Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm the one with less of a sense of rhythm

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)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The sense of place that comes from the people who dwell there

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.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let's all aspire to be awesome and have fun.

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) - 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.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel

This evening, my new chapbook, Letters From Room 27 of the Grand Midway Hotel was released by the lovely Blood Pudding Press

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Life and reading updates

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.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

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!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Negativity and the Arts

I briefly debated whether I should write this entry or not - I have decided that it is important to me that I do, and that I will do my best to leave out information that could lead to the persons involved being easily googled. If you are a super internet detective you might figure it out, but only if you have super powers, and if that's the case, what are you doing using them for this?? Go fight crime or put a stop to frakking or something.

Last night I was at a coffee shop somewhere in Pittsburgh (which will remain nameless), sitting at my table, reading my book on prehistoric creatures, when a stocky man entered the coffee shop and sat down at the table across the way from me with a petite, pretty young woman. It quickly became clear that the two of them were there to have a meeting about an arts event that they were working on together. Now, before you think I was listening in on their conversation from the get go, let us be clear - this man was loud. At no point was it difficult for me to hear anything he said.

At first, I was completely disinterested, and actually a bit annoyed because my book on prehistoric creatures was interesting, dammit, and his loudness was making it difficult for me to concentrate, but then my ears started picking up things he was saying that made me sit up and listen rather than try to ignore him. I didn't start writing down what he said until later, so I will have to paraphrase/summarize. Essentially, he was saying that the Pittsburgh arts scene sucks, and there aren't very many good artists in the city.

Now, I'm in the Pittsburgh arts scene and I know a lot of very talented people in the Pittsburgh arts scene, but this guy just seemed - I don't know - sort of like a joke. He was loud (as I said), dramatic, and annoyed in that super-entertaining sort of way, so rather than get disgusted and leave or move, I made a quick facebook post: "The loud guy in this coffee shop is making sweeping generalizations about the Pittsburgh arts scene and it is kind of entertaining due to his drama levels. I think if I could take him at all seriously I would be somewhat offended on behalf of, well, the Pittsburgh arts scene." A couple of my friends commented, and he kept on being loud, so off we went - we both had an audience.

He mentioned that he is "totally over" animals in art (and pine cones for some reason ???), which I just thought was silly (plants are okay though, fyi, as long as they are not the evil pine cone), but then he made this comment: "I am totally over animals in art...Like all the stuff in that show at [NAME OF A REALLY GREAT GALLERY]? I mean, that place is all right and everything, but it's all just so played out". I know the gallery he speaks of. I have been there many times. The person who runs it works their butt off and has done great things with said gallery. Don't say these things in public. No. Bad.

He continued: "artists in this city do not know what it is like to be a real artist...they can mope around and be depressed and still survive...if you're in New York City or Dublin...or anywhere else you can't do that" (ellipses indicate where there was a word or two that I missed - I was trying to type as he spoke - apologies for that). This statement is A) utter bullshit B) so much an awful generalization that I can't even begin to deconstruct it C) my first concrete clue that he thinks of himself and being separate from and better than the people with whom he shares a city of residence.

So, of course, using a couple other conversation clues (a gallery show he said he curated) I began to try to google him. Obviously.

He also mentioned earlier in the conversation that unlike "everyone else" in Pittsburgh he is morally superior and does not place his own work in gallery shows. I've given this dude's website (spoiler! I eventually found him!) enough hits for one day, so I'm not going to try to confirm this statement.

He then went on to talk about how the cost of living is so low in Pittsburgh that artists here are all spoiled and don't know what it means to suffer. But apparently none of us are allowed to complain, ever, so facebook friends and I have determined that, for this dude to be happy, all artists in Pittsburgh need to sit on the corner holding this cardboard sign:

Real artist. Starving, but not bitching about it. Don't give me money. This is just a PSA

Then they talked a bit about the event that they were actually having a meeting for, and it became briefly less interesting. Just when I thought that the show was over, though, he decided to take a completely innocuous bit of conversation (discussion about the deadline for turning in juried work) and use it to, yet again, bash all artists in Pittsburgh, and, of course, toot his own little horn. Before I could start typing, he began talking about how all artists in Pittsburgh (yes, he was saying "everyone in this city" - I am not making this part up or being hyperbolic in any way) do their work hastily at the last minute. Oh, but he doesn't. "Some people call me an over-achiever," he claimed. The girl smiled and nodded the whole time, making affirmative noises.

It was at this point (the over-achiever line) that I lost it and began laughing hysterically in the middle of the coffee shop. The guy next to me clearly thought I had a brain-related problem.

They then went back to talking about the event, and as I listened, because now I was invested in his stupidity, dammit, I realized that some of the ideas he has probably don't suck. The problem is that he was talking like such a self-centered, egotistical pain that I don't think I can appreciate any of his ideas or vision.

Then they started talking about gathering work from artists and he said this little gem: "[The organizers] are being protective over me calling people...I don't know why...Everyone loves me...They're all like "It's so cool that you're from [city that would potentially be too identifying]!"... I guess everyone is just intimidated by me." I did not know that real people talked like this in a serious way.

And then he went on a few minutes later "I'm a little burnt out on Pittsburgh...doing all these events takes a little bit of my one appreciates all my work...I mean, I have a fabulous life here...I get to work in film and everyone loves me." No dude. No they don't, not if this is how you act. They really, really don't. But the girl agreed, saying "Oh yeah - I totally understand. I mean, I lived in New York and in L.A." Because LA is the hub of all that is genuine art in this world.

This set of quotes is what really gets me, I think. This mentality that they're better artists, more dedicated, and more talented merely by virtue of having lived in cities like New York and LA. I see this a lot, this desire to trumpet being from New York in particular. Now, I have a good number of artist and poet friends who are from New York who do not do this. They are lovely, amazing people and this is not directed at them. This is not something I see in all New York artists, just the obnoxious ones, and those obnoxious ones are in the minority. There's this idea they have of "I am from New York and therefor know more about art/writing/life/the world/ monkeys than you do, and my art must be better and you are a peasant from - ugh - Pittsburgh. If you were dedicated to your craft you would move to New York like me."

