summer 2011 edition.

The new issue of Blue Collar Review which includes my poem “Toledo in April” (accompanied by a cool little picture of a cockroach) is now available and should be purchased by anyone with a pulse and a couple bucks.

And Adroit has released its second issue, which has three of my poems (and two of my wife’s).

Accents Publishing is going to include two of my poems, “This small poem” and “Furlough Days,” in their forthcoming anthology of very short poems, titled Bigger Than They Appear: An Anthology of Very Short Poems.

Any day now, Pemmican will publish four poems: “Work,” “Elegy for My Last Name,” “Truth,” and “Self Portrait Through Social Network Status Updates.”

The Floorboard Review will include “Warming Trend” in its next issue.

And, lastly, Pirene’s Fountain will publish “The Legal Team of Nietzsche, Freud, Darwin and Marx” in their October Issue.

I’ll post as these become available.

Some more blues:

It might just be me, but it seems more and more like the only way to publish a first book of poetry is through the contest system (and here’s one person’s response to that).

I’m not opposed to contests, but this continued trend continues to concern me. The expense is high and I fear this will prevent some really great poets from finding a home for their work.

I’m not opposed to reading fees, by any means. Even for open book submissions. Especially with the arts receiving so little private and public support (see above). But it does make things difficult. I will say this, there are presses who make the reading fee very worthwhile. I’m thinking of Cooper Dillion Press, Sarabande Books and, the publisher of my chapbook, Imaginary Friend Press. Here, you pay a "reading fee" and in return you get a book. And this practice has introduced me to some killer poets I otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

Nevertheless, if I’m going to be able to afford to continue to submit my book, I think I’m going to have to quit smoking again (yes, I’m smoking again. To quote Kurt Cobain, “I have never failed to fail.”)

Alright, good news. My mailperson brought my wife and I a present recently (and by "recently," I mean months ago): In the Carnival of Breathing, the new chapbook by my friend, Lisa Fay Coutley. One of these days, I’ll have the linguistic facilities to say something other than “brilliant, breathtaking and beautiful” about this and her previous chapbook, Back-Talk. Until then: brilliant, breathtaking and beautiful. Buy them both immediately (even if you don’t have a pulse or a few bucks).

I get a half hour lunch every day at work. How I spend it depends on where I’m at. The other day, I was near a local used books store, A Novel Idea. I did not eat. I bought Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems and a hardcover copy of Louise Gluck’s Meadowlands. Both for only 7 bucks! Good news, indeed.

I think I’ve re-finished my first book manuscript. It has a new title, which is really an old title (its original title).

Here are a couple books I’ve read recently and a few words about them:

Man on Extremely Small Island by Jason Koo (C&R Press, 2009). Koo’s poems manage to be both tight and expansive (which I guess is kind of what I image being on an island feels like, though I wouldn’t know, having never been on one). They also manage to be seriously, seriously depressing but also seriously, seriously funny. The angst in this book would make the best grunge singers tear up and the humor had me laughing out loud at 5:30 in the morning while waiting for my next customer to show up. Take, for example, the first few lines of the cooly titled “How to Watch Your Team Lose Game Seven of the World Series”: “You can’t. And because you can’t, make sure/ To watch the game alone. A sports bar filled with frat boys/ Is not a good idea.” Koo is surreal but with a Midwest sensibility (he grew up in Cleveland) and I certainly appreciate and respect his ability to manage both of those.

This clumsy living by Bob Hicok (University of Pittsburg Press, 2007). I think this was Hicok’s fifth book (but I could be wrong). I first started reading him when I picked up a copy of Plus Shipping (BOA Editions, 1998) at the used book store mentioned earlier (I was as taken by the title and the few poems I skimmed on the floor of the store as I was by the fact that, according to handwriting on the inside flap, the book was previously owned by someone named Tim Curry). His earlier work is full of deeply meditated narratives that open in on themselves, creating a narrative cavern that the poem works through. This clumsy living (and, I understand, other new work by him) is very different. Very different. It is the kind of surrealism that happens when Salvador Dali has an illegitimate love child with Quentin Tarantino. Which is to say it’s damn good. I think I read the opening poem, “Twins” about ten times before I moved on to poem number two just because it was so cool and weird and exciting. Here is a sample from “Twins”:

She has a dream and she has the same dream.

She says moon and she says moon and both put their she-phones to their chests.

