Friday, May 11, 2018

Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize

Gaudy Boy, a new independent press, is holding its inaugural Poetry Book Prize. The prize will be awarded annually for an unpublished manuscript of original poetry written in English by an author of Asian heritage residing anywhere in the world. No proof of Asian heritage will be required—they operate on the honor system. Below are details for the contest, as well a bit more about the press and the publisher.
PRIZE: Book publication and $1,000

DEADLINE: May 31, 2018

FEE: $10

ELIGIBILITY: Open to emerging and established poets of Asian heritage residing anywhere. No proof of Asian heritage is required. Manuscripts should be written in English and be between 50–100 pages.

HOW TO SUBMIT: Email Jee Leong Koh at jkoh@singaporeunbound.org. Include a cover letter in the body of your email, as well as the poet's name, mail address, and email address. Attach manuscript in PDF or Microsoft Word format.

JUDGE: Wong May

ADDITIONAL GUIDELINES

  • Number the manuscript pages.
  • Include a title page, table of contents, and an acknowledgments page for any previously published poems.
  • The poet's name, mailing address, and email address should not appear anywhere in the manuscript. 
  • Submit the $10 entry fee via PayPal to Jee Leong Koh (jkoh@singaporeunbound.org). Manuscripts will not be considered until the entry fee is received.
  • Multiple manuscripts may be submitted and require a separate entry fee for each manuscript. 
  • Simultaneous submissions are allowed. Notify Gaudy Boy immediately if the manuscript is accepted by another publisher.

For more information about the book prize, visit the Gaudy Boy Poetry Prize section on the Opportunities page of their website.

ABOUT THE PRESS AND PUBLISHER

Gaudy Boy is a new independent literary press based in New York City that publishes writers of Asian heritage residing anywhere in the world. Their name is taken from the poem “Gaudy Turnout” by Singaporean author Arthur Yap, about his time abroad in 1970's Leeds, UK. The name is also from Latin gaudium meaning joy.

One mission of the press is to bring literary works by authors of Asian heritage to the attention of the American audience. Last month, the press published its inaugural title Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa'at. Malay Sketches is a short-story collection that opens a prismatic window into the doubly-minoritized Malay-Muslim community in Singapore. Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the book has been called "pitch-perfect" by Harold Augenbraum and "terse and profound" by Gina Apostol.

Gaudy Boy is part of the nonprofit literary organization Singapore Unbound. Launched in 2016, Singapore Unbound organizes the biennial Singapore Literature Festival in NYC, the monthly Second Saturday Reading Series, and offers other literary opportunities, including fellowships for writers and book reviews on their blog.

Jee Leong Koh is the founder and organizer of Singapore Unbound, as well as the publisher at Gaudy Boy. Koh is a Singapore poet and essayist living in New York City. He is the author of Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times and a Finalist by Lambda Literary in 2016. He has published three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. His work has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Latvian. Educated at Oxford University and Sarah Lawrence College, Jee teaches English at a private school in Manhattan. You can read more about him in an interview he did with Jennifer Wong at The Adoit Journal.

One of the reasons Koh started Singapore Unbound was to build a cultural and literary exchange between Singapore and the US while championing freedom of expression and fair opportunities for all artists. A natural extension of that mission is the establishment of a US-based, independent press that publishes Asian voices from anywhere in the world. The team at Gaudy Boy consider diversity and representation to be crucial in the world's literature and are delighted to be able to contribute to the conversation.

Gaudy Boy plans to eventually publish poetry books other than the contest winner. In addition, they run a poetry contest for individual poems to be published on their blog. The contest awards $100, $50, and $20 for first, second, and third place. There is no entry fee. The individual-poem contest is called the Singapore Poetry Contest and, interestingly, is open to everyone who is NOT a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident in Singapore. For the Singapore Poetry Contest, Gaudy Boy is looking for poems that include the word “Singapore” (or its variants) in some creative manner. They prefer that the poems NOT be about Singapore, but instead, use the word “Singapore” in a way significant to the poems’ own subject and method. The deadline for that contest June 15, 2018. For more submission guidelines and more information on the Singapore Poetry Contest, visit the Singapore Poetry Contest section on the Opportunities page of their website.

LINKS

Gaudy Boy
Website
Facebook

Singapore Unbound
Website   
Facebook

Jee Leong Koh
Website   

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Chapbook Chat: mcmxciv by Nate Logan and JJ Rowan


For this edition of Chapbook Chat, in addition to an interview with the poets, I'm delighted to offer a micro-review of mcmxciv.

—Nancy Chen Long


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mcmxciv
by Nate Logan and JJ Rowan
Shirt Pocket Press, 2018



xxi.

i’m having numeral anxiety to
which the internet is a bad
bandaid. the administration
claims i is in my toolbag but
they could just as easily buy
that info from aol. seven times
i’ve been a healthy scratch.
here’s something taped on
my skin to simulate healthcare.
here’s a good example of a
bad example. there’s where i
kicked the asphalt to tell you
my bucket list had a hole
in the bottom the size of a zero

“xxi,” © Nate Logan and JJ Rowan mcmxciv (Shirt Pocket Press, 2018)


mcmxciv is a collaborative chapbook of contemporary sonnets by Nate Logan and JJ Rowan. If the sonnet form is a box as some say, the sonnets in mcmxciv demonstrate that it’s a flexible one: The poems in Logan and Rowan’s sequence make use of the basic fourteen-line structure of the sonnet and most poems can be said to have a volta. However, the poets also freely play with meter and there is no standardized rhyme scheme. Most, but not all, follow sentence syntax and punctuation. Indeed, on the page, the sonnets in mcmxiv resemble a box—each poem is a single block of fourteen lines without any stanza breaks and all of the poems are in lower case.

