Archive | Issue 75 RSS feed for this section

The Art of Hype

5 Oct

Working on my own novel, it’s a selfish curiosity that compels me to buy and read (and be jealous of) emerging authors’ first novels.  I read these books differently, I know, than I do other books, and perhaps not in the right spirit to engage literature, trying to suss out what these authors have that I do not (besides, obviously, an agent, contract, and, one would assume, readers).  I do have a novel, but I’m not yet a first-time novelist for the simple fact that my novel is not available to be read.  So, why not?

Continue reading

Gallery

Writing Quiz #1: Desert Island

2 Feb questionexclaim

by Raina Fields, Minnesota Review General Editor

Following a shipwreck after the AWP conference, writers have been stranded on a deserted island. Luckily, before getting on the ship, everyone packed their free, black AWP totes with ten of their favorite items, just in case something like this should happen.

List your top ten combination of books, albums, etc. or any ten items you would take to a desert island and why.

Writers, start-up the conversation and post your comments below!

Gallery

How the Poetry Blog “How a Poem Happens” Happened

2 Feb microphone2

How Did that Poetry Blog Happen?

An Interview with Brian Brodeur, Issue 75

Conducted by Ashley Nicole Montjoy, Minnesota Review Blog Editor

 

 

 

Brian Brodeur is the author of Other Latitudes (2008), winner of the University of Akron Press’s 2007 Akron Poetry    Prize, and So the Night Cannot Go on Without Us (2007), which won the Fall 2006 White Eagle Coffee Store Press Poetry Chapbook Award. New poems and reviews are forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Pleiades, and Quarterly West. Brian lives with his wife in Fairfax, VA.

Brodeur’s poem “On Hearing Congress Has Declared October Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month” is forthcoming in Issue 75 of The Minnesota Review. In 2009, Brodeur created the interview-styled blog “How a Poem Happens: Contemporary Poets Discuss the Making of a Poem.” Brodeur’s format is simple and focused, designed to get at the heart of a poet’s process.  We decided to riff off of “How a Poem Happens” to discover How a Blog Happens.  And, for a little fun, we turned the blog pages on him, asking him the very same questions he’s posed to such authors as Dan Albergotti, Mary Biddinger, Tony Hoagland, Maxine Kumin, and many more.

Part I: How a Poetry Blog Happens

What inspired you to create the blog How a Poem Happens?

 

The project began in selfishness. I wanted an excuse to contact some of my favorite living poets and ask them how they wrote some of my favorite poems. So I came up with this scheme of an online anthology, like the print anthology Alberta Turner edited in 1977, Fifty Contemporary Poets: The Creative Process.

 

“How a Poem Happens” is an archive of interviews with poets who discuss the making of specific poems. I choose one poem, ask the poet ten to fifteen questions about it, and post the Q&A on the blog. As of November 24, 2010, one-hundred and twenty posts have gone live, featuring interviews with Stephen Dunn, Claudia Emerson, Linda Greggerson, Marilyn Hacker, Robert Hass, Galway Kinnell, Maxine Kumin, Dorianne Laux, Philip Levine, and Richard Wilbur, among others.

What was your intention for using the blog format? Why did you choose Blogspot.com versus, say, WordPress? What was the launch date?

I decided to use the blog format because it’s free, and because it allows you to post unlimited content that can be viewed by anyone anywhere anytime.

 

I chose Blogspot because it looked accessible. The blog launched on January 12, 2009.

Did you always know you wanted the blog to focus on the writing process? Were you dissatisfied with a particular style of interview that you were reading at that time?

My intentions for the blog were always craft-related. I wasn’t dissatisfied with any particular style of interview as much as style of poetry blog. I didn’t want my blog to focus on me, in the ways that the blogs of other writers do.  I just didn’t think anyone would be particularly interested in what color boxer briefs I was wearing on any given day.

 

As I understand it in order to be interviewed for “How a Poem Happens” poets must have a published a book. Why? Other than writing a damn fine poem are there other criterion the poet must have met?

Part of the purpose of the blog is to support poets and poetry. The only reason I choose poets with at least one book is so that the poets might sell more copies. In this respect, we’re also stimulating the economy!

When you first began the blog, how did you go about soliciting poets for interviews? Did you have a list of poets and poems in mind?

 

I have a “wish list,” yes. It keeps expanding.

Who was the poet you were most nervous contacting for an interview? Why?

Nervousness hasn’t really been a factor because I send e-mail or snail-mail solicitations. If I had to talk to the poets on the phone or meet them in person, besides having significantly less interviews, I might not have started the blog at all.

 

Two years later, “How a Blog Happens” is more established and well-known. And you’re a featured presenter at the 2011 AWP conference. Has this changed how you request interviews? Do others recommend poems and poets for you to interview for your blog? Do you assume that authors are unaware of “How a Poem Happens”?

I don’t assume the poets I solicit have read the blog. I’m grateful to Christian Teresi, Dave Fenza, and the rest of the staff and board of AWP for choosing to “feature” my Craft of Poetry panel, “How a Poem Happens: Five Poets Explore How Their Poems Are Made.” This event will take place on Saturday, February 5, 2011 from 3:00 to 4:15 pm in the Regency BR room of the Omni Shoreham Hotel. The panel will feature discussions with Adrian Blevins, Bob Hicok, Dorianne Laux, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, and Eric Pankey.

The blog hasn’t really changed much in two years beyond a re-design. I’ve been thinking of altering the format or starting an off-shoot blog in which I’ll ask past contributors to interview a poet they admire (and come up with their own questions).

 

What inspires the interview—the poet then poem, or the poem then poet?

Egg then the chicken.

When you post new interviews to “How a Poem Happens,” you also make a wall post on your Facebook page. How successful is Facebook at promoting the blog? Do you pursue other forms of marketing and advertising?

Facebook has been useful in this respect. I don’t “market” the blog in any other way.

In your biographical statement, you don’t mention being the creator of “How a Poem Happens. Why? Are you worried about becoming “that poet with that blog” rather than Brian Brodeur the poet?

I’m probably not as calculated or designing in my bio as I could be. In whatever permutation of it you’re referring to, the omission was probably unintentional. I certainly don’t mind being associated with the blog. If that were the case, I would’ve created it anonymously.

What’s been most beneficial about creating and maintaining “How a Poem Happens”?

Having the privilege of contacting so many poets I admire, starting new correspondences and even friendships. This has been invaluable.

 

“How a Poem Happens” offers its readers an online archive of free content relating to the craft of poetry. The site is distinct from other poetry-related blogs in that it focuses on how one specific poem was made. It has the potential to be used in the classrooms of graduate, undergraduate, and even high-school creative writing classes. In concept and design, I’ve tried to honor this spirit of openness and accessibility.  The blog is not “necessary.” Poetry is.