There is nothing wrong with being proud of where you are from. There is something wrong with acting like you are better than someone else because of where you are from.

At this point, the coffee shop was closing and I had to leave. I wanted to say something to this guy. I think I should have. If this is what he is willing to say in a very public place, then what does he say in private? How does he treat people who have probably helped him and shown his work and befriended him? I wish that I had said something. I did figure out his name (it turns out we have friends in common on Facebook - a decent number of them) with a bit of help from a friend, but I was then forced to sign a verbal non-disclosure agreement and promise I would not share his name. I am honestly conflicted about this. I feel like the kind of talk and behaviour he exhibited (and per my friend, this is not the first time he has done this) needs to be punished socially. Also, while my friend is "good friends" with him, I have to wonder - when someone says "everyone sucks... except me and you" what is the likelihood that they are saying that to everyone and being nasty behind your back? I think it's pretty high.

I am not immune to negativity - when I was an undergrad I said some not-so-kind things about slam and spoken word poetry in a decently public setting. I am really fucking sorry I said those things, not because of the social backlash (though there was a bit of that), but because it was stupid and childish of me. The social backlash, however, was part of what helped me to recognize my childishness for what it was. People like this man are a cancer. The attitude he has is a cancer. The fine arts and literature are not money makers (even in Pittsburgh - surprise!) and it is very difficult to be an artist and be true to your art and, well, eat. It honestly bothers me that this man is getting away with this. I feel like I have failed somehow in not saying anything, because that is what people like him count on - nobody saying anything.

What to do? I hate to sound like an after school special, but we need to root out negativity in our community. Our city is small. We cannot escape each other and we should not be able to say mindless, unkind things with impunity. So please, think about what you are saying. Don't let someone you are in a conversation with get away with being endlessly mean. Appreciate the good in the arts scene of whatever city you are in, because I guarantee you that the good is there. Oh, and if you must have a nasty, self-congratulatory conversation in a trendy coffee shop keep your fucking voice down because there might be a creepy-ass poet sitting close enough to hear you who will write down the offensive things you say and post them on the internet.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Local Pittsburgh Jewelry Artists

I am a little bit of a jewelry addict, but not gold/diamond/super-expensive/my-husband-had-to-spend-3-months-of-his-salary-on-a-ring jewelry. Rather, I have, over the past year, been making my own jewelry (my etsy shop, with jewelry and Hyacinth Girl Press/Prime Directive Press chapbooks can be found here, though I have not updated or added any jewelry in quite some time), and have committed to buying jewelry not from the mall or from sellers overseas, but from the crazy-talented artists who live in the same city as I do.

I tend to get a lot of compliments on the jewelry I wear, and I always try to pimp the artist who made whatever I'm wearing, so now I'm going to do that before you even ask. Below are some of my favorite jewelry artists from the Pittsburgh area.

1. Macabre Noir - I love, love, love the mechanical heart pendants she makes. The one I have has eyes! She sculpts and paints each one individually, by hand and puts a lot of time into all of her work. The dolls she makes are also hand-sculpted and hand-painted. No two items are ever alike and they all have a beautifully delicious darkness to them. In addition to being an amazing visual artist, Macabre Noir is also a performer and puts together the Atrocity event in Pittsburgh each year with her partner in crime, Doctor Morose.

2. Melissa Ciccocioppo - Now to the brightly-colored, cute end of the spectrum. Melissa is actually my next door neighbor, which is about as local as you can get. She makes absolutely adorable clay animal pendants and lovely feather hair clips. She made me a platypus. I do love platypi. Everything she makes, too, is hand-sculpted, and therefor one of a kind.

3. Jessica Rutherford - I actually met Jessica at a yard sale where she was selling some of her older work. Jessica is a glass-maker and jewelry designer. She makes much of her glass work from recycled glass (primarily panes of glass from old windows which, surprise, are not recycled in the city of Pittsburgh). There is a beautiful simplicity to the jewelry piece I bought from her. I wish I could find a photo of a pendant like the one of hers that I have, but alas.

4. Nicole Stemple - I went to college with Nicole, and happened to see her at a craft fair a couple of years ago selling her jewelry. Apparently I was her very first customer ever at a fair - yay! Nicole is now the woman behind the etsy shop Pretty Debonair and she makes the most amazing jewelry out of vintage beads and brooches, and has just started making jewelry from fishing lures, too (none are up at her shop yet, but she has them at the fairs she goes to in the Pittsburgh area and they are fantastic). I have a necklace she made using a tiny sword brooch. It makes me feel like a musketeer.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Thirteen Designer Vaginas is here! Make it So is coming!

It's been an exciting couple of weeks!! Thirteen Designer Vaginas by Juliet Cook is officially for sale over at Hyacinth Girl Press, and Make it So comes out in just 3 days!

Cover art for Thirteen Designer Vaginas by yours truly
Cover art for Make it So by Wayne Wise

Expect a review of two from me in the next week or so!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Video from reading with Low Ghost Press and Six Gallery Press 7/8/11

I did a reading last Friday! Here is one of the poems I read. I had never read this particular poem in public before. Kevin Ross made and posted the video. He is awesome.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Thirteen Designer Vaginas - Coming Soon!!

In just 2 days Juliet Cook's chapbook Thirteen Designer Vaginas will be released by Hyacinth Girl Press! A few review copies will be available to bloggers and editors. If you would be interested in reading/reviewing Thirteen Designer Vaginas drop me an email at hyacinthgirlpress (at)!

Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared within Action Yes, Caketrain, Columbia Poetry Review, Diagram, Diode, and many more print and online entities. She is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press (print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (online). Juliet’s first full-length poetry book, ‘Horrific Confection’ was published by BlazeVOX. She also has oodles of published poetry chapbooks, most recently including POST-STROKE (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 5), FONDANT PIG ANGST (Slash Pine Press) and Tongue Likea Stinger (Wheelhouse). To find out more about all of the above and other yummy details, please feel free to visit

Monday, June 27, 2011

I was quiet and still

It's been a strange few weeks around here. I went camping for a week with my husband and a number of our friends at the beginning of June, which was amazing. I was quiet and still in the forest and I saw so many amazing things, including two huge golden eagles up close. Then it was Ben's last week of kindergarten (thank god), and since then, it's been a week and a half of me living alone - Ben is at a camp in Cleveland with his grandparents and Mihnea is off on his own retreat. And me? I'm catching up with friends, readying Thirteen Designer Vaginas and Make it So for print, and, of course, being entertained by the furry convention's 6th visit to my home town of Pittsburgh.