As one who has a keen interest in math and numbers, I was delighted to find that numbers / numbering is prominently featured in mcmxiv. The title of the chapbook itself is a number, the Roman-numeral equivalent of 1994. [Aside: And some of the poems feel as if they take place in the year 1994, with the mention of AOL and answering machines. The first poem puts us there as well, “standing in line / at a ferris wheel in 1994.”] Returning to numbers: The titles of the poems are also Roman numerals, although they are not in numerical order and there are gaps in the numbers. For example, the collection begins with “x”, but there are no poems “i”  – “viii”. In some poems, numbers are directly named, such as the mention of the year in the first poem. In addition to actual numbers, things and activities related to numbers make their way into the poems, for example “try counting / to learn about failure. try numbering pages / to learn about sex” from the poem “xv.”

My favorite use of numbers is in the last two lines of the last poem “xxiii,” which begins with “entered your figure in the search / bar” and proceeds through various things that had been entered, which in itself is interesting, since, as the last poem, it is exiting. As the poem iterates through the various ways of entering, an error occurs (“invalid. error. error. entered / a column as a row. claimed entry.”) The last two lines of the poem come after that declaration of an error and consist of a series of binary numbers that translate into (computer) ASCII codes that in turn translate into letters that spell the word french. For me, ‘french’ here takes on multiple meanings. It suggests that the one and zeroes might as well be another language. Secondly, if the last two lines are the speaker replying to the computer in its native machine language, then the last two lines suggest that the speaker is swearing at computer, as in “pardon my French.” Or the last two lines could simply be a memory dump by the computer that gives the illusion of making sense by spelling a random, potentially human-recogizable word.

In mcmxciv, the authors create a world that hints at  hyperreality and technoculture, a world in which simulation and reality blur, but one that is at the same time intimate and personal. The theme of simulation and stand-ins can be seen in the first poem, “x.” There’s a building used for an activity that becomes a stand-in for the actual human activity (“the hockey rink that doubles as actual hockey”), a person-as-icon-or-cursor on a computer screen (“see you blinking on the page”), a phone call that does not occur, but if it had, the speaker knows s/he would not have been speaking to a person, but to a machine instead (“another hour / almost call to your answering machine.”) References to technology are peppered throughout these sonnets. For example, in addition to “internet,” “aol,” “answering machine,” “cell service,” and “search bar” already mentioned, in “xli,” the speaker demonstrates “bravery by tearing a pixel / wishbone from the night sky.” That simulated experience and technology pushes against the personal and conjures an impersonal, almost lonely space. Then we have those many numbers and acts of numbering and calculating that introduce even more distance to the personal. Amid this swirl of numbers and technology, the speaker says “i saw you across the / room / disembodied.” And I do experience the speaker as disembodied, existing in a seeming virtual, simulated world. However, even in the face of all of these numbers and all of this technology, the voice in the poems is intimate. The poems are like monologues or notes to a friend or lover, of a person sharing private thoughts, for example “unless you’re a fuck-up like me” (“xlviii”), “it’s june but i’m tired / of being brave” (“xxii”), “i try not to want or be” (“xxxvii.”)

In “To Sonnet, to Son-net, Tuscon Net,” Sina Queyras writes “It’s a challenge to make [the sonnet] lively, to not feel you’ve handed yourself over and let its history have its way with you: are you writing the sonnet, or is the sonnet writing you?” In mcmxciv, Logan and Rowan have not handed themselves over—they have made the form their own. Their sonnet sequence creates a fluid, asynchronous, stream-of-consciousness world that uses structure sparingly. Rigidly following form, syntax, and capitalization, as well as the use of numbers, are all ways of imposing structure and order. Logan and Rowan’s choices in applying the sonnet form, coupled with the lack of punctuation, the way they use fragmentation and numbers, all work towards releasing the need to be in total control, instead embracing fluidity and spontaneity, an appreciation for surprise. In this chapbook of fourteen fourteen-lined poems, Logan and Rowan create an intimate world through the voice of a disembodied speaker, a sense of logic and wholeness rooted in the unexpected. In one slender sequence, they share with us a world where you can feel the air “falling tenderly against / technology’s faux-romantic whir.”

*          *          *

Nate Logan was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. He's the author of Inside the Golden Days of Missing You (Magic Helicopter Press, Fall 2018). He's editor and publisher of Spooky Girlfriend Press.

JJ Rowan is a poet and dancer living in Southern Oregon. Her previous chapbooks include so-called weather (Locofo Chaps, 2017) and the selected jesus (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015). Her VisPo recently appeared in Dream Pop Journal #2.




An Interview with Nate Logan and JJ Rowan



Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook mcmxciv.

Nate: mcmxciv (1994) is a collaborative chapbook of sonnets written over a distance of 2,000 miles. 

