Sunday, May 25, 2008

Poetry Festival: A Celebration of NJ's Literary Journals (and Some Neighbors)

You're invited!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Poetry Festival:
A Celebration of New Jersey's Literary Journals
(and some neighbors)

A showcase event
featuring 13 Journals and Editors:
Edison Literary Review, Exit 13,
Journal of New Jersey Poets, Lips,
The Literary Review,
Mudfish, New York Quarterly,
Painted Bride Quarterly,
Paterson Literary Review, Philadelphia Poets,
Schuykyll Valley Journal,
Tarpaulin Sky, and Tiferet.

Journals available along with subscription
and submission information

26 poets reading throughout the afternoon

Books available for sale and signing

West Caldwell Public Library
30 Clinton Rd.
West Caldwell, NJ
1:00-5:00 PM Free

Contact library: 973-226-5441

For full schedule and directions:

Ira Joe Fisher reading at the 2007 festival

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Poemeleon's New Issue

Good news: The latest issue of Poemeleon is now online and it's a beauty. Meticulously edited by Cati Porter, this journal has quickly become a force to be reckoned with. If you haven't yet checked it out, do not delay doing so. Devoted to the persona poem, this issue is filled with voices and surprising revelations.

Diana Adams offers two stunning poems in the voice of Frankenstein—"Frank, The Error of Days" and "Frankenstein's Ice Mirror." The second poem begins with these snazzy lines:

The left orb protrudes
but the right's a diamond,
it captures riverwords,
dwells on velvet faces
on turned earth and chittering trees.

Deborah Bogen is a poet whose work I've read in a number of journals and am always happy to meet again. Who could resist this title: "Pastor Jackson Attends the Grateful Dead Concert"? Her two persona poems prompted me to jot down the title of her book, Landscape with Silos, on my To Order Soon list.

Pat Fargnoli, Poet Laureate of New Hampshire, has three poems in this issue. One, "The Questions of Bluebeard's Wife," is particularly interesting as it consists of a series of questions. "Undertaker’s Wife" left me breathless as the speaker talks about being touched at night by the hands that all day have touched the bodies of the dead.

Be sure to read David Graham's multi-part poem, "I Call to Remembrance My Song in the Night," a poem written in the voice of his late father-in-law. The poet performs the difficult job of imagining and expressing someone else's struggle with Alzheimer's.

So far, I'm not quite halfway through the issue, thus the absence from my list of people with names later in the alphabet. But this should give you powerful motivation to take a trip on over to Poemeleon. Also, the introductory comments by each poet about the experience of writing persona poems are fascinating and instructive.

Of course, I'm also excited about this issue because there's a lovely review by Ingrid Wendt of my book, What Feeds Us.

Now I'm on the look-out for appropriate subjects for a persona poem or two of my own.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Letters to the World: Panel, Party, Readings

Letters to the World was unveiled at this year's AWP in New York. The book was proudly displayed at the Red Hen booth where each Wompo listserv member was able to pick up her contributor's copy. Because of the uniqueness of the publication project, list member Ann Hostetler had proposed a panel presentation. This was held on Friday morning and was a huge success. Wompos who had known each other only online were able to meet face to face. Each panelist told about her role in the anthology's creation and then read one poem from the book. Thus we heard voices from around the world.

The panelists getting ready to present, left to right: Annie Finch, Lesley Wheeler, Ann Fisher-Wirth, Ann Hostetler, D'Arcy Randall, and there but outside the frame, Kate Gale and Rosemary Starace

Saturday night Red Hen held a book launch party at The Bowery Poetry Club. The women poets again gathered, this time to sign each other's books and to socialize.

Kate Gale proudly holding Letters to the World

Wompos Diane Kendig, Julie Enszer, Julia Lisella's sister, and Pat Valdata

Though the party ended that night, members of the Wompo listserv have been organizing readings across the country. An online registry was started months ago. Members who live somewhat close together have met for these readings. Here are some photos from four readings.

