I think it’s safe to say now–Louisiana Literature Press has agreed to do a book of my poems in 2010. The collection is currently titled A Witness In Exile, though that is certainly subject to change.
My much anticipated copy of Relief should be on the way sometime soon. As I’ve mentioned before, this publication means a lot to me in large part because it’s the first time Amy and I will be published in the same journal at the same time. But it’s also a pretty big deal to me because of the size of the poem they took. It was ten sections long, which translated into 7 pages in the galleys they sent me. (Beautiful, by the way. Molto bene!)
That’s a lot of space for any journal to give to one poet, unless you’re the Missouri Review, and that’s just what you do. As I understand it, this is not standard procedure for Relief, and it means a lot to me that they were willing to accept the poem without asking me to cut any of the sections. That they made it the Editor’s Choice for poetry was just icing on the cake.
I’ll have some bigger publication news in the near future.
Back in the fall of 2004, as the Kerry-Bush campaign wound down, Stephen Elliott asked me if I would open for him as a reader at the Stanford bookstore. He was promoting his new book at the time, Looking Forward To It. I had no idea that the C-SPAN cameras would be there until the night before, when I accidentally ran into some friends having dinner in San Francisco and they let it slip.
Anyway, the appearance went off without a hitch, and I bought a copy of the DVD from C-SPAN–those are expensive, by the way–and for four years didn’t have a way to rip it and put the video online. Until last night, when Amy did it for me.
By way of excusing these poems, I can say that only one is published, and only two remain in my manuscript, the unpublished one having undergone some serious changes in the intervening years. Ah, the pain of looking at old work.
Gabrielle Calvocoressi’s first book is marvelous–I just want to get that out of the way right at the beginning. That she is a friend of mine has nothing to do with it. It would be a terrific book even if it were written by my arch-nemesis, whoever that happens to be.
From the very first poem, “Pastoral,” Calvocoressi lets the reader know that she’s going to blur the lines between storytelling and poetry, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first word of the poem is “We.” Calvocoressi not only invites her readers to join her in this world, she demands our attention, and envelops us in language. With the closing line of this prose poem, “We have never wanted anything but this,” she tells us that even though the world she describes is filled with ugliness, it’s still the world we want, that there is something worth having in it.
Much of her book is taken up by 4 long poems–the title poem, a sonnet sequence titled “Circus Fire, 1944,” “From the Adult Drive-In,” and “The Death of Towns.” The first two deal with historical events–the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, and the Hartford Circus Fire, one of the worst fire disasters of the 20th century, and they’re structured in similar ways–each section is a narrative from a different individual’s point of view, and the individuals have varying distances from the subject matter.
For instance, in “The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart,” poems are written in the voices of “Clem Sanders, bystander” and “Diane McGinty, St. Mary’s Home for Wayward Girls,” as well as “David Putnam, stepson” and “George Putnam, husband.” The result is a picture of not only Amelia Earhart the individual, but of the public figure. We see her through the eyes of the starstruck, in the hopes and dreams of young women who saw her achievements as a metaphor for their own situations, as well as those who saw her as a false hope. From “Joel Sullivan, miner.”
Amelia Earhart is a dream
my daughter won’t give up.
Sometimes I want to shake her,
tell her what small towns are,
how the coal dust coats your skin
till darkness never leaves you
Small town life is a large part of the metaphor of this book, but the poems rarely slip into the tradition hinted at by the first poem’s title, “Pastoral.” These towns are touched by tragedy, by powers beyond the control of everyday people, whether it’s the circus fire or the disappearance of a celebrity or the birth defects caused by the pollution of a local factory in “The Death of Towns.”
You never saw one alive.
They just littered the shore,
fist-sized, finless, no real shape.
You’d wonder how they lived so long,
got so big. Some didn’t have eyes
and others wore their organs
on the outside, bee-sized heart
peeking through and once a tongue
like a lick of hair. They were still
there after they shut the bell-works down,
after the waters started to clear.
There’s great pain in this book, wrapped in lovely formal verse, and the juxtaposition of the two is sometimes difficult to bear. But it’s worth the effort.
A little redesign, a little movement, a little redirecting of the blog to where it now comes up on my own domain name, which was going largely unused and sitting dormant, and here we are. Note to blogger–if you can get it so we can publish via ftp using the new xml layouts, that would be incredibly awesome. The only drawback to this move was that I had to go back to a classic template, and there’s not a lot to choose from out there, classically-speaking.
And I am re-devoting myself to writing about poetry, so this will be updated more regularly in the coming months. I get so wrapped up in politics and pop culture over at Incertus that I tend to let this go sometimes, but I’ve been reading a lot of poetry–some I’ve enjoyed and some not so much–and I plan to express that on here a bit more in the future.
Plus, I have a new long poem coming out soon–in the next issue of Relief–and what’s more, it will be the first time Amy and I will be featured in the same issue of the same journal. We’re both excited about that.
And special thanks to Ron Silliman for linking to my post about Poem of a Life. I’ve never had so much traffic here.