Kristina Marie Darling's s Women and Ghosts
She participates in a conversation spanning centuries with both real and imaginary women: the women reading this text, and the women in Shakespeare’s plays: Ophelia, Juliet etc. Especially pleasing for me is the fact that previous exposure to these texts enhances my experience, but the book is so delicately rendered as to be accessible to even those who have not read the plays.
Rain Check Poems
Simon (Senses Himself) tackles ideas of leaving, longing, and missed opportunity as he creates a sense of urgent questioning in his fourth collection. Owing much to the New York School and displaying hints of Romanticism, Simon's poems are replete with moments of wild juxtaposition that let him reinterpret personal scenes with depth and humor. For example, he combines enjambment and anachronism in the title poem: "O Fates! O Body!/ Rude sirens cause a scene." Simon's formal technique is highly conversational and associative, and the poems are notable for their sparse use of punctuation. Through this mechanism, many lines do double duty as they interact with preceding and succeeding lines. This lends itself to a sense of confusion and a feeling of messy in-between-ness; readers are lost in the fog of existence and the poet's reveling in both how simultaneously maddening and liberating it can be. In "Mendocino," the feeling of love amid ancient redwoods and "cloud banks out of Blake" leads to a sensation of being "an ellipsis/ in a long line of ellipses." Despite the seeming insignificance of the self, what is being experienced still feels vital and important. It's a theme that recurs throughout the collection's mostly brief, occasional poems. Simon manages to be earnest and dreamy while still feeling grounded in the immediate material of life. (Aug.)
GEOFFREY GATZA ON FOCUSED SMALLNESSPosted on March 10, 2016
In a feature in Art Voice you talk about the “kooky energy” of being creative and the ways poets see the world a little differently. You also mention elsewhere a strong love for strange poetry. As ex-Marine, chef, poet, and publisher, what do you find provocative and exciting about chapbooks and books of poetry?
Yes this is all true; I do have a strong love of strange poetry, which was mainly influenced by my former lives. I am a war veteran who served in the Marine Corps, I studied at the Culinary Arts Institute in Hyde Park, NY and worked as chef in many fine locations in the US. I now earn my living from this creative energy as a book publisher. Both helped me pay close attention to detail in both a physical drive and creative flow that helped see me to my present self. One of BlazeVOX’s axioms is how we are publishers of weird little books, so I am a firm believer that the strong force that binds all of our books together could be found in the odder experimental side of the literary landscape.
There is so much that is exciting about poetry; from its discourses to its execution to its futile utilities. It is the human cost of poetry – the energy in its expression on the page and or the vocalizations that occur in the spoken breathe that provoke me into paying close attention to what is occurring. This is all very broad discursiveness about very specific artistries, but there is always something fascinating and unique in a new project, be it a full-scale book or a chapbook. The focused smallness of a chapbook always excites me, as the author can take an idea and fulfill its scheme over the space of a set of poems. I often feel that readers enjoy chapbooks a bit more than they do a full book of poetry. I believe this to be true because a reader can expend a small amount of energy into the object but it is so often more rewarding a venture, a reader can become closely acquainted to pieces in the smaller book in a way that cannot be found in a full book. I also think this is true because chapbooks come from smaller publishers who take on riskier works that require smaller amounts of operating costs and those works are generally made as a labor of love for a specific audience known to the small press publisher. So the flow of the chapbook can directly make a larger impact, sometimes, than a larger book. I do encourage anyone reading this, that if they have ever had the inclination to become a publisher, do it, you won’t soon regret it.
You write about cats as well as other animals in Housecat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage Press, 2009), a woman becoming words and choosing painting over writing in House of Forgetting (BlazeVOX 2012), and a strange singing mechanical bird in the most recent Thanksgiving Menu-Poem series, as well as several topics in other books and sequences that move among genres. Talk about your interest in genre-bending, hybrid, and experimentation?