There is something about the furries that utterly delights me. Perhaps it is 90% the fursuiters. There's a silliness they exhibit that I love, a commitment to remaining in character that I appreciate, an unabashed geekiness, and, while utterly strange and often derided by even the dorkiest elements of the geek community, on the whole they don't take themselve terribly seriously. Personally, I can't imagine being a furry/member of the furry fandom, but when they come to town I always crash their dance party one night. You haven't lived until you've seen multiple people in full fursuits dancing like crazy. Also, I'll take any excuse I can get to dress up in a ridiculous costume.

This week promises to be a whirlwind of activity, too. I have a grant I'm applying for that's due in just a few days, and on Thursday Juliet Cook's chapbook, Thirteen Designer Vaginas comes out from Hyacinth Girl Press. It is amazing, amazing, amazing, just like Juliet. I am so very excited to share this with you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mrs. Busy

I've been crazy-busy over the past month (I think I say that every month...) trying to get Juliet Cook's chapbook ready to print from Hyacinth Girl Press (yes! It's coming!), preparing for a big event in my life in early June, finding a new school for my son, looking for a new apartment, and, of course, putting aside a little bit of time for partying at my favorite haunted hotel, The Grand Midway.

I've also started a new blog, Health Tips from the 1870's. It's based on an antique book I picked up a month or so ago, and it's pretty hilarious. The book, that is. I try to make the blog entertaining, but I really can't compete with C.W. Gleason, MD.

I also recently received word that I am to be an artist in residence at the Petrified Forest National Park this fall. I'll be heading to Arizona for two weeks to write, write, write. I'm crazy-excited as I've only been to the desert once before and this will be my very first residency. I can't wait to hike and write and write and hike!

So I'm still around, and I hope to pick reviews back up in a serious way in about a month. If I have your book, I have not forgotten about you. I am but a woman, a poet, a wife, a mother, a girl who likes to cut a serious rug while surrounded by people dressed up like vampires.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I have never called into the void

I don't give them credit often enough - my parents are really spectacular people. As parents and disciplinarians they balance each other perfectly and have overcome a lot of hardship in their lives to be the loving, kind, supportive people that they are. Some of what they have had to overcome is very private and not for me to spew on the internet, but in my father's case there are two things I can share - he was adopted by the people who I knew as my grandparents, and he was drafted into the Vietnam War at the age of 18.

Adoption can be a beautiful thing, and in my father's case he was adopted by a family who also did a lot of foster parenting and tried to make the lives of children better. My Muni and Pop-Pop were very strict, severe people - my Pop-Pop was a carpenter and built the house my father grew up in and definitely believed in hard work. They were a strict Lutheran couple. Honestly, by the time I was old enough to have clear memories of them, they had softened a lot. My father loved them both fiercely, while at the same time feeling an odd mix of emotions about his biological mother - a woman he does not remember.

At 18 he was drafted into the Vietnam War and became an army ranger. During his time in Vietnam he came to lead a team of army rangers, a small unit that would enter into enemy territory and take out one particular target, and earned two bronze stars for his service. He also broke both of his knees and watched a lot of people he cared about die. When he returned from Vietnam he was subjected to the criticism of a country that was ready to leave Vietnam. Like most veterans of that war, he was not treated well. Since his time in Vietnam my father has done volunteer work with homeless and mentally ill veterans. He has confronted and overcome the scars that were left from service he did not volunteer for.

My father is a very strong man. In spite of these, and other obstacles in his life he is the kindest, most understanding and supportive father I could have asked for. I am definitely a daddy's girl, possibly obnoxiously so. He thinks he is super-conservative, but I would say that my father's desire is to see people be safe and loved in the world, without prejudice. He probably wouldn't put it that way, but I have known him for 27 years. He is full of love. My father and my mother enthusiastically support all my endeavors, including, yes, The TypewriterGirls. I love getting the question "what do your parents think of what you do?" because I can always answer, "They don't always get it, but they always support me and they come to every show." I am continually amazed at my father and mother's ability to be such good people and good parents in spite of everything in their lives.

They've shown me that you can work through difficult times as a couple - at one point both of them had been laid off from their jobs at the same time. It was definitely not the least stressful time of our lives, but they worked together and got through it and honestly, my brother and I were effected very little, I'm guessing because my mother is probably the most money-wise person I know.

When I was ill with a fairly severe case of Sydenahm's Chorea at the same time that my Pop-Pop was dying, my parents pulled together and made sure that I was taken care of by one of them every day. All day every day my father took care of me, took me out for car rides, and listened to what I had to say about my illness ("say" being a figurative term as I could not speak). In the evenings my mother took care of both me and of my little brother, and read Jane Eyre to me. My father and I visited my Pop-Pop in the nursing home weekly. He had Alzheimer's. We were both trapped in our bodies. It might sound kind of fucked up, but I was never closer to him than I was then. I was one of the last people he forgot.

I go to my mother for parenting advice a lot. She's honestly one of the smartest people I know. My dad says she is the smartest person we know. She's someone who is always able to look at things in her life from all sides. She calls me on my bullshit, and I don't always appreciate it at the time, but it's useful and I usually appreciate it later. She managed to be a working mother and at the same time be totally involved for both myself and my brother. She is the first person who read poetry to me. She cooked for our family every night when I was growing up. She insisted we eat together as a family. She read and read and read to me. Now I read to Ben every night.

Both of my parents are highly creative, whether my father would admit he is or not. My mother is a fiction writer and my father builds models and miniatures. They both work for a bank, but my father is a history buff who sometimes gives tours at battle sites and gives talks about the Civil War, and my mother leads writing groups at two libraries. They are more than their jobs and more than their children, and that means a lot to me as their child.