Part II: How “On Hearing Congress Has Declared October Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month” Happened

 

 

On Hearing Congress Has Declared October Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month

Stalled on I-94 outside Bismarck,
I laugh at the AM-station news announcement
that thirty-one days have been dedicated
to the total dysfunction of the human heart.
Indian Summer. What better time to praise the mystery
of the Ford Focus’s transmission, the wind thrashing
grit in my eyes, piles of bison shit hardening
on the highway, Coke cans lodged in tufts of prairie grasses
(how long they last out here through so much weather).
Season of Hangovers and Infinite Bliss.
When You Die You Stay Dead a Long Time
Awareness Month. Month of Breaking Down
with a Full Tank in East-Fuck North Dakota
where herds of blackbuck inquire over the sage
as the sky flashes and dims, flashes
and dims, nimbostratus pulsing in huge
swells overhead, starting to tap on the hood
and make the asphalt hiss, hemorrhaging rain.

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

I started writing this poem in the fall of 2008 after taking a two-week road trip from Indianapolis to Portland, Oregon with a friend about to get married. We took our time, stopped at his folks’ house in rural Minnesota for an engagement party, stayed a few nights in a cabin in the foothills outside Boulder, Montana, dipped into Yellowstone, got stupid drunk in Spokane, ate steaks at a strip club in Portland. I can’t remember why I wrote my friend, Paul, out of the poem. I guess I needed to be alone.

How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?

This poem underwent between eighty and one-hundred drafts, like many of my poems. Maybe two years passed between the note-taking stage and finished poem.

How did this poem arrive at its final form? Did you consciously employ any principles of technique?

The poem used to be significantly longer, maybe by forty lines.  Many drafts were in tercets, too.  Losing the tercets allowed me to trim the poem down to its essentials, clear away the dead wood.

How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?

This depends entirely on when Issue 75 of The Minnesota Review appears. You tell me!

How long do you let a poem “sit” before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?

No rules, but I generally try to wait a good five or six months after I’ve put the poem away. I’m trying to shake the bad habit of submitting poems before they’re ready, dropping a manuscript in the mail only to return to my desk and immediately start revising. I’m grateful to many journal editors who have graciously agreed to consider revisions of poems they’ve accepted before the issue went to press.

Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?

My friend Paul and I actually did break down (or came damn close) in our rented Ford Focus. But we were in Montana, not North Dakota. It was July, not October. I was with Paul, not alone. Facts should be in service of the poem, not the other way around. The utter desolation of the prairie-scape on I-94 between Fargo and Dickinson seemed better suited for the broody pissed-off moodiness of the poem. And Congress, one month before President Obama was elected, actually did make the declaration stated in the poem’s title. At the time I found this to be absurd, to be voting on something so trivial (not cardiac-arrest awareness, but cardiac arrest awareness month) with two wars raging and at the height of an economic meltdown.

Is this a narrative poem?

A lot less so than my other poems. It has a scene, occurs in time, but nothing really happens.  Actually, the poem is sort of about nothing happening. Rather than telling a story, this one has more to do with a confluence of tone, landscape, politics, the behavior of big game animals (bison, blackbuck, Congress), and a nod to Keats’ “To Autumn.”

Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?

I don’t remember exactly, but I think I was reading G. C. Hanlicek’s The Cave: New and Selected Poems (Pitt, 2001), and the short stories of Andre Dubus. I probably had in mind James Wright’s poems and Jack Spicer’s Minnesota Poems. Yes, that was the year My Vocabulary Did this to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan) appeared, edited by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian.

Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?

At some point in the revision process, usually toward the end, I imagine a reader like me, with similar aesthetic commitments and political leanings, but slightly smarter.  I try to imagine what he or she might think of the poem, whether they’d continue reading past the first few lines. Sometimes this exercise helps, sometimes it hinders.

Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?

My wife, the poet Kiley Cogis, reads basically everything I write. Most contributors to “How a Poem Happens” say the same thing. I mean, they show their poems to their spouses, not mine.

I also trade poems with other friends and former teachers, including a group called The Portland Accord, which consists of a painter (my friend Paul, actually), a sculptor (he does Cornell boxes and collages), and two fiction writers. I’m the only poet in the group.

How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

I’m not sure. This poem is part of a manuscript in-progress titled “Natural Causes.” Most of the poems therein are much longer, verse narrative, story poems. Others are dramatic-monologuey character studies. This poem is neither.

What is American about this poem?

The desiccated prairie, the bison shit, the Ford Focus. Also useless congressional declarations during a particularly troubling historical moment, though maybe that’s not particularly American.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?

Both. No, neither. No, both.

Gallery

Arisa White Photo Interview

28 Dec Arisa White # 4

Photo responses by Arisa White, Issue 75 poet

Interview conducted by Julia Clare Tillinghast, Minnesota Review Poetry Editor


When (and how) did you start writing?

What’s your writing “routine”? (Do you write every day at the same time (morning/evening), or wait for inspiration? Editing process?)

What writing instruments do you use? (Do you compose with a pen(or pencil?) and notebook (lined/unlined), or on a computer?)

Who are your favorite authors/influences?

How would you describe your work?

Selected by the San Francisco Bay Guardian for the 2010 Hot Pink List, ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow and holds a MFA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Author of two poetry chapbooks, Disposition for Shininess (Factory Hollow Press, 2008) and Post Pardon (Mouthfeel Press, 2011), she currently writes ten-page plays as a part of Monday Night PlayGround at Berkeley Repertory Theatre. She has received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, University of Western Michigan, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2005, her poetry has appeared in numerous journals and is featured on the CD WORD with the Jessica Jones Quartet.

Gallery

Relationship Workshop

28 Dec paperflowers

By Raina Lauren Fields, General Editor

About a month ago, my fiancé – who is also a poet in a MFA program – sat down to edit and write poems.

Yes, we’re that kind of couple. We’re long distance if you consider 3.5 hours away a long distance. We even video chat every night. When I was sick a couple of weeks ago, instead of recommending me chicken noodle soup, he read me three poems from Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth. I tried to pay attention to the poem about Larry Bird tinkering with watches, but was coughing too loudly to hear the whole thing.

That Saturday, my fiancé was writing a poem in which he was imagining cows on Golgotha. These cows were eating the vinegar-soaked sponges that were presented to Jesus and licking His feet in thirst or worship or adoration.

After he was done writing, he asked me to read his poem.

We share poems all the time. I get poems embedded in and attached to emails – some new and untitled and others polished and close to done.

Instead of reading this poem like all the others, slowly digesting them until I was able to question its weaknesses, until I was able to understand it, I put on my “workshop hat” and quickly got to work.

I approached this poem like I had something to prove – like I had to prove to my professor that I actually read the poem in advance was prepared for class. Not like in workshop, I find any problem to point out (Read: “You changed tenses, here. Was that needed?” “You didn’t use punctuation in the poem, but there’s a period at the end of this line.” Whatever. Don’t look at me like that. I know you’ve done it too.)

I questioned the logic, the chronology, the conceit, the change in location, even the Gospel passages and the version of the Bible he was using – all this on a poem that was written and presented minutes before.

After I was done arguing for changes in the poem, my fiancé nodded his head and got quiet. Maybe I said something wrong?

After a few quiet awkward minutes, I asked him what was up.

He replied, “I just wrote it five minutes ago. It’s like my newborn. You’re supposed to look at it and say how cute it is and then move away from the stroller.”

I laughed, but I thought about it. My fiancé is the one person that I can show my rawest, unfinished, flawed poetry to. He understands a new poem’s potential without judging its faults so harshly.

