Founded in 2003 and based out of Pittsburgh, Caketrain is an online and print literary journal as well as press – publishing creative nonfiction (with the exception of book reviews), poetry and visual art. Caketrain is edited by Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed and has more than fifteen titles under its belt as well as ten annually published journals. The online component is an interesting one in that only some of the material is available to view with no charge. However, all material has at least a sample portion to view. From the latest issue (January, 2013), “from One Elegy House,” by Cheryl Clark Vermeulen:
“I don’t see him fish but eat its reward, the smelt,
first thumbing out the guts. My thumbs suited
for their tiny bodies. Inside this pipe, burning,
and packed inside a drawer, the pipe-stem cleaners.
Inside a listener the insides of listening, a persistent
patience – arms inside arms, a girl, a handful.”
The aesthetic of Caketrain is, in their own words, one of “bringing readers the very best of contemporary creative writing, full stop.” In an interview with editor Amanda Raczkowski from 2010, when asked simply what Caketrain publishes in 25 characters or less, Raczkowski replied: “language monsters.” All of this very much aligns Caketrain with Columbia Poetry Review in its overall scope and interest. However, while CPR is unafraid in publishing the work of previously unpublished authors, a quick glance of the bios of the contributors of Caketrain show that most have been published elsewhere. This said; Caketrain is consistent in its voice and overall presence. From the Caketrain published chapbook Afterpastures (2008), by Claire Hero:
“PENNED INSIDE the wondervault
I did not know my place
until I had been bloodied
by the Great Chain.
Now: Cut the mouth piece
watch new morphemes
hatch in the wounds
& eat them
As stated, the online component of Caketrain is interesting in that only a portion of the material is available to view for no charge – as downloadable PDF’s – and this currently includes journals one through seven as well as two chapbooks (Afterpastures by poet Claire Hero (above) and The Collectors by experimental fiction writer Mat Bell). There is a single page devoted to all of the contributors to the magazine with links to where one can find that specific author’s work within the entirety of the journal, which adds inclusiveness and intimacy to Caketrain and should be replicated in other online magazines (although in some cases this may be impossible). The website as a whole is easily navigable and has an engaging, very interactive and seemingly simplistic layout. Both the sample and downloadable PDF’s imitate their print counterparts and allow for an agreeable reading experience. The submission guidelines are straightforward (for poetry specifically – up to seven poems, simultaneous submission OK, no additional work until a decision has been made regarding current submission); and, while there is no stated reading period, “response time can take up to six months, but is often much shorter.”
That said, as a reviewer I’m left with wanting more information, specifically regarding the details of Caketrain’s annual chapbook competition which alternates yearly between fiction and poetry and with a separate, notable, judge each year (poetry judges from past competitions include Rosmarie Waldrop and Claudia Rankine, among others). Also, while the tight, simplistic and compact nature of the website is appealing, a “statement” along with a more fleshed out masthead would be beneficial for prospective contributors. However, this isn’t to say that Caketrain is remotely lacking in its online presence or its content, both of which are captivating. From issue seven (December, 2009), “Towards,” by Nora Almeida:
Beside the freeway
12 seagulls eating 1 seagull.
of the infinite.”
- Joe Meads
Posted on 17.06.2013
Post by cjacobs
I had the opportunity to sit with Kenyatta Rogers, the 2012-2013 Visiting Poet at Columbia College Chicago, and talk a bit about poetry and his poem “Purple Music” which is featured in Columbia Poetry Review 26, over a cup of coffee and some Cuban sandwiches.
CPR: What is creatively inspiring you?
KR: There are two different answers to this question. The first would be what I’m reading for my classes, which at the moment is Susan Slaviero’s Cyborgia as well as Marcus Wiker’s Maybe the Saddest Thing. The other part to that answer is that I’ve currently been doing a lot of writing on pop culture. I’ve written a poem about Batman and Aquaman but I don’t know shit about him.
CPR: Who was the first poet(s) that held an influence and importance to you?
KR: Sylvia Plath is one that really sticks out along with Ai. Ai was someone that I read and remember really deciding to take poetry seriously. I recall one of my teachers giving me a book from her car filled with garbage and money; it was Ai. My teacher just looked at me and said “Here, read this. You’ll like it,” and I was like “Sure, okay,” and I really enjoyed it. A writer that I also read a lot of during grammar school was R.L Stine.
CPR: What is your favorite poem?
KR: Currently it’s William Carlo William’s “This is Just to Say.” It’s very short but I enjoy it. For a while it used to be Ross Gay “Bringing the Shovel Down” and before that “Tulips” by Sylvia Plath.
CPR: Could you talk a little bit about your process?
KR: I’ve tried to be really removed from the work itself, almost just writing without being aware of what it is exactly that I’m writing. I’ll start with an idea and almost just free write. I really believe that the poem comes from the revisions and edits that I see after it’s all on the page. It’s like I’ll try to grab that stream of consciousness between words and emphasize it.
CPR: Could you tell us a bit about “Purple Music,” your poem in CPR no. 26, and where it came from?
KR: The poem itself came from a prompt that I’ve actually given out in class before. It’s where someone gives you five things and you’re required to incorporate them into your poem. Mine was: “1989,” “I once threw a bible through,” “Thiloneus Monk,” “Tehran,” and a quote “a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush,” or something like that. That part didn’t stay in the poem. As for the title, I was playing Xbox and in some game I was playing one of the player’s screen names was “Purple Music” and it just seemed to fit the poem. At the time I was also working on my manuscript and I had been using the color purple a lot so it fit.
CPR: To you, what’s the definition of poetry and a poet?
KR: Poetry is the use of language to create music but I don’t know how to define a poet. To be honest I didn’t call myself a poet till about 2008 when someone, who I didn’t know, called me a poet. Before that I would simply title myself a writer.
CPR: What drink would you say best accompanies your poetry?
KR: First thing I thought was Jefferson 10 year Whiskey because when you first take a sip it’s not so strong but after a while you really start to feel it kick in.
CPR: Would you attempt to describe your poetry in a sentence?
KR: Emotionally vulnerable and always aware of itself.