Whenever I need them one, the other, or both of my parents are there for me. I have never called into the void. My father is always ready to leap to my defense, to back me up, and he can be really, really scary when he wants to be. He knows how to command respect. He knows how to defend his family. I upset them, they annoy me, I get stressed when I have to go visit sometimes, but my parents have always loved me. They have always done their best to be the best parents they can possibly be.

I love them. I am very, very grateful.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I was looking out the window. It was spring.

I watched Lord, Save Us from Your Followers this week with my husband (earlier in the week it was Modify, which Mihnea and I had to avert our eyes for portions of, No Impact Man, which has pushed me toward eating more local food, and Audience of One which was alternately hilarious and frightening in very different ways from Modify - I've been sick, so it's been a week of documentaries) and I have to say, I am a bit disappointed.

The basic premise is that an evangelical guy wonders why everyone can't just get along, is frustrated with the tendency to distill our beliefs into bumper sticker slogans, and decides to travel the US talking to people about how the "gospel of love" has divided us so thoroughly. Great idea, right?

He does the "man on the street" gig in a white jumpsuit covered in various bumper stickers (everything from a Jesus fish to a FSM to a bumper sticker that urges fellow drivers to vote pro choice), talking to average people about which bumper sticker is their favorite and why, what their general belief system is, and what they think of that Jesus dude. He also interviews various political, academic, and social leaders who consider themselves Christian, most of them evangelical, and this is where he begins to lose me.

One of the interviewees for this documentary is Rick Santorum. Yes, that Rick Santorum. The one with the Google Problem. Now, I don't have a problem with someone interviewing Rick Santorum, but what I do have a problem with is not giving us an introduction to Santorum's hateful politics and then proceeding to allow him to crow on about how Christians need to show love and work together with non-Christians. I mean, really? There was no other Christian politician who could have been interviewed who hasn't, say, compared loving sexual intercourse between two men to a man having sex with a dog? And if you must interview such an awful human being, at least have the courtesy to then give us the flip side of Santorum. To use a cliche, actions speak louder than words, and actions plus many many words that contradict what he said in this documentary completely invalidate everything Rick Santorum says in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers. I live in Pennsylvania. I worked actively to get this man the hell out of office. Watching him say with a straight face that Christians need to be more loving (pointing the finger at someone other than himself) was absurd.

My second issue follows close on the heels of Rick Santorum, and is named Rick Warren (Rick is a cursed name, apparently), a man who the documentary holds up as an amazing Christian. Yes, the Rick Warren who spent millions of dollars to help have gay marriage made illegal in California. The Rick Warren who gave rise to the term "saddlebacking" care of Dan Savage. Rick Warren, who may not have taken a paycheck from his church in the past few years, but who spent that money, instead of sending it to, say, AIDS orphans in Africa (an example of the amazing work being done by Christians in the this documentary is care given to AIDS orphans) by spending those millions of dollars to ruin the lives of people who just want to be free to love one another (hmmmm - why does that phrase sound familiar?) and have the same rights and status as heterosexuals in society. Wow. What an awesome guy, am I right???

After mentioning more than once what a great person Rick Warren is, the film then leads directly into a gay pride festival where our host goes to apologize to gay people for the sins of the church in a confessional-style booth. If this bit had not been more or less introduced by an ode to Rick Warren, I would have liked it a lot more. The people he confessed to seemed touched, and it was nice to watch the initial awkwardness between an evangelical Christian and members of the LGBTQ community give way to something more positive and healing. However, had I been one of the people interviewed and had then watched the documentary, I would be livid. When placed next to an unapologetic interview with Santorum and praise to Warren, the confession seems almost like a cruel joke. "I'll apologize to you, but only after I talk about what great people two of the men who have worked the hardest to make your lives hell are".

The documentary goes to pains to show how it's the average Christians who are working to make the world a better place rather than the mouthpieces, and I don't disagree that there are Christian groups out there who do work very hard to help the sick and distressed. Nor do I disagree that it is more often the average person who does the greatest work. The organizations highlighted in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers were presented in a very inspirational way, and the average individual people were much more inspiring and kind than the talking head segments.

I guess my confusion here is twofold - if the average Christian is, as this documentary argues, kind and compassionate and generous and loving, then why do they have such shitty leaders as Warren and Santorum? Why not decry these men? Why not have someone kind, someone giving, someone as full of love for the downtrodden and sick as the average person appears in this film, as their leader and figurehead (I mean, other than Jesus who doesn't totally count because he can't vote or hold public office)? It simply makes no sense that what is described as the loud, obnoxious, and hateful 10% gets to make all the decisions. Christians, if this is true, why not step up and get rid of these douche bags? Why not denounce them as publicly as you can?

My second "confusion" (or, should we say, doubt) is this - two of the interviewees in this documentary, the only two with whom I was at all familiar, are actually hateful men, not the lovingkindness-filled dudes they were made out to be. How do I know this is not the case for everyone interviewed in this documentary? I mean, we're 0 for 2 right now, and there was absolutely no honesty in how these men were presented. Again, was it that hard to find a Christian leader who is not a dick? I certainly hope not.

I was ranting and raving and getting pissed off at this documentary ("Why did he interview Santorum?" "Where's the interview with Dan Savage, hunh?" "Why not show what amazing work atheists and non-Christians do?"), and my husband gently pointed out to me that this documentary, in spite of its name, was at its heart a Christian documentary, and was meant to show the positive side of Christians in the US. There are no interviews with Dan Savage or non-Christian relief organizations because that's not the point. The point is that there are people trying to do good (and succeeding!), trying to bring people together, and trying to show care under the banner of Christianity in the United States,. It also urges Christians to continue that work and to be open to involving non-Christians in their work. I would add another call that I felt was unintentionally sent out by Lord, Save Us from Your Followers - if you are a Christian and you disagree with what the people who supposedly speak for you are saying, speak up. Get those people out of positions of power, and do it now.

