Lost & Found Kicks Off National Poetry Month at LSSU

Happy National Poetry Month!

I’m super proud of my intermediate creative writing class and the project we just finished, which culminated in a show in the Kenneth J. Shouldice Library Art Gallery at Lake Superior State University. While I was at Vermont Studio Center over winter break, I collaborated with collage artist Jay Phillips, whose process reminded me of erasure. The process of finding poems in the pages of his art criticism magazines was super satisfying. There is a forbidden sort of pleasure in taking a permanent marker to a published text, and erasure requires an intense form of concentration, like solving a difficult puzzle or playing Tetris.

After I came home, I found myself wanting to experiment more with the visual elements of erasure. How could visual elements enhance or complicate the found poem’s message? Since I was teaching an intermediate creative writing course intended to encourage student experimentation, I thought we could experiment with visual erasures as a class project.

Before the semester began, I researched erasure poems with visual elements to find some inspiring examples to show my students. It seems Doris Cross may have created the first visual erasure poem when she painted over the pages of a dictionary in 1965, or Tom Phillips, when he began to treat the Victorian novel, A Human Document, with painting and collage in 1966. Whatever its origin, the form has been quite popular lately, with examples appearing in recent issues of Poetry and Thrush and Diagram. One of my favorite recent examples is Poet Niina Pollari’s erasure of immigration Form N-400 last year.

My class and I began the semester by closely reading a number of erasure poems with visual elements together, including Sarah J. Sloat’s startling Misery poems in Thrush and Diagram and Sonja Johanson’s gorgeously textured poems in Menacing Hedgewhich use bamboo segments and florets to cover text instead of erasing it. We watched and discussed Mary Ruefle’s inspiring craft talk on erasure from the Tenth Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival, trying to put our fingers on what makes a good erasure poem compelling. Then we spent a whole class day making erasures using old reference books scheduled to be destroyed by the university library and copies of pages from classic and popular novels. At the end of the class, we shared our first attempts and discussed the obstacles we encountered during our first experiments with the form.

After that, everyone went out and chose a source text, from which we made copies of pages that we proceeded to plan erasures in. We learned to run copies first, to search for words and circle in pencil with a practice draft, so that first-draft mistakes wouldn’t be fatal. Once we had each found a draft poem, we set out to find the appropriate visual elements to enhance or complicate its message. What has stunned me about this project is how different each of the students’ pieces are! There is an erasure buried under soil; an illuminated erasure of a page from A Room of One’s Own; an erasure of an Edgar Allan Poe story juxtaposed with an image from a Wonder Woman comic; an erasure of a hymnal; an erasure from a book of quotes and covered with bloody-looking handprints; an erasure found in Hamlet; erasures found in novels by Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Arthur C. Clarke, and J. K. Rowling. I got to participate in the project as well, collaging a page from a guidebook for medieval anchoresses into an illuminated astronomy manuscript…

Once everyone had drafts, we used Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process to develop the pieces and our own understanding of our aesthetics. What did each of us expect from this sort of poem? How did our expectations differ? Liz Lerman’s process was magical as usual. Most of the pieces went through three or more drastically different drafts. Students listened carefully to one another’s feedback, then experimented with visuals, compression, titles, erasing words and adding them back in, and the results were marvelous!

The culminating show at the library gallery, which my students aptly named LOST & FOUND, kicked off National Poetry Month at Lake Superior State University. I’m so thankful to everyone who came out to support the students and the Creative Writing Program. I’m also grateful to my Dean for her support, and everyone who helped with setup and publicity, from the university librarians to Don Bentley at The Art Store who is scary good with an X-Acto knife!

 

New Poem in Gulf Coast

My poem, “Louisiana Disaster Recovery 3.0,” appears in the latest issue of Gulf Coast. I’m so grateful that it found a home in a journal so close to my hometown because it’s about the floods my family and friends suffered in the greater Baton Rouge area last fall. The poem is written as a Venn diagram in two voices: Voice 1 is focused on recovery from the floods, and Voice 2 has no energy left after all the disasters that have hit the area in recent decades. This structure was inspired by “Employment Relations 4.0,” an innovative poem by Brian Bilston, which I used as a writing prompt in my introductory creative writing class last fall. (I actually wrote a first draft of the poem in class; one of the perks of my job is that I get to do all of my writing prompts alongside my students.)