JJ: *Over* 2,000 miles! ;) The fine folks at Shirt Pocket Press recently published it.



How did you decide on the title. The poems are numeric numbers as well, and out of order. Could you say a bit about the poems titles?

N: JJ chose the title. I remember she specifically asked me how to write “1994” in Roman numerals. As far as the poem titles, it wasn’t clever at all. We started our collaboration by giving Roman numeral titles to the poems in the order we wrote them.

J: I remember having a lot of very minor Roman numeral anxiety. I could never quite get them right and asked Nate to check them a lot of the time. I am pretty sure our book is from 1994.

N: Haha. This is true, but it’s also funny because once we were in the 20s, I looked up the Roman numeral equivalent for every poem I had to start. I definitely didn’t know off the top of my head.

J: And I was weirdly stubborn about figuring them out off the top of my head. 

N: I was more worried about how I was going to follow JJ’s great lines when it was my turn with whichever poem we were working on.



I struggle with sonnets and admire that your wrote a chapbook of them. Are sonnets a form you normally write? If so, what draws you to it? If not, what did you like about writing them? What did you find difficult? Some writers insist a sonnet must follow the rules for a known type of sonnet, e.g. Shakespearean, others say it’s a sonnet if the poet says it is. To you, what makes a sonnet a sonnet?

N: I wouldn’t say I normally write sonnets, but right now I do usually write shorter poems. I think we chose to write sonnets because it was easier to devise a scheme on how we would be writing them together, as opposed to another form or having no form at all. What was particularly challenging and fun was to follow JJ’s lines in a way that kept the poems together. These aren’t really my poems, or hers. This is a third voice somewhere between us. And as far as what makes a sonnet, I say 14 lines. The rest can be played with.

J: I absolutely struggle with sonnets. I write long messy things -- I feel like sonnets are the opposite of that. Nate, the form was your idea, right?

N: I think maybe I suggested it first, yeah.

J: It ended up being a great scaffolding for collaboration. The definition we were working with was 14 lines and we mostly stayed within a certain shape. I expected, actually, to have trouble with the form but I ended up really comfortable in it. For me, I think writing them with Nate was key -- I’m not sure I’d write sonnets on my own.



One way that I experience these poems is as call-and-response pieces. What was your writing process for these poems?

J: Nate got into this a bit in the last question -- every poem is from this place between the two of us, this third voice. I like that idea of call-and-response. I’d say every poem is the call and the response. It’s definitely a conversation of sorts.

N: Yes, these are definitely conversations. The nuts and bolts answer to this question is this: JJ - 4 lines, me - 4 lines, JJ - 4 lines, me - 2 lines, 4 lines of the next poem, and so on.

J: So we’d alternate who started and finished each sonnet, which was really the most control either of us had at any given time. And we were always taking cues from each other, and sometimes fucking with those cues, setting out on unexpected paths.



Writing can be such a solitary experience. In addition, for some writers, their personal artistic vision would not be able to tolerate the cooperation and mutual concessions that collaboration can require. How did the original idea for your collaboration come about? How did you find the experience rewarding? Difficult? 

N: I approached JJ originally and asked if she’d be interested in writing together. I wanted to do something to break me a little from that solitary experience. And it was rewarding exactly for that reason: JJ’s influence helped give me a booster shot I was looking for.

J: Well, I’m laughing at myself right now because I keep thinking collaboration was my idea. I love collaborating -- it’s not always easy (and not everyone is the right partner) but when it works it’s amazing. Nate suggested this when I’d been writing solo for a while and really needed it, too. It has been extremely rewarding for me. We’re very different writers on our own and I think it made the work more interesting. Sometimes I’d finish my lines with a clear idea of where the sonnet was going and then Nate would take it somewhere else. I loved that.

N: It could’ve been JJ’s idea! We can go back in the archive and see. I also think the excitement of not knowing where a sonnet was going kept me on my toes. Any “idea” I had was silly because I had no control, really.

J: I looked :) It was you! Good job!



What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates?

N: This is a really good question, Nancy, and even after some days of thinking about it, I’m not quite sure how to answer.

J: For me, this question feels more personal coming from a collaborative space than it would if I was writing alone, I think. In the last question you mentioned writing as “a solitary experience” -- and I don’t think that idea necessarily goes away in collaboration. I feel like a world this chapbook creates (maybe there is more than one?) is the space where that third voice lives, especially when that voice is made up of two voices who are in reality quite far away from each other. I think that world is a sprawling space trying to make itself smaller or closer. I can’t seem to separate the idea of distance from everything else going on in the poems. I feel like Nate and I were, inside of the sonnets and in general, often talking about miles.

N: While I don’t have a concrete answer, I think distance has something to do with the world here. Almost like a mile scale on a map. An inch will represent lots of miles, but it’s also an inch. Maybe this chapbook is that inch? Does this even make sense?

J: Yessss, that.



Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

N: For me, “xiii.” JJ started this poem and I would’ve been happy to stall and not add to it.

J: Ohh, I adore that one. And I’m wicked glad you didn’t stall forever! Some of the sonnets feel like we’re standing next to them and some feel like we’re standing inside of them. I think we might live in that one. For me, and this is a really hard question, it’s “x.” Maybe that’s why I was so enamored of “mcmxciv.” as a title for the collection. A lot of the sonnets I know immediately who began and who ended -- if I really sit with it I can figure this one out, but it’s not immediately apparent and I love that. It’s a very clear third voice to me. I know that’s not really a back story.