CPR: You’re a founder of the Chicago Poetry Bordello could you tell us about that?
KR: Well I’m not the founder. Susan Yount, who has an MFA from Columbia College Chicago, asked me and a few others to do the first Chicago Poetry Brothel a few years ago and so it stuck. We later had to change the name when a place in New York tried to sue us for “poetry brothel” so we changed the named to “Brodello.” We still do it on occasions and holidays.
CPR: What did you do today?
KR: Well, I woke up, fed my cat, and went to Truman College where I tutor English for 10 hours a week. I took some photocopies while I thought about today’s poem. I ate two bananas and went to Lit Class, checked my email, and now I’m here.
Kenyatta, Cave Canem fellow, is currently a professor at Columbia and is currently finished his “poem a day for the month of April” streak. His work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Cave Canem Anthology XIII, Vinyl, Arsenic Lobster, Court Green, Reverie, and elsewhere.
Posted on 5.06.2013
Post by cjacobs
On April 4th, 2013, Columbia College Chicago hosted the 14th Annual Citywide Undergraduate Poetry Festival at Ferguson Hall. The festival is sponsored by the Department of English, School of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Coordinated by Tony Trigilio, the Director of the Poetry program, the Citywide Undergraduate Poetry Festival showcases the writing talents of nine students from colleges and universities in the Chicagoland area. Student readers are nominated by their instructors and encouraged to submit work.
I attended the festival last year as well as this year, and enjoyed the readings both times. The atmosphere is one of encouragement, community and celebration. I appreciate the opportunity to be exposed to work from other schools and I’m sure the student readers would say it is a great honor to be chosen to represent their school.
During his introductory speech, Tony spoke about how previous students who took part in the festival have gone on to have work published, get accepted to MFA programs and acquire teaching positions. He also emphasized the noncompetitive nature of the festival.
The student readers were Laura Miller from Columbia College Chicago, Stephanie Perez from DePaul University, Bobby Crowley from Loyola University Chicago, Tania Danielle from Northeastern Illinois University, Noor Hassan from Northwestern University, Kim Grazullis from North Central College, Michelle Burk from Roosevelt University, Elle Nurmi from University of Chicago and Julie Steffens from University of Illinois – Chicago.
A highlight of the reading for me came from Noor Hassan, a student at Northwestern University. Her poem was a documentary piece about a young woman who was raped It was an emotional piece, but Hassan’s reading was just the right amount of reflection and fact, which helped the poem maintain authenticity.
Laura Miller, an undergraduate student at Columbia College Chicago, whose work is in Columbia Poetry Review Issue no. 26, was also a featured reader. I found her poems to be dream-like and visceral. A great choice to represent the undergraduate work at our school.
I look forward to attending next year’s festival and I think it’s likely we will see more in the future from the students featured at this year’s festival.
Posted on 3.06.2013
Post by cjacobs
When attending a reading to celebrate the tenth issue of Court Green and the journal’s dossier is on sex, be prepared for sex, be prepared to be handed a beautiful program with a photograph of Anne Sexton you’ll want to cut out and paste on your wall. Sexton’s poem “The Furry of Cocks,” is printed on the back, and reads “All the cocks of the world are God, / blooming, blooming, blooming / into the sweet blood of woman.” Be prepared to be given a raffle ticket for a chance to win a Court Green box set of each and every past issue.
Co-editor Tony Trigilio will introduce Court Green as “a place for poems you can’t find elsewhere,” and will elaborate on the journal’s dossier on sex—to be approached as taboo, “not just kink [note the admittance of some kink]” but more so, Tony will continue, “in terms of cultural taboos.” Talking about aging, mortality, sex and desire, Trigilio claims the poem charges us to talk about these things.
Be prepared for nine readers, and the warmness of Raul Alvarez reading his poem “Some Kinds of Intimacy.” In the audience, you will feel intimate with the poem as it translates its own self-awareness. Be prepared for lines like “so I should be generous with people who experience that kind of loss.” Your brain will stop there, and be reflexive.
CM Burroughs will admit that her recent poems want to love, and that she is in the process of “figuring out how to let them love.” Burroughs follows with her poem “Clitoris,” reading “Takes a chair leg, table ledge (does it / Matter) rubs her chin against it,” and you’ll see this as a kind of loving.
Senior editorial assistant Jessica Dyer will read two poems. First will be Stacy Waite’s “The Clownfish,” examining the complexities of gender within a context of questionable classification. Sarah Crossland’s “Blowjobs” will be a crowd pleaser. Be prepared for Dyer to get the line “Hats off to you Mindy” just right.
Co-Editor David Trinidad will echo Trigilio’s earlier statement in acknowledging Court Green as a journal “doing something that no other magazine does.” Trinidad will say “fuck” at least four times (Poem in 4 parts) while reading from a selection of poems by Ed Smith. Smith’s poems will make accessible a dissatisfied speaker; especially in “Fantasyworld,” where the speaker has “so much fantasy money.”
Up next will be Alice George who reads three poems. There will be talk of William De Kooning to whom the first poem is after. Her last poem, “Mission” takes pause from an episode of Star Trek to address the pressing matters of daily life, the intersection of art.
Be prepared for Christine Heppermann putting poems in the context of albino farms, and “Susie Bright who said / the first time she used a vibrator was like / getting out of the world’s smallest town,” from “Local Girl Makes Good.” Heppermann’s sense of place will be authentic and personable.
Michael Robins will draw the audience’s attention to the contributor’s notes, citing that each contributor was asked to supply the most unusual place that they’ve had sex. Robins is interested in Bruce Covey’s response: “Atlanta, Georgia.” Robins will read two new poems in addition to two poems from Court Green: “Summoning the Summer of ‘77” and “As Light Enters & Registers.”
Kenyatta Rogers will read “After Whiskey,” and a new poem in which there is a long pause and great tension will build and the audience will be relieved when it gives.
Be prepared for the kindness in George Kalamaras’s voice. Reading “The Humid Quivering of Love,” you will get a sense of the endurable desire for a specific body, “the juice was both more sweet and warm because it came from you.” Be prepared for a sweet gesture when Kalamaras closes the reading with a poem written as a letter to Tony Trigilio. You’ll think this gesture is appropriate.
