Thursday, October 23, 2014
It's true. I spend a goodly amount of time attending poetry readings. Maybe I've heard a few hundred poets read over my lifetime: Adrienne Rich, Seamus Heaney, Naomi Shihab Nye, Denise Levertov, Carolyn Forche --- and the list goes on. Yet none have touched me the way last Friday night did.
What a joy to hear these two poets read together for WordsWest Literary Series - 2. As Lena Khalaf Tuffaha said as she stood gazing out at the 50+ person crowd, "what a beautiful audience!" Now you can be part of that audience, too.
Not only did Lena and Rick Barot read amazing poems, following the reading they spoke on politics and poetry, influences and anti-influences. We sold books and broadsides, served popcorn and chocolate which made for a happy atmosphere.
If you live in the Seattle area (and some audience members came in from Duval!) think about spending November 19th with us --- that's the third Wednesday of the month when we will host Kate Lebo and Molly Wizenburg.
Monday, October 20, 2014
|You Need To Read This Book, Really|
What I want from prose is similar to what I want from poetry: to leap into the unknown. Elizabeth Bishop stated that what she liked in poetry was "to see the mind in motion." Of course the literal mind is a messy thing filled with desires for honey crisp apples and a nap --- but what Turner gives us is a new way into the mind of one soldier -- an Iraq war veteran.
However, it is in the last third of the book, after Turner returns home where things really get interesting.
"Countries are touching countries and I cross over from one to another, trying to shake the past and find a world I can live in" (162).
The return to "home" or in Turner's case, the return that actually becomes a completely different world from the life he had known before the war is, for this reader, the most interesting aspect of the book. In the final chapters Turner employs the surreal mixing the true strangeness of war's aftermath with the book's documentary style.
"Journalists shuffle into our bedroom and wait patiently for us to finish making love. They want me to talk about suicide. They want me to talk about hand-to-hand combat--- something I really know nothing about. They want a modern definition for the word obscenity and the word slaughter "(171).
In my time teaching college English and Film Studies I've had many Iraq veterans come through my classes. Perhaps this book will help me understand a little more of their struggles. Perhaps not.
There is no blueprint for dealing with trauma. Turner tells us this without telling us. Instead, weeks after I finished reading this book I am still thinking of all the ghosts he walks beside. The ghosts that as readers we also begin to see in the supermarkets as we fill our carts, in line at the bank, and at the edge of our fingertips as we work to make sense of war.
Monday, October 13, 2014
|Allen Braden's newest is a book not to be missed|
Sometimes it takes me awhile to fall in love with a book of poems. In fact, the poems that come to mean something to me, always take their time insinuating themselves into my life. Allen Braden's Elegy in the Passive Voice, University of Alaska Press, is filled with these "slow-burn" poems that are so artfully crafted, so plainspoken and honest, that they seem to emerge from rural life with an unstudied ease. Of course that's one mark of the master poet: to make the task look effortless. And yes, Braden is a master poet as evidenced here in "Hearsay."
So few are left that know your story
we’ve no choice but to dish out the details.
Some swear you spent your days alone or sweating
alongside hired hands at Regan’s sheep camp.
For proof they point out a pair of shears,
a hooded lantern from the Depression,
but around here everything’s slurred
by malt liquor and years of indifference.
I heard there was no funeral,
your ashes spread out over the snow
on the graves of those rumored as kin.
Hearsay is history in this town.
One neighbor claims you handed him a tobacco tin,
chock-full of crumpled twenties and fifties
for the daughters, only two days beforehand.
I heard your sheep auctioned off for cheap.
A winter so cold the eggs froze under your hens....
Who found you anyway, stiff as a brace post
and propped up by the pot-bellied stove?
More than a dozen take the credit.
Friday, October 10, 2014
|Poetry and Prose at C and P Coffee House This Wednesday|
A Journey to the Literary Outskirts: WordsWest
The reading that followed was structurally unexpected. Rich introduced the program as a “living anthology”-- a dynamic interplay between two featured writers, poet and young adult author, Karen Finneyfrock and memoirist, Elissa Washuta. Instead of one following the other in a pattern typical of most readings, they went back and forth, returning to the podium multiple times to share excerpts and poems from their respective bodies of work. The way the readings were intertwined formed a call and response that bolstered the individual narratives without feeling fragmented or forced. The result was an intimate melding of strong female voices. One audience member was particularly impressed by the night’s progression, explaining that it created a casual atmosphere for work that was otherwise “poignant, personal, and exposing.” Karen Finneyfrock is a published poet and the author of two young adult novels, The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door and Starbird Murphy and the World Outside. She graced us with a combination of poetry and fiction while her fellow presenter, Elissa Washuta, opted for personal narrative, reading exclusively from her recently released memoir, My Body is a Book of Rules.