N: Haha, I just wanted to linger in those lines for a while. Like JJ says, I really like those places where I don’t remember who wrote what, too. I think that’s where a lot of the magic lays. But even places where I know who wrote what, it’s fun to see what both of us came up with in response to each other. I don’t think I could fully do that when we were writing them.



What else would you like readers to know about you or your chapbook?

N: All the best lines are JJ’s :)

J: No! Not true. I kind of can’t believe we got this far in the interview without saying anything about being a Capricorn and a Virgo. That seems important. Also! The full sonnet sequence is actually 100 sonnets. We got a little obsessed :)

N: And also! Our fiftieth and one-hundredth sonnet are double sonnets! Maybe they will be out there in the world in the future.



What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

N: I’m not sure I’d say non-poetry writing helps me, but I’ve had songs inspire my writing and I do listen to music when I write, which seems to be a thing not a lot of poets do. 

J: Reading my horoscope! For real. I’m pretty obsessive about Chani Nicholas and Gala Mukomolova (Galactic Rabbit). I think what actually helps me write poetry the most, though, is movement. I have a fairly obsessive dance practice and that has become an essential part of my writing practice.



What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

J: I know it isn’t for everyone, but I would absolutely recommend collaboration. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a practice or an exercise, but I think it’s a really great way to learn more about your solo writing practice and shake up your routine.

N: I would say resist the urge to compare yourself to others. There are so many small presses today, there’s probably more than one out there that would love to showcase your work. Be as organic as you can.



If you have any other chapbooks or books, please tell us a bit about them.

J: Ok, I really want to take this opportunity to yell: Nate’s first book is coming out from Magic Helicopter!!!

N: JJ is too kind! Yes, my first book is scheduled to be released this fall. Last year, I had an anti-T___p chapbook published by Locofo Chaps as part of their series of political chapbooks. I know JJ has at least one other chapbook out there, right?

J: Yep. I also had chapbook in that series from Locofo (there were a ton of us!). Previous to that I had a solo chapbook with Shirt Pocket.

N: I’m starting a petition to get JJ a full-length collection. Her work is so great and deserves the breadth of a collection!

J: See, we’re sort of each other’s superfan.



What are you working on now?

N: I’m just doing my sacrilege once a week writing routine (I know, I know).

J: Though Nate and I wrote our sonnets in a shared space online, I have a pretty staunch write-by-hand practice. I do this daily for the most part. I recently finished a poem sequence of shorter poems (which our sonnet practice influenced for sure) and am in the middle of a long prose poem sequence. And we’ll be sending more sonnets out into the world, I hope.

N: Yes! More sonnets out into the world. And who knows? We may get the itch to write some more together.

J: That could definitely happen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Chapbook Chat: Trish Hopkinson Discusses Footnote


cover image of Footnote by Trish Hopkinson

Author: Trish Hopkinson

PublisherLithic Press
Publication date: 2017














Waiting Around by Trish Hopkinson
                         after "Walking Around" by Pablo Neruda

It so happens, I am tired of being a woman.
And it happens while I wait for my children to grow
into the burning licks of adulthood. The streaks
of summer sun have gone,

drained between gaps into gutters,
and the ink-smell of report cards and recipe boxes
cringes me into corners. Still I would be satisfied
if I could draw from language
the banquet of poets.

If I could salvage the space in time
for thought and collect it
like a souvenir. I can no longer
be timid and quiet, breathless

and withdrawn.
I can’t salve the silence.
I can’t be this vineyard
to be bottled, corked,
cellared, and shelved.

That’s why the year-end gapes with pointed teeth,
growls at my crow’s feet, and gravels into my throat.
It claws its way through the edges of an age
I never planned to reach

and diffuses my life into dullness—
workout rooms and nail salons,
bleach-white sheets on clotheslines,
and treacherous photographs of younger me
at barbecues and birthday parties.

I wait. I hold still in my form-fitting camouflage.
I put on my strong suit and war paint lipstick
and I gamble on what’s expected.
And what to become. And how
to behave: mother, wife, brave.


originally appeared in Voicemail Poems
*   *   *   *   *

Author photo of Trish Hopkinson
photo credit: Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen

Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. A Pushcart nominated poet, she has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Chagrin River Review; and her third chapbook is forthcoming from Lithic Press in 2017. Hopkinson is co-founder of a regional poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets, and Editor-in-Chief of the group’s annual poetry anthology entitled Orogeny. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/trishhopkinsonpoet/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/trishhopkinson

Author blog: http://trishhopkinson.com/


*   *   *   *   *

[This interview was conducted via email in June 2017.]

Please tell us a little bit about Footnote.

TH: Footnote is my first official chapbook published by a real press! It’s a collection of response poems as homage to some of my favorite artists. Most of the poems have been published in literary magazines over the last few years, and I’m honored to have them all put together in such a striking way by Lithic Press.



How did you arrive at the title?

TH: Originally, the title was the same as the final poem “Footnote to a Footnote.” When Lithic began working on a design for the cover, they suggested simply Footnote, which was perfect, since each poem in the collection indeed includes a footnote in reference to the original artwork that inspired the poem.