My class and I were working, that semester, on responding to a call for poetry for a multimedia dance/art/creative writing concert organized by Joshua Legg at my university last fall. The concert was called “Re/Action,” and Joshua had chosen coping with tragedy as its overarching theme: how communities create stories about ourselves to cope with tragedy, successfully or unsuccessfully. The floods had just happened right before he told me about the prompt, and every time I tried to respond to it, I kept thinking about them.

The frequent hurricanes and floods are part of the reason my spouse and I chose to leave south Louisiana. It’s so difficult to build something, when the weather continuously undoes all your hard work. My mother-in-law’s home in Vermilion Parish was devastated by Hurricane Rita in 2005, and they had to use FEMA money to raise their house up on concrete stilts. Most of the other houses on the Ramke family land have been destroyed by the constant floods. Here are some pictures from our most recent visit to the land that my daughter will inherit when she grows up–that is, if it’s still around.

You can order a copy of the Gulf Coast issue here.

SFPA Speculative Poetry Contest Opens Today!

I’m chairing the SFPA’s poetry contest, this year, and it opens today! First, second, and third place prizes will go to the best speculative poems in each of three length categories. All forms and styles of speculative poetry are accepted. You can read more about the contest rules on the official contest website. This year’s judge is the brilliant Nikia Chaney.

Nikia Chaney has won awards from Cave Canem, Poets and Writers, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women Writers, and more. Her work has appeared widely in venues like Iowa Review, Portland Review, New York Quarterly, and elsewhere. I was blown away by her poem, “hummingbird,” which was recently made into a musical score and film by MOTIONPOEMS. I highly recommend watching the film and reading the poem on her website!

Chaney is a founding editor of shufpoetry and Jamii Publishing, and the fourth Literary Laureate for the Inlandia Literary Arts InstituteA recent Science Fiction Poetry panelist at LOSCON, Chaney has some fascinating ideas about the intersections between experimental poetry and speculative poetry. Read more on my post kicking off the contest on the SFPA blog.

 

Two Poems in Cimarron Review

I received my contributors’ copies of Cimarron Review in this afternoon’s mail. It’s an honor to have two poems from the full-length poetry manuscript I’m working on appear alongside work by Karen Skolfield, Sidney Wade, and Edmund White.  Highlights for me, in addition to work by the above-mentioned poets, included Katherine Kaufman’s prose poem, “The Foxes,” and Miriam Cohen’s wonderfully sardonic short story, “Wife.” You can order copies here.

    

 

Wolf Skin at Baltimore Composers Forum

My prose poem, “Wolf Skin,” had its musical debut this week at the Baltimore Composers Forum concert with the original score by composer Elizabeth Skola Davis.  Watch the video below to see the performance by Joseph Regan, tenor, and Tim McReynolds, piano!

The lyrics originally appeared as a prose poem in the Los Angeles Review and as the title poem in my chapbook.

Frostburg, Jackalope-Girl, and Rose Red Review

I’ve been remiss in not writing about my wonderful experience at Frostburg Indie Lit Festival in October, where I was invited to be part of a panel on Fairy Tales Reimagined by Sarah Ann Winn. I stayed with a fabulous group of writers at a beautiful cabin in the mountains outside town, where the view on my morning runs actually looked like this:

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At the festival, I went to wonderful panels and readings, met people in person whom I’d only known online before, and sold some copies of Wolf Skin at the book fair! The panel itself was so much fun, because identifying the traits that make fairy tale retellings successful–both in poetry and in fiction–has been an obsession of mine for years! It was wonderful to be able to talk about that with other writers and readers of the genre, and to get to hear fellow panelists Stacey Balkun, Sally Rosen Kindred, and Sarah Ann Winn read from their books. Bonus: I got to read snippets from Anne Sexton’s Transformations and gush about Donald Barthelme’s Snow White!