Throughout the presentation, Finneyfrock and Washuta took turns populating the space with their stories. Collectively, they touched on themes of religion and history, womanhood and young love. I was particularly moved by Finneyfrock’s whimsical articulation of real and imagined settings. We travelled from a 1960’s rural commune to a summer camp art-barn on Whidbey Island. Finneyfrock also read a passage from her most recent novel, Starbird Murphy and the World Outside, capturing the woozy thrill of a first-kiss, and sending pinpricks of rapture through the caffeinated crowd. Washuta’s words contained a feminist bent. She spent her stage-time critically examining the gaps in her Catholic education. On behalf of biblical women, she reclaimed the twisted histories of patron saints and railed against the doctrine of sexual restraint spoon-fed by her childhood church. Like others in the audience, I was blown away by the wide range of written material and the unconventional way it was a pieced together. In reflecting on the presentation, Washuta herself said, “It truly felt not only flawless, but all its own, quite special, and necessary.”
WordsWest is the brainchild of three established writers: Katy Ellis, Susan Rich, and Harold Taw. All three are published authors with a desire to usher West Seattle into the downtown literary fold. Rich and Ellis met at a poetry reading at Elliot Bay Books this past July. After a ten-minute mind-meld during intermission they produced the idea for a new “writer-centric” series, one that supports its readers and the surrounding community in equal measure. As a fellow West Seattle writer and technology master, Taw was the perfect person to round out their curatorial trio. C and P Coffee Company, besides being a neighborhood mainstay, is by no means an accidental venue. Taw has been a loyal customer at C&P for many years. It is the conceptual breeding grounds for his first book and the place where he and Susan first met eight years ago. A self-proclaimed point of convergence for artists, musicians and performers alike, the café seemed a symbolic choice.
So why all the hype about WordsWest? Not only is this the first series of its kind based out of West Seattle but its emphasis on bridging cultural gaps through literary engagement is also highly unique. The project attempts to bring world-class writers to a relatively underserved faction of greater Seattle. The series’ primary goal, as Katy Ellis explains it, is to get “poetry, fiction and nonfiction into the hands, hearts and minds of the community.” To further satisfy this mission, WordsWest came up with the Favorite Poem Project. Each event includes a reading by a local business owner, offering a chance for them to engage with potential customers using poetry as a point of connection. This month’s guest presenter was Emma Epps from Pegasus Book Exchange; a family-owned bookstore located down the street from C and P Coffee Company. In addition to community outreach, WordsWest seeks to support its readers in financially tangible ways, offering tools for self-promotion and professional success. On top of a live presentation, audience members can look forward to on-site book sales and signings, as well as an archive of accompanying podcasts available through the WordsWest website: http://wordswestliterary.weebly.com/past-events. This provides presenters like Finneyfrock and Washuta the opportunity to reach more people with multiple platforms for public exposure.
The line up of events in the coming months is no less enticing. Next Wednesday brings Rick Barot, poetry editor for the New England Review and author of three books of poetry including The Darker Fall, Want, and Chord (still in the works for 2015). Accompanying him is Palestinian American writer Lena Khalaf Tuffaha, whose poem “Running Orders” went viral this year and received widespread attention for its highly personal glimpse of the conflict in Gaza. Later this fall on November 15th in time for the holidays Kate Lebo, poet and pie connoisseur shares the stage with food writer Molly Wizenburg. The pair is sure to offer some mouth-watering prose. Winter and spring promise an ever-changing roster of writers of all genres, including an appearance by Washington State Poet Laureate, Elizabeth Austen, Francis McCue, and Erica Bauermeister, among others. As I left the coffee house that night, favorite passages still sifting through my mind, I couldn’t help but feel exceptionally lucky. Being a fledgling writer, it helps to know that projects like WordsWest exist and can thrive with enough positive attention. Seattle writers would do well check out this new literary series that ultimately, supports us all.
Lilly Wasserman is a poet, writer, and freelance journalist. To find more of Lilly's work check out The Far Field sponsored by Humanities Washington.
Thursday, October 9, 2014
|A present for you? For a friend?|
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
I just found out that I am on The Next Best Book Blog until midnight tomorrow night -- that's not a long time to find a group of people interested in a free copy of Cloud Pharmacy. Of course, it doesn't take long to click over on The Next Best Book Blog and give one sentence on whether you would prefer a hard copy (US only) or an e-book (international). Then you get a month to read the book and then ask a few questions of me. I hope you'll consider it!
Point two in the shameless self-promotion blog post -- I promise no more until at least 2015 -- is the short movie of a reading I did on Friday. The event was for the Southwest Historical Society which runs the Log House Museum in my neighborhood. The reading series is run by dedicated volunteers and raises money for the Historical Society. Here's 10+ minutes that includes a Q & A on why I write poetry. Funny what one says when put on the spot. Here is the Vimeo Video.
Thursday, October 2, 2014
|Frieda Kahlo: a lucky artist time has not forgotten|
What is creative research? This topic takes a little explaining. For my last two books Cloud Pharmacy and The Alchemist's Kitchen, I wrote poems based on the art work and the lives of two obscure women photographers: Myra Albert Wiggins and Hannah Maynard. This was a great surprise, at least to me. My experience with photography and historical sources was "elementary" to put it nicely.
|Hannah Maynard, trick photograph, multiple exposure, c. 1893 Courtesy of the Royal British Columbian Museum|
As a poet who has been writing and publishing for something like 20 years (how did that happen?) I am rather tired of my own life --- even though it has been lived on three continents and in several professions --- I'm much more interested in the not me. And in this way, conducting creative research on women artists makes complete sense.