You mentioned that your chapbook contains response poems—poems inspired by other artists, whether poets, writers, or filmmakers. When you brought up “by other artists,” the first thing I thought of was ekphrastic poetry. While the common understanding of ekphrasis is poetry in response to visual art, in a 2008 essay “Notes on Ekphrasis” by Alfred Corn, he mentions that poetry in response to “works of music, cinema, or choreography might also qualify as instances of ekphrasis.” Do you consider some of the poems in Footnote to be ekphrastic?

TH: While I think that most of these poems are closer to the tradition of response poetry or found poetry, in which poems are written to respond to another text or artist’s work, I do think some of these poems are ekphrastic, specifically the poems in response to films. For example, “From Her to Eternity” is a poem that encompasses not only the story of the Win Wenders and Peter Handke’s film Wings of Desire but its origins in Rilke’s Duino Elegies—and even the soundtrack, with lyrics from Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s song as the title of the poem. There’s definitely some gray area within all of these definitions.



Tell us a bit about your writing process in forming a response. What techniques did you use? For example, did you write replies to a poem in a call and response sort of way, use a part of the poem as an epigraph, imitate or echo the forms of a poem, etc. “Waiting Around,” the poem at the beginning of this interview, is after Pablo Neruda. Tell us a bit about how the poem is “after” Neruda.

TH: “Waiting Around” is a great example of one way to approach response poetry. One way to respond to a poem is to write your own version from a different perspective, line by line or stanza by stanza. For “Waiting Around,” I responded line by line to Neruda’s poem “Walking Around” using a female speaker, rather than the original male speaker. Another one of my favorite approaches to found poems is to take the original poem, reverse the order of the lines (the last line first, the first line last), and then do an erasure. This technique has a tendency to reverse the meaning from the original to something opposing within the newly created poem. I used this technique in “Reconstructed Happiness,” which is in response to “I am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. His original poem is quite somber, while the result of the erasure in reverse has an uplifting, empowering feel.



In a 2011 essay “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript,” April Ossmann writes “[T]he biggest mystery to emerging and sometimes even established poets is how to effectively order a poetry manuscript.” How did you order Footnote? Was it something you had in mind early in the writing process, for example or did you write the poems with a strategy in mind? What were some of your considerations?

TH: Honestly, I think selecting and ordering poems for a poetry book manuscript is the most challenging part of the process. These poems were written over a few years, and after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work. I gathered them together, printed them out, and tried to order them in such a way that each poem connected in some way to the one that followed, while also paying attention to starting and ending with one of my favorite pieces. It never hurts to start strong and end strong. Once the collection was accepted by Lithic Press, there was some tweaking to the order to flow smoothly page wise (two-page poems on facing pages, etc.) and I swapped out a couple of the poems for stronger poems during the editing. It’s hardly an exact science, and the order of any collection will often be affected by the theme, style, variety of format, white space, and physical limitations of the book itself. I’ve ordered the poems for a few anthologies as Editor-in-Chief for Orogeny, and it’s interesting to see how poems from several different poets often connect into a final collection. That said, it’s never easy, but can be fun and surprising.



What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

TH: There are several poems in this collection that I love, mostly because they are a reflection of some other artwork that is important to me, but there is one that stands out and has a more personal meaning. “In a Room Made of Poetry” is a found poem based on the tradition of cento poetry and consists of several complete lines from Laura Hamblin’s book The Eyes of a Flounder. Hamblin is a dear friend and was one of my poetry professors during my undergrad at Utah Valley University. She introduced me to many of the poets featured in my book, including Neruda and Rilke, and her classes were where I learned so much about how to deeply appreciate not only the poetry of others, but other art as well. I was thrilled when Lithic chose a portion of this same poem as part of the cover design, which to me, became a dedication to her. The timing couldn’t have been better; she is retiring and teaching her last poetry class this summer when Footnote is being released.

In a Room Made of Poetry

Think how loss pulls language from us until
it swallows everything,
like undiagnosed cancer,
the accumulated past—
less eye, less mouth, less heart.
We had, not much—
thin coffee, thin socks. Here you can
wait, with desire, with
roots exposed
for an open womb. That heart-balm
as hope. The raw
bent—a bowl of fruit
in a language I never knew . . .
without tails, crosses of ts. The autonomous dot of a
blackness answers, There are only ifs.


Source: Hamblin, Laura. The Eyes of a Flounder.
(originally published in The Found Poetry Review: Issue 8)



Please tell us a bit about your use of found poetry in the chapbook.

TH: As a lover of all things words, found poetry is not just a way to respond to another text but it’s often word play as well. There are many different techniques that can be used to “find” a new poem in an existing text. I mentioned one above, erasure, which is also often referred to as “blackout poetry,” and even when doing an erasure, I often like to apply other methods to change it up a bit. Another fun approach is to sort the words by length and then create what’s called a “snowball” poem by ordering specifically selected words from shortest to longest. My poem “Strange Verses” employs this technique to create a set of reverse snowball poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The result was pretty cool—I ended up with four columns/stanzas that can be read in many different directions and angles.



