Yes, I have been more of less absent from blogging for a month, sure. If you're curious what I've been up to, watch the video below:
I'm the one with less of a sense of rhythm at the beginning of the video.
I've been spending more time at the Grand Midway of late, writing more, reconnecting with my hotel family. It feels really really good to be in that creative, loving space.
I've also been working on responding to all the (many many) submissions to Hyacinth Girl Press for this past reading period. I've been completely overwhelmed with how amazingly talented the poets who have submitted all seem to be. Every single manuscript was quite good in its own way and it's been a huge, huge pleasure getting the opportunity to read so much really well-written poetry. What's been difficult has been the decision-making. Year 2 is not going to be a sophomore slump. That's all I'm saying.
Susan Slaviero's chapbook, A Wicked Apple comes out from Hyacinth Girl Press next (as soon as the proofs are all in and then approved!), and right now there's a preview of the cover art up on our main page. The art is by one of my favorite poets and Pittsburgh ladies ever, Renée Alberts.
I haven't had as much opportunity to read anything that is not a submission lately as I would like, but I've only got maybe 3 manuscripts to go in the inbox! I'm taking recommendations for chapbooks to read/review this winter (though I have a good stack of 5 or 6 that I owe reviews on right now)
It's been quite a busy month of absence, truth be told. I released Book Four by Niina Pollari through Hyacinth Girl Press (and it is beautiful and amazing and you should order a copy and read it now now now), and I am truly pleased with how it turned out. I read and reread the poems and I still cannot get over how much I love them.
Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel seems to be gathering some love - I'm working on a super secret awesome project for it with a dear poet friend and have gotten a lot of very touching comments about it from other poets and, perhaps more importantly (okay, yes, more importantly - no offense poets. You guys rock), from the friends who helped to inspire the collection itself. Barefoot and Listening did not get nearly as many kind notes, facebook messages, and emails - not because I think it was a weak collection by any means, but perhaps because I have so much emotionally invested in the Letters From Room 27 poems that it spills over to the reader? I'm not sure. The collection also tells a sort of a story (sort of. I mean, I am a poet...). I am deeply humbled by every small note. If you want a copy, they are available at the Blood Pudding Press etsy shop or from me (you know, if we run into each other or you see me at a reading, which is a form of running into each other I suppose) or at Caliban in Oakland.
I was at the hotel this past weekend for what may very well be the last of the filming I'm involved in for Blair Murphy's latest film endeavour, Zombie Dream. I've had what might be described as "more fun than might be legal in some states" being a part of the project. I love watching Blair's mad genius at work. This is definitely not going to be your standard zombie film. At all. As soon as even the smallest smidgen of it is released to the public, you bet your ass it's going to be all over every single social media outlet I'm signed up for.
While we're on this theme of "art that happens at the Grand Midway" I'm going to do a micro review of a chapbook that, in a lot of ways, is quite different from the others I've reviewed here.
Kerouac Fest August 2011 Photopoems by Jason Kirin, according to the copy I have, was printed in a quantity of 20 copies by Jason himself less than two weeks (as I recall) after Kerouac Fest. First, the object itself. Jason binds all of his chapbooks with dental floss, which I think is kind of great (and minty fresh). The cover is dark grey card stock, and the interior is made up of photocopies of typewriter-typed poems with the photographs to accompany them having been taped to the pages themselves before copying. This chapbook owns its DIY-ness and is stronger for it - the object is rugged and lovely and gives a sense of immediacy to the whole collection. Now onto the poems and photos themselves. Jason wrote the entire chapbook during the three days of Kerouac Fest he attended. I am totally jealous, as I wrote a single, solitary poem. I love projects that capture the immediacy of a space and an event, and, in general, poetry does not tend to do that as often beyond one poem at a time. This collection of poems, however, with its constant frantic meditation, gives that sort of snapshot. By merit of sitting himself down and writing these poems and taking these photographs while fully immersed in all of the insanity and uproar and performance and creation of Kerouac Fest, Jason has achieved something not usually found spanning an entire chapbook, and as someone who experienced the same event, I found it deeply enjoyable to relive it through Jason's eyes. Each piece of writing is accompanied by at least one photo, most of them portraits of some kind, and sometimes the pieces of writing are an entire page of unbroken typewritten lines, and other times they are five or six words beneath, next to, or above a photo. The writings also alternate between structured poems, quotes, half-quotes, and stream of consciousness, which adds to the feeling of frantic meditation and immediacy. The poems themselves are not necessarily grounded in a sense of place in the traditional way (no lengthy descriptions of hallways or rooms), but in the sense of place that comes from the people who dwell there. As Jason writes, "I am small/enough to be in/my own veins." - the person is the place, and in that is part of the power of these poems. The photographs ground the poems in the human spaces they inhabit and in the Grand Midway Hotel, taking them from a collection that might only be truly loved as it should be by the people who are the creatures the pages soak in, to a collection of poems (or, arguably, a long, feverish, poetic dream) that reaches beyond the impulse of personal 4am reflection. The poems and the photographs know that they need each other - hence the title of "Photopoems". I'm not sure if Jason still has copies of this chapbook - if you know him (or are a friend/follower on Facebook or Google + - he dwells in both, though much moreso in Google +), you can harass him about it. Otherwise, come by my place and I'll let you page through my copy and talk your ear off about the hotel.