One of the chapbooks I bought at the book fair was Stacey Balkun’s Jackalope Girl Learns to Speak (Dancing Girl Press, 2016), from which she read at the panel. This was the first chapbook I chose to read from the mighty haul of books I bought (there was so much goodness!); I literally read it cover to cover at the I-Hop outside Frostburg on the drive home. Jackalope-Girl is a startling, fabulist collection full of wonderfully surreal imagery; I hadn’t read anything like it before. In the first poem Balkun imagines the title character born into a suburban family during an ice storm: “It was unusual/the cold front, the leporid wind scream./Nurses worried in the maternity ward…” She continues:

If the patients looked up, they would have seen
the last photographs of the new-dead flicker

across the screen with captions like tragic…
while frightened deer stilled in yards, antlers branching

toward the grayed sky. Gas stations and their 24/7 signs
stood, for the first time, un-glowing and nobody knew

to blame the jackalope-girl, newborn and hungry,
ears still unfurling, nesting in a stranger’s arms. (“Myth”)

The rest of the collection explores what follows from this premise in all its strangeness. Balkun spins a wonder-tale about Jackalope-Girl with poems that tell of her lost birth-sisters, how she learns to speak, her first time, her first tattoo. But the real wonder of the collection is the extended metaphor Balkun builds, simultaneously, about alienation, adoption, and those who feel like transplants in their own families. I highly recommend picking it up (here’s a link).

Immediately after I got back from Maryland, two of the poems from the full-length collection I’m working on were featured in the autumn issue of Rose Red Review. In the Dining Hall of the Glass Mountain” is a retelling of the Seven Ravens tale; “Bones Knock in the House” is a villanelle exploring the latent content in Hansel and Gretel. Also recommended in this issue is Sarah Ann Winn’s poem, “Witness” and John W. Sexton’s poem, “All the Way Down.” Thanks to editor Larissa Nash for all the hard work she did putting this wonderful issue together!

The Gossamer Pleasures of Faerie Magazine

Last summer, I started editing poetry for Faerie Magazine, the lush quarterly edited by Carolyn Turgeon, which was just profiled in the Style section of the New York Times. If you haven’t heard about Faerie yet, you should check out this article, which examines the magazine’s “gossamer pleasures” and calls it “wonderfully curious and deeply weird.”

I have to say, it’s been a delight to read all of the poetry submissions we’ve received these past few months, and to connect with other fabulist, fairy tale, and science poets. This autumn, we were excited to feature two gorgeous fairy tale poems by Sally Rosen Kindred.

The Winter 2015 Issue
The Winter 2015 Issue

The winter issue, out soon, will feature two seasonal science poems by naturalist and poet Elizabeth Bradfield, alongside an interview in which she explores the connections between her poetry and her work as a naturalist. Also featured: an interview with Isabel Allende!

Interested in learning more about FaerieCheck out our submissions guidelines here, subscribe here, or look for the magazine in the lifestyle section at Barnes and Noble. You can also sign up for our free weekly newsletter in the top left corner of this page.

Wolf Skin Wins 2015 Elgin Chapbook Award

Cover design by Alisha Camus
Cover design by Alisha Camus

I received news yesterday that my debut poetry chapbook, Wolf Skin, won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s 2015 Elgin Chapbook Award! The award honors the best speculative poetry chapbook published in 2013-2014. I was honored to be nominated, and I’m just plain thrilled to win! I’ve been writing speculative poetry since I was a kid, and I’m amazed to have my work recognized by this wonderful organization whose grandmasters include luminaries like Ray Bradbury, Jane Yolen, and Bruce Boston. Read more about the chapbook here, and order a copy here.

Two Poems in Phantom Drift

I was excited to find the latest issue of Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism in the mail today. This issue includes two of my poems, “Instructions for Letting the Stranger into Your Bed” and “Ahab’s Sister-Wives,” along with poems by Ki Russell and Gregg Murray, a story by Stephen Langlois, and more! Phantom Drift is always delightfully weird, and this issue’s theme is “navigating the slipstream.” I’m sitting down with my coffee to read it cover to cover now! Order a copy here.