She says in my dream I slept between your mattress and box spring and she nods and she hears her nod.
It continues and grows and never lets up.  Hicok has the balls write a poem titled “Poem with a poem in its belly.” He has the brains to make that poem more than just an experiment or a cool idea or a farce. It is brilliant.

(Incidentally, Hicok wrote one of the blurbs for Man on Extremely Small Island).

I’ve also recently read, and will write about Versus by my friend Stacia M. Fleegal (BlazeVOX Books, 2011), Apocalypse Ranch by Sara Burge (C&R Press, 2010) and (re-read) The Water Between Us by Shara McCallum (University of Pittsburg Press, 1999). But another time.

I am currently reading Lord of the Flies (at my wife's request, since she can't imagine I managed thirty years without reading Lord of the Flies) and will probably read Just Kids by Patti Smith after that (assuming I can find it at the library).

I need another poetry bookshelf.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Review of Paper Guillotines in Emprise Review

In 2009, Emprise Review published my poem, "Bottle Rockets," a somewhat political narrative that references 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Challenger explosion and the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and President John F. Kennedy (and all in twenty lines!). It's a poem and a publication I'm intensely proud of.

Today, Emprise Review released a sequence of mini-reviews written by Adam Tavel. Tavel Reviews three books: Selected Poems by Mary Ruefle, No Permanent Scars by Michael Hemery and my chapbook, Paper Guillotines. It is a lovely review and I couldn't be happier (How could I complain when someone writes about me, "Frame’s mature and searching voice conjures the righteous invective of early Auden and the terse muscularity of middle-era James Wright."

Many thanks to Tavel and everyone at Emprise Review for their continued support of my work.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Silent Silence

The busy season has started at my job. I’m working long days and mandatory Saturdays, which leaves me little time for the computer - or anything else. But, to be honest, I live for this time of year. Not only is the money good, but it’s impossible to get bored. Yesterday, I had eight hours worth of bee work in Ann Arbor. Plus an hour and fifteen minute drive from the office to Ann Arbor (repeated on the way back). And it’s quiet. Just me and the road and the spray truck and a bag of books for my lunch break.

I’ve estimated that the construction caused by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 adds between two and five hours of drive time to my work week. Therefore, I am partially funded by The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

I’ve been working on quitting smoking. It’s going well. I’ve been using the Nicorette Lozenges. They work really well. I should get a kick-back for writing that. I won’t get a kick-back for writing that because of this: the Nicorette Lozenges taste like hell. Seriously, if the surface of hell was covered with tin foil and your punishment for whatever it is you did that sent you to hell was to chew on the crust of hell for eternity, then the Lozenges taste like hell.

I don’t believe in hell. It is illogical

A study by the UC Berkley Center for Labor Research and Education claims that if Wal-Mart decided to pay all of its underpaid workers a living wage of 12 dollars an hour and then passed every cent of that increase on to the consumer, it would result in an increase of roughly 46 cents per shopper, per shopping trip, or about 12 dollars a year, per shopper.

Ignore me. I’m a scary socialist. Boo.

I love that my GPS pronounces the word “Wagner” like the composer.

This is true. I heard about it on the radio and I read about it online. So it must be true: recently, an 18 year old went into a WalMart dressed in a cow suit, walking on all fours and mooing. He proceeded to put 26 gallons of milk into a shopping cart and then walk out of the store without paying for them. When police found him, he was a few blocks away giving the milk away. According to police, there is no surveillance video of the theft.

I walk to work, sometimes very early in the morning, at around 3:30 or 4:00 AM. There are two ghosts living on or near the path I walk to work. I can confirm two ghosts. There may be more but I can only confirm two. They are shadowy. I’ve seen them twice. I don’t know if they are intelligent ghosts or residual spirit activity. This will require further study and research, which is sadly impossible right now because the path I use is flooded and will remain flooded until late summer. My family is worried the ghosts are actually muggers. They are ghosts. I have a flashlight which I use to check my surroundings. Plus, muggers mug.

Seriously? A man in a cow suit crawls into a store, mooing, and no one finds this suspicious enough to turn the cameras on him?

Here is a poem by Yannis Ritsos I really like (the translation is by Edmund Keeley):

“Maybe, Someday” 
I want to show you these rose clouds in the night.
But you can’t see. It’s night - what can one see? 
Now, I have no choice but to see with your eyes, he said,
so I’m not alone, so you’re not alone. And really,
there’s nothing over there where I pointed. 
Only the stars crowded together in the night, tired,
like those people coming back in a truck from a picnic,
disappointed, hungry, nobody singing,
with wilted wildflowers in their sweaty palms. 
But I’m going to insist on seeing and showing you, he said,
because if you too don’t see, it will be as if I hadn’t -
I’ll insist at least on not seeing with your eyes -
and maybe someday, from a different direction, we’ll meet.

