Sunday, October 19, 2014

Poetry Manuscripts: Resources