Surely, there are ugly babies in the world. But that’s not just something you tell a set of glowing, newly minted parents. You smile and nod and pinch cheeks and press your face close and blubber in your baby voice “WAT A QT!”

That’s not to say that I’m advocating false praise. To me, talking with your partner about creative work with no valid argument (“Oh I liked it!” or “Great!”) is like faking an orgasm.

This all makes me question when it is appropriate to workshop a poem. In its earliest stages, a poem needs time to breathe and develop, to find its purpose and voice. This all takes time.

Your relationship can be the place to play “workshop.” What’s wrong with being honest about a piece of creative writing’s potential?  But give the piece some time. Wait a little while. Either that or maybe it’s best to save your fantasies for something more thrilling like “playing doctor.”

Gallery

Freshwater Boys Review

28 Dec Book Reviews

Freshwater Boys by Adam Schuitema

Delphinium: $13.99 Paperback, $25.99 Hardcover

Reviewed by Mark Derks

If you read Adam Schuitema’s debut collection Freshwater Boys over the course of a single night while working as a bouncer in a small southern college town, as I did, you may find that you garner a very particular sort of attention—maybe not the kind you were anticipating when you set out to traverse the book’s 240 pages. Over the course of the night I explained that Freshwater Boys really had nothing to do with being gay and that connections to Lolita were, at best, imagined. “The thing,” I said to marginally interested strangers and acquaintances who’ve never had a sober conversation with me, “is the book doesn’t need any of that.” The stories in Freshwater Boys are tightly crafted emotional capsules. They’re sweet little pills that kick with meaning when they hit the stomach.

Take for example the volume’s second story, “Sand Thieves,” which riffs on several of the book’s recurring themes: youth and maturity, the nature of right and wrong, familial relationships, and the looming presence of Michigan’s Big Lakes. Right away we’re introduced to Uncle Lucien, the character around whom the story turns. Every summer, because of a friendship with the narrator’s grandfather (now deceased) Uncle Lucien joins a trio of sisters and their children at a cottage in the north of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Because of his friendship with the narrator’s grandfather, Uncle Lucien has stolen sand from the nearby Duck Lake State Park—glacial sand from the shores of Lake Michigan—and created for his friend an admirable beach at the cottage. Without the grandfather present, tensions between the youthful (but male role-model-less) boys, their mothers, and the faux Uncle escalate to the point where Lucien, because of the mistreatment of a fish by the boys, causes Terry to bash the back of his head on the prow of a canoe. The mothers, in a rush of vindication, banish Uncle Lucien from the cottage for good. The moment is beautiful not only for its drama, but for its emotional power and for the dexterity of the narration. The narrator describes Uncle Lucien leaving in his beat up old car:

I heard him start the Duster and pull out onto the dirt road. When it happened, I figured he was heartbroken for having to leave. But now I think he wrote us off—wrote the cottage off—the second he started his car. Fuck the white pines. Fuck the horseshoe pit. Terry’s blood? Fuck Terry’s blood—it was less than the blood of a smashed horsefly.

After Lucien’s banishment the sisters and their children agree to return to the cottage a week later and find that all of Lucien’s effort to build and maintain the beach over the years has been completely reversed. Where once waves lapped on fine, white, glacial sand; now, “All the soft sand was gone, leaving a scar of roots, dark dirt, and a gaping mouth in the earth that the lake began to fill. He left us a lagoon.”

Like in Henry James, the structures—the symmetries and complications—of these stories are readily apparent. They’re like houses that aren’t afraid to bare the studs beneath the drywall, that see no shame in revealing the insulation tucked into the cracks around the window. But to appreciate these stories solely for their symmetries and construction is to miss their real importance. By laying the connections baldly before us, Schuitema is expecting us to examine the interstices of the characters and their morality and the ways in which this place, Michigan and its lakes, informs the dramas played out within its confines. And Freshwater Boys is replete with drama. There are deaths. There are spiritual rebirths. There are mystic deer traveling through cities. There are hermits. There are kidnappings. But all of these dramas are told with intense humanity and a sense that growing up—living, raising children—can never be winnowed or whittled to a single truth, but only complicated by the interaction of a boy or a man with his home and the people he loves. Like the narrator at the end of “Sand Thieves” Schuitema hopes that we will fill our trunks with Lake Michigan sand and “[roar] through the state park at dawn,” and in a final gesture that serves not to explain the narrator’s feelings about the hole left at the cottage, but only complicate it, we will leave “the rangers arriving to an already smaller beach.”

Gallery

Two Journal Reviews: failbetter and Drunken Boat

28 Dec Literary Journals

by Laura Nye


The Latest from failbetter

failbetter is always open for fiction, poetry and visual art, “that which is at once original and personal. When choosing work to submit, be certain that what you have created could only have come from you.”  I love failbetter’s confidence with The Huffington Post in their status as an electronic publication, translating traditional literary print-journal content to a clean, efficient, text-based  blog format. Contributors are published on the website in real time as opposed to being fit into the package of an issue, appealing to submitter and reader alike and earning a readership to dwarf those of printed journals.

As of late, Alexandra Chasin’s short fiction piece “You Loved The Morphine” narrates like an intravenous chemical, voiced with a vibrant tension hinging on the line, “How having to attend to me would drive her, and to what.”  Caren Beilen’s “Art in Relationship” traces an artist’s fragile complex of creation and self-concept with a significant other vicariously fueling and disturbing her creative process.

Kristi Maxwell’s two poems, “Game 1 (36 words[=36 lines])” and “Game 3 (37 words[=37 lines])” were borne from a word game called Royalty; each first shows readers a transcript of a round of the game, then uses words garnered from the game in a poem. The poems indicate play-words with capital letters, altering the natural scansion of its language with echoes, repetition and variations of mutations turning up inventive rhythms and phrases.

The Latest from Drunken Boat Issue 12

Drunken Boat’s approach to online publishing differs from failbetter’s by organizing content into contextual folio-features which are given unique open calls for submissions. Currently DB is looking for submissions for an upcoming Bernadette Mayer tribute folio, as well as upcoming issue 13’s “First Peoples, Plural” folio, which will feature “media by indigenous people worldwide.”  Along regular fiction, poetry and non-fiction folios, the current issue offers “Celtic Twilight:  21st Century Irish-Americans on Eugene O’Neill,” “Freedom & Belonging:  Short Short Fiction,” the collaborative and genre-transcending “Desire & Interaction,” and a short tribute to Franz Wright.

Robert M. Dowling gave me exactly what I wanted in his introduction to O’Neill’s folio:  “My intent with “Celtic Twilight” is to take a step out of the academic echo-chamber, where I’ve lived for years, and listen to voices unheard from in traditional O’Neill studies.” Drunken Boat is strengthened throughout with an academic precision and agility that is disarmed from the university arena and put to work, instead, on the playful and collaborative online stage.

Although flash-fiction is a developing genre I’ve not much explored, I was happy to get further acquainted with Mikael de Lara Co’s “Man Finds Crow,” which seems to balance just enough narrative with a delicate and abstract payload, delivering what fiction editor Deborah Marie Poe dubs “magic in motion.”  My other favorite is Kristen Nelson’s segmented work “Ghosty,” complimented with illustrations by visual artist Noah Saterstrom. His self-titled website, linked in the work’s preface, showcases other literary collaborations among a large body of work.