The Found Poetry Review has this quote by Anne Dillard about found poetry:
By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate increases, the element of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry. It serves up whole texts, or interrupted fragments of texts.
 In the found poems in the chapbook, did you find yourself ‘doubling’ the original text’s context in one or more of them? If so how? If not, what relationship do you see between the original text and the poem(s)?

TH: I think so. The way I often describe this to others is as a “palimpsest,” in which the original text is erased/removed and a new text is written in its place while still leaving remnants of the original. In this sense, I think it is a form of doubling, or a way to contribute to the larger conversation in which we as writers participate. Response poetry is my way of communicating with both the original texts and the reader.

Sometimes, I nerd out on this whole poetry/writing thing a bit much and well, thinking through these responses resulted in my creation of this Venn diagram:

Found poetry venn diagram



I imagine the topics that you responded to varied widely. Even so, did you find yourself coming back to the same handful of themes, despite what it was you were responding to? I’m thinking of writer obsessions, perhaps in grand themes like love or death, or even images or words. For example, I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that dust, particles, dots, and related sorts of things pop up frequently in my writing. Tony Hoagland, in his book Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (p82), wrote “In the work of a good poet, it is usually possible to discern one or two characteristic emotional zones in which he thrives: melancholy, rage, pity, vengeful rationality, seduction.” How did those obsessions reveal themselves to you? Did you find yourself surrendering to it? 

TH: Since this book was sort of a surprise collection based on the discovery that I tend to respond to other poets/art in my writing, the only other theme I think often emerges is one of feminism. I think that most of these poems reflect my feminist slant to poetry in general.



What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

Most of the poems were previously published and felt finished. One that still felt incomplete was a Plath response poem entitled “Daddies.” I have reworked and reformatted the poem several times and toward the end of the editing process, I dug in hard and finally was able to revise the poem into what I feel is a finished state. (At least for now.) Once I sent that poem off, it did feel like the final edits were complete and the book was ready to be sent to print


What are you working on now?

TH: I’m aiming toward a full-length collection someday, but I feel like I need much more material before pulling together a new collection. I’ve tried piecing a few different projects together with poems I’ve written in the last couple of years, and there’s just not a nice, organic set making itself visible to me. Ultimately, I need to write many more poems to help my next collection materialize. Other than that, I’m always working on my poetry blog, which has become such an important part of my interaction with the larger poetry community. My blog was also a surprise and started as just a way to keep track of poetry resources, submission calls, etc. I started sharing it on social media and found there was definitely a need. Since October of 2014, my blog following has continued to grow and I’ve been honored by the turn out! It’s been a pleasure to interact with fellow poets, writers, editors, artists, etc. who are all looking for an easy way to access and share information. Sometimes, the things we never intend to create become the greatest of gifts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Chapbook Chat: Sonja Johanson Discusses Trees in Our Dooryards







Trees in Our Dooryards
Author: Sonja Johanson

PublisherRed Bird Chapbooks
Publication date: 2016













Maple Triptych II, Introduced
by Sonja Johanson

Acer platanoides

Those maroon lollipops, they looked so crass
Lined up along the manicured lawns
In their perfect circles of orange mulch,
Dressing the landscape in middle class uniforms.
They seemed so vain and garish
Wearing button down shirts and ties,
Pinstriped suits of bark, chartreuse nosegays.
Leaving their poor relations to scrape by
In abandoned lots and waste places,
Pock marked with nasty black spots
Scarred carriers of tree measles.

Acer pseudoplatanus

No known maple could ever grow,
Much less thrive, so close to salt spray,
On that moonscape of scree and broken pavement.
The only plausible explanation
For this fat, vigorous trunk
Weaving through the fence like a python
For those broad, rippled leaves
Like the great polydactyl claws of some predator
For the bizarre samaras, not proper pairs
But triplet seeds, strange as a third eye,
Must be that some distant planet exploded
Sending debris hurtling through the galaxy.
Somewhere in the meteorite that smashed into this shoreline
Nestled one alien seed
Which found favor with this new soil,
Forgiving atmosphere, fortunate distance from our sun.

Acer palmatum

At first, I felt sorry for them-
Those kept plants, the geisha trees.
Too thin skinned and delicate to stand a real winter
Without breaking out in frost cracks.
But, over time, my own blood thinning
From this milder latitude
I began to notice the painted patterns
On their long fingers.
Their modest way when leafing out.
I could see how a sponsor
Might shape their development.
Here, cull a reverting limb.
There, place a thinning cut
To open the gracious form.

originally appeared in The Dandelion Farm Review

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Sonja Johanson has work appearing in or forthcoming at BOAAT, Outlook Springs, and The Writer’s Almanac. She is a contributing editor at The Found Poetry Review, and the author of Impossible Dovetail (IDES, Silver Birch Press, 2015), all those ragged scars (Choose the Sword Press, 2015), and Trees in Our Dooryards (Redbird Chapbooks, 2016). Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine.

Author website: http://www.sonjajohanson.net/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sonjajohanson10

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sonjajohanson


*   *   *   *   *

[This interview was conducted via email in November 2016.]

Please tell us a little bit about Trees in Our Dooryards.

SJ: Dooryards is a selection of poems based in my home state. Underneath the placed based stories, and the desire to connect and write poetry that would be meaningful to people I know, I’m also writing about a sense of loss. Those rural areas, and those lifestyles, are passing us by, and I want to capture them while I still can.