I love that poem but I want there to be exclamation points. After the word “pointed” in line six, after “singing” in line ten and after “eyes” in the penultimate line.

I hate exclamation points and never use them when I write. But I’ve been reading a lot of Whitman which fills my head with exclamation points.

I’m terrified of tornadoes (who isn’t?). There are obvious reasons and I don’t think this fear is irrational. Still, I’ve tried to pinpoint when the fear began. I think I was young, at a cousin’s house, being babysat (I don’t know if I was being babysat by the cousin or if we were both being babysat together). There wasn’t a tornado. I don’t think the sirens went off. But I thought there was a tornado. There was a serious storm. The rain hit the house hard as a heavy metal drummer. The wind screamed until it tore aluminum siding to the ground. The window shutters shuddered (I’ve always wanted to say that). I hope the weather down south isn’t a prediction of this year’s Spring weather in the upper Midwest.

The first rule of French Symbolism is: Don’t talk about French Symbolism. Okay, that’s the first rule of Fight Club, but it should also be the first rule of French Symbolism.

Why did they decided to use the old nuclear war sirens as the tornado sirens? Why is the tornado protective teaching the same as the old nuclear war protective teaching (duck and cover)? Do they know what the hell they're talking about?

I hate the song "Silent Night."

I need to buy another box of Nicorette Lozenges.

Here’s a song that uses the word “silent” (or “silenced,” I’m not sure):

I think every song on The Smashing Pumpkins’ album Siamese Dream is about child abuse. Billy Corgan would probably say I’m wrong but screw him. His new music sucks.

Here is a Nirvana song that doesn’t use the word "silent", but I love it anyway. I don’t know what it is about. I can’t understand the lyrics. I bet it’s about his father.

Nirvana wasn’t be best band of the 90’s. Blind Melon was.
Kurt Cobain wasn’t the best lyricist of the 90’s. Tori Amos was/is.

Kurt died at the age of 27. This year he would have turned 42. This year I turn 30.

Here are four songs that use the word “silent” or “silence.” None are by Blind Melon or Nirvana. Two are by Tori Amos.

“Come down.
Get off your f**king cross.
We need the f**king space
to nail the next fool martyr.”

This is from the Tool song “Eulogy,” lyrics by James Maynard Keenan. Some people think the song is about Kurt Cobain. Some people think the song is about the comedian Bill Hicks. I think Maynard is heavily influenced by the French Symbolists, which means everything he writes is about himself. Maynard is originally from Ravena, Ohio. I wonder how he feels about tornadoes.

I promise to check in again before winter.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

This Makes Me Feel Like I'm on NPR

Red Lion Square has just released audio recordings of three of my Deer poems (another was recently published in Stirring). The poems titles are:

"Deer's Tattoo"
"Deer Tells Me He Hasn't Had Sex in Three Years"
and "Deer Hates it When I Call Him 'Boss'."

They did an excellent job reading these poems, but it is weird (in the good way) hearing someone else's voice speaking my words.

While you're there, check out the archives. They're great and they include poems by my brilliant wife, Holly Burnside, and some of my dear friends: Dan Nowak, Stacia M. Fleegal, and Teneice Durrant Delgado.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What I'm Reading And Why

So, I've been thinking a lot about the complaints I've been hearing since Time Magazine put Jonathan Frazen on its cover with the title "Great American Novelist."  Essentially, many have complained that Frazen is yet another white male novelist whose face appears on the cover of Time. Fair enough. Time should be putting more non-white, non-male novelists on its covers. Of course, if we're going to be fair, Time should also be putting some poets (male or non, white or non) on its covers, too.

And I've been listening to a number of people compain about James Franco, too. Not so much because of his less-than-stellar performance as co-host of the Oscars (yeah, he was no good, but if you see him in any off-the-cuff interviews, you'll see why -- dude is painfully shy). Mostly because he has had the audacity to get an MFA in Creative Writing and to pursue a PhD in Creative Writing. And this has lead to the release of a collection of his short stories, Palo Alto: Stories. And some MFA/PhD people I know are kind of pissed. (Note: You can read the New York Times book review of Palo Alto here).