My work often does focus on genre-bending hybrid, and experimentation, all of which derive from my love of surrealism. I am often told that I am a surrealist misplaced in time. My poetry resolves itself in the resolute natures that fall in between the uncomforting nature of dreamscapes and the often unsettling urgencies of waking reality. I find it important to use extensive metaphoric exercises of the mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision to create juxtapositions to expose a startling praxis. That said, I find it to be more fun, as a writer, to develop long-form ideas and ideals that inhabit our reality but them slowly break free from them.
To talk specifically about the chapbook projects you mention, HouseCat Kung Fu was my first foray into writing for young reader and is akin to the comic verses of Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children. House of Forgetting is a set of series poems in honor of two women Leonora Carrington and Dorothea Tanning, both famed surrealist painters. And this years Thanksgiving Menu-Poem was Edwin and the Nightingale, which took its inspiration from Hans Christian Andersen’s story Nattergalen. This was dedicated to my dear friend, Blaze, an orange tabby cat who died in 2015. She is the namesake of the press so it was a fitting tribute to her. The common thread to all of these pieces is change. Change in form, being and makeup morphing from an established shape and identity into another as an attempt to either embrace death or flee from it as a means for the reader to think deeply about what he or she actually believes, believe themselves to be and what other self is there that is eluding them. This is the craft of the hybrid and the experiment, to push forward and further describe and shape our most basic fears of our own being.
In an interview about her new book The Heart Goes Last, Margaret Atwood said, “All writing is for somebody. People don’t write things down unless they intend a reader.” In her nonfiction collection Dancing at the Edge of the World, Ursula K. Le Guin writes, “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” Talk about the relationship of the reader and the poet/author of the artifact, the thing written, such as the chapbook.
What a fascinating question! I am fond of both Atwood and Le Guin and I believe they are correct. If not for the reader, the writer has no utility, relevance or function. As a writer and publisher I often dwell on what it is that the reader will want to further their desires in continuing their pursuits. Often times we get it wrong, but when we are able to meet the expectations of readers it is a marvelous feeling.
As a publisher of full sized books and chapbooks we have expended a great deal of time, energy and resources to develop an audience of readers who enjoy experimental works of poetry and fictions that push at the boundaries of the expected. And as it turns out there are a lot of readers open our ‘Weird Little Books,’ which is gratifying. So we always try to choose works that are relevant to these people so as to keep their attentions, keep current with changing trends in tastes as well as to take part in being active both politically as well as socially.
As a writer, being relevant to ones reader is paramount. A writer has to be active in voice, thoughtfully aware that the reader could stop mid stanza and find another activity, or book, all while trying to be as original as possible in their presentation of materials that has, more than likely, been stated previously by a better writer. But this is all a lot to worry about while attempting to be creative. So I find it best to not worry about such things while on the first or second draft, I try to let ideas and concepts flow from my mind onto the paper. Then in subsequent drafts I look for errors, worry about poor metaphors, and edit ruthlessly so as to present to a reader a fresh well-crafted text. I have developed a mantra that I frequently use, delete what I love best in a new work and see how it stands without out it. Most times my instincts are correct and the texts are better off without it. I do this with the reader in mind because what I love in a writing, is generally not what a reader is looking for, but rather it is a piece blah writing that I needed to express in order to get at the integral quintessence of the text. And this is very important because often a writer does not know what exactly what a reader enjoys. And heavy editing reveals a great deal to both writer and publisher.
How do you define chapbook? A small, tight collection of poems or prose that work in conjunction with one another, dealing with a similar theme, or ideas or method.
What makes a good chapbook? What makes a good book is never easy pin down, but it is perfectly self evident when one see it. Good writing always wins the day, but cohesiveness among the works in the chapbook is also a deciding factor.
What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? Anything from Bloof Books and Ugly Duckling, They choose great authors to work with and make a finely crafted book.
What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Anne Waldman, Tristan Tzara, Robert Creeley, Charles Bernstein, CD Wright, Jean Arp, Dorothea Tanning, André Breton, Marianne Moore, Max Ernst.