Be prepared to lose the raffle for the Court Green box set. MFA Poetry candidate Tara Boswell won.
-by Patrick Samuel
Posted on 30.05.2013
Post by cjacobs
I arrived a little early to the reading, about 5:20. It was a seasonably warm Thursday in what seemed an unseasonably cold May, and I had just spent a few minutes walking along Michigan Avenue, through Grant Park, and up to the Buckingham Fountain with a classmate of mine from (full disclosure) Columbia. Oh, and I should also probably mention I’m on the editorial board for the magazine.
After the crowd took their seats (there was quite a fine representation of word appreciators present at the auditorium at 600 South Michigan), the lights dimmed—well they didn’t exactly dim, it’s a figure of speech, but the show got started—anyway after all that happened, Cora Jacobs, managing editor of Columbia Poetry Review, took the podium.
What followed was far from a standard introduction. Instead of the stock speech, Cora delivered a description of her past couple of years working on the production of Columbia College’s poetry publications. At one point she had to pause, overcome with emotion. Other speakers included editors Tara Boswell, Brian Miles, Patti Pangborn and Josh Young.
The introductions were finished and the stage was set for the first two readers, each of whom read for about 10 minutes. Alexis Pope, who mentioned that she was more used to reading in bars and basements, delivered an impassioned performance despite being outside of her natural habitat.
Patrick Culliton seemed as comfortable in personal address on stage as he does on the page, entertaining the audience with humorous self-reflection in between his pieces. Once the initial featured readers finished, the rest of the reading began.
The readers were a mix of graduate and undergraduate students from Columbia, visiting poets, Chicago poetry organizers and faculty from Columbia and neighboring institutions.
Most read only for a minute or two, and it seemed almost too soon that the introduction for the main featured reader, Traci Brimhall, was being made.
Traci Brimhall read from a selection of poems informed by Amazon Portuguese culture and legend, of pink dolphins that wore hats and impregnated human women, huge fish as big as a man (the second apparently not legend), and of upturned diving bells. The poet provided a description of foreign culture and language pertaining to each piece by way of a kind of storytelling banter. This approach effectively guided the audience towards, if not a certain interpretation of the work, at least a more informed understanding.
After all was said and done, many of the attendees and readers adjourned with high spirits to the second floor lounge where there was provided hummus, vegetable crudités, ranch dressing, two types of chocolate chip cookies, pastel de tres leches, mocha wafers, cucumber tea sandwiches, salsa, various and sundry comestibles of all descriptions and origins. There was a typewriter set up for the partygoers; everyone was invited to participate in the construction of a collaborative work. Unfortunately for what could have been the rest of this review, I had a recital to attend and I had to leave the party early. The recital was fun, if that’s any consolation.
-by John Bishop
Posted on 24.05.2013
Post by cjacobs
I admit to succombing to the very trendy idea that anything with a bird on it is immediately beautiful–coffee mugs, shoes, tattoos, comedy sketch shows out of Portland, and yes even poetry journals will catch my eye with some feathery addition. But if anything merits beauty for its own sake, it is Thrush Poetry Journal, an online journal edited by Helen Vitoria and Associate Editor Ocean Vuong. And unlike my penchant for the latest wildlife designs, Thrush is hardly a passing trend.
Founded in late 2011, Thrush takes its name from the bird whose songs are considered among the most beautiful in the world–a hard task to set for oneself. Yet in reading the March 2013 issue, I found myself continually slowing down, lingering in language full of vivacity and surprise. Jessie Janeshek writes “all the / Magdalenes dead blonding all the / Jezebels framboise. At least the river / rats were honest carving our hearts / out of cabbage.” Even after walking away I continued to hear the music of Kevin McLellan’s “His interior thickening,” writing of a grandfather’s eyes clouding in death:
On the edge of two
(the water once clear)
(the water once clear)
The editors’ values for the eclectic and experimental are most evident in this issue both within the sound of poetry–“Feed them mutton corn / and high tones / bait them with angleworms / and always ago” (Erin Radcliffe)–and form. This issue features six of SMarie Clay’s (a CPR Issue 25 contributor) poems, the text of which forms optical illusions and the geometrical shapes of shadow puppets. Though the form is reminiscent of childhood activities, a thread of tension underlies Clay’s poems that prevents them from being dismissed as trite or gimmicky: “[my child] doesn’t understand the danger of uncharted growth, the necessity of all things / to root in darkness.”
Each issue highlights the same variety of content and form, featuring about fifteen to twenty established and emerging poets. New issues appear every other month in January, March, May, July, September, and November. Thrush has also started a small press for chapbooks and broadsides, both of which accept submissions year round.
Several poets appearing in Thrush have also appeared in CPR, and we would do well to pay attention to who else they select. In the latest issue, Brandon Courtney writes “you will never hone the / knife of your tongue sharp / enough to kill.” In the same way, Thrush has certainly not finished its search for the most beautiful songs.
- Abigail Zimmer
Posted on 20.05.2013
Post by cjacobs
“IF WHEREVER YOU ARE DOES NOT HAVE SOMETHING YOU CAN STICK YOUR HANDS IN, THEN HOW ARE YOU GONNA FIND LOVE?”
Recently CPR editorial board member Daniel Scott Parker had the opportunity to interview Darin Beasley about the online journals Marco Polo and Tiger Train.
Daniel Scott Parker: The first time I heard about Marco Polo was in the summer of 2010. After doing a little snooping around on the site, I remember thinking, wow, these guys love Truffaut. What was the impetus for creating Marco Polo?
Darin Beasley: At that time you first saw it, Daniel, Marco was a quarterly Brian Hitselberger and I put together. We brainstormed it up one night in the fall of 2009 on our front porch because we were trying to figure a way to get me out of this depression I was experiencing. Initially Brian handled the art and the site building, and we shared the design choices, and I did everything else. The quarterly was a great idea and a good impetus for what became the arts mag. Brian has his own careers, as an artist and as a professor of art, so two issues into the quarterly, I knew he was far too busy to really work on Marco and I did what I thought best and took over the reins for every aspect and revamped the whole thing. I’m a Truffaut freak and Brian was a freak over anything that made me happy. It was a very personal way to start, working together and having features like Truffaut. I like to establish and maintain that same kind of closeness with every contributor who has work in Marco, and now for Tiger Train as well.