Okay, so that ended up being a lot less micro than I thought it would be. Ha.
I want to write something about Occupy Wallstreet, but I don't think that I am nearly as eloquent about such things as others. So I will link to this blog post instead that my husband found and posted on Facebook. Something to think about next time someone says that the protesters have no focus/need a list of exactly what they want.
I visited Juliet Cook in Ohio this weekend, went out for delicious Chinese food and sushi, went to a lovely farmer's market (there was goat milk fudge! Oh, the decadence!), played with her dog Sockeye, and, oh yes, picked up the copies of my chapbook, Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel.
I know that since they are my chapbooks you will probably take this with a grain of salt, but oh my goodness they are incredibly lovely! Juliet has gone above and beyond with the design and construction of them, and everything about them is just beauty. Our dear friend Kevin Ross has contributed photos that get tucked inside each copy, and that, plus the artsy extras that Juliet is including make me wish that more presses were like Blood Pudding Press for the sake of poets and writers everywhere.
The first 18 or so copies are already making their way out into the world, and I can't wait to do my first reading post-chapbook release. On September 24th I will be reading at Bite Bistro (565 Lincoln Ave) in Pittsburgh for the poetry organization Girls With Glasses. Deena, the organizer, is a lovely person and great poet and I can't wait - it's also a beer tasting for a new local brewery and there will be music. If you are in the area, you should definitely come by because I can promise awesomeness.
I am sure everyone is sick of hearing about it, but I'm going to weigh in on the BlazeVOX controversy. If you've been under a rock all weekend and my blog is for some absurd reason the first you are hearing of it, it recently came to light that the publisher BlazeVOX sometimes (often?) asks authors to contribute $250.00 toward the publication of their book, but has not until post-controversy, made this information public, and in fact, seemed to be trying to make it not public.
I don't think the practice of asking the writer to contribute monetarily or otherwise to their book's publication is a problem as long as that information is offered readily to anyone who might be considering submitting to that press. It is expensive to publish perfect-bound books. Hell, it's not free to publish saddle-stapled books either. In my opinion, the only problem here is the lack of transparency. But that is not really what I want to talk about. All of this has been talked to death. Many people have said everything I am thinking in that vein and much more eloquently than I could hope to.
The thing that we are all skirting around now, and that Roxane Gay touched on, perhaps most directly out of the posts I've seen, is the future of poetry and of publishing on honest-to-goodness dead trees, and more specifically, the "traditional" publishing model for poetry. It's just not working. People don't read poetry unless they are poets or the odd weird-ass literary fiction writer, or unless that poetry has a specific appeal to them that transcends its scary line breaks. At some point in a comment on her post, Roxane mentions that Gatza's comment that he only sells 25-30 copies of a new poet's book indicates that their relatives aren't even all buying the book. Honestly? I can count on one hand the number of my relatives who have purchased one of my two chapbooks, and my second chapbook is so full of sex and demons and... um... monkeys, that I am pretty sure if any of my relatives (other than my dad, who is cool) read it, our next holiday gathering would be a special one. I mean, I certainly wouldn't stop them from purchasing or reading, but my grandmother is getting old. Her heart can only take so much. With fiction, it is presumed that it is, well, fiction.
Gatza publishes experimental, avant-garde poetry. Often the kind of poetry that our relatives just wouldn't get. My parents are crazy-supportive of The TypewriterGirls, which is pretty experimental and often downright offensive to them, but not all of my family feels for me like my mom and dad do. And I still don't think it's the best idea if my mom reads this chapbook. I let her read my senior thesis in creative writing, and her response was that I was clearly having too much sex. Possibly true, but still. So if every single one of a poet's family members aren't running out and buying their book, it doesn't surprise me, and for some poets it is probably a tiny relief.