I get it, the Jewel factor (no link because I refuse to help anyone learn how to buy that horrible book of poems -- but I did once see a book of poems in response to Jewel's which was hillariously funny. Sadly, I can't remember the title or the author. Anyone who knows it should send me the info). And so there is a reason I haven't looked into Billy Corgan's book of poems, Blinking with Fists, and not just because that's a really stupid title. And not just because everything from The Smashing Pumpkins since Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness has been dreadful.

Seriously -- has anyone read Corgan's book? Is it decent enough to pick up from the library?

Yes, Jewel would never have published (and no one would ever have purchased) her book of poems if not for the fact that she is a pop star. Same with Corgan.

Franco might never have gotten into an MFA and then into a PhD program, and his book of short stories wouldn't have been published as easily and quickly, were he not James Franco.

But whatever. Howl was awesome. Freaks & Geeks ruled. Milk was great. And dude played a great Harry Osborn in Spiderman.

None of that is what this is really about. This is really about what we value, which we can show by what we read. And who we read. So here's what I've been reading lately:

Find the Girl by Lightsey Darst (Coffee House Press, 2010).
This is one of the strangest books of poetry I've read in a very long time. It's also one of the best. Darst explores woman-hood, girl-hood, and child-hood, often relying on fairy tales and mythology, but her poetry is that of a CSI investigator. Her poems are not traditional, not necessarilly narrative. They are hard -- hard to read, hard to push through and, at times, hard to understand (in the good way). She uses symbols and signs (backslashes, asterisks, the more-than/less-than symbols) and, honestly, I couldn't begin to explain why. But I know, instinctually, the effect they have on me as I read -- the way they slow me down, force me to focus on her images, force me to reconsider the shape, movement and goals of poetry, hers and others. Darst explores the darker sides of American culture, especially as it relates to women, as in "Billboard," where she opens with "The 2007 peach queens of Clifton County welcome you/ to this stretch of kudzu & jack pine." She ends with "I am not the bas-relief, I/ am not the photogenic swamp.// I am not the good sister.// I am a peach queen, I am welcoming you." Not only is that opening couplet probably the most interesting thing I've read in a damn long time, but the force of the ending shocks me in ways I'm rarely shocked. And in our CSI world, it is difficult to shock.

Ohio Violence by Alison Stine (UNT Press, 2009)
I found this book lost among the many Bukowski and Frost volumes that seem to fill (often in exclusivity) the poetry sections of book stores. I'm not sure how Stine's little book made it on the shelf. Perhaps someone putting together the orders thought, since this is Ohio, a book with the word Ohio in the title might sell. Apparently, that person was right. It got me to pick it up and take a look.

Stine won the 2008 Vassar Miller Prize for Ohio Violence and rightly so. Much like Darst, Stine is interested in the stories of American women and girls and, much like Find the Girl, Ohio Violence pulls no punches. The poems are tragically haunting. They are violent, deadly, and a bit scary. They are also incredibly beautiful. Stine knows how to write a poem. She knows how to construct an image. She knows how to put everything together, to take you on a journey and then, once you're pretty sure you know where you're going, she takes you down a dirt path you didn't know was there. Personally, I think Ohio Violence is worth the $13 cover charge for the poem "Moon Lake Electric" alone (luckily, we get 62 pages of poems just as good as "Moon Lake Electric"). "We know our way by stars or smell,"  Stine writes in "Moon Lake Electric" and from there she takes us on a trip through her world, watching for "the eye spark of deer or dog/ along the drive." She shows us the power lines that kill the birds, their bodies strewn along the ground, the power company paying for each dead raptor. Then she writes, "and they [Moon Lake Electric] don't know what to do with them [the dead birds],/ as I don't know what to do with you."  Halfway through, and she shifts so suddenly, so dramatically, it's as if a deer did jump in front of the car and she had to swerve the poem into a totally new direction. Stine does this over and over again, in poem after poem, building brutal image upon brutal movement. And in the end, where she takes us is to that place we go when we've seen the horrors and somehow come out alive. Are we stronger? Are we smarter? Are we safer? Maybe. Maybe not. But we're different. As she writes in "In the Limbo of Lost Toys," "all of it changed under new snow,/.../ the first grass rolling out/.../wet and curled from inside/ your eyes, which are wider now/ but not surprised."

Anatomy of a Shape-Shifter by Stacia M. Fleegal (Word Press, 2010).
Again, a book about woman-hood, girl-hood, child-hood. A book that is brutally honest. A book that refuses to pull punches or, as Fleegal recently wrote on her website, to shut up.