What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? There are many aspects on what I look for; mostly I look for a well-crafted collection of texts from an author who is willing to promote their work and play an active part within a larger poetry community.
How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I receive manuscripts from dozens of fine poets each week. I seek out authors but mainly rely on them sending works to me. So in my reading of submitted materials I try to locate those who are working at the forefront of their art. But I also carefully read manuscripts from those who are not from ivy league schools, top MFA programs etc. as there might be a fine piece of writing that could easily get overlooked.
What’s next for you? Immediately lunch. Afterwards I am drafting my next novel, I am working on a larger series of poems based upon Church bell ringing systems called Peals, this years Thanksgiving menu-poem, and finally I am finishing up a chapbook of Sherlock Holmes erasure poems.
Current chapbook reading list:
Someone Took They Tongues by Douglas Kearney (Subito Press)
Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up at Night by Morgan Parker (Switchback Books)
Shipbreaking by Robin Beth Schaer (Anhinga Press)
Solar Maximum by Sueyeun Juliette Lee (Futurepoem Books)
Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno by Ed Pavlić (Fence Books)
Poem Without Suffering by Josef Kaplan (Wonder)
Evening Oracle by Brandon Shimoda (Letter Machine Editions)
Fearful Beloved by Khadijah Queen (Argos Books)
Poems by Gerard Legro by Jerrold Levy and Richard Negro (BookThug)
Farther Traveler by Ronaldo V. Wilson (Counterpath Press)
A Crown for Gumecindo by Laurie Ann Guerrero (Aztlan Libre Press)
The Collected Poems of Chika Sagawa by Chika Sagawa (Canarium Books)
Benediction by Alice Notley (Letter Machine Editions)
Literature for Nonhumans by Gabriel Gudding (Ahsahta Press)
Number of chapbooks you own: Over a thousand, chapbooks are part of the arts gift economy so many are sent to me and I love it!
Number of chapbooks you’ve read: Over three thousand, if not more.
Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. I live my life in and about poetry. I attend readings, read hundreds of manuscript, publish chapbooks and full sized books of poetry and live in the open wonder of what is possible in writing and imagination.
Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I host readings, publish chapbooks, read chapbooks and encourage poets in their writings.
Your chapbook credo: Be relevant!
Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Earnings? I am sure I would spend it on ice cream if there were any. Mostly this is a labor of love and I use other monies for treats!
Your chapbook wish: That I could run away to private seaside home in Costa Rica and have great chapbooks air-dropped into my home on a regular basis.
Residence: Buffalo, NY
Job: Editor and Publisher of BlazeVOX [books]
Chapbook education: I attended the Culinary Institute of America where I learned how to create art. Later I went to Daemen College
Chapbook Bio: Geoffrey Gatza is an award winning editor, publisher and poet. He was named by the Huffington Post as one of the Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry (2013). He is the author many books of poetry, including Apollo (BlazeVOX 2014), Secrets of my Prison House (BlazeVOX 2010), Kenmore: Poem Unlimited (Casa Menendez 2009), and HouseCat Kung Fu: Strange Poems for Wild Children (Meritage Press 2008). He is also the author of the yearly Thanksgiving Menu-Poem Series, a book length poetic tribute for prominent poets, now in it’s thirteenth year. Most recently his work has appeared in FENCE and Tarpaulin Sky. His play on Marcel Duchamp will be staged in an art installation in Philadelphia this year. He lives in Kenmore, NY with his girlfriend and two beloved cats.
Read the Whole Interview Here
Buffalo: BlazeVOX Books, 2014. 104 pp. $16.00, paper.
I got some new reading glasses and I hate them. I don't just see with them; I concentrate a little too much on the act of seeing. There is no doubt I see better with the glasses, but they're fraught for me with notions of age and deterioration and beauty as a lessened priority.