That said, another comment was made on Roxane's post saying that if a book sells only 30 copies it doesn't need to be a book, and I do disagree with that. I think that my responsibility as an editor is to get writing out there that I think is beautiful and strange and unsettling and important. Yes, Juliet can publish each of her Designer Vagina poems individually in journals (and has for most if not all of them), but collecting them together gives them more power in my opinion. To be fair I've sold about twice the number of copies of Juliet's chapbook that Gatza is quoting, (the same is true for my Star Trek: TNG collection, Make it So). Perhaps this is because I've only taken on 4 poets for the first year of Hyacinth Girl Press. Perhaps it is because my books are crazy-affordable ($5), but I also wouldn't mind at all if I sold more, and not because I want to make money (honestly, they're priced for me to basically break even), but because I genuinely want to get this poetry out into the world.
In spite of its reputation, I think poetry can be an extremely powerful medium. Honestly, I equate writing a poem to writing a prayer or a spell. For me, good poetry says that which cannot be said in any other way, and the collaborative experience of poetry, I believe, can be truly transformative. That is a large part of what Crystal and I did with the TypewriterGirls. We engaged, and beyond that, we did our best to make poetry fun for an audience that may not have ever been to a poetry reading before. And we succeeded.
I think people who claim that poetry is not a viable medium are not looking at poetry from all angles. While Crystal and I were often accused of over sexualizing our shows (which almost always include burlesque and lots of herpes jokes) and I am sure the same accusations are lobbed at groups like The Poetry Brothel, we never once held a show where, at the end, someone didn't come to us and say something to the effect of "I had never been to a poetry reading before and was convinced they all sucked, but this was amazing," and then proceed to talk, not about the mostly-nude ladies (though the Bridge City Bombshells are amazing mostly-nude ladies), but the readers we invited to perform with us. Those readers would also almost invariably tell us that they sold more books at our readings than at any other. Partly, if not mostly, because Crystal would work her butt off to sell them post-show.
I'm not saying this to toot my own horn, Crystal's, or that of the TypewriterGirls. I'm saying these things because I don't think that we have to be the exception. It should be the rule, not a surprise, that poetry readings are fun and engaging and involve the audience actively and don't suck. It should be the rule that the organizers of an event pimp the books of their readers. Hard. Particularly if they are not helping that writer financially. In return, poets need to learn to read and perform in an engaging way that does not involve their noses being in a paper the whole time, or their front never truly facing the audience. For an amazing example of a poet who writes and reads oh-so well, I give you Renee Alberts (skip to 2:30 if you don't want to watch me chase people around in a gorilla costume - there's also some typewriter background noise, sadly, due to the position of the camera). This girl will blow your face off. And I have to read next to her on the 24th. Haha.
If you are a poet who doesn't know how to read well in front of an audience, ask poets who do know. I'm not saying I am the best reader ever, or that I am even the right person to ask, but there are poets out there who are very very very good readers. Or you can just watch every Youtube video of Huang Xiang that you can find. That would help, too.
But perhaps I digress. This was to be a response to issues in publishing, but the problem is, in large part (everyone keeps saying it), that poetry is not popular. I think fun, skilled readings that challenge and engage the audience would go a really long way toward helping with that. I know it is disheartening when you do a reading for 50 people and no one buys your book. I know it is upsetting when no one seems to care, but as they say, isn't the very definition of insanity doing the exact same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? In my opinion, the root of the problem is not that people are putting out bad books, is not that writers today are not as good as they used to be, but perhaps that we have begun to forget that there is more to getting you poetry out there than tweeting about it. I don't mean to be dismissive or reductive or to say that it is 100% up to the poet - this applies to editors and curators of readings, too.
We can't do anything that will be the finger snap to make poetry popular again. Though I do suggest flyting very strongly. I'm hoping to run a Flyting Series at some point. Oh god, that would be amazing... Hit me up if you would be interested in flyting (either with me or someone else) myhyacinthgirl (at) gmail.com - seriously.
I agree with the people who have said that smaller press run books (or POD) that are handmade art pieces may very well be the way of the future for non-electronic publication of poetry, and I say bring it on. If this discussion/blow up/controversy has done one positive thing for me personally, it's been to let me know that it's okay that I'm dragging my feet on finishing my full-length manuscript, and it is perhaps even a good thing that I'm really into chapbook-length collections, handmade books, and putting physical beauty into the poetry collection. I'm not someone who is worried about tenure, so that may be coloring my opinions pretty strongly, but I love what I am doing. I love editing Hyacinth Girl Press. I love Blood Pudding Press, Flying Guillotine, Dancing Girl Press, and Greying Ghost Press. I aspire to be as awesome as any of them.
Really, let's all aspire to be awesome and have fun.