April 13, 2008
Avol's Bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin
Karla Huston, Shoshauna Shy, David Graham (we have a few man-pos),
Marilyn Taylor, organizer Susan Elbe, and Wendy Vardaman

April 17, 2008
University of Washington's Women's Center. Seattle, Washington
Susan Rich, Julene Weaver, Martha Silano, Kelli Russell Agodon, Carol Levin,
Shin Yu Pai, and Lana Hechtman Ayers

Shin Yu Pai reads from the anthology

Susan Rich reading, Carol Levin seated

Sunday, May 4, 2008
Barrington, Rhode Island
Ruth Foley, Diane Kendig, Elaine Brown, Joyce Heon, Joanie DiMartino,
Audrey Friedman, and Ada Jill Schneider who organized the reading

Audrey Friedman reads

Sunday, May 4, 2008
Round Top, Texas
Chris Leche, Alicia Zavala Galvan, Judy Jensen,
Wendy Taylor Carlisle, and Katherine Durham Oldmixon

Wendy Taylor Carlisle reads

Alicia Zavala Galvan and organizer Judy Jensen

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Letters to the World: The Poems

In my last post I mentioned that Letters to the World is a unique anthology for several reasons. It is the first collection to emerge from an internet collaboration and is the largest collection of poems by living women poets, but more than that, it is a collection of wonderful poems. Here you will find poems by American poets such as Judith Barrington, Lynnell Edwards, Mendi Obadike, Kathleen Flenniken, Marilyn Hacker, Judith Johnson, Alicia Ostriker, Katha Pollitt, and Evie Shockley. Since the collection reflects the global nature of the listserv, you will also find such poets as Ren Powell (an American living in Norway), Anny Ballardini (Italy), Farideh Hassanzadeh-Mostafavi (Iran), and Crystal Warren (South Africa).

As I always do when reading a collection. I circled page numbers in the Table of Contents to indicate favorite poems, ones I planned to return to later. Here are two poems that brought me back again and again. The first is by Paula Bohince.

Acrostic: Queen Anne’s Lace

Quietly tatted, silent, they edge the snowball bush—
unlit, without judgment. Theirs is a vision I’ve always wanted:
eiderdown-colored, stained as lace in a cupboard,
emblems of a softer life.
Neglected, they lean neck and neck with each other.
Audit of sixty years: one tablecloth, one draft card, one confession…
No one else to do it: emptying his house of its sorry
nests, cubbyholes filled with flannel and moth-eaten deer heads.
Entropy and decay, he said. A house is a kind of bondage.
Strangled, the weeds have no one to kill them. Difficult to
leave them alive, these last witnesses to his last days, who
act blameless, cowering beneath brambles, who
cannot tell me a fraction of what happened. Who did this? You
ears, you idiot eyes that cannot close.

I appreciate what this poet does with a form that we often think of as belonging to elementary school teachers, a form used to engage young students in word play. Bohince's poem shows that the acrostic can have real substance. I also like how this acrostic plays with the sonnet form. And I admire how the poet begins with a simple wildflower and moves so gracefully into something else. Such a seamless shift.

Good news: This poem will appear in Bohince's first collection, Incident at the Edge of Bayonet Woods, forthcoming from Sarabande Books this July. Click the cover image to be taken to the website where you can pre-order.

Another of my favorites is by Charlotte Mandel.

Still Life

Transfixed within the scrolled frame of marriage—
Glossy, still as a Flemish nature mort—
You are the basket’s woven lines,

I the overripe purpling grapes. What is marriage
without realism, plain detail, the more
examined the more discretely outlined?

Gleam seizes shadow, motionless. Marriage
of canvas, oil and turpentine. One more
scrape of the palette’s umber and aniline’s

blue thin menace. I animated marriage
cartoons as a child, bright crayon, not a mor-
bid thought in view. Polka dot curtains lined

window frames with daisies: picture marriage
as bungalow tilting, blue skies evermore,
uplifted arms diaper-pinning the line.

Watercolors risk salt: over marriage
tides flow. Initials carved in sycamore
erode the jackknife wriggle of their lines.

A playhouse, yet a serious marriage.
Undeclared we knew the stakes, how much more
asked of us. Anniversaries fall in line—

patina thickens—varnish conceals—marriages
shiver apart—ours strains its well-mixed mor-
tar—surfaces enhanced by spider line.

Who sees us defines us by this marriage.
Hand in hand, smile / click. To viewers, a maud-
lin sentiment. To ourselves, still, life line.

Again, I was initially attracted to the form of the poem, its 3-line stanzas and its repetition of end words, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. I also like how Mandel follows her pattern, yet has some fun with it by altering the words a bit. And I like what she has to say about a long, happy marriage. I asked Mandel about this form. It seems she was trying to write a tritina, which I believe is an invented form, but she couldn't remember the pattern, so she invented one something like it. Her students affectionately named the result a "charlottina."

More good news: This poem will appear in Mandel's collection, Rock Vein Sky, forthcoming soon from Midmarch Arts Press.