I broke them in on a very worthy read, though—the poetry collection The Visit, by Susan Lewis. This is her eighth book, and it shows, glasses or no, and I tried it both ways. My first time through, I used my laser glasses-focus and really scrutinized the work. The poems had complicated geographies. They circled back on themselves; some lines were spurs or fragments, and some were roundabouts, hard to steer out of.
I think I preferred my second reading, the sans-glasses reading, when I softened my gaze and just went along where Lewis pointed. Lewis approaches her reader in an intuitive, collaborative way, and once I accepted my role as co-creator of the work, I found the experience vivid and energizing. Consider this snippet from the title poem of the book:
On the wall with no writing
through the dark glass
(floor littered with doll heads)
the grenade of your despair
plus sleep, that sweet rehearsal
(fingertips in love)
wistful bones withering,
Reading lines like these is somewhat like viewing a scene dimly while someone with keener vision or a more advantageous viewpoint offers a description. When I allowed myself, I felt it deep inside my flesh, those "fingertips in love" and the "wistful bones withering." This passage, by the way, is the end of the section, and yes, it trails off, and yes, it ends with a dash, interrupted.
In reading the collection, it is helpful to remember its basic conceit: This Visit, the title, seems to refer to this visit to Earth—this incarnation, this life among many we will experience. The voice in the poems is wise; it seems to have been here before, to have racked up some special insight. The work here is intelligent.
It is also intellectually demanding. For one thing, it is allusive, including quotes from The Waste Land and many other works, so that the reader is always on the lookout for another layer, for a lining. It is also discursive, with a mere hint of an argument running through out, with a thread showing here, and here. I guess I'm describing the book as a well-made jacket, supple and perfectly constructed, but it's also something more ethereal than that—like a jacket constructed of still-beating wings.
Speaking of construction, the collection is structured very deliberately into four sections, the first of poems titled "My Life in..." ("...Dogs," "...Microbes," "...Fresh Starts"), and the second of epistolary poems ("Dear Tomorrow," "Dear Random Object," "Dear Crutch"). The third and fourth sections are more open, and I found the third section, containing the title poem, most accessible in terms of Lewis' project, and most rewarding to me as a reader. But I did admire the strategy here, especially that of beginning with a glimpse at all the different kinds of lives.
A favorite in the first section is "Dear Dear," with a title signaling the sort of playfulness I came to expect in the collection. It's a poem, like many others here, that rewards out-loud reading, as in these final lines:
in the cool glower
at once ought
(hurry up please,
Lewis' wordplay is delectable and subtle. I enjoy the pairing of "lean and "lessen," the barest suggestion of rhyme in "glower" and "repair," and the T.S. Eliot reference at the end. There's a lot to chew on, and the worrisome, bespectacled me, taking my first read-through, almost missed the pleasure for the puzzle.
At the end of the day, poems aren't puzzles, although some reward a picking apart and a deep consideration. Lewis's certainly do—but they also offer drive-by pleasures, a sonic lushness and the occasional thrill of recognition. I'm tempted to find a wholly new way of seeing—opera glasses? microscope? monocle?—and take on The Visit again.
You can purchase The Visit here.
Notes on a Past Life: David Trinidad in Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling on Best American Poetry blog
Notes on a Past Life: David Trinidad in Conversation with Kristina Marie Darling [by Kristina Marie Darling]
KMD: I truly enjoyed your latest collection, Notes on a Past Life, which was just published by BlazeVOX Books. As I read the work, I was reminded of Marianne Moore’s philosophy with regards to poetry. She actually coined the term “conversity” to describe the dialogic nature of the arts, to evoke the idea of the poem as a conversation with other creative practitioners. Similarly, your collection contains references to such writers as John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, and Mark Doty, as well as incisive commentary on the business of poetry. With that in mind, I’d love hear more about your beliefs about contemporary poetry as a dialogue among its practitioners. Which elements of the conversation are you most interested in preserving, and which of these are you most interested in refining, reconstituting, and even discarding? To what extent is your poetry, your participation in this literary conversation, an interventionist gesture, an effort to effect change through narrative, as well as form and technique?