DSP: I really like that idea of the porch, the portico, the thoroughfare, being the place where the mag was conceived. And it seems like you’ve really taken the Arts Mag in a new direction after the quarterly. Did you have particular aesthetic aspirations for Marco Polo Arts Mag when you revamped it, or did those sort of evolve organically? How would you describe MP‘s aesthetic now, and what’s different about Tiger Train?
DB: The thoroughfare, yes, a great memory when the initial days of Marco were filled with views of lots of working girls, some of whom we knew by name and often gave rides somewhere, lots of working girls who came and went up and down the street looking for business. Then the city redid the street for flood drainage issues and that shut down the street and any semblance of front porch life for over a year and a half. The girls didn’t come back. By that point, the quarterly was over.
The quarterly was simple and direct, like a classic literary journal, that’s what it was about. I loved it for what it was. I am most happy about reincarnating it in a better, modern way. I refer to the quarterly as the archive and leave it at that. I am not one to hang on to the past. The past bores me and that version quickly did the same. I do get a kick out of looking at the old site and seeing its prettiness and earnestness but that’s that. The Marco Polo Arts Mag aesthetic is like climbing inside my heart underneath the covers in my bed like you are right next to me. It is dynamic and changing with a consistent beat on what is funny, what is profound, what feels inevitable and what is breathtaking.
Although Marco Polo Arts Mag leans toward the traditional as far as what we perceive as accepted forms of prose, poetry and art, it also has a thing it wants to do and that’s put its fingers in all the pies of these forms when a talented artist or writer comes around and twists its notions, implications, and revelations into something new, in what may at first seem something familiar. I love anything pithy. Marco is a good reflection of that. Writers and artists without a sense of humor are not Marco’s cup of tea. That doesn’t have to appear in the work, but it’s always somewhere breathing underneath. Marco Polo is a party. You celebrate the good and bad in life; that’s what parties do, that’s Marco Polo, and it’s built on the premise of graceful evolvement tempered by a good pace that can sometimes shock or please or both to whoever finds whatever they find in the material they happen upon.
Tiger Train is more bold and art-driven. The films there are less on plot and more on image, text, sound, lack of action, complete action, emotion, resonance, how a moving image grabs a hold of you without the need for dialogue or explanation or it could be just a little meditation as something simple, like someone standing around with animals or two people eating together. What makes the films resonate, and what films I seek are films that do something on the filmic surface in particular, not the story surface, although the combination does occur when the two meet in an exceptional way. The same goes with the fiction and poetry, which make up the prose for Tiger Train. The writing is more an object than a work of writing, if that makes sense. Writing without a goal, writing as a fragment, leaving more to the imagination. The fiction may be raw or indirect or both. It may be textual. It has no constraints or goals one finds in accepted forms of fiction. Literary form and content is not what I’m talking about here. I’m referring to creating a body of small fictions and poems which are an object that redefines what we perceive as writing, what we see as text, by being complete as an incomplete narrative or a short form which avoids narrative completely, a fragment which opens up the writer to the organic beginning of writing instead of the regular fashion of sitting down to tell someone a story. I don’t give a shit about a writer’s aims. I want to see the writer’s origins. I want to see the words do a lot with as little as possible. If that’s confusing, then fuck it. Think: Raymond Queneau, Lydia Davis, Gertrude Stein, Georges Perec (his dreams especially), Donald Barthelme, short short short without plot, narrative, or answers. I want to be stunned. Who doesn’t? I want the reader who comes across work in Tiger Train to be stunned. You want to be stunned. Every reader wants something that intrigues them because it’s strong writing. We’ve got a lot of wonderful moments happening in text messaging and social postings and these are just examples that we can learn from as far as shaping our literature in new ways, ways which the writers above have already recognized and graciously have out there to ponder, dream upon and build from outwardly in a relatable, conversational way. I’m a huge fan of Matias Viegner’s book 2500 Random Things About Me Too. He teaches theory at Cal Arts and it shows in his sentences. There’s the work and there’s the rhetoric, which is there just waiting for the reader to say, “Oh, this is more than enough. This just blew my mind.” If I sound hippie, great. I’ll sound like anything to make a point I believe in because when I’m writing, or speaking, for that matter, I’m being myself. Tiger Train is a fragment, I am a fragment, and so are you. Where are these writers? I want them to come over and eat some hot dogs with me, run down the street at night with me, fall asleep with me with their words. Their fragments of story, their lack of story because it’s their love of story.
DSP: I read an interview yesterday in which Peter Gizzi described meaning in poetry as being both random and inevitable, and I feel the same kind of urgency—urgent like a single lipstick-red poppy squirting from a highway median—when I look through the images you create for MP and TT. There’s a grit and a luster and something like nostalgia that your visuals have that reminds me of a lot of the poems we publish in Columbia Poetry Review. So I guess it’s no coincidence that several past and current contributors to CPR have also been published in your mags. When I think of CPR, I think of words like Velcro, Vaseline, unbuckled seatbelts; immolation, airbags, and aliens; I think of bodies needing air, and the beauty that needs a vulnerability. What are some words that come to mind when you consider the images you create? And would you mind sharing a few images?
DB: I look at it this way on any given day: poems do a lot more than stories and novels, and because of this, poetry has contributed to the evolution of stories and novels by having a more random inevitability—which hauls these prose forms back into poetry. And yet the story and the novel still march on with their little ruled structures like good little kids. Poetry and images are not good little kids. Poetry is a wild hair that pops out of my eyebrow in the middle of the night, it’s taking a banana and eating the thing like you never had one before, having sex with someone you would never have thought, so yeah, random is hot and it’s easy to make that happen with sound in the lines of poems, it’s easy to make it happen with images because images can’t speak but we can do so much with them and we can create them from the sounds and ideas of poetry, of language, of ripping off the top of the box, cardboard in one hand, turn around and dip the other hand in a bowl of whipping cream, you’re at a party, if wherever you are does not have something you can stick your hands in, then how are you gonna find love?