This "review" may come off as slightly vitriolic, and I don't mean it to. However, I consider myself to be a member of the "B" part of LGBTQ, and I realized that at a very young age (4th grade, to be precise). At the time, I was going to a Lutheran church with my parents and I didn't have the word "bisexual", nor did I believe that my feelings were bad or wrong (I also believed that reincarnation just made sense, so I'm sure you can see where this is heading). Then, when I was in middle school, I became conscious of individuals who didn't simply not believe in Jesus, but who actively believed something different, and was absolutely horrified at the idea that these people, who were good, kind, and loving human beings, would go to hell if the beliefs I had been raised with were correct. That was the moment I stopped believing in the religion I was raised with. I recall that moment. I was in the car with my parents on our way to Giant Eagle. I was looking out the window. It was spring.

Of course, I eventually came out to my parents and was told by one of them that I was going through a phase (I'm sure they now believe this to have been the truth), though the other was perfect - absolutely accepting, and I am thankful every day that I had one parent who was able to make that leap. I stopped going to church as soon as I was 18. I struggled and I struggled and I struggled with spirituality for years, and I finally feel like I am getting to a place where spirituality is a wonderful, fulfilling, dare I say fun, aspect of my life that makes me a better person.

I am not a Christian. I do not think I ever will be a Christian. I am not sure I ever was a Christian. The church I used to go to is now a place where homosexuality was described by a church leader, in public, as "disgusting". It is a place where people are more worried about whether I had sex with a woman than whether I am a kind person. And for the record, I have had sex with multiple women. My only regret is that I probably wasn't very good for about half of them. I am trying to be a good person. These two things have very little to do with one another.

I think I might be ranting too much. I think this is a good place to stop.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poems for Rick Santorum!

I have to plug Poems for Santorum - a project being put together by my friend Ashly Nagrant. As their mission states:

"on April 15th it was reported that Santorum had changed his campaign slogan, “Fighting to Make America America Again” because of the resemblance to the title of the Langston Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again.”

Hughes, of course, was a gay, black, leftist pro-union poet.

Santorum hasn’t even merely changed his slogan, he is fully denying that “Fighting to Make America America Again” was ever intended as his slogan, despite appearing on websites and campaign literature handed out the day of the event in question.

Well, I say the only answer to that is to give Rick Santorum MORE poetry. So I am asking poets out there to submit poems for Santorum. Poems he can relate to, poems about being a horrible, hateful human being."

They plan to post poetry tomorrow, on Santorum's birthday, so yes, there is still time to send them a fine Rick Santorum poem. I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Publications and Absence

It's been a while since I've last posted. Goodness! I suppose this is because I've been reading longer books of not poetry lately. I finished up The Children of Henry VIII by Alison Weir (if you're super interested in what I thought of it you can read my very brief "I'm not a scholar of Tudor history" review here) and now I'm reading A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking. Yes, I do need the even-more-for-dummies version. Alice in Quantumland has been recommended to me as a follow-up, but we'll see how I do with Briefer History. It may turn out that I have no mind at all for physics. I have never taken a physics course in my life. Tons of biology, a bit of chemistry, no physics.

I've also been hard at work on Juliet Cook's chapbook, Thirteen Designer Vaginas, which I am publishing through Hyacinth Girl Press in less than a month (!!) and on Make it So, both of which are coming along beautifully, if I do say so myself.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Review over at Karen the Small Press Librarian

The lovely and talented Karen Lillis asked me a while ago if I would review Stefanie Wielkopolan's book Border Theory for her blog, Karen the Small Press Librarian. I have come to love review writing, and gladly accepted.

The review is up and you can read it right here!

I think for the first time I get to acknowledge that this book was gifted to me by the publisher. Fancy!

If you are a publisher or poet and would like to send me a book or chapbook for possible review, you can contact me either in the comments or at margaretmarybashaar (at)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

4 chapbooks to check out

Today there is no review (I have written one, but it will be posted on Karen Lillis' blog very soon), but I wanted to highlight 4 chapbooks I've read recently that I believe more people should check out.

- Soft Foam by Juliet Cook - I've talked about this chapbook before, but I really do adore it. It's one of those chapbooks that I can read and re-read. Beautiful, sad, and introspective, with Juliet's signature odd/creepy-ness.

- A Pint for the Ghost by Helen Mort - I never got around to reviewing this chapbook (bad Margaret), but I loved loved loved it. Spooky and gritty.

- Sugar Means Yes by Julia Cohen and Mathias Svalina - deeply beautiful and haunting. Another one I loved and never got around to the review of. I should probably review this one and A Pint for the Ghost, because I did love them so.

- No Water by Renée Alberts - technically this is a full-length collection if you're page-counting, but it goes here anyway. Renée's poetry has a gentleness and a sharpness to it at the same time that I really love, and her readings/performances are always top-notch.

All of these chapbooks are out from small presses, and all of these poets are definitely deserving of your attention. Back with a review (well, a link to one) very soon!

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Yes, technically I have spent my weekdays in Pittsburgh (for the most part) these past 5 weeks, but I have travelled for 5 weekends in a row. Goddamn, I am glad to be home. Granted, home is now a huge mess, but I can finally clean that huge home mess. So, from Windber to Dayton to NYC back to Windber back to NYC again, and finally, home.

However, this left me with precious little energy and even less time, so it is only now that I am writing a new review. Dang. Not that there aren't a million books and chapbooks that I've read waiting to be reviewed. I'm such a slack-ass.

The Liturgy of Streets by Kristofer Collins (Six Gallery Press, 2008) - I have gotten to know Kris very very slowly. At this point, honestly, I'm not sure I could tell you when I first met Kris. That's how gradual my getting to know Kris has been. I remember I saw him read at the Brillobox (the hipster bar at the time in Pittsburgh) in 2006. That might have been my first Kris Collins encounter. It also might not have been. I mention this because, while The Liturgy of Streets was published in 2008, many of the poems were written in 2006, and while Kris and I didn't talk to each other at that reading in 2006, the poems in The Liturgy of Streets definitely pull me back to my life that year.