DT: I think Moore’s term is apt. I’m always in conversation with other poets. In Notes on a Past Life, I set out to tell the truth about my own experiences in the New York poetry scene. That was all. But as I was writing the book, I realized it was a fairly stringent critique of the poetry business and ambition in general. Prior to starting the book—and while I was writing it, too—I read a number of poets who helped show me the way. I was looking for direction, and for permission, without really knowing it. It wasn’t a completely conscious process; I don’t know that writing, for me, ever is. Or can be. How do you write about unpleasant experiences with real writers, living and dead? How do you reach back, touch those old hurts, reignite them, and transform them into art?
Two poems I found helpful were Sylvia Plath’s “The Tour” and Ted Hughes’s “The Literary Life.” Both are about Marianne Moore, actually. Thom Gunn’s “Famous Friends” is a poem I’ve argued with for a long time. Ultimately, I think it’s valuable. Certain poems should trouble you. John Berryman’s Love & Fame showed me many things; I’ve been reading that book on and off for years. There were others. Lorca’s Poet in New York was helpful in terms of structure and pitch. Stylistically, Hilda Morley and A.R. Ammons helped me. James Schuyler and Anne Sexton always help me. The poets I’ve mentioned are all dead, of course.
To be honest, I don’t feel that contemporary poetry has very much to tell me.
I don’t think very much is actually being said, or said in an interesting way. There’s a sameness, and a safeness, a mundaneness, an eye to getting ahead that deadens the poetry. There are a few voices that seem distinct, concrete. Maybe there always are just a few. They stand out, but how many hear them? I think of what Elizabeth Bishop said about one of Marianne Moore’s books. She praised “the wonderful ALONE quality of it all—like the piano alone in the middle of the concerto.” I guess that’s what I’m always listening for, that solitary—and brave—individual in the midst of the rabble.
I’m curious to know what you find valuable in contemporary poetry. Does it nurture or inspire you? Who are the living poets you’re in conversation with? Who are the dead poets you talk to?
KMD: I certainly agree with your discussion of the “safeness” of much of contemporary poetry. I think part of this problem of homogenization comes from the increasingly corporate nature of the universities in which creative writing programs are housed. So many contemporary poets write towards what they perceive as the markers of legitimacy, rather than writing from a place of urgency, honesty, or risk. Yet there are so many contemporary writers whose work I return to again and again. For me, the most exciting work in contemporary literature is taking place at the very periphery of what we consider to be poetry, happening at the interstices of poetry and other genres and mediums: lyric essay, short fiction, literary criticism, even photography and the visual arts.
I spent some time at Yaddo in 2011, and remember having a conversation with the poet Sam Taylor, who said that the great frontier in contemporary poetry is not finding new ways to innovate or experiment. Rather, it is integrating tradition and innovation, placing the literary tradition we’ve inherited in new and provocative contexts. The most exciting contemporary texts often arise from the dialogue between the poetry, its tradition, and its artistic resources, and other modes of representation. Recently, I was moved by a collaboration between Sandy Florian and a visual artist, Alexis Anne Mackenzie, who works with collage. The juxtaposition of text with images gave the collection a generative quality, allowing each poem to open out into more imaginative work, more possibilities for readerly interpretation. Similarly, Keith Waldrop’s Several Gravities contains magnificent collages that act as kind of field guide, instructing the reader as to how to understand and appreciate the architecture of the poems. The work of Allison Titus, Julie Marie Wade, Emma Bolden, and Jenny Boully, particularly their experiments in lyric essay, has also been of paramount importance to my thinking about what is possible within contemporary poetry.