Whatever you’re doing is the party and you write that poem, you squirt out those deadlines that want to make you pull out your hair when every other second it’s giving you pleasure because you’re making something that’s made something happen inside of you. I wrote a novel about how family nostalgia can destroy you. Nobody wanted it, and it was full of poetic movements. I don’t know about nostalgia, but I see what you’re saying. How this translates in to my perception of images is: my heart my dick my legs my ass my hair my teeth my heart. When I make an image I have to feel every little part of me is going into it. It may involve a memory of the past or an image from the past but I’m so right here living in the present, I am looking at the immediate. A good example, I have suitcases and suitcases of photographs from decades and decades of my life and all the people from these times. I used to freak out opening it up and felt all these emotions but now I can plow into the folders and files and boxes without getting trapped by nostalgia. I like the past but, with a few personal exceptions, the memories are now something more. The ones which are grounded have a lot to do more with how I evolve from those past selves today each day and remain a constant growing me, so no, I don’t really want to pursue the present’s response to the past without the contemplation and yearning that is often associated with nostalgia. This isn’t about holding on, it’s about letting go.
Here’s the other way I look at image-making: I’m a smart ass and a devoted friend and a head in the book or glued to the art wall dude. As a child I studied piano by sight reading and my eyes are always traveling. Some of what I see is disgusting, but mostly I miss very little and can witness some messed up shit. Some things pierce me and others make me laugh. I make images that are throwing me down a rabbit hole of dreams, illusions, extremes, and they pop, love you, attempt to hurt you, or lie down and look like a table setting or something asleep. There is a patience waiting within the images, as if something has happened and was great or sucked or sucked off or as if something is about to happen which might be horrible or the best thing ever, here comes the bed there go the clothes. I want to see things before my eyes. Things my crazy head feels. I hint at it a lot. I’m getting there. That’s why I’m in no rush with Tiger Train. What’s really crazy needs time to reveal itself to you. Until I feel that little bizarreness want to show itself I wait. Everything needs care and I follow my father’s advice, “Hey, Dick,” he said, “Rome was not built in a day.” Built, he said. I build images out of my emotions, moods, and needs. Sometimes I am thirsty or I am sleepy sad horny happy drunk hungry satiated just got laid. That’s what’s behind every image. What makes random and inevitable things happen is desire. I live my life in the same manner and for a lot of people who know me this is way too much. So? I feel what I feel and make what I make. I adore and am adored and am alone a lot. Life is image. Image reveals character. Image makes language even though language names it. My favorite living image is my dog Dash.
DSP: So it sounds like what you’re saying is that with poetry, as with images, the stakes are different. Since Alexandra Petri’s rather cynical take on the state of poetry, there has been an overwhelming response in the defense of poetry, its pulse, and its purpose. What’s your take on all the buzz? And do you feel that with electronic magazines, self-publishing, and web-promotion, that the stakes are somehow mitigated? How do you think poetry, as an art, can balance craft and spontaneity in a way that still demands esteem in both public arenas (the internet, political spheres, general education) and the private (MFA programs, esoteric poetry circles, etc.)?
DB: That article you’re referring to sounded more like a criticism on the strictures of MFA programs and the types of poetry deemed worthy of grants. I’m not buying for one second that Ms. Petri thinks poetry is dead; her response comes across more as a comment on the state of things, a state where critics can find interesting thoughts to pursue, successfully or not. I liked what she wrote about poetry, that it was how the news got around—because poetry was the sole form of expression. I could kiss her feet for writing such a beautiful thought.
What the argument actually makes me think of is, once in the early 90’s, I was dating a guy named Tom and he asked me what I wanted for dinner, I thought Italian and I said pasta, and he said, Pasta is dead and laughed. I said it wasn’t and we laughed and went out for Italian. Pasta had its time in the sun—like everything—but I think that’s what makes a thing a classic. It’s not over but it is familiar. Poetry is familiar and if someone finds poetry unfamiliar then all the better.
When I go to poetry readings and I hear that careful, careful reading style come out of a poet’s mouth I think oh shit here we go again, maybe that is what Alexandra Petri was driving at in her article—poets learning a craft that makes a poem. I’m yawning too. I prefer poets who sock it to me and surprise me. Craft killed the poet star, song joke, lame, but do you see? She’s right on talking to the poets who sound alike and have so much pain, blah.
If there’s a buzz in response to the article it’s because it’s a heated topic and that produces a little fire of sardonic, or defensive, or right off the top of the head responses that are going to flame back at the source. Look at what I said above, I did it too, you can’t help yourself. It’s nothing more than a clatter of voices jumping and falling together to get a conversation going. Most of us would rather be writing a poem.
And guess what, the world has changed and poetry is still being written. Tough shit and big deal.
I wish artists and writers put as much energy into their passion for life as they do for their passion for art and literature, which is nothing without a passion for life. Perhaps that’s the issue. Perhaps that’s why mediocrity floods the poems we might chance upon and go, ugh.
Electronic sites—and I call them that because they remind me of the plug in the socket and electricity— have the potential to do a lot of things. The poetry that’s out there on the great (produced and edited well) sites is doing what Petri refers to as writing across the sky. Electronic is transmitting them through the sky. That’s my goofy literal take on that, goofy because the issue is silly when you think about it. I think contemporary poets are living their writing across the sky, it’s flesh and bone, and we need to get Ms. Petri over to one of our parties and cut loose with one another. Your physicality and brain and emotions write the sky if you let them.
Access is good when it leads to discovering new work. In addition to going to the bookshop or the library you go to different sites and then go to the bookshop or the library for poets you’ve discovered or been recommended to read and read again, right?
We are hunters and gatherers and that includes our desire to make art and to read it, have it, consume it. It is another form of desire. We create because we have desires. We write poems because we are voracious. Sometimes I am desirous, and so are you and you and you.