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that well over half (2/3, even) of the poems in this book are dedicated to an individual, are actually titled some version of "A Poem for ____", or address a particular person by name. Essentially, The Liturgy of Streets is a book of love poems. At first glance, and read each alone, these love poems are to individuals. Read as a whole, though, the book is one long love poem to the city of Pittsburgh, the people being part of what makes up that city, and Kris'/the speaker's experience of the city. Each of the people addressed in the book have a connection to Pittsburgh, whether they live(d) there, or have somehow shaped the speaker's life in Pittsburgh. When the speaker talks of love (spoken of to both men and women equally), I feel as though it is not merely the individual loved, but the part of the city they represent. A review on Amazon of one of Kris' other books complains that his poems run into each other. They do, but I don't think that this should be looked on as a bad thing. Each poem does not read as an entirely new beginning, but rather a step down the street from the last.

I mentioned that these poems pulled me back to my life in 2006. 2006 was not an easy year for me. I broke up with my fiance, had my heart broken no fewer than 3 times, drank a lot, and wrote a lot. There was a great deal of pain in my life that year, but a lot of beauty as well. I felt connected to the people and places around me and I was absolutely convinced that the late night half drunk adventures, feeling the city on my bare feet, and reaching for those connections, even when they dug into me, was all the most absolutely necessary thing. I think Kris and I had very similar 2006s. We probably would have made great drinking buddies.

Monday, February 21, 2011


The past 4 weekends have been nothing but running around and travelling, and this upcoming week is going to be the most grueling yet, but also the last weekend of crazy, I've-got-obligations travel for, I think, at least a month. Possibly a month and a half. I have double date dinner plans for the weekend after next with a friend who lives in Johnstown, but that's loose and I'm not required to perform at any point or stay up for 24 hours in a row.

The last weekend in January I was filming a zombie movie that is directed by my dear friend Blair Murphy, owner, artist, and magician of the Grand Midway Hotel - one of those is more a metaphor than fact. I've known Blair for only 5 1/2 years, but he is very very dear to me and he and his girlfriend Deanna are really just a perfect match and it's lovely to see. He's been through a lot in the 5 years I've known him and things seem to be heading into a really good space. This zombie movie has been incredible fun and I'm going to be quite sad when it's all over.

The weekend following I went to Dayton with my husband to spend time with a bunch of friends of his. I had never before met the couple we were staying with. They are lovely men - extremely kind and funny and I'm just sorry I hadn't met them sooner. They have nothing but nice things to say about Mihnea and he has nothing but nice things to say about them. We went to see a play that two of Mihnea's other friends were involved in, and had lunch with two more of his friends.

The weekend after that I was on Staten Island for the first of two TypewriterGirls performances in New York City this month. The turn-out was amazing and I was so very happy to get to see friends I hadn't seen in a long time (Huang Xiang performed with us and was, of course, an audience favorite, and I went out to lunch and to brunch with one of my best friends from high school, Sarah Reck, who works as a web publicist in NYC for a major publishing house because she is just that awesome and hard working. We are so very different, and yet so very very the same).

This past weekend, more zombie filming. I got chased up the stairs by a big ol' hoard of zombies. It really got my blood pumping. I was a little worried about me when my zombiefied friend Chad got ahold of my ankle a couple of times. He's scrappy. Film making is amazing fun when Blair's in charge.

I like to link to presses and people who I feel are doing amazing things here. I've honestly no earthly idea if anyone is reading this blog, but if you are, check out these amazing amazing things going on in the literary world:

Roxane Gay and her associate publisher xTx have a fabulous new press called Tiny Hardcore Press. That's pretty much the most awesome press name you've heard in a while. Their first release, xTx's Normally Special is sold out of it's first run, but a second printing is on the way! In the mean time, there's an e-book version. They are taking submissions from those who wish to be hardcore with them. Roxane also writes one of the best blogs out there. It's about her life and her publishing and sometimes men and sometimes movies and I always get a little extra happy when I see she has updated.

Juliet Cook's Post Stroke chapbook is now available from the Blood Pudding Press shop. It's her collection from the latest Dusie and I have already ordered mine. For those who don't know, Juliet suffered a stroke a bit over a year ago. Her recovery has been astonishing, and these poems map that recovery as only Juliet could map such a thing. I absolutely cannot wait to read it. I will also be publishing Juliet's chapbook, Thirteen Designer Vaginas through Hyacinth Girl Press in the next couple of months. Hooray!

Speaking of Hyacinth Girl Press, I'm taking submissions until the end of next month! The deadline is the same for Make it So. After this weekend, I am officially declaring the call for submissions a success. Make it So submitters, you rock my futuristic socks.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Taiga's Alive!

After a not-so-short hiatus, Taiga is up and running again!

I loved the first issue of Taiga, love Brooklyn's own poetry, and was super-excited when she received a Ruth Lilly Fellowship last year (so very well-deserved).

Issue A is now out. If you want one you should order now - she is only making 100 of these, and some of that 100 go to the contributors. Issue T sold out long ago. I am very very happy to see this project come back to life.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Reviews and kindness

I exercised on my elliptical machine last night. It was abbreviated (30 minutes instead of the usual 45-55) because around the 23 minute mark I was hit by the need to write and sort of forced myself to keep exercising for the following 7 minutes.

I don't think it helped that the chapbook I was reading through most of those 7 minutes was, I felt, a real stinker.

Prior to reading the stinker chapbook, and when I was initially hit with the need to write, I was reading Kristen Orser's Folded into Your Midwestern Thunderstorm from Greying Ghost Press (I would link, but their website seems to be having problems), which I greatly enjoyed. I don't think I'll be able to write a full review for it right now - I feel like there was something I missed in it when I read the collection through the first time. I love the wordplay that Orser uses and her language is always engaging. She also works with line breaks and page placement in a way that I really appreciate and that I myself am not nearly as skillful with. I got a very strong sense of atmosphere from the collection, but not a strong idea of movement or what was going on. I don't think it has anything to do with Orser's writing, though - I was a bit distracted and tired. I really enjoyed the experience of the poems, though, if that makes any sense, and I can't wait to give the chapbook a reread.

Orser's chapbook really got my poetic mind moving, her deft language put me into the space and rhythm where I feel like I want to write, and I was all excited to read another chapbook and then get off the elliptical machine and run straight to the typewriter. However, the next chapbook I started I just did not like at all.

