search ABOUTAWORD. search links from ABOUTAWORD. search the web.

Friday, November 25, 2005

fragment and sequence: natural bridge no. 14

i had the opportunity recently to guest edit natural bridge the literary journal here in the mfa program at university of missouri-st. louis. i've editied a number of other journals, but this was my first experience editing within a literary editing classroom setting with graduate students. the literary editing class was initially daunting becaue i wasn't quite sure how to 'share' the decision making. and as the term progressed, that continued to be a challenge. i soon learned though, that this process was old hat to most of these students. they are serious about the task and all business about the matter of reading and selecting. little by little, i think i was able to think less about my 'control' of the process and function there as a mentor. my contributions to their process included acting as a guide, to encourage them to open their eyes a bit, to not go for the obvious kind of work, to think a bit outside the literary box, so to speak.

we worked under a theme for this issue: fragment and sequence. if you click on the theme, it will take you to my introduction. the theme is a wonderful rubric through which to solicit, read, and evaluate work. we have work in this issue by sapphire, denise duhamel, beckian fritz goldber, timothy liu, rigoberto gonzalez, ross gay, allison stack, tayari jones, ayse papatya bucek, camile dungy, and muzban f. shroff to name just a very few.

editing a journal is always an uphill battle, but i think my students handled the task with the greatest professionalism. i'm proud of this issue. i'm proud of the risks they've taken and the work they've found.

the amazing artwork that graces the cover is from a series of collaborations betwen the poet and painter ross gay and the painter kim thomas. you can see more of their collaborations by going here.

you can preview the issue, find out more about natural bridge, and get information on how to subscribe and submit by going here. you'll be able to read the introduction to this issue as well as read a few selections. happy reading!

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

i've been going to fishouse since i discovered it in the spring time. i'm somewhat awed by it and its ever growing collection of poetry by so many people that i know of and also know and respect. the fishouse collection is unique in its scope and dedication to covering emerging writers.

i was happy to find the voices of some of my most talented friends there: steve scafidi, ross gay, patrick rosal, adrian matejka, camille dungy, curtis bauer, tyehimba jess, shane book, oliver de la paz and so on (i am blessed with many talented friends)...and that's how it began, as a means to get a little bit of the people i long to have more in my life. but slowly i began to branch out, to listen to the other poets, let their recorded voices fill my house as i walked around doing this and that, sit and read through their poems as i heard them echoed. and so i come to discover, then, john pineda--on whom i think i might have an audio-literati crush. well, okay, i'm sure of it--and ravi shanker, and kazim ali, and erika meitner, and quite a few more. as the list of fishouse grows larger and larger, it seems my access to these recordings may eventually grow endless. and god, i love that. i love hearing these voices echoing through my house, filling my view of my back yard, calling out over the running water of my kitchen sink. i love it.

this, of course, raises a whole other question of artistic and literary perspective when we consider the work seamlessly with the writer's own voice. there have been plenty of poets who i've happily read for years and then have been shocked to hear them offer renditions of their own poems i could never have imagined, sometimes, that i wish i hadn't imagined. the most rewarding moments were discoveries of poets whose recitations were more eccentric, more animated and colorful than i expected. this was the case with theodore roethke, who i not only heard recordings of but from whom i was fortunate enough to see, also, film of his reciting of some poems. he was a little flit of a thing, despite his hulking body, a flutter of manhood, a turned hand, an arched foot that brought him up to his tippy toes as he imposed a certain cresendo to the lines...fascinating i tell you. and there are those poets who i will allow to remain un-named whose own readings gave me less than i wanted. no, you won't get those names out of me--not in a million years. and my biggest fear, of course, is to be one of them.

and so, it is a real honor to be the first 'bonus' poet on, that is, a poet, recently emerging, with more than one book to his or her credit. it was an honor and also a bit terrifying. after months of listening to these voices and reading the poems against them i found myself sitting in my bathroom, staring at the peeling fake marble wall paper, speaking into a small red digital recorder and hoping that somehow, my poems would not be slaughtered by me in the process. i don't know how i did, but i can say i avoided do-overs because in my experience i generally do-worse. but, i certainly felt a pang for all of the lackluster poets out there who have made less than impressive recordings that they will have to own up to forever. the digital recorder will not lie. it will not say that i was having a good day when i wasn't. it won't gloss over my allergies, or ignore the plane overhead. it won't just pass up the soap i knocked into the sink. it tells the real story. and isn't that, really, what we're looking for in the work? the real story. the real poet. aren't we always trying to get to him or her? to hone in...

so, go, listen, but be generous. i'm letting you in on this little bit of joy if you don't already know about it. go find a few good poems to listen to.

Friday, August 05, 2005

speaking of the poetry machine...

check out this image from issue 18 of the online journal, jacket. this material is copyright © john tranter and jacket magazine 2002. go over and check them out.

Monday, May 16, 2005

al young named poet laureate of california

now, this couldn't have happened to a nicer guy. al young. i have to say, i've workshopped with al, and al is what i would call a pappa poet. he will lecture you, like your daddy will, and you can roll your eyes all you want but you will listen. al doesn't go for any of this bellyaching kind of poetry. he doesn't care a whole lot about a poem being a poem for the simple and only sake of 'feeling,' especially feeling that's always, and only, about the 'i'...anybody who's had al knows the speech he gives at the beginning of workshop. the 'young poets need to learn to move outside of themselves and their personal experience' speech. i hear you al. but lately, i've been reading a whole lot of, well, stuff outside of experience, outside of emotion, outside of the pastoral, the industrial, the pedantic and's like a seinfeld syndrom of 'nothingness' in poetry. good poetry as craft goes...not about much.

i read a poem recently, in a pretty little journal by someone who i won't name. the poem was so obviously crafted...written by a writer who fought hard for the words. the occasion, though, was a moment of watching television, specifically, i think, the preview channel. it stopped me. i didn't dislike it. i actually read it a few times because i admired the way the poem was put together. it was like watching those nice bodies at the beach or watching, for me this spring, college basketball, except in basketball, there was a very specific passion. i didn't know what to walk away with in that moment of the poem. perhaps i should say i couldn't find the thing i was supposed to walk away with. it made me think of roethke and how he could write these small poems seemingly about nothing but when you left them, when he ushered you out of the poem in the last lines, a hinge swung open and the world was before you...the small thing made enormous.

i think this is what al's talking about when he gives his speech to younger writers...finding the enormity in the ordinary, which is very different than simply crafting the ordinary into a poem. that whole business of writing a poem about nothing...don't take it literally. every little nothing needs to be about something.

here's a short excerpt from al young's interview w/ ray gonzalez in which he talks about his long time home and new poetic domain:

"From the time gold was discovered in California back in 1849, California has been viewed as a place where people go to remake themselves, to start all over, to test out new ideas, new ways of living or being. As we understand all too well by now, the California dream can turn nightmarish. So within the very confines of this vast settler nation, there has been yet another frontier to tame and to settle. One of the lines that sticks with me from Jack Kerouac's tricky Mexico City Blues, the book-length poem he composed on drugs and drink in Mexico back in the fifties, goes like this: "America is a permissible dream/if you remember that little ants have Americas/and mules in misty fields have Americas." I'm quoting from memory. So America's America-mythically anyway-has always been California."

congratulations al young.