So about the mitigation thing, yeah there’s a lot of bad poetry on the internet and in chapbooks, but I don’t think it’s any different from the time before the internet. There is great work, and there is bad work. Now there’s room to see it all, and say this one poem kills me, or say dude this one needs to go back to the drawing board or just into the garbage can. Maybe that’s what electronic is meant to do: get you somewhere you want or just want to leave. Everyone, no matter how crappy their work, can at least get some writing visible. Bad poetry and bad writing is there, but it’s the old tree falling in the woods and does anyone hear it cliché. I am bored already!
The pleasure in this for the good work that shows up is that there are these great poems and poets bursting out of everywhere. The thought makes me want to get on a plane and introduce myself to a stranger in Austria. I fall in love every day, and that includes falling into more and more poetry, and I feel extremely favored by life when it brings me in contact and relationships with more and more people. Bring it, universe. Bring it. That’s the poet’s voice.
For poetry to stand in esteem in both private and public arenas, the art of poetry needs to be considered. MFA programs succeed or do not because it depends on the student and the teacher, who each person is and if their voices and knowledge make sense and result in the poet learning to write poetry with an original voice. That’s what poets need to consider if they are in the schools.
As for personal circles, the thing is to make something that moves you, that has moved you somewhere new. If you can’t write it, then live it; if you can write it, write it and live it. Every poet’s got bloody hands, just ask Cocteau. He knew about dirty and clean. I like dirty and I like clean and that is both the end and the beginning of poetry (as well as fiction, and art). Get dirty and when the work calls for it get clean, and when something inside you says, now, now, now, go there. I’m going and I’m gone.
DSP: You’ve got me thinking about what perfect art is. In terms of the writing/art you seek for the mags, you’ve written before that the work you publish is “about the work because it is done well and recognized or because it is done not so well but recognized.” I feel like this acknowledges art and writing as process and discovery, where the seams that are left exposed on the surface are what lend a work its beauty and consequence. Is it fair to say that for you, the importance of a work is in its life and flaws and body, as ephemera with an expiration date, even, instead of measuring up to some Platonic ideal?
DB: Not that it has an expiration date. Masterpieces are not perfect, neither are worthy works which may not necessarily make sense to me but somehow work within the body of what the writer has produced. I believe in error and failure as much as I believe in great writing. Anyone can find their Platonic ideal where they find it. Define your life, that’s what each of us try to do, and there’s a new wave of definitions coming through our preconceived, accepted notions and experiences of literature Alt lit? No, just literature as we haven’t experienced before. Not close enough might mean if the writer is close enough and I can edit out some things to tighten it; not close enough may know it is not close enough and not need editing; not close enough doesn’t need a table of writing workshops to workshop the life out it; not close enough is doing what you believe, and sometimes not close enough is more than enough because there are too many snobs and publishing rules which squash any chances not close enough really has. Thank goodness writers don’t care any longer and don’t have to care about that. The writer is not in the shadow. Let the publishers spend time in the shadow and let them stay there and then get down to work on a new way of thinking but let the writer lead. That’s what artists do in the art world. The dealers and buyers come to them. Let writers and publishers who are new publishers and not tethered to an industry’s working strings come together and say fuck that. Fuck it. Writers are it.
I’m confident, so call it what it is, call it writing—and forget the systems. I could care less what anyone thinks about me not liking the structures of what’s acceptable. Live and let live, but get it together because the life of writing is huge.
Posted on 15.05.2013
Post by cjacobs
Hart’s poetry straddles the line between the domestic and the animal, which he configures eloquently as the holy punk spirit with kids approaching 40. His recent book Light-headed is graceful, mad, euphoric, sobering and challengingly enthusiastic about life. CPR is thrilled to publish such fun and sprawling work. We had to ask him some questions.
CPR: What is currently inspiring you creatively?
MH: I’m sure it sounds cliché, but I’m literally inspired by everything—which is lucky because that means I don’t have to sit around waiting for a lightning bolt to strike me in the facemask to get a poem going. I feel like I can make a poem out of anything—all I need is language, and since that’s the fundamental conceptual framework I walk around in the world with, it’s readily available, both internally and externally. And making poems (rather than merely/only writing them) keeps me productive even when I’m not inspired—process itself can be inspiring: collage, homophonic and antonymic translation, radical re-dis-arrangement, repetition. One has to dive in. One has to have faith. Follow the materials where they lead. And if that’s into total nonsense or mania or gravity’s black manhole cover, so be it. Something that wasn’t now is. The world expands.
Right now, I’m looking out the window at a sky full of Bradford pear and magnolia blossoms. My wife Melanie is doing our taxes. My six year old daughter Agnes is coloring an apple pie in a coloring book. Any one of those things could wind up as poetry.
People pour people in the streets like beer. . .
That seems promising.
CPR: Who was the first poet (or poets) important to you?
MH: Etheridge Knight’s poem “Feeling Fucked Up” was the first poem that really meant something to me. It’s a somewhat violently sounded/reported litany of expletives, but it’s also a love poem—one of deep sadness and regret. Before I heard that poem read out at a reading, poetry wasn’t really even on my radar. I thought it was high-brow and decorative. I wanted to play in punk bands forever. After Knight though, I realized poetry’s relationship to the messiness and contradictory impulses at the root of human being. “Richlier burn ye clouds,” wrote Coleridge from a lime-tree bower, and the burning in that sentiment, that head in the clouds, the energy and heat, is how poetry first spoke to me, allowed me a window into that desire art causes in us—to want to be MORE and to LIVE MORE by any means necessary—even when those means are destructive, a matter of wildness, wilderness, bewilderment, yes!
CPR: Could you talk a little bit about your process?