6 years ago my poetry mentor Michael Dennison invited me and a number of his other students to an event called Kerouac Fest at the Grand Midway Hotel in the town of Windber, Pennsylvania. My son was two months old at the time, and even tinier than the average newborn as he had been born two months prematurely. Nevertheless, I decided to go and take my little one with me, and every day I am glad that I did. In the years that have followed I have grown to love the Grand Midway Hotel and the amazing, beautiful, enchanting people who live there, who pass through, and who, like me, consider the hotel to be their second home.
Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel has taken me 5 years to write, and when I started I wasn't aware that I had. The title poem was the first poem I wrote, and it was originally 7 pages long. I wrote it in one sitting with a manual Smith Corona typewriter named Stewart and a bottle of ice wine in room 27 (which is now filmmaker, novelist, host, and beautiful friend Blair Murphy's office). I still have the typewriter, though the wine was gone in about an hour. The rest of the poems were all written with typewriters (though the alcohol content was more varied), and, at least in the case of the older ones, often after one too many viewings of Gothic.
This chapbook is ultimately a long love poem to the Grand Midway. It's creepy and dark and more than a little fucked up in places, but I'm okay with that. I am eternally grateful to Juliet Cook for the huge amount of work she has put into this chapbook. Blood Pudding Press is the press I envisioned putting out Letters From Room 27, and I know that I am extremely lucky for that to have happened. Below I've added the title poem as a teaser to the rest of the chapbook.
Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel
I. I know I’m not the only one who dreams of watching all the boys who almost fucked me commit suicide, Claire says.
A bullet to the brain and it doesn’t matter if they finger-banged me, laid in my bed, cock out and unmuzzled.
They had gunpowder fingers and she used to think she was water
to make them moist and useless for weeks,
but she cries for men who kiss her there in Pennsylvania’s belly,
mouths open, and think of New York.
She stays upstairs and drinks late harvest wine,
reads love letters not meant for her. She never gets letters.
She gets boxed wine, calloused feet, and panties covered in blood.
She gets spanked and smokes up in the monkey’s room
when flies pile on the windowsills in mustard gas heaps,
when she is soggy and her mouth is caving in.
II. After each sex act she turns back into a woman,
stiff-laced and dressed like a puritan. Ripped at the knees,
she calls herself Gorgeous when she is alone at night,
face buried in the pillow, holding her breath.
She drums herself to sleep,
draws her skin taught and slaps the stretch marks.
III. She would rather break her nails on typewriter keys
than make her legs a kickstand to hold up men
who cannot see the violin carved into the back of her skull.
They write her lines of poetry and they take off their pants.
They tell her they never have casual sex
in the same breath, and she is somehow undone.
IV. She is the girl with her heels sliced off,
a closed fist and a four leaf clover
that blooms like her chest.
She has no secrets on her skin in a closet not her own.
She sits dumb and numb in the half-cold morning,
feels dirt in her hair, in every crease of her body.
V. Last night she collapsed in on herself, dried to a husk and crumbling.
she woke up cold, she slept cold, and this morning
she will cross the stream from hotel to metal graveyard,
baptize herself in sulfur and mud.
She will throw herself into the husks of train cars, and eat paint chips
that slough off the ceiling. She will break a window in every car.
She will show you just how afraid she is.
I think I grew old in one of the lifetimes I lived in my head.
If you want to read more, I've already linked a couple of times but will do so once more! Blood Pudding Press and Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel are on etsy. I absolutely encourage you to support the publisher, the lady Juliet. I will be visiting her briefly this weekend, so if you order a copy in the next few days I can personalize it!
Also, I have been even more lucky, because my dear friend Kevin Ross took photos with me at the Midway about a month ago, and has graciously printed (and then cut out by hand - bless him) small, delicious photos to slip into all of the chapbooks. They add another dimension to the chapbook that I am so very, very pleased with. The prize in the Crackerjack box, as Kevin put it.
Thank you to everyone who has supported, inspired, and encouraged me, this manuscript, and the hotel. I can't name everyone because I would be here all night (and I really should sleep at some point), but special special thanks to: Blair Murphy, Juliet Cook, Kevin Ross, Michael Dennison, Skot Jones, Mihnea Vasilescu, Adam Blai, Sarah Ireland, Crystal Hoffman, Dylan Fornoff, Deanna Dolges Kane, Martha and all the other ghosts, Manuel Ibarra, Stephanie Conrad, Joey Bertolasio, Damien Youth, and Kevin Bean. If it sounds like I am a silly, gushing girl, then I am. And I'm okay with that, too.