You mentioned that your chapbook is a love letter to your home state of Maine. I imagine aspects of place feature prominently your chapbook. Maxine Kumin wrote “In a poem one can use the sense of place as an anchor for larger concerns, as a link between narrow details and global realities. Location is where we start from” (In Deep: Country Essays). Does this ring true for you? Do the poems in Trees in our Dooryards tend towards the geographical-location and natural-environment aspect of place? Or are they more engaged with the history of the area or its current cultural or political landscape?

SJ: Yes. Yes. Yes. Chuckle. That’s kind of an unfair way to respond, but human ecology teaches us that humans are not separate from the environment, we’re part of it. Our landscape shapes us, geography shapes our culture, history affects our politics, and our politics in turn affect the environment. So the poems touch all of those areas. One poem begins with the history of itinerant painters and ends with the loss of species we are currently experiencing. Another imagines a (quite fanciful) solution to the storm destruction occurring on coast lines everywhere. A childhood spent outdoors plants the seeds of a future environmental ethic; years spent working in the tourist industry ensure a connection to people, as well as place.



I see you’re a Lifetime Master Gardener of the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association. Poet Stanley Kunitz was also a passionate gardener. In The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden, his collections of essay on poetry and gardening, he wrote:
I conceived of the garden as a poem in stanzas. Each terrace contributes to the garden as a whole in the same way each stanza in a poem has a life of its own, and yet is part of a progressive whole as well.

The form provides some degree of repose, letting our mind rest in the comparatively manageable unit of the stanza, or terrace. Yet there is also a need to move on, to look beyond teh stanza, into the poem as a whole.

Often, when you finish reading a poem, the impulse is to revisit the beginning now that you’ve been all the way through it, and then each subsequent trip through the poem is different and colored by having seen the whole thing.
Does Kunitz’s parallel consideration of poetry and gardening resonate with you? How does your love of gardening impact your writing and your poetry?


SJ: What a lovely way to look at a poem! Classic estates were often set up with garden “rooms”, each distinct, yet connected and contributing to the grounds as a whole. Not only does this metaphor work for a poem, I think it extends perfectly to a set of poems within a book – each discrete, with its own focus and feel, and yet related and falling under a unifying theme.

As to gardening and poetry, there’s no better meditation than weeding, and the quiet time is often when a lot of writing happens in my head.

Oddly, despite being a Master Gardener, it isn’t really gardens that I am passionate about – it’s individual plants. I’m fascinated by their survival and reproductive strategies, and I’m somewhat more drawn to wild plants than domestic ones. It’s anthropomorphizing, of course, but I’m charmed by the oak’s preference for squirrels as a reproductive partner over humans. The apple made a different decision, and threw its lot in with us, but oak trees retain some wildness for not using us as seed dispersers. It’s the same with weeds over our tame garden plants – they choose the hardscrabble, the unwanted liminal places, and the strategies they use to be successful in doing so are varied and amazing. I know weeds and trees much better than the inhabitants of your average perennial garden. This does make me reflect, though, on a particular difficulty I have with my writing; it’s different all the time. My form, my voice, my subjects can be all over the place, which is like my gardening – one summer I’m into growing heirloom watermelons, another it’s peanuts in New England, another summer I decide I just have to have a forest pansy. So my gardens are a patchwork of whatever catches my interest, and my writing can be that way too. It’s fun, no regrets, but it takes me a while to acquire enough cohesive material to pull together a themed book.



You also mentioned that most of the poems in Trees in our Dooryards came out of a 30-poems-in-30-days event sponsored by The Writer’s Digest. What was that experience like for you? How did you come to realize that you might have a chapbook? Tell us a bit about what you did to shape the poems into a cohesive whole.

SJ: That was the first 30-30 I ever did, and I found it to be exhausting! I’m a very slow writer; I’ve been told it’s called “bathtub writing”. I’ll mull something over in my head, work on it while I’m driving, or running, or gardening (apparently some people do this in the bathtub). Then one day I’ll sit down and write the whole thing out, in what is pretty close to its finished form. With the 30-30 I would wake up in the morning, read the prompt first thing, spend the day ruminating on it, and write it come evening. It was a lot less time than I was accustomed to having, and quite a few of the pieces were not really worth saving. The ones that were, though, were in a very plain voice, and tended to be memories and observations.

Writer’s Digest does two Poem-A-Day Challenges every year, and the November one is a chapbook challenge, so that was already the idea. Fifteen of the poems that ended up in the final chapbook were from this project; I could hear that they had a similar tone and related to one another. As time went along and I found others that seemed to fit in as well, they went into the file, and eventually I had enough pieces for a full chapbook.



What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

SJ: My personal favorite in this collection is the closing poem, “Back to You”. Each line takes me to a very specific place and moment, though those are pieced together from disparate years – the top of a mountain on a winter day, that same mountain from below, streets and fields I’ve walked in forgotten farm towns. For me, it’s a love poem to my home, and then simply a love poem that anyone might relate to, and finally it’s about coming back to writing after almost twenty years of thinking that part of my life was over.