MH: My process varies quite a bit. I write everyday, but sometimes writing is reading. Sometimes I type on an old Remington Noiseless, sometimes I write in an orange FIELD notebook. Occasionally, I mainline directly into the computer (though I try to avoid the latter, since it’s too easy to revise as I go—to start making decisions before I have anything to make decisions about). As I mentioned above (at least implicitly), I often start by looking around at what’s right in front of me. Sometimes I listen. I root around in memory. I appropriate things from other places. One of my poems that’s in the new Columbia Poetry Review came out of reading Charlotte’s Web to my daughter. There’s a scene in the book where Charlotte sends the rat, Templeton, out to get more words for her to write in her web, and he comes back with an ad for laundry detergent that says “And now, with even more new radiant action!” I loved that phrase “radiant action”—it sounds so nuclear and sunny and apocalyptic at the same time. It immediately seemed like such a great title for a poem, so I wrote the poem “Radiant Action” (and as it turns out I’m using it as the title for the new manuscript I’m working on now too). All the names of the characters from Charlotte’s Web appear in the poem except Templeton. Poor Templeton. In hindsight, I should’ve left Wilbur out. I’m going to change that right now. Done. Now our respective versions are different.
CPR: Would you make an observation about today’s poetry landscape?
MH: I like how brilliantly the weird haze—is it fog or clouds or a poisoned profusion from the Noumenon?—sparkles across it. And the sea monsters crawling out of the water onto the land suggest that things are about to get painfully new again. Of course, for all its Turner-esque-ness, I see a lot of farm implements too, rusted and abandoned in the nearby meadow, which seems rather Dutch to me. But it has the expansiveness of a Chinese landscape as well. The possible windows in are endless. It’s exciting.
CPR: What did you do today?
MH: It’s morning as I write this, so thus far, not much. I’ve had two cups of coffee and worked on this interview. Later, I’ll grade papers, read three articles for the Aesthetics class I’m teaching, and also Dorothea Lasky’s Thunderbird (again and again) for a lit class. Oh yeah, I also made a change to my poem “Radiant Action” (see above), which later I may change back, but I need to live with it a while. I also have workshop poems to attend to, and eventually we have to clean the house, because poets Amanda Smeltz and Russell Dillon are coming to stay with us and give a couple of readings this week. Eventually I’ll go running and do some writing, maybe drink a beer—probably a Christian Moerlein Northern Liberties I.P.A.
CPR: Where do you get the energy to read like that? Secret diet?
MH: I always want readings to be a performance, to have some teeth, to suggest something other than (or in addition to) what the page suggests. The poem on the page and the poem in the air are two very different experiences. I also always feel like you get back the energy you put into things, and I want a lot of energy coming at me when I read. It keeps me alive and combustible. I hope my work sets other people on fire, too. I like the call and response—the electrical transfer—that one can achieve at a reading, that spark of something that can happen between an audience and a performer. That’s what I try to make achieve when I read. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s always the goal. That said, lately, I’ve been writing in a quieter register. If I could, I’d read most of the poems in my new book, Debacle Debacle, to one person at a time right up against their ear, but of course that would be exhausting as well, for me and for the listener. The extremity of it though is very alluring to me.
CPR: Do you stop at 24 Hour Revenge Therapy or continue to Dear You?
MH: I love Dear You. “I have a message: save your generation. We’re killing each other by sleeping in…” (“Save Your Generation”). I think Blake Schwarzenbach’s a great song writer. All his bands have been terrific. That first Jets to Brazil album Orange Rhyming Dictionary is a classic, “Starry Configurations,” “King Medicine,” “Sea Anemone,” “I Typed for Miles”—all such amazing songs. That new self-titled forgetters album is also a winner. The lyrics and music alike move from Romantic to political to ferocious on a dime. There’s a song on it called “I’m Not Immune” where he sings, “I’m not immune to this. In fact I’m sick with the truth.” The whole record sounds so cinematic and regretful and resigned, but full of life and poetic surprise. It’s gorgeous with darkness, personal decision/reflection, and powerfully catchy hooks. It took me a minute to love it (because it wasn’t what I expected), but now I love it. More and more in art I think that expectations, because they’re often rigidly imposed (from within and without) limitations, are the devil. Whatever Blake does it always seems on the move and surprising, discontented. The past is not an option, and people’s expectations matter less than the art and the parameters he gives himself. Dear You got a bad rap when it first came out. Everybody wanted it to sound like 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and it didn’t. It was a different thing, as it should’ve been. Poets often wind up in the same boat. A new book appears, and it’s not like the last one, and readers compare and criticize one with the other, when, for all intents and purposes, they’re apples and oranges that need to be considered independently of each other. As Dean Young puts it, “Poetry is always ahead of criticism.” The critical apparatus is based on a description of what’s already been done, so when it’s confronted with something new it doesn’t know what to say at first. The terrain has to be described and mapped before it can be interpreted and considered part of the known territory. Art arrives a brave new possible world and thus is often at least partially unrecognizable in terms of its old, now codified, now conventional predecessors. That’s a problem for criticism but a boon for art and exciting as hell for all of us—that is, if we keep ourselves open to the possibility of having our values expanded and our beliefs contradicted, deranged, changed, transecnded. Forget about consistency. Art, like life, is plethora. It’s messy as hell, and that’s a wonderful thing.
Matt Hart is the author of Who’s Who Vivid (Slope Editions, 2006) and Wolf Face (H_NGM_N BKS, 2010). A co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety, he lives in Cincinnati where he teaches at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
Posted on 13.05.2013
Post by cjacobs
In a time filled to the brim with presses and journals, not to mention all the new MFA programs sprouting up every year and putting out poets by the thousands, it’s hard to keep up with what’s going in the poetry world. Sometimes, poems and, indeed, writers, get lost in the publishing world and don’t get the recognition they deserve. That being said, we at Columbia Poetry Review are always excited by the news of more presses and more journals–more poets, even–and I, for one, am glad Carmen Giménez Smith’s work is not only out in the world, but in our new issue. And, I was even more excited to have the opportunity to ask her to reflect on the poetry world and her place in it:
CPR: What are you currently working on?
CGS: Right now I’m mostly working on Noemi Press, but when I have a minute I’m working on a collection of lyric essays about watching television and on research for my next poetry collection.
CPR: Who was the first poet important to you?