Challenge: Try your hand at one or both of these forms. For Bohince's try to come up with a 14 letter combination, a single word or a phrase. Make it something from nature--or maybe something far removed from nature. For Mandel's bring in some opposite idea, eg, write about a brief, miserable marriage or the single life. Or anything else.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Letters to the World

Letters to the World: Poems from the Wom-po Listserv is a new anthology that you’ll want to add to your bookshelf. This collection is an outgrowth of the women poets online community founded in 1977 by poet Annie Finch. The listserv began with a membership of fewer than a dozen. When I joined nine years ago, the membership was 120. Now it has swollen to approximately 800 members and serves as a gathering place for women poets from around the world. Members enjoy many benefits. For example, the listserv is a valuable resource for book titles, teaching ideas, discussion of hot topics, job leads, publication opportunities, and information about MFA programs and workshops.

Surely one of the most impressive accomplishments of the listserv has been the publication of this anthology which is the largest collection in print of poems by living women poets. The project was the brainchild of Moira Richards who lives in South Africa. Moira proposed the idea and offered to usher the collection into existence. She was soon joined by Rosemary Starace and Lesley Wheeler. The three became the editors. Committees were formed and a call for submissions went out. Each list member was invited to submit one favorite poem. A total of 259 poets contributed. The beautiful cover was done by member Margo Berdeshevsky who lives in Paris.

Although the original plan was to self-publish the collection, as the project gathered steam and generated excitement, the membership began to realize what an astonishing endeavor they were engaged in. Discussion turned to the possibility of finding a reputable publisher. Eloise Klein Healy contacted her publisher, Kate Gale at Red Hen Press. Kate joined the listserv and soon offered to publish the anthology.

The collection is unique in a number of ways. It is the first such collection to evolve entirely out of the Internet. Instead of the usual face-to-face meetings, all work was done online. A blog was set up to collect the poems and bios. Editors conferred via email and a discussion forum. Proofreaders received packets of poems via email. All of this work was done by volunteers.

Somewhere during this lengthy process, someone suggested that some essays might be a nice addition to the collection. Scattered among the alphabetically arranged poems, these essays are another unique aspect of the collection. There are short pieces about the history of the listserv and a few about the role the listserv plays in the lives of poets who live in remote areas of the world and have no poetry community. There’s an essay about what the list means to a disabled poet. There are discussions of how the listserv has helped poet-moms continue to think of themselves as poets. And there’s an essay about some of the spin-off projects that have emerged such as other listservs and small online writing groups that critique each other’s work and one that produces sonnet crowns.

Best of all, of course, are the poems, a feast of them. Formal poems, free verse poems, poems about the lives of women, poems that pay tribute to our foremothers, traditional poems, experimental poems, short ones, long ones, funny ones and ones that shoot daggers into your heart.

More on the poems coming soon. In the meantime, get your hands on this book!

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

No Regrets?

Kelli Russell Agodon recently posted the notes she took during Mary Oliver's reading and talk at Pacific Lutheran University. The talk, Mary Oliver and The Writer's Story, consisted of an hour-long Q&A. Many thanks to Kelli for her notes which are full of wonderful thoughts. One question and answer that made me pause and reflect for several days:

Question: As a poet, what's your biggest regret?

Answer "I don't' have any." She said she is very happy with her life as a poet and living with her art. She said, "Art is an essential hallway into a spiritual life."

I kept thinking no regrets? None? Is that possible? Okay, so maybe Oliver just means in her poetry life. But still, even with that limitation—and surely her life as a poet must be a huge part of her life—it seems to me kind of, well, not believable. Poetry is the place I go to for happiness, and my life as a poet is intensely exciting and satisfying, even when I'm writing sad poems. Nevertheless, I have lots of regrets as a poet. Why didn't I start sooner? Why didn't I pursue this or that opportunity more aggressively? Why don't I write everyday? Why do I go weeks or longer without producing?

And don't even get me started on other areas of my life. I don't want to go on a real bummer, but I'm always regretting something. The list could go on and on. These thoughts got me to remembering and thinking about a poem I like by Natasha Saje. It's from her collection, Bend (Tupelo Press).

I regret I sleep so much, that my body
makes demands I do not refuse. I regret
my thirties, unreasonable as crabgrass,
and I regret the two vertical lines between
my brows, the manifestation of my anxieties
which of course I also regret. I regret
the Swiss milk pitcher broken by the neighbor’s
cat and I regret my soft teeth. I regret nights
I stayed awake baking or reading novels
that changed me only momentarily. I
regret that capitalism is my religion
and the small red purse I do not use.
I regret lying in the sun as a teenager and
not putting a safety catch on my grandmother’s
brooch. I regret the poisoned dish of lacquered duck
in 1977, and the squirrel that last year
got caught in a rat trap. I regret the Procrustean
bed of my job and having no columbine
seeds from the beds by the old library. I regret
the demise of the streetcar and the perils
of color, and that in my sleep I do not
dismantle silence. O my Great Lake of Regrets,
my body a floating island—

I like the structure of the poem, the repetition and list. I like the mixture of serious and trivial regrets, the resulting feeling of disproportion. I like Saje's word choice: manifestation, crabgrass, capitalism, brooch, lacquered, Procrustean, columbine, demise, perils, dismantled. These words appeal to my ear and my brain. And what an ending with its sudden switch to apostrophe and the metaphor that drifts off to an unfinished thought.