I won't say what the title of this book was or who the poet was, because in all honesty I didn't finish it. I read a few poems, realized that I had the exact same problem with all of them, and quit. Nothing that I enjoyed about Orser's work was present in this book - there was no sense of rhythm, the language felt sort of lame, and the line breaks and stanza breaks (what few there were of the latter) were honestly boring and added nothing to the poems. I used to finish books like this, but now I just don't. I don't have time for reading things I dislike and feel are not skillful. I am more than happy to go outside my comfort zone (John Grochalski's book, for example, is not my typical fare, but I read the book, felt there was skill and purpose behind it, and enjoyed it), but bad writing goes beyond going outside of one's comfort zone.

I could write reviews of these books that I genuinely think are not good, but 75% of what I read these days is put out by small or micro presses. Their books don't get reviewed at as high of a rate as the work put out by the larger presses, and I would absolutely hate to have my review be one of the only ones out there and for it to be bad. How heartbreaking would it be for that poet?

I'm usually not someone who wants to spare everyone's feelings at all costs, but I'm not mean. I have done mean things, thoughtless things, but I am not mean. I feel that to eviscerate a chapbook put out by a micro press or small press is not only sort of mean to the poet, but is also doing that press, which also put a lot of time, love, and money - perhaps most of their extremely limited resources - into this chapbook, a huge disservice. I know that we can't all be nice all the time and we have to be honest and promote the good stuff and blah blah blah, but that is what I try to do - I try to bring attention to the good stuff. If someone asks me about the chapbook I did not finish last night in conversation I won't lie to them about it (I will also mention that I only read 5-6 of the poems). If I am asked for a recommendation, I will not recommend this book. I'm just not going to rip it apart on my blog.

I'm not saying this as if to imply "everyone look at me! I'm so awesome!" because A) I'm not and B) I'm not sure that what I am doing is 100% the right thing. As much as I want to be kind and only say nice things, I really have a bit of distaste for the kid gloves that I see everyone having to wear all the time. Yes, we are artists and we are sensitive and what one person likes another person might not, but isn't criticism one of the vehicles through which we ultimately improve? But then this makes me think of visionary art and the "workshop poem" and argh! I don't know. I am so very conflicted - I keep going back and forth in my own head.

I am also saying these things to make it clear that while I write a lot of very positive reviews (I think) I do not have universal love for all poetry. Quite the contrary - I am extremely hard to please. If I don't review your chapbook, though, it's not necessarily because I deeply disliked it and think it is a blight on contemporary poetry and all copies should be burned. I often just don't get around to reviewing everything in a timely fashion. I have 3 reviews I need to write that I can think of just off the top of my head, and I adored two of the books and really really enjoyed the third. I'm crazy-busy, and now I have a press, too. That was smart of me.

Speaking of which! I just picked out the second chapbook I will be publishing! Announcement soon! I think I'll be publishing more like 3-4 chapbooks this year!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Events and Announcements

No new reviews yet. I'll be on the Megabus on Thursday, though, so between bouts of memorization some review writing may occur. Megabus is never conducive to poetry writing for me (my first choice for spending my writing time), but I can get a lot of reading done and memorization goes well there.

This Saturday I'll be in NYC on Staten Island for the Second Saturday Staten Island Art Walk. The TypewriterGirls will be cabaret-ing at the lovely ETG cafe (one of my two favorite places to be where food and drink are sold on Staten Island, the other being Against Da' Grill - not that I have tons of experience on Staten Island, but the people who own/work at both places are just lovely) at about 8pm and there will be amazing poets, hilarity, and surrealist games. If you are in the NYC area you have no excuse not to be there because the ferry is free, dammit, and it runs 24/7/365.

I'm coming into town on Thursday evening and staying at a hostel. I'll also get to see my friend Sarah while I'm in town, and it's been ages since we've hung out, so I'm really excited for that, too.

In other news the AWP came and went and I didn't go but I'm already excited for next year. There seems to be an exceptionally high concentration of awesome people in Chicago and for some reason I really enjoy the city, so I'm thinking to spend 9 days there rather than just come in for the conference.

There have been some life hiccups over the past week, but I am feeling generally very positive and loving toward the world. I need to document when I feel like this more often. I've written 2 poems so far this year, which is a very tiny number for many poets, but it is a good number for me. I have discovered that one of the most beautiful feelings in the world is the happiness at seeing someone who you care about deeply in love. It is definitely even better if their love is adorable. My friend is being super-adorable right now, and I think he knows it, but it's really the most heartwarming thing ever.

I'm still taking submissions over at Hyacinth Girl Press! I also selected the first chapbook to be published - Thirteen Designer Vaginas by Juliet Cook! I'm in love with Juliet's poetry and am so so so very happy to get to publish this book. I already have design ideas and will probably spend some time on the way home on Megabus sketching vaginas. I am loving a couple of the other manuscripts that have been sent to me, too. There will probably be another announcement soon.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hyacinth Girl Press and other updates

I've decided to start up a poetry chapbook micro press - Hyacinth Girl Press. I'll be printing 1-2 hand-bound chapbooks in the next year. The press plans to focus on bringing science and spirituality together, enjoys mythology, mysticism, and the avant garde, and hopes to look at all the aforementioned things through a feminist lens.

Submissions are open until March 31st.

Also! I'm still taking submissions for Make It So, which I'll be printing as a sort of preview of the kind of chapbooks I'll be making with Hyacinth Girl Press. There is some awesome-tastic ST:TNG poetry coming in, let me tell you, but I still need to read your poem about Captain Picard, Klingons, and/or Data's pet cat.

In other news, I'm currently working on a review of Sugar Means Yes and reading through the entirety of Loba. God, I love reading. I'm so glad that it seems like I've been able to pass on my love of story and word to my son - we read together every night and he loves to tell stories. He is also obsessed with outer space and can name all the planets in order, so he's well-rounded, too.

My favorite barista, Jen, is moving to central China to teach English. Go favorite barista! I will miss her insane levels of energy in the morning. Co-worker Phil and I are trying to think of something to get her. So far we're stuck at Target gift card.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Small notes of update

- I wrote my first poem of 2011 and sent out my first submission of 2011. I am quite pleased with the poem. I read it to my husband, and he loved it, too, but noted that if/when I publish it, it will make public something about myself that I'm a little iffy making a public thing. I think the trick, for this particular poem , will be the right venue of publication. I'm sorry I am not more specific. That is the nature of such issues.