Five poems based on Maynard's photographs are in the recent issue of Common-Place. There's also an accompanying essay on writing this sequence of poems. Common-Place is an on-line journal that describes itself this way:
Common-place is a common place for exploring and exchanging ideas about early American history and culture. A bit friendlier than a scholarly journal, a bit more scholarly than a popular magazine, Common-place speaks--and listens--to scholars, museum curators, teachers, hobbyists, and just about anyone interested in American history before 1900.
Here are a few things I've learned along the way about conducting historical research for poems:
1. Women artists need us. There are many women artists that produced incredible bodies of work; yet today they are almost completely forgotten. Even more surprisingly, the work reads as radical even in 2014. Lenora Carrington, Baroness Elsa, and Hannah Maynard to name a few.
2. History and poetry share certain elements. Like poetry, history needs to be concise. It leaves out more than it says. For both the poet and the historian, questions are what compel us.
3. Learning about photography, or oil painting or sculpture, or old cars --- it all leads into new language. The language of photography deals with light and time. Sounds like poetry to me: shadows, reflection, aperture, lens. And so much more.
4. You can make things up. Yes, I know historians will squirm as I say this but as poets we go beyond dates and verifiable facts. Someone recently wrote to me and said she had lost a daughter in the last year. The Hannah Maynard poems spoke to her. This is the kind of truth that matters to me far more than a verifiable time line of events.
5. Best not to read too much before you start writing. See above. I'm happiest when I know just a few facts and can write into the open spaces. Mark Doty says ekphrastic poetry comes out of our own longings. The visual image is an anchor for our own interior lives.
6. Go slowly. With each of my ekphrastic projects I took a few years before I could write the poems that made it into the books. Writing from historical images and documents is challenging.
7. Yes, you get to time travel. As a child I loved all books by Edward Eager and Edith Nesbit. Books that allowed you to walk through a garden or rub a small coin and be transported. Studying women artists has done this for me. I now feel that the late 19th century with the advent of train travel and the telegraph was similar to the times we live in.
8. Be open to different ways of writing. This was crucial for my work on Hannah Maynard. I needed a syntax and attitude different than what I had had available before this project.
9. Writing a sequence is different than writing a single poem. Forgive me for stating the obvious. This means that using epigraphs will help in bringing readers if you want to publish these poems individually. Remember the reader does not know all that resides inside your head.
10. Persona poems, ekphrastic poems, list poems: all of these forms and many others lend themselves to historical work. In other words, you get to recreate an entire world. And then enter it.
Monday, September 29, 2014
|Poet, Editor, and Co-founder of TLR|
Kelly Davio is the Poetry Editor and Co-Founder of Tahoma Literary Review. She is the author of the poetry collection Burn This House (Red Hen Press, 2013). Her work has appeared in Best New Poets, Verse Daily, The Rumpus, and others. She earned her MFA in poetry from Northwest Institute of Literary Arts, and teaches English as a Second Language in the Seattle area.
1. What was your impetus for beginning TLR — is there an inception story?
My cofounder, Joe Ponepinto, and I worked together for some years on another journal, I as managing editor and Joe as book reviews editor. When we both moved on from that project, we knew we wanted to continue to work together in some capacity, and we kicked around a number of ideas for what our next venture could be. We had no desire to simply add another literary journal to a world that's already teeming with magazines. Instead, we wanted to address what we see as a hole in the literary marketplace; when we took the time to really listen to writers' wants, we heard that people were looking for publications that pay writers, and for more fair and transparent editorial policies.
2. Now that the first issue has hit the net and the physical book shelves, what have you learned about this endeavor that surprised you?
But we've had some great surprises, too. We've been overwhelmed by the positive response writers and readers have had to our journal. The number of submissions we received for our first issue exceeded our expectations, and we've been equally surprised by the number of readers we've garnered for this issue. We so often hear that "nobody reads journals these days," but in the one month following the issue's release, about one thousand people have downloaded or ordered a copy of the journal. That tells us that, yes, there is a readership for great literary writing!
3. I love that you’ve set-up a structure that includes paper and on-line formats. What was your thinking on this?
4. The transparency with which you’ve set-up your journal is impressive. Has that caused problems with writer friends that you do no solicitations? How have you handled that?
5. I’m assuming TLR is a labor of love and the funds you receive go out to the writers. You are volunteering hours of your time that you could be writing or sleeping or hanging out with a friend. What motivates you to do this work?
TLR is definitely a labor of love. We hope that one day, each of our editors will receive some a monetary compensation, but for now, we're happy to put the publishers' share of TLR's earnings right back into payment for writers. Even though we are a journal that is dedicated to paying our writers--not because we're setting a monetary value on art, but because we believe art should be valued in our culture--Joe, Yi Shun and I don't do this for the money. We simply love good writing, and we love writers. We want to showcase great work from a genuinely diverse range of writers, and we want to help artists to grow their careers. Making connections with writers and helping their work find an audience is tremendously rewarding, and we hope to be doing this work for years to come.