CGS: e.e. cummings’s selected poems was the first book of poems I ever bought. I was a sophomore in high school. The poems were so subversive, both in form and in subject matter, and it called to me. His ear is gorgeous, and I fell in love. He was followed by Eliot, Ginsberg, Plath and Yeats. I had amazing teachers in high school.
CPR: Could you talk a little bit about your writing process/writing routine?
CGS: The reality is that my life is complicated enough that writing brings a bit of disorder to my life. I write with intensity at night, after my kids are in bed, but because I tend to get subsumed by any project I’m working on, I’m taking notes all day. In nonfiction, I tend to work on one project exclusively, but in poetry, I flit around. This way I can’t have any excuse for not writing. If I have several projects going on at once, then when I get frustrated with one, I go to another. In each of the “projects” I work on, I informally define formal and voice parameters so that the work doesn’t all bleed together. But when I’m full-tilt writing, everything works around it. I sleep less, I dress crappy, my kids eat fish sticks, and I stop exercising. Those periods of intensity aren’t sustainable, but they are productive.
CPR: Would you make an observation about today’s poetry landscape?
CGS: Three things. The small press boom has created an amazing array of aesthetic diversity, but now the challenge is reading all of it. We need to have a more rigorous conversation about race and class in poetry. Aesthetic quibbling is useless; the world is ending.
CPR: How has your editorial work with Noemi Press and Puerto del Sol affected your own writing?
CGS: It’s really a privilege to edit books and to help curate a literary magazine. I read pre-publication work constantly, so I feel very aware of what people are doing at this very moment in poetry and non-fiction. I’ve gotten to collaborate with fantastic writers who become great influences in my own work. But most importantly, as an editor, I feel part of a very exciting universe that I also want to participate in as a writer, so these roles keep me ambitious.
CPR: What is currently inspiring you creatively?
CGS: I’ve recently had the great pleasure and honor of reviewing some really terrific memoirs and poetry collections, and writing critically is compelling me to really think about how what I write becomes a site of interpretation for others.
CPR: What did you do today?
CGS: Today I answered email. That’s actually what I spend most of any day doing. Each email is a request of some sort, and each email requires several steps, so I’m constantly uncovering things to do, which horrifies me. I talked to my dear friend and colleague Richard Greenfield on the phone, I did dishes, laundry. Right now, I’m trying to convince Lily Hoang, another dear friend and colleague, to go with me for a fro-yo. Paperwork (including my very exciting sabbatical agreement) went out, and I watched an episode of Archer and Made in Chelsea in the backdrop of all of this busy work. It’s research, *wink.*
Carmen Giménez Smith is the author of three poetry collections—Goodbye, Flicker (University of Massachusetts, 2012), The City She Was (Center for Literary Publishing, 2011) and Odalisque in Pieces (University of Arizona, 2009). She teaches in the creative writing programs at New Mexico State University and Ashland University, while serving as the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Puerto del Sol and the publisher of Noemi Press.
Interviewed by CPR editorial board member Tyler Cain Lacy.
Posted on 10.05.2013
Post by cjacobs
Recently I have been examining the Internet and social media in its relations to poetry and art, questioning whether poetry would be hurt by a merge with such an artificial entity. In Jerome Sala’s Look Slimmer Instantly, he addresses issues of pop culture, literary criticism, advertising and poetry and how they all coalesce. This book toys with the media effect related to poetry and tackles many qualms about the two interacting. A poet and a critic, Sala is featured in issue No. 26 of CPR (“Who Will Be America’s Next Top Mannequin”), another hint at the type of socio-political commentary he incorporates into his work.
CPR: Who was the first poet (or poets) important to you?
JS: When I was starting out, I was interested in poetry as performance. I was drawn to writers with a declamatory tone, particularly Futurists of all nationalities. I loved Apollinaire, Marinetti and Mayacovsky. I think I discovered this mode through reading Frank O’Hara, who, of course loved Mayacovsky. A little later, I added Nicanor Parra to my list, as I admired his direct, break-the-fourth-wall style.
CPR: Could you talk a little bit about your process?
JS: I’ve done a lot of commercial writing; mostly forms of advertising that often need to be written quickly, even instantaneously. Lately, I write poetry in the opposite way. I come up with three or four lines that I want to work with after playing around a while, and store them in my poetry ideas file. (I usually write at my computer.) I return to this file, either at home or in the middle of the workday, over a period of weeks or even months, and add to or edit what I have, as the poem gradually suggests itself to me. I usually have about three or four of these little projects going at one time. I can tell when one is finished, as it develops to the degree where it makes a fairly definite point.
CPR: Would you make an observation about today’s poetry landscape?
JS: Once, not long ago, that landscape could have been summed up in a few major modes – like a country with a flag that carried three bold stripes. What seems to be happening now is that a number of styles are springing up, each of which draws its own micro-audience of writers, readers, bloggers, critics, etc. What’s sort of cool about this is that often these enclaves seem nearly unaware of each other; they’re almost monads unto themselves. It’s like the world might have been before the homogenization of globalism – enabling you to hope that someday something exotic will appear out of nowhere.
CPR: What did you do today?
JS: I woke up lost in the dream of everyday reality, burdened with the bleak, pure facts that Wallace Stevens has described as “completely baffling.” As the day wore on, though, I slipped into a more allegorical mood. I poured myself a glass of seltzer and got lost in the bliss and deep cultural symbolism of round 3 of the NFL draft.
CPR: Name a poem you wish you could have written yourself.
JS: I chose one short enough to quote. It’s by the Danish poet Niels Hav, as translated by P.K. Brask and Patrick Friesen:
You can spend an entire life
in the company of words
not ever finding
the right one.
Just like a wretched fish
wrapped in Hungarian newspapers.
For one thing it is dead,
for another it doesn’t understand
Jerome Sala’s latest books are Look Slimmer Instantly (Soft Skull Press, 2005) and Prom Night (Bearpuff Press 2010), a collaborative chapbook, with artist Tamara Gonzales, of Goth/horror poems. He works by day as a Promotion Director for an in-house ad agency at a media company in New York City.
Interviewed by CPR editorial board member Gabrielle Williams
Posted on 9.05.2013
Post by cjacobs