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Two Poems in Ninth Letter

The latest issue of Ninth Letter features two of my poems, “The Sleagh Maith: A Nocturne,” part of my series on folklorist Robert Kirk, and “Open Letter to the Frog Princess,” a poem retelling the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, The Frog King or Iron Heinrich, popularly known as The Princess and the Frog. Also in the issue is new writing by Dawn S. Davies, Ander Monson, Terrance Manning Jr., and more, not to mention some pretty wild visuals, as usual. I love this journal!

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New Review: The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey

My review of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s haunting new poetry collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, is up at The Rumpus:

Jeannine Hall Gailey’s fourth poetry collection, The Robot Scientist’s Daughter, reanimates the haunting world of 1970s Oak Ridge Valley, Tennessee, where residents lived in the shadow of both the Smoky Mountains and a government nuclear research facility once known as “America’s Secret City.” In an author’s note, Gailey describes her childhood as the daughter of a robotics professor who consulted at the classified Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) and introduces the fictional Robot Scientist’s Daughter of her collection, who she calls “fantastic” but admits shares many of her traits. The poems that make up this collection move in a controlled way between fact and fiction, autobiography and fantasy, giving readers glimpses into the secret world surrounding ORNL in which Gailey grew up, at the same time as they tell the story of a fictional Robot Scientist’s Daughter who was transformed by that world into something other, something monstrous.

READ MORE…

Two poems and review essay on Wolf Skin in Chattahoochee Review

My poems, “The Day the Woman Shed Her Skin” and “The Frog King,” are featured in the Fall/Winter 2014 (34.2-3) issue of The Chattahoochee Review, alongside a review essay by contributing editor Gregg Murray on “Confessionalism and High Modernism in Recent Work by Sampson Starkweather, Mary McMyne, and Okla Elliot.” Here’s an excerpt:

McMyne’s elegant lyricism elevates the verse, giving the fairy tales a weird significance that the many epigraphs in the chapbook (translated, typically from the original German) lack… Her details, such as the Latin name of a plant or butterfly, are authenticating, an important feature of fantastical genres. Such details allow the reader to suspend disbelief and trust the world of the text.

I’m honored to see Wolf Skin get such attention and to see my work included in this issue. One of the highlights for me was “Nathan,” a wonderfully bizarre story by David James Poissant, which reminded me of one of my favorite shorts by Donald Barthelme.

“Snow White and Rose Red” series in Faerie Magazine

I’m delighted to have five poems featured in the winter 2014 issue of Faerie Magazine alongside fairytale photography by Margarita Kareva, fiction by Kate Bernheimer and Alice Hoffman, an essay by Signe Pike, and more. My poems take another look at the “Snow White and Rose Red” tale as collected by the Brothers Grimm. Look for Faerie in your local Barnes and Noble, or subscribe online today.

From the winter 2014 issue of Faerie
A sneak peek at the spread
SongOfTheBeast
“Song of the Beast”

Reading Oct. 9 at Bayliss in Sault Sainte Marie

I’ll be the featured poet at this week’s Superior Poetry Cafe, tomorrow, Thursday, October 9, 2014, at 7 pm at Bayliss in the Sault. Wolf Skin will be available for sale and signing. The open mic after the reading is always interesting! U.P. poetry folks and fairy tale aficionados, see you there.

New Review: On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

My review of Elizabeth Robinson’s haunting hybrid collection, On Ghosts, is now up at Verse:

Elizabeth Robinson’s fourteenth book, On Ghosts, is indeed a haunting collection. Elusive and difficult to characterize, the book contains poems as well as abstract essayistic passages, floating quotations, anecdotes, an e-mail, mathematical formulae, and descriptions of (absent) photographs. In her “Explanatory Note,” Robinson writes that the collection “is an essay on the phenomenon of ghosts and haunting,” and at first glance, this statement appears to be true.

READ MORE…