- AWP is coming up and for the first time in what feels like a lot longer than it actually is I will not be attending. The reasons are multiple. Not enough money. Not enough motivation. Not enough reason. I'll miss it, to be sure, especially when everyone is tweeting/facebooking about how simultaneously awful and awesome the official dance parties are, but some of the friends who I go in order to see aren't going to be there, and DC is expensive, and I have a child in school, and blah blah blah. I was not upset about it, then I was really upset, then I was sort of upset, and now I'm not upset again. I've not been as active in the "literary world" in the past 365 days as I was during the 365 days before. The reasons are multiple. I am happier now.

- I love writing reviews for this blog. I think I might be getting better at it? You know who writes really amazing reviews and I am humbled by? Phoebe North. I was all proud of my skills, then I read her latest review. Har.

- I considered installing a hit counter on my blog, but then decided that I already make up enough reasons to be depressed without creating more for the sheer masochism of it.

- It is about the time of year when Winter issues of literary journals start pouring out. New Goblin Fruit is up (with amazing art/design in addition to lovely poetry, as always). PANK's latest print issue is heading out to contributors and their January online issue is up as well. Artifice just reminded me I need to renew my subscription. I have realized that, in spite of being all online-y I am not hip to the hippest online lit mags. I will rememdy this in the following year, but that is not a resolution, dammit.

- When will the weather be nice in Pennsylvania again? I'm not 100% certain I can wait 5 months to go camping and hike and take walks in my neighborhood and not be freezing my ass off every morning when I get in my car. Listen to me whine. Whine whine whine.

- If anyone knows where I can locate a good recipe for gluten free chocolate chip cookies, I will be very happy and will immediately throw away the monstrosities that I made last night. Good lord. Bob's Red Mill usually does all right, but not in this case. Maybe I'll start reviewing gluten-free baking mixes. I sure use enough of them, and seem to select them completely at random.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Review - The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar

It's been a while since I have written a long review, and longer still since I have posted one on this blog. Amal El-Mohtar's The Honey Month has been waiting patiently for its turn to be reviewed, and at long last I have written.

The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar (Papaveria Press, 2010, 73 pp.) - Amal El-Mohtar has been making a name for herself in the science fiction/fantasy writing community over the past year or so, winning the 2009 Rhysling Award in the short poem category for her poem Song for an Ancient City, continuing to co-edit the journal Goblin Fruit (of which I am a rather large fan), publishing her poetry and fiction in multiple journals and anthologies (including two appearances over at Podcastle), and publishing her first full-length collection, The Honey Month.

The first thing you notice when you pick up The Honey Month is the gorgeous design and artwork. Amal is now connected in my head with the artist Oliver Hunter, who not only creates original artwork and design for most of the issues of Goblin Fruit, but has created cover art and beautiful interior color and b&w illustrations for The Honey Month as well (I want Oliver to illustrate my book!). Taking a peek at Papaveria's website I see that they specialize in small handmade editions of books, so it does not at all surprise me that the design for Amal's book (which is not handmade, I suspect in order to make it easier to have a much larger print run) has been done with exceptional care.

The concept behind The Honey Month is an intriguing one. I follow Amal's blog, and actually read the project in its first incarnation. A friend of hers had gifted her with a set of 28 different honeys and Amal decided to taste one honey each day for the entire month of February and write a response of some sort to each honey. Some responses were poems, others short fiction, and other a melding of the two. She posted the responses on her blog, much to the delight of those of us reading, and after the project's completion, ended up with a publication deal from Papaveria. I love the idea of writing "projects", though I'm not particularly good at timely follow-through (the chapbook I most recently finished took me 4 years to complete) and am extremely impressed by Amal's work on this lovely project of synesthesia.

Each piece is titled with the day, and the name of the honey sampled on that day (ex. Day 9 - Zambian Honey). Amal then describes the color of the honey ("Sunshine in Ottawa, and a little paler still"), the smell ("More than a flower, something else, something earthy and nutty and malty at once. Hints of green and smoke, substance") and the taste ("A burnt wood taste, hints of anise; this is a honey that tastes very brown and black, dark with slants of light in it"). In some cases, the descriptions were my favorite part of the day's piece. Amal's personality and voice come through remarkably well in these short lines.

The creative works that follow the honey descriptions range from 6-line poems to 4-page stories, and most of them carry the fantastical element found in much of Amal's work. I particularly enjoyed the very-short fiction that accompanied Day 25's Raw Manuka Honey - essentially a story of the regret of a woman who has given up freedom in exchange for stability (of course, with a magical twist), the playfulness of the story for Day 7's Thistle Honey, and the simple bittersweetness of the poem of Day 20's Blackberry Honey (2). Not all 28 offerings were as strong as these - there were a couple that I felt would have benefited from a bit of expansion - but then, I do not expect to love every piece when I read a book, and do have an admitted bias against rhyming poetry (which pops up once or twice in The Honey Month). However, each piece did (quite successfully) give me a greater sense of having shared in Amal's experience of the honey.

It was also particularly nice to see a collection that brought poetry and fiction by the same author together - too often the two are kept away from one another, and it was pleasing to have the chance to read Amal's poetry alongside her fiction. As a poet I am usually much more partial to poetry than fiction, but will say that I found myself as drawn in by the fiction in The Honey Month as I was by the poetry, by the evocative and lush language found in both.

Unfortunately, I did stumble across one or two typos while reading, but they were but a mild distraction and will perhaps be corrected in a second printing. Papaveria Press notes that with a future edition of The Honey Month they will be including a sample of one of the same honeys written of in the book. As I have no idea where one would obtain the honeys written of by Amal, I can't wait to see this idea developed.

On the whole, The Honey Month is a conceptually beautiful, well-written, well-designed book put out by a press that clearly puts great care into the artistry of their books, and written by an author I would love to see get attention not only from the speculative writing community, but from the literary community as well.