It's been a rough week in my household - I got hit pretty hard with a sinus infection last Sunday, went completely hoarse on Wednesday, and am still suffering from laryngitis today, though my other cold symptoms have lessened pretty drastically. In addition to that, my husband and I are still wrestling with the idea of moving (we have decided that if we do move we are getting a decent amount of new furniture, though, which pleases me in a domestic way. Our couch was picked up from a sidewalk and is certainly on its last legs, and our mattress definitely needs replaced.), and while neither of us is 100% happy, we are resigned. Such is life sometimes.
To cope with my laryngitis, we have been using text to speech software with some pretty hilarious results. My husband's name is Romanian (like him), and the text to speech software has a lot of trouble with it.
I hate being sick. I'm sure that there really isn't anyone out there who enjoys it, but I'm the kind of person who doesn't get sick a lot, but when I do get sick, I really get sick. I don't get the sniffles and then get over it. I am laid up in bed for 3 days, have a fever, can't talk, and then the cold lingers for a full 10 days. I've tried going to the doctor, but they just tell me to take it easy and try Zicam. Meanwhile, my son tears around the apartment with only the slightest hint of the sniffles.
But all is not illness and cardboard boxes! This upcoming week is Kerouac Fest! Hoorah! No matter what else may be going on, I am going to Kerouac Fest, dammit. It keeps me sane and balanced to be with my arts family. While we are there, Blood Pudding Press will be releasing Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel!! The poems in this chapbook haven't appeared in many journals, unlike the poems from Barefoot and Listening, so I'm double excited. Yay!
I have also managed to do some reading while in the midst of all the craziness. I read Gorgon by Peter D. Ward, a nonfiction book that chronicles the adventures of a paleontologist as he attempts to find evidence of a rapid mass extinction at the end of the Permian era, 250 million years ago. While not as much about science as the copy would suggest, I actually found the true content of the book much more interesting than I had expected. Ward weaves into the book his experience with apartheid while working in South Africa, which was truly fascinating, and makes me want to read more on apartheid. When the "heavier" science is present, it is explained in a way that I, a non-science major, could understand without feeling talked down to, and the end of the book made me hope he is planning to write more. Also, he managed to connect discussion about mass extinction on Earth to discussion about life on other planets, and I do love outer space.
I also read The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, and am probably the last person to have done so. I very much enjoyed it, and will probably move on to read Unaccustomed Earth, in spite of it generally receiving less glowing reviews. It was a great collection of stories dealing with what it means to belong to a country and a cultural identity as well as the loss of cultural identity. Loss seemed to play a big theme in the collection - how we deal with loss, how we interpret loss through a cultural lens, and how others respond to a loss not their own. It was extremely readable, and I felt like I knew her characters instantly. I wasn't particularly a fan of The Namesake as a story (though I will admit that I only saw the film), and wouldn't say that I loved every one of the stories in The Interpreter of Maladies, but the combination of them was gorgeous.
I'm still plodding my way through A Briefer History of Time (I never took physics in high school - give me a break!) and am about half way through The Toughest Indian in the World (though I am tempted to shift over to Indian Killer for reasons that I will discuss in whatever I write about whichever book I finish first). I am also slowly making my way through Saint Monica, though less in the plodding way with Briefer History, and more in the this-is-so-delicious-I-can't-swallow-it-all-in-one-gulp way.
I was hoping to get reviews going again here in August, but August has turned into a very very busy month, in some ways happy, in others ways... less so.
My husband and son and I may have to move out of the apartment and neighborhood that we all love in order to get my son into a school that we are all comfortable sending him to. Ben is a great kid and last year we had a very poor match with his school. He is smart and inquisitive and interested in learning (many of the books I read him are books about outer space and paleontology) and I fear that another year at a school that does not work well with him will lead to a stifling of that love of learning and a belief that school cannot possibly be a good place. So we may move. We will see.
In happier news, Kerouac Fest is right around the corner and I will get to be reunited with my undergraduate creative writing professor. He lives in Lebanon now, so I hardly ever get to see him and I can't wait. It is fitting that we will see each other right as my new chapbook, Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel will be coming out then, too - he is the reason I am no longer a terrible poet (oh lord, I was terrible - I'm rereading some of my high school era poetry for Scary Bush, and oh god...) and he's the one who first brought me to the Grand Midway.
Juliet Cook is doing an amazing job with Letters from Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel - when this manuscript was still in its fetal state I told myself that as soon as it was done if Blood Pudding Press was taking submissions I would send it there. Juliet is, in so many ways, the right publisher for this manuscript. I think she gets it more than any other editor possibly could have. Juliet recently did an interview with Women's Quarterly Conversation that is well, well worth reading. It is here.
Back to reviews soon, I promise - I've been reading a lot of really great books and chapbooks and I can't wait to talk about them!