Back To You

Days, I smile endlessly out the windshield
looking up, those on the bright
mountain looking down to where
this bridge splits the water

Stone walls stumble along corn-liquor lines
I keep watch for wedding maples – both trees
hardly ever survive the crush of asphalt
or the salted winters, so we plant again

Seeing the land fall away
while the sky opens up
before the road, now I know
my heart does more than beat



In a Feb 2014 essay “The Poetry of Place: James Wright’s “The Secret of Light,” James Galvin offers as one reason why a poet would write of specific place: 
[T]he poet of place situates himself in place in order to lose himself in it. Poetry of place is actually a poetry of displacement and self-annihilation. The poet replaces self with situation, turning himself, as in were, inside out, so that the center of “knowing who you are” becomes the circumference of uncertainty. The poem as locus mirrors this dynamic, since it is a measured place, possibly with stanzas (rooms), which has an infinite capacity to contain everything outside it, including the poet. To have identity means to be alone. Loneliness is the anxiety that compels us to identify with an other or with otherness. To disappear into a place. To empathize.
Many poets live in one area for years, yet don’t write about the place where they live. What do you think of Galvin’s comments regarding why a poet would write poems rooted in a specific place?

SJ: Hmmm…my first response is that writing from place is very much “write what you know”, and with our increasing awareness of the problems around cultural appropriation, it’s critical to do that. I may be deeply concerned with Native American rights, or inner city class struggles, but those are not my stories to tell. I get to tell about the loss of culture or environmental connection from where I stand, and if I do it successfully, perhaps it will remind the reader of your place and the changes you are experiencing – maybe you know how that feels even if we’ve never seen each other’s homes. So in that sense we do have death of the author, which I think is what Galvin is talking about.

I do really like the line “to disappear into a place”. I think we all know that feeling, when immersed in the landscape, of being both irrelevant and indescribably large. It is absolutely a moment of deep loneliness, but also one of profound connection. We matter, and we don’t matter in the slightest, and it’s all very wonderful and humbling.



In addition to the motif of place, what are some of the other themes, metaphors, and elements of craft that you used to unify your chapbook?

SJ: Themes of the environment and class are inescapable for me – that’s my particular set of filters. All these poems are simple free verse, and as a writer I place tremendous importance on accessibility. That’s not to say that all poems, or even all writers, need to be accessible to all readers, but some definitely do if we want poetry to succeed more widely as an art form. One of my most meaningful experiences as a writer actually happened during a reading. I opened my reading with a piece about/not about ice fishing, and a man at the table near the door stood up at the end and said “I been there” in a heavy Maine accent. I wanted to hug him; I was incredibly nervous, but felt instantly reassured by that familiar voice offering support. At the end of the evening, the host told me that he and his friends sometimes came to the reading series to heckle the poets – but instead, I reached him, and he reached me. We have to find a way to do that if poetry is going to connect with an audience outside of ourselves.



To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

SJ: The editors at Red Bird Chapbooks did ask me if I had preferences regarding my cover, but I don’t happen to know a whole lot of artist, so I let them offer up suggestions. They sent me two, and I have to say that I’m quite in love with this one!



Is there a poem you consider to be a “misfit” in your collection? If so, why is it a misfit?

SJ: That’s such a good question – I really do have a misfit in there. It’s “North Alder River Pond.” I included it because it’s about a pond where my family has a small summer camp, and which also makes an appearance in some other pieces, but the voice and tone are profoundly different from any of the other poems. That piece was probably my first foray into found poetry. I was reading a history of the pond, and used a lot of found language from that little history in the first part of the poem; in particular I would select family names from the area and use them simply as words in the text – Rod, Linwood, Ransom, Reward, Warr. It’s the one poem in the collection from which I, as the narrator, am really absent, and it’s just the place talking.



What are you working on now?

SJ: Well, I’m working on applications for an MFA, which is kind of dry, but I’m also working on a couple of different poem series. The first is a series of poems which personify people in my life as body parts – "My Stomach Gives Me Honey", "Binge-Watching Netflix with My Spine." The second is a series of prose poems about social justice couched as “spells” – "Spell for Giving a Selfish Person Empathy," "Spell for Putting the Shape of a Wife in the Wall," etc. These are a far throw from my place based poems, so I guess I’m still working out what my voice is!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Light into Bodies wins the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry


Overjoyed to report that my first book Light into Bodies has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry and is forthcoming from University of Tampa Press! More information here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone: Interview

Thanks to Speaking of Marvels for this interview about my chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). Below is an excerpt from the interview. You can read the interview in its entirety here:
chapbookinterviews.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/nancy-chen-long 

"My arrangement of the manuscript was subsequently changed by the editor. She saw the arc in a slightly different—and better—way. (I cannot emphasize enough what a pleasure it is to work with a good editor.) She suggested that the manuscript open with an ekphastic poem titled “Lament for Icarus” that was inspired by an 1898 painting of the same name by Herbert Draper. In that way, Icarus and the associated myth would be the guiding force that propels the reader through the narrative. She also suggested ending with a poem called “Seeking Asylum,” which brings the reader back to Icarus at the end through the image of the falling sparrows that end the poem. She also commented that the ending image of falling sparrows alludes to the sparrows in the Hall of Souls (the Chamber of Guf in Jewish mysticism), which, to her, further enforced another thread that runs through the chapbook, that of the dangers/ pitfalls of human hubris."