“Desire & Interaction” mixes the literary with the digital, the evolution of text with video, sound, and interactivity. Contributions like Jon Satrom’s iPhone App PURRFLUX and collective Squidsoup’s “Bugs” are sure to jostle the literary audience with refreshing bemuse. Drunken Boat flouts a dedication to the electronic venue’s flexibility with incredibly inventive collaborations;  this was my favorite folio, and the whole thing is quite worthwhile, but among my favorites are Roxann Carter & Braxton Solderman’s “Legend,” whose text and portraiture develop, disappear and converge through concentric pop-up windows, Chris Funkhouser and Amy Hufnagel’s  “Thank You,” a video of curious text revealed through soap bubbles, and molleindustria’s existential flash game “every day the same dream” proving that digital meaning is legitimate meaning. I’ve never felt so creeped by my own pressing of the direction and space bar keys. Think about it.

By far its largest, Drunken Boat’s poetry folio aids verse with visuals and recordings. Issue 12 features interesting experiments, “expansions . . . conversations.”  James Byrne’s “April 14th 1930”   speaks to Vladimir Mayakovsky, Amaranth Borsuk & Gabriela Juaregui’s “Hypertrope” readings, Philip Rush’s “Morning stole upon the night,” Amy McNamara’s “lampblack” and Sandra Doller’s “They Go To Bed With Gilda,” and Edward Folger’s “The Genome of the Endangered Sestina,” which ingeniously innovates form by placing the text of its allusions a click away, achoring its lineage, content and livelihood with undeniable accessibility. The poem epitomizes my trust in Drunken Boat’s selection of poetic stylings—it is its own key..

The small feature folio on Franz Wright includes collaborative readings labeled “Ill Lit,” and his brilliant poem “The Writing” deftly encapsulates all writers’ incessant dream of good work, work that really works, as he and countless other contributors, editors and readers continue to shape Drunken Boat into a  soberingly impressive reality.

Gallery

What I Hate About Workshop – Part I

21 Dec questionexclaim

By Raina Lauren Fields, General Editor

I’m nosy.

I can’t help it.

When I was growing up, one of my household chores was to answer the phone. I’d pick up the receiver and politely greet whoever was on the line.

My grandmother would holler downstairs, “Who is it?” And I’d yell back a name. During our exchange, I’d have the phone cupped in my hand, the other hand over the receiver blocking out the shouting or the sound of my breathing.

It was sometime later that I discovered the mute button. Here, I could listen to more conversations without being noticed. I often laughed at my grandmother referring to the “weird clicking on the phone” that resulted from me un-muting the conversation and hanging up the phone when I got bored of that day’s gossip. To this day, I wonder if somehow contributed to her longtime phone paranoia.

My grandmother went through drawers, read diaries, rummaged through pockets, book bags, pencil cases, purses. I learned from this. Whenever I visited someone’s house, I suddenly had to go the bathroom. This was my only chance to be alone and immersed in someone else’s family life. I rarely used the bathroom, but smelled lotions and soaps, played with the toilet paper (2 ply!), and felt the patterns on towels.

I discover something about these people that they never would have shared with me. At least not right away.

In workshop, we pass around poems, mark them up with comments, discuss them and hand them back to the writer. We spend time reading into things, trying to demystify images that are confusing or even senseless to the reader. Many times, writers expect readers to just get it.

At the end of class, there is often time for the author to speak, to clarify issues, or to reveal the poem’s secrets to the workshop. Mostly, the writers in workshops I’ve been in quickly say, “Thank you” to the group and we move on to the next poem.

Damnit! There are so many what-ifs with writing. I want answers! I want to learn if that cat really died or if the uncle in my classmates’ poem was really a drug dealer. I want to know if her divorce was really that bad or if my classmate really enjoys masturbating in the shower that much.

And maybe it’s a combination of it all – nosiness and curiosity or the amount of work I put in to make images and anecdotes open up and make sense. And honestly, I don’t need to know everything, but can you help me out a little bit and solve some of this mystery?

Gallery

Zeitoun Review

21 Dec Book Reviews

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Random House Publishers; $15.95

Reviewed by Caty Gordon

In the true tale of how one tragedy begets another, Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun illuminates the ethereal idiocy of the Bush administration’s two greatest failures: the supposed War on Terror and a botched relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Eggers does not proffer excuses for either side of the political gambit but instead imparts the factual accounts of Abdulrahman Zeitoun as he canoes his way through the forsaken, flooded city of New Orleans and, later, faces unfounded charges and is unjustly labeled a terrorist. Meanwhile, Eggers’ evasion of a didactic voice or any semblance of propaganda keeps his story alive, unlikely, and inescapable.

Eggers begins the novel by introducing audiences to Zeitoun – a Syrian-American immigrant and contractor who stayed behind in New Orleans to ride out the storm with his rental properties while his wife took their children to safer ground. In the aftermath of the hurricane the streets are buried under six feet of water, homes are damaged, lives are destroyed. And despite radio reports of rape, looting, and anarchy, Zeitoun refuses to leave the city, citing a spiritual calling to save who or what he can. Each morning he sets out in his canoe, paddling along familiar streets now made foreign by the storm’s impact. He serves as the relief to those whom the government failed: the senior citizens trapped inside flooded homes, starving dogs barking on rooftops, the isolated families in need of fresh water. And yet despite his heroism Zeitoun finds himself face-down on the ground, his hands zip-tied, while unidentified armed officers and private contractors accuse him of association with Al-Qaeda.

The cultural mores of anti-Arab racism in the United States following September 11, 2001 appear throughout Egger’s recollection of Zeitoun’s anecdote.  He’s labeled a terrorist, denied a phone call and any indication of what his chargers are, and is singled out for mistreatment and isolation. The nuances of exploitation and degradation based on race are reminiscent of so many of the horrific mistakes made in the wake of September 11 by American soldiers in Abu Ghraib, by Blackwater contractors on Baghdad’s Bloody Sunday, by interrogators at Guantanamo Bay. The men and women who arrested and assaulted Zeitoun did so under dangerously brittle assumptions which Eggers portrays with lucid tact. He brings into the forefront of the narrative a deeply imbedded racism that too often goes unimpeded while maintaining an eloquent voice that does not delve into instructions for social responsibility.

What makes this story so successful is that it so engrossing readers forget that Eggers is imparting it. His cogent prose deftly balances the plight of one man reflecting the voice of a nation: the trust in an American dream, the inadequacy of such, and the sanguine drive to overcome the ignorance. And throughout it all Eggers propels the story with a momentum to match Zeitoun’s optimism in a book that is shaped by the imagistic landscape of a city brought to its knees by the futility of the government it sought salvation from. Zeitoun is a necessary account of the unfathomable (yet verified) collision of militarized nationalism and a natural disaster. Eggers, whose previous novels were lauded for their literary maneuvers, steers clear of such to present a story in its most raw and real form. With the gruesome account of Zeitoun’s plight there is no need for rhetorical prose, embellishment, or argument – the facts stand alone.