And so you’ve probably guessed that the dead poets I talk to include mostly female modernists—H.D., Mina Loy, and Marianne Moore in particular. They really began this undertaking of exploring the possibilities for dialogue between poetry and other disciplines. I’m particularly interested in the ways they placed the literary arts in dialogue with the work of philosophers of the time period—Charles Saunders Peirce, William James, and especially Sigmund Freud. They really showed me that the smallest stylistic choices can convey powerful assertions about philosophy, literary theory, and psychology. And even these seemingly small stylistic choices are often politically charged. They remind me that poetry contains a unique repertoire of artistic resources, which can illuminate and complicate work from other fields of enquiry.
I’d love to hear more about what poetry made possible for you in telling the truth about your experiences in the New York scene. This collection could have arguably taken a much different form—anything from a roman à clef to a memoir. Why did you turn to poetry as a vehicle for representing these experiences? What did the vast range of poetic forms in the book make possible within the narrative, within your own thinking about the past, and within your conceptualization of time?
DT: That’s quite a trilogy of influences—H.D., Loy, and Moore. All troubling figures, in their own way. Eccentrics. I love that Loy described poetry as “prose bewitched.” Not long ago I reread H.D.’s Sea Garden, which I first read when I was in college in the ‘70s. I remembered liking the shorter pieces focused on a single subject, like a flower or tree. But this time I responded to the longer poems, such as “Pursuit” or “Prisoners,” where she gives just a snippet of a larger plot, like a scene from a movie, yet an entire narrative seems to rise up and blossom around it. Something similar happens when I read your poems. They’re full of details—ornate, romantic, and (dare I say) “feminine” objects. Lockets, silver charms, a velvet curtain with “silk tassels and lavish golden trim,” bone china “rimmed with tiny black crocuses.” There are chalets and opera houses and nightingales and chandeliers. Things gleam and glitter. The word “luminous” shows up again and again. It feels as if we’re situated in another time, as if a Victorian novel, or a whole universe of Victorian novels, haunts every page. At the heart is a sense of mourning, desire, the mystery of human experience. I can see your affinity with Jenny Boully, especially in your “footnote” pieces. Though the story itself is intentionally withheld, it’s interesting how much pours in around the “ornaments” and “embellishments,” around a mere gesture or single moment. As with H.D., there’s the suggestion of a narrative, or the trace of one, that gives the writing a ghostly or disquieting quality.
It was only natural that I would write about my New York years in poems, since poems are what I write. Poetry has always been, for me, a place where one can be absolutely truthful. More than in a novel, say, as fiction isn’t real. I guess in my mind that makes it less truthful. Less raw. And in a memoir I would have felt bound by narrative and facts. I’d have to spell everything out, make it all make sense. Notes on a Past Life is, more than anything, an experiment in memory. Often a poem would start with a color or object; images and feelings would begin to swirl around it and the memory would come forth and take shape, as language. A looser and more honest language than I was used to, which I found surprising and exhilarating. I was amazed how much I was able to remember, how much came back.
I outlined the book fairly early on, knew in advance which people and experiences I wanted to write about. Still, it felt, in the two years it took to write the book, like I was retrieving, putting the puzzle pieces of my history back together. To make sense of it. To understand what it was that I actually went through. So in some ways it was a fragmentary process. This allowed me to pull in passages from old notebooks, quotes from writers who were important to me in the past, even old discarded poems. I’m talking about decades-old poems. There was a kind of redemption in being able to include poems I had once considered failures. Or being able to rework some of them into the fabric of the new poems. So they were salvaged, finally of use. No effort is wasted or irrelevant. Or completely abandoned.
By the way, I thought of two more poems that were important signposts for me. Both by May Swenson. One, “March 4, 1965,” is about being a judge for the National Book Award in Poetry and feeling guilty that she played it safe by giving the award to dead Theodore Roethke instead of Galway Kinnell, whose book she preferred. The other, “At the Poetry Reading,” is about being bored at a reading by “stodgy” James Merrill: “The hour seems an age.” These poems were published in a journal after Swenson’s death, but not included in her collected poems. Why? Too honest?