Challenge: Make your own list—regrets, minor infractions, things for which you should apologize, or things for which you refuse to apologize. Turn the list into a poem.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Valparaiso Poetry Review

The spring issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review recently appeared online. In my opinion, this is one of our best online poetry journals. It's aesthetically pleasing, yet simple enough that the graphics are not a distraction. The quality of the work is consistently high, and editor Ed Byrne supports well-known poets as well as those who will soon be well-known. I love the variety offered in each issue and return numerous times while the issue appears online. (Actually, each issue remains online in the archives, another nice feature of the journal.)

This issue offers three new poems by featured poet, Lynnell Edwards, and poems by familiar favorites such as Pat Fargnoli, April Lindner, and Julia Kasdorf. There are also poems by rising stars such as Greg McBride and Mary Biddinger, poems by poets I've met in person such as Jennifer MacPherson and Peggy Miller, and poems by poets whose work I'm looking forward to reading for the first time. There's an essay about the work of Zbigniew Herbert. And finally, there are five book reviews, including one by Ed Byrne of Lynnell Edwards' new collection, The Highwayman's Wife. If I hadn't already ordered the book, this review would certainly entice me to do so.

So check out this issue. Many pleasures await you.

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Friday, May 2, 2008

New Orleans Review: Review of Martha Silano's Blue Positive

At last my review of Martha Silano's amazing collection, Blue Positive, has appeared in the New Orleans Review. I say "at last" because it seems like I waited forever. Due to some strange internal errors, the review was omitted from the issue for which it was scheduled to appear. Then through yet another such error, it was omitted from the next issue. Then came the delays at the printer. But at last, yes, at last, it arrived, and it's a lovely journal, my first time in it. Wonderful poetry, an interview, very interesting black and white photography, and a number of book reviews. I'm proud to be part of the issue.

But I'm even happier to give some much deserved attention to Silano's book, published by Steel Toe Books. I was immediately captivated by the cover. Who could resist these brown eyes?

The poems are every bit as appealing. The dominant theme is motherhood. Silano looks at the subject from all possible angles. There's the excitement of pregnancy and the thrill of having a baby, but there's also the hard reality of postpartum depression. Silano gives us a close and painful view of the dark side of motherhood. Not just being tired or in a bad mood, but descending into real psychosis.

Other aspects of a woman's life are included: relationships with relatives, love and love-making, food. Silano has a masterful touch with sensuous details. When she sets the table in a poem, you feel as if you are right there, breathing in the aromas.

But that is just one of many gifts. Silano is wonderfully inventive and playful, and she employs engaging diction. Here's a poet who revels in form and language, deals comfortably in contradiction, and consistently surprises and delights the reader.

Here's one of my favorites from the collection. This poem first appeared in Poetry Northwest and was later featured on Poetry Daily.

Getting Kicked by a Fetus

Like right before you reach your floor, just
before the door of an elevator opens.
Like the almost imperceptible
springs you waded through
in Iroquois Lake.

Sometimes high and jabby near the ribs;
sometimes low and fizzy like a pie
releasing steam, like beans
on the stovetop—slow

like the shimmer of incoming tide—hot, soft sand
meeting waves, slosh bringing sand crabs
that wriggle invisibly in.

And sometimes a school of herring
pushing through surf,
or a single herring

caught from a pier like a sliver of moon rising in the west;
sometimes a tadpole stuck in a pond growing smaller
and smaller, a puddle of mud, squirmy like worms—
now your left, now your right. Sometimes

neon flickering, like that Texaco sign near Riddle, Oregon—
from a distance it read TACO, but up close
the faintest glow, an occasional E or X,
like an ember re-igniting.

Like seeing your heartbeat through the thinnest part
of your foot, sunken well between ankle and heel,
reminder of a world beneath your skin, world
of which your know little,

and the pond growing smaller and smaller, soon the rolling waves
like the ones you dove into at Bradley Beach, at Barneget,
growing less frequent, your giant ocean
drying up, your little swimmer

sinking, giving way
to the waves
of his birth.

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