Poignant and compelling, Zeitoun is the story of a man who believed he was chosen by God to save a city that his government could not. It is a story of revulsion toward a system that failed a man targeted for what his captors believed was preemptive patriotism. It is a story of perhaps Eggers’ greatest achievement as an author, because though the circumstances surpass even the worst of nightmares, it is every bit of true as it is beautifully told.

Gallery

Brian Brodeur Photo Interview

21 Dec BrianBrodeur2

Photo responses by Brian Brodeur, Issue 75 poet

Interview conducted by Julia Clare Tillinghast, Minnesota Review editor

 

When (and how) did you start writing?

What’s your writing “routine”? (Do you write every day at the same time (morning/evening), or wait for inspiration? Editing process?)

What writing instruments do you use? (Do you compose with a pen(or pencil?) and notebook (lined/unlined), or on a computer?)

Who are your favorite authors/influences?

How would you describe your work?

Brian Brodeur is the author of Other Latitudes (2008), winner of the University of Akron Press’s 2007 Akron Poetry Prize, which can be found at http://www3.uakron.edu/uapress/brodeur.html. Recent poems and reviews are forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Pleiades, and Quarterly West. He maintains the blog ‘How a Poem Happens,’ an anthology of interviews with over one-hundred poets, which you can visit here: http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/.

Gallery

An Interview with Marcus Wicker

21 Dec microphone2

by Laura Nye


 

Marcus Wicker’s favorite line from his recent poem  “Self Dialogue Watching Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip” in jubliat 18: “There must be 10,000 selves in an epidermis.”


Q:        I’d like to start with your poem in issue 9.5 of DIAGRAM:   “ars poetica in the mode of j-live.”  Can you talk about your relationship with academia and the publishing world as a poet so influenced by a more popular culture?  Did you  ever submit the poem to a workshop?  How are your hip-hop influences received by different audiences?

A: I learned to write poems at Indiana University the way that most students learn to write—-by reading the heavy weights (dead and alive), discussing their craft or technique, and then employing those moves judiciously in my own work.  Needless to say, Rilke is probably more important to a graduate workshop than Rakim but because much of my poetry is driven by topical obsessions, I write what I’m given;  I write what I adore;  and hip hop was among my first loves.

“Ars Poetica in the Mode of J-Live” comes from a section of an in-progress manuscript which addresses popular hip hop song titles and hallmarks (street smarts, inequity, up-front sexuality, hard luck, etc.).  Part of the project here is to write from a mode of inquiry/logic that renders the subject matter universal.  I get a sense that a lot of journals aren’t exactly scouting work concerning such a contentious culture but I’ve been fortunate enough to place many of these pieces.  You don’t need a copy of The Source to sit down and read these poems and I think that helps.

I did not submit “Ars Poetica…” to a workshop but certainly would have.  I find that, in any given workshop, there are at least a handful of people who’ll read each piece with a writer’s intentions in mind, and those are the voices worth listening to.

Q: Your old blog features madlib and blu & exile’s Below The Heavens as well as a few freestyles—what are you listening to now?  Do you have a go-to artist or album for writing?  Can you talk about your reading style and thoughts on the performance of poetry?  Have you had any experiences with recording your recitations?

 

A: Well, at this very moment, Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “When They Reminisce Over You” is rocking softly in the background.  But lately I’ve been obsessed with an album by H.I.S.D. (Houston Independent Spit District) called The Weakend–soulful production and every day, honest, contradictory, mostly nerdy rhymes.  Scope this music video and you’ll see where they’re coming from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3uVyerxqbg

It’s difficult for me to simultaneously draft and listen to music but sometimes I go to Mos Def and Talib Kweli’s Black Star, John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, A Tribe Called Quests’ Midnight Marauders, or LTJ Bukem’s Earth Vol. 2 for inspiration.

I don’t know that I’ve ever thought of myself as having a reading “style” but I like that idea.  I suppose I try to read my work as clearly as I can, while thinking of the general energy and voice that I heard during construction.  I tend to favor readers who evoke the tone of what’s written on the page, regardless of what that tone sounds or feels like.  Two poets, from different eras, who embody this idea for me are Gerald Stern and Ross Gay.

My younger brother’s a music producer, and most of my recording experiences involve him hilariously mocking me during recitation—which makes for a generally self-conscious reading.  I want to say that this exercise mimics the experience of a live reading, but mostly it just feels like poetic  comeuppance.  He literally shoved me out of his studio after recording this purposely flat prose poem about exhibitionist ducks: http://www.pankmagazine.com/?p=2482

Q: I love these lines: “. . .Joy’s high / stepping something awful.”  What direction is your work taking right now?

A: I’m working on two new projects.  The first being poems about Richard Pryor that seek to examine the relationship between an artist’s unique way of seeing and its psychosocial affects.  The second project consists of praise poems to the everyday.  Think odes to browsing the web or an apricot facial mask.  In both cases I’m trying to get back to basics—writing things rooted in love and a love for language.  So I’ve been penning lots of lyrics lately and letting a speaker’s voice spill out onto the page.

Q: Adrian Matejka was selected by our MFA program as part of our Visiting Writers series.  You guys were both featured in Anti- and your work seems to speak to each other.  What do you think of his latest chapbook, Mixology? Where do you see your work diverging or overlapping?

A: Oh wow.  That’s going to be a great reading. I’m tempted to drive to Blacksburg to check it out. Adrian Mateejka is an absolute beast of a poet.  I love his mind—the way he allows charged-up, diglossic diction to lead a reader line by line through his logic.  Mixology is a really smart collection;  it cuts through an expected treatment of race and popular culture (two subjects my writing is sometimes concerned with) and gets at some pretty tough ideas.

Q: I definitely see you both carrying popular culture with poetic grace–rooted in a love of language, as you say.  Are there any authors, publications or presses that you subscribe to that tend to popular culture with this same delicacy? For some reason I want to mention The Pharcyde’s “otha fish” for Popeye, sandwiches and fairy tale spilling into the rhymes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=em8PI9mWZ_c


I reminisce, try to clear up all the myths
for an imaginary kiss with you again
Not even friends, though I wish that I could mend
like a tailor and be Olive Oyl’s number one sailor
I ams what I am, still I falls like an anvil
She’s heavy on the mind sometimes it’s more than I can handle
But men aren’t supposed to tumble into the den B
Macho, but I hancho like Pancho will give in
Family oriented, but not Oriental
A dame is supposed to claim ya even if you drive a Pinto
A hero is a sandwich, and a Manwich is a meal
A  marriage is a paper, are they fakin or for real?
What’s the deal dabbers? Will you go tumbling after
your man and take a stand or will you help him roll faster?


A: I swear to god I’m trying my hardest not to let hip hop dominate this conversation but you’re really tempting me now. I can’t listen to Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde without playing “Otha Fish” at least two or three times in a row (which I just did). I suspect the Pharcyde spent more time thinking about aesthetics than most folks might expect, but I love emcees and poets who are able to retain traces of improv in their work, the way that a Pharcyde rhyme almost always does. In any event, you just scored major cool points in my book for that reference.
Tim Seibles, Tony Hoagland, Kyle Dargan, John Murillo, David Kirby, Bob Hicok, Matthew Dickman, Jericho Brown, Alex Lemon, Jason Bredle, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Kevin A. Gonzalez, Ander Monson, Claudia Rankine, Kaaryna McGlynn, and a host of others have penned some pretty complicated, awesome poems regarding aspects of popular culture. In the way of publications, I’m into Indiana Review, A Public Space, Columbia Poetry Review, Harpur Palate, Third Coast, jubilat, Cream City Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, APR, Hunger Mountain, New Issues, Hanging Loose, and Alice James, just to name a few. I’ve gone a bit nutty with listing now, but all of these magazines and presses seem to be pop culture-friendly.

Q: What part of the literary present contribute to your biggest hope for poetry? Your biggest fear?

A: I’m heartened by the fact that the faces of Contemporary American Poetry are changing; that now, more than ever, there’s room for a diversity of voice, subject matter, and approach. I do fear, however, that commercial (read major) bookstores are largely sleeping on these poets, and will continue to do so.


Marcus Wicker’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in jubilat, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Harpur Palate, Rattle, Beloit, Sou’Wester, DIAGRAM, and cream city review, among other journals. He is an Ann Arbor, Michigan native who holds fellowships from Cave Canem and Indiana University, where he received his MFA. Marcus is also a 2010-2011 Fine Arts Work Center Fellow.

Gallery

A Short History of The Minnesota Review

14 Dec Literary Journals

Written by Jerry Liles, Minnesota Review Fiction Editor

What some people may not know about The Minnesota Review is that it isn’t located in Minnesota.  In fact, it hasn’t been there for about forty years.  TMR was founded in 1960 and was located in Minnesota for about 10 years before moving to New York City.  It was here that it developed its Marxist identity.  It didn’t stay long in New York before leaving for Indiana University (for almost ten years), then Oregon State University, then SUNY-Stony Brook (back in New York), then to East Carolina University, then the University of Missouri (we’re almost there now), then to Carnegie Mellon University, and finally now in its new home, nestled in the New River Valley within little town of Blacksburg, and located within Virginia Tech.

What a long strange trip it’s been for The Minnesota Review.  It’s come from the Midwest, to the east coast, back to the Midwest, then to the west coast and back to the east coast again.  What’s intriguing to me is that it has never attempted return back to its birthplace, its old stomping grounds.  Maybe it hates its parents.  Or maybe it doesn’t have any parents—maybe The Minnesota Review is an orphan.

It seems that The Minnesota Review just needed time to find itself.  It began with a focus on avant-garde and experimental fiction, which was good enough in Minnesota, but then it got into the whole Marxist thing.    It’s probably no coincidence that it developed this particular political affiliation as it moved from Minnesota to the Big Apple.  But like many tastes we develop in our adolescent years, TMR seemed to outgrow it.

Maybe TMR just can’t stand Minnesota sports.  Sure, the Twin Cities have four pro sports teams and Virginia has none, but I think we can agree that the overall sports scene in Minnesota is pretty bleak.  The Vikings can never win the big one, the Twins always lose to the Yankees, and the Timberwolves are barely an NBA franchise.  Then there’s the Wild, but that’s hockey.  And hockey doesn’t count.

Sports are great, but of course many literary sophisticates like the ones that submit to TMR probably don’t follow sports, and of course, how are we to know how the magazine itself feels about the Vikings or the Twins.  Sports only reach so far, but something like the weather affects everyone, including The Minnesota Review.  Sure, it gets plenty cold (and windy) in Blacksburg, but I’m sure it’s nothing like a Minnesota winter.  That kind of weather just isn’t conducive to a good atmosphere.  How are you supposed to focus on stories and poems when you have to worry about digging your car out of the snow and scraping ice off of your windows?

No matter how it got here, we’re glad to welcome The Minnesota Review from the state of Minnesota (and New York, and Oregon, and so on) and into the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Hopefully the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains and the New River can tame your wanderlust, and you’ll be with us for years to come.


Gallery

Denise Duhamel Photo Interview

14 Dec DeniseDuhamel3

Photo responses by Denise Duhamel, Issue 75 poet

Interview conducted by Julia Clare Tillinghast, Minnesota Review Poetry Editor

When (and how) did you start writing?

What’s your writing “routine”? (Do you write every day at the same time (morning/evening), or wait for inspiration? Editing process?)

What writing instruments do you use? (Do you compose with a pen(or pencil?) and notebook (lined/unlined), or on a computer?)

Who are your favorite authors/influences?

How would you describe your work?

Denise Duhamel’s most recent book is Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009).  She’s a professor at Florida International University where she teaches in the MFA program.  Although she herself is not on facebook, many of her friends are: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=30751218893

Gallery

Death is Not an Option Review

14 Dec Book Reviews

Death Is Not an Option by Suzanne Rivecca

W.W. Norton $23.95 Hardcover $14.95 Paperback

Reviewed by Mark Derks

The word dexterous comes to mind when I think of Suzanne Rivecca’s fiction in Death Is Not an Option, not just because she demonstrates her mastery of point of view by running the gamut of first, second, and third person in these stories, nor because the voice of the pieces ranges from precocious teenager to jaded if insecure professor to well meaning though ultimately destructive elementary school teacher, but because in these stories she creates compelling, self-actualized women who confront their wounding pasts but recognize that in doing so they risk the equilibrium of their present. Her characters totter at the edge of the precipice. They grasp after tree roots while scaling the cliff. In doing so they remind us how tenuous our hold on life and sanity is, how lucky—how miraculous—it is still to be standing.

Take for example her story “Consummation,” which is told as a letter to an unknown doctor. The first line, “Twenty-seven years ago, when you were a surgical intern at Bingham Medical Center in Paw Paw, Michigan, you saved my father’s life,” drops us into an ongoing reality and suggests a trio of stories—the speaker’s and the doctor’s and the father’s—that we’ll be involved in. It’s a daring first line, one that offers no explanations, no setup, not even a consistent point of view. Right away we’re drawn into a tale of life and death. Only later are the epistolary conceit and the nature of that high stakes drama revealed. The stakes are not high for the father or the doctor though, they’re only high for the speaker, who inhabits the story’s present. In precise and evocative prose Rivecca gives us the young woman’s dilemma, the slope she’s struggling up though it might just be easier to let go and slide down and down through the scree:

Why do I want so badly for you to understand what you saved?

And what, in so doing, you gave me: a life sentence of uneasy love for a man I used to fear. I hope I can write a good eulogy. I hope I can forgive myself for every dark wish I ever had. I hope that, secretly, he never really loved me. I hope I die before he does. I hope I never have to see him suffer. And I hope that someday I can say thank you for disappearing and thank you for not responding with a letter saying you remember that day in great detail and pointing out all the things I got wrong. Every person who lives a life eventually starts to make it all up: not just the past but the future too. The only thing you can’t create is the present, while it’s happening—you going about your day, Doctor, not knowing what I’m thinking, and God knows where you are: you could be saving someone, you could be killing someone, you could be breaking the news of a death, you could be filling out charts, or you could be slicing open a person as they sleep, skin flaps pulled back like pages in a book, your silver hummingbird dipping into a dark mass of pomegranate-red tissue and coming back out, that simple, that improbably facile, and depositing in a crescent-shaped silver basin the pulpy lethal bit that doesn’t belong. I’d want it sealed in a jar and given to me: the thing that necessitated such an opening.

Here Rivecca gives us a glimpse of the emotional terrain she typically navigates: the victim with a complicated relationship to the violence done to them. Almost all the women in her stories keep that “lethal bit” close. They own it, as most of us do, and though these stories hint at just how long the climb is and how far the fall, they never measure it. They never tell us in feet or in miles how far these women have to go, because, of course, not even Rivecca knows that. These mountains are as tall and as long as life. Rivecca reminds that death, after all, is akin to the ultimate cop out.

Gallery

The Jersey Shore: A Reality Show of Poets

14 Dec jerseyshoreE

Written by Anhvu Buchanan, Issue 75 poet

Edited by Brianna Stout, Blog editor

The Minnesota Review gave me a daunting task: to cast a remake of The Jersey Shore using poets.  Though it might seem overwhelming to some, for me, a poet with a questionable love for reality television, it felt right up my alley.  So, The Minnesota Review and I would like to present our casting of The Jersey Shore featuring some of your favorite poets:

The Role of Vinnie to be played by Ezra Pound

Caption:  Like Vinnie, Ezra Pound was a welcome friend to everyone
around him.  Hemingway in describing Pound stated: “He defends [his
friends] when they are attacked, he gets them into magazines and out
of jail. He loans them money. … He writes articles about them. He
introduces them to wealthy women. He gets publishers to take their
books. He sits up all night with them when they claim to be dying… “
And I’m sure the rest of the cast of Jersey Shore would say the same
things about Vinnie.

The Role of Paulie D to be played by Lord Bryon

Caption:  Sure, this was easy simply because they both rock amazing
hair styles.  But like Paulie D, Lord Bryon was known not only for his
writing, but also for his life which featured aristocratic excesses, huge
debts, and numerous love affairs. And we all know the ladies love
Paulie D, just like they loved Lord Bryon.

The Role of J-Wow to be played by Anne Sexton


Caption:  We needed someone unafraid to show some skin to play the scantily
clad  JWOWW, and there is no poet better in sporting a skimpy dress than
Anne Sexton.   Like JWOWW, Anne also had some questionable and
controversial relationships.

The Role of Ronnie and Sammi to be played by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath


Caption:  There is no poetic couple that can play the role of the
dysfunctional Ronnie and Sammi better than Ted Hughes and Sylvia
Plath.  Ronnie, just like Ted, cheated numerous times on Sammi. Sylvia, likewise, is perfect for the role of Sammi, who for some reason always seems to forgive Ronnie
and take him back.

The Role of Snooki to be played by H.D.

Caption:   Both known for their nicknames and unapologetic attitudes
about their sexuality.  Obvious selection.

And, finally…The Role of the Situation to be played by Bukowski.

Mandatory Credit: Owen Beiny / WENN.com

Caption:  Known for their physiques and ability to drink.  Famous
for their larger-than-life personalities. Both are notorious for
their ability to pull “chicks” because of these personalities.   Bukowski is definitely up to the task of creeping like The Situation.

Anhvu Buchanan’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in 580 Split, The Cream City Review, Parthenon West Review, The Sand Canyon Review, and word for/ word.  He is currently completing both a manuscript on psychological disorders entitled The Disorder Index as well as his MFA from San Francisco State University.  He currently lives in San Francisco, co-curates The Living Room Reading Series (http://thelivingroomreading.tumblr.com) and collects wonderful internet findings and blogs them at anhvub.tumblr.com.

Gallery

An Interview with Matthew Shenoda

14 Dec microphone2

By Caty Gordon

Matthew Shenoda is the author of two poetry collections, “Somewhere Else” (2005) and “Season of Lotus, Season of Bone” (2009). His poetry has earned him two nominations for a Pushcart Prize, named one of Poets & Writers Magazine debut book of the year, and earned the Hala Maskoud Award for Emerging Voice and won the 2006 American Book Award. He was also quoted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a speech delivered after 9/11. Shenoda is currently serving as the Assistant Provost for Equity and Diversity and Professor in the School of Critical Studies at California Institute of the Arts. He took a few moments to share his thoughts on poetry and craft below.

You’ve published two books, “Somewhere Else” and “Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone,” both of which have been lauded for their astute imagery, persuasiveness, and transnational appeal. Are you working on any projects now?

MS: Yes, I am currently working on a book-length poem called Song of Remembrance, which is written in an invented form. The form runs a total of ten stanzas and repeats itself for the length of the book. Much of the form is based on some interpretations of reggae rhythms and the “break” in the form is a syllabic translation of a specific piece of music written by the Nubian composer Hamza El Din. The work in general is quite cyclical and explores the trajectory of immigration, diaspora and the larger ideas of home. The piece is one long journey and meant to be read from virtually any point within the text. Each of the stanzas serves as a kind of meditation on these larger themes while telling a very non-linear narrative. It’s by far some of the most challenging work I’ve done and is completely immersive.

Where did you first see one of your poems in print and what was that experience like as an author?

MS: It must have been early on in my undergraduate education, likely through the university’s literary journal, if I recall correctly. I remember feeling like it was certainly a type of validation and it encouraged me to send work out to a broader range of journals, outside of my immediate circle at the time. By that point I had been working pretty seriously on my craft and the larger study of poetics and knew that writing and publishing was something that I wanted to explore, so to see my work along side the work of other contemporaries was in many ways an exhilarating feeling. It created a context and conversation that, to me, is one of the most exciting things about contemporary poetry. The way all these various works speak to one another is something I’ve always found intriguing. I like the idea of language speaking to language, I’ve always been invested in ideas of intersections and in many ways publishing in a journal or anthology is just that, it’s an exploration of intersections.

“Somewhere Else” and “Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone” both dwell in the awareness of contemporary culture in terms of its relation to the past and engender listeners to question what is happening around them. Do you think that art can be successful at motivating audiences to partake in social change?

MS: I feel both indebted and somewhat fixated on the idea of history. Virtually everything I write engages this idea of history and continues to explore what it means to be from somewhere, to be from someone, to have a trajectory that has led to the present. In that vein, I think it’s deeply important to recall the past, to always contextualize our presence in that trajectory. In doing so, I think the larger ideas of social change become quite natural. It’s hard to not envision a new and changing world if you are truly engaged in the longer vision of the world, including the past. Often, I think we suffer from a kind of ahistorical perspective, one that completely ignores, or in some cases, intentionally hides the past. In that model of being, it’s hard to enact social change, it’s hard to give people the necessary tools to imagine a different kind of world. If you do not know where a thing comes from, what its purpose is, how it came to be, then it simply becomes a thing. You may like it, dislike it, but whatever the case it’s easy to be apathetic towards that thing. On the converse, when you know the history of something, understand its story and journey, you have a larger context for engagement to invest in the larger ideas of betterment. In that way, I think understanding past, asking questions about what’s happening around you etc. are all crucial elements of being fully human and I find there is no better way to engage these questions and explore these ideas than through art. Art is bound only by imagination and therefore allows the artists to explore as deeply or as minimally as they wish and thereby affords the viewer/reader/listener the same opportunity. There is no question that art has shaped the way societies understand themselves and move forward. At the core, art is ultimately about perspective and the artists job is to see the world anew so that those engaging the work can also see the world from a different angle and when we do so successfully, change is inevitable.

Some argue that the arts do not sustain a viable living. What would you say to those who might feel hesitant to pursue a career in the arts for fear it’s only a hobby and not a career path?

MS: Well, to be sure, the arts are in some manner a way of life, not a career. It’s far beyond either hobby or career. An artist will make their art no matter what their circumstances, I have always believed this. But to get at your question and this idea of making a living, I think it’s very important that artists find viable ways to integrate themselves into the larger world around them and to help shape the conversations of our society in every way they can. When we attempt this, we often find that a new space is made for us, a place at the table is set and sometimes this translates into the larger idea of a career. I think for many artists, isolation is the easy road. We do very solitary work, at least in part, and so it’s easy to relegate oneself and to also be relegated in a society that privileges profit over people. Art is ultimately a human thing, it is about an exploration of our complex and rich humanities, not about creating capital or products for simple consumption and this is where the tension often exists. However, I think we can be hopeful in arguing against such a binary and believing fully in the power of art and its ability to make societies better for all people. If we believe this then there is a place for us, in fact, society needs art more than art needs society. Art has always existed in nature, no matter what society springs up around it, but it’s we who need art to make our lives whole. If we truly believe this, then in some natural way, things will work out, whether we call it a career or simply a life, it’s no doubt a life worth living.

Many poems in “Somewhere Else” deal with homage to your grandmother or “Tata.” How do you balance writing intimately about family without crossing into sentimentality and still maintaining a strong cultural message?

MS: In many ways my works engagement with people, whether it be a grandmother or whomever, always carries with it a duality. In the specific case of my grandmothers, both of whom I’ve referenced in my work, it’s less about the individual and more a larger symbolism and stature, namely the place of elders. The idea of elders is very important to me as a way to connect the past with the present, as a way to carry forward knowledge, to keep alive the idea of a continuum. Elders should be venerated and celebrated and I try to do this whenever I can in my work. In terms of avoiding sentimentality, my work does this in part by not engaging so deeply in the personal. The personal is always present, it must be, but poetry must also be about more than one thing and for me, I’ve always been far less interested in ideas of individualism and more in the larger ideas of communalism. So, whenever a grandmother or other familial character enters into my work, it is often about recognizing relationships more than individuals. There is something so deeply complex about the way we as humans interact and intersect with one another and at least at this point in my life, that’s where much of my work leans.

Some of your poems employ internal rhyme (“Prayer for my People,” “Language,” and others) reminiscent of the reggae epigraphs throughout both books, leaving audiences to speculate that this music has inspired you. Has it? And what, in addition to sound and the history of Egypt, inspires your poetry?

MS: Music is crucial to me. I am one who believes that poetry is a form of music. I see little separation, conceptually, between the two. The significant difference in poetry is that language is the note and the breathe is the instrument. So, naturally, musical instrumentation, rhythms, melodies, etc feed a great deal of my work. I often hear language first and the rhythm and sound of language are just as and in some cases more important to me than the meaning. I am also inspired by music as an art form and always have been. I fell in love with music and music lyrics long before I ever discovered poetry and it has never left me. Reggae in particular has been a staple soundtrack throughout my life. There is a nexus in reggae music where the spiritual, the political and the sensual all come together that, to me, is unmatched in any other genre. This continues to be my greatest aspiration, it’s a blueprint for an incredibly full human expression that I seek to emulate in my work. In terms of inspiration other than Egypt in my work, I’m inspired by a great many things. I happen to have written largely about Egypt because it is part of a series of explorations for which I have been deeply engaged. I generally write in terms of book projects and it so happens that both my books so far have explored issues surrounding Egypt, which are both personal and endlessly fascinating to me. However, my work also engages a great deal with ecology, which I have always been very deeply inspired by, both in its most natural state and in its intersections with human culture. I suppose I am inspired most by the larger notion of what it means to be human and the ways we choose to live, the societies we shape, the ideas we propagate and most importantly the way we relate to one another and our larger environments, so I guess I am most inspired by people and the ways in which we shape culture.

Your poems rarely use to the first-person “I.” What is thematic or stylistic purpose of this?

MS: In many ways I’m not sure this was ever intentional, at least consciously. But because I often write in service to a larger exploration of ideas, cultures, communities etc., I never saw the “I” as being central. Also, as I mentioned a bit in the previous question, I am, at least at this point in my life, far less interested in ideas of individualism than the larger ideas of multiplicity. In fact, I’m not even convinced that the individual is what we say it is and certainly I think the largely western focus on individualism is to the greater detriment of society. I have always been interested in things that are perhaps seen as a bit “messy” and no doubt the idea of the “we” or the collective is far more messy than the idea of the “I” or the individual. Perhaps I feel that the “I” is too self absorbed or perhaps this particular “I” (me) is not that interesting to write about.

“Seasons of Lotus, Seasons of Bone” touches on cultural preservation and the idea of how knowledge works across generations. How do you see art (or your work particularly) as mending the division between the ancient world and modernity?

MS: In many ways, I think I touched on this previously, but for me it’s not so much about mending the division of past and present as it is about understanding it and learning from it. I feel that too often we have ignored the past, perhaps quite arrogantly, as a result we’ve not really moved on from it, even though we feign to have done so. I also find so much of the engagement we do have with the past is dishonest and often rushed, in an effort to not “rehash the past” or to “get over it.” These are all ways of ignoring and not truly engaging who and what has come before us. And because I believe that all things require context, knowing the past is an essential part of understanding the present and learning to live more fully. I suppose, in part, I believe that we’ve not reached anywhere near our potential as a human race and that we’ve restricted ourselves, that if we were to more honestly and directly engage the past, explore it, understand it, debate it, connect to it etc. we’d be able to create a far richer present and certainly a more peaceful and nuanced set of relationships between us.

Do you have any advice for aspiring poets who might be trying to break out into publishing or are struggling to find their poetic voice?

MS: The first thing I tell all young writers is that they must read and read and read and read! I suppose continuing on with the idea of engaging the past I am reminded of something James Baldwin once said, “If you know whence you came, there is really no limit to where you can go.” This is a critical idea for any young writer. We write in the context of a much larger body of writers and it is essential that a young writer not only know the works of the past, but the works of their contemporaries in the broadest sense possible. It is essential in relation to the idea of “finding a voice” that any young writer be able to locate themselves in the society they are writing in. We must, as writers, step outside of ourselves and engage a larger conversation. To me, this is a central part of publishing. The other advice I have is to live! It’s essential that you have a life outside of literature as well, that one is a fully engaged citizen in their world is a necessary part of the generative process of making art. As for publishing, it’s a tough process no doubt, but I have always believed that the work must come first and all else will follow. It’s dangerous to conflate the idea of publishing with the idea of writing. If you write a book or a poem and no one wants to publish it, you should no doubt keep at it if you believe in the work, but at the same time you must, absolutely must, keep writing!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 63 other followers