Fleegal's book is different from Stine's and Darst's. There is a more formal nature to Anatomy that certainly isn't found in Find the Girl and that is only found in the semi-consistant line lengths and stanza styles of Ohio Violence. Fleegal is much more willing to experiment with rhyme, internal and end-stopped, and to use, alter and invent poetic forms. Much like Stine, Fleegal is interested in narrative, but like Darst she isn't wedded to only writing narrative verse (Ohio Violence is pretty much just narrative poems).

Fleegal's narratives are strong and powerful ("Discovering Dickinson at Age 11" and "Every Saturday" are just two examples of killer narratives) but Fleegal is at her best when she gets a little random, and little associative, a little experimental. The opening poem, "Shape-Shifter," is a perfect example. It opens with, "When a woman puts on a disguise,/ will you say she is or isn't/ who she was before it?" If you've spent any time in a poetry workshop, then you probably know where the poem will go next: a series of strong, concrete images of women putting on disguises and how those disguises change the way we look at the woman. But you'd be wrong. The poem refuses to go there. It refuses to slow down, to be forced into a concrete box. Instead, it stays big, bold and defiant. It doesn't simply rant in an abstract polemic way. Instead, it mediates on the underlying idea of the masks women wear (are forced to wear) and it does so in a way that relies on intellect and sound -- in ways that remind me of Neruda or Li-Young Lee when they're at they're best.

Over and over, Fleegal is able to use sound, intellect and image to pull us through these poems. "The Diplomacy of Doors," "Taurus," "Qadishtu" and so many others that will knock you on the floor.

*     *     *

These aren't the only books I've been reading lately, but they're three I've wanted to write about for a while. They're three new books by three young female poets. All three are first books. All three represent the starts of very promising careers. But who wants to take bets on whether Darst, Stine or Fleegal will end up on the cover of Time any time soon?

Other books I've been reading: The Gold Cell by Sharon Olds (it's time I went through and re-read everything by her, something I do every few years). Amplitude: New & Selected Poems by Tess Gallagher. Otherwise: New & Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon. Lost and Found, the second novel by Carolyn Parkhurst (and I'm eager to read her third novel, The Nobodies Album). The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

What's the point? I don't know. I'm rambling. I do that.

Read more women writers.

And yes, I am aware that two of the books listed under "Books Currently in My Work Truck" are by men. I read a lot of books at once.

You should still read more women writers.

*   *   *

An effort at full disclosure:
Stacia M. Fleegal is a friend of mine and is also co-founder and co-editor of Imaginary Friend Press, which published my chapbook, Paper Guillotines.

Lightsey Darst is not a friend of mine but she was published in the first issue of Glass: A Journal of Poetry, of which I am the co-founder and co-editor.

I have no connection to Alison Stine. I just happened upon her book in a local Barnes and Noble and was pleased to see anything that wasn't written by Bukowski.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Two Poems Surrounded by Other Great Poems

Go to these websites. Yes, they include two of my poems. But my poems are accompanied by (or accompany) a number of other great poems you should read.

Here is the link for Stirring Volume 13, Edition 3: March 2011, which includes my poem "My First Roach Job" and four other killer poems (plus a great short story). (and here's hoping I remember to update the link when these go into the archives)

While you're there, check out the archives, which are overflowing with phenomenal poems. Two of note:

Rane Arroyo's "Instead of Flamenco Before Our Eyes"
My brilliant wife, Holly Burnside's, "Mad Hatter"

*      *     *

Next head over to Side B Magazine, where you can find my poem "A Generation of Insomniacs" in Issue 3.

Side B Magazine is a print journal, so you'll have to order a copy to read  my poem, but -- trust me -- it's worth it. The issue includes three other great poems, two great short stories, a sweet-ass interview and some killer artwork. Print copies are a little over eight bucks (a steal) or you can order the PDF version for only two bucks (a steal of a steal!)

Spend some time at this website, which contains a ton of cool stuff (and more coming daily). You could spend days exploring what they offer. 

As a side note, Side B is dedicated, and entirely devoted, to supporting emerging writers (a mission we should all love). They used to define this as any writer under the age of 30 who has not yet received significant recognition in their field. They have recently changed this to simply be writers who have not yet received significant recognition in their field (defined as "published a book, have a book deal, have won a previous major contest"). I think their decision to drop the age requirement is a smart and necessary one (especially since I'm about to turn 30 and have not yet received significant recognition:).

Go -- support this young publication.
*   *   *

My poems in these journals are from two different chapbooks I'm working on and that I hope to have some updates about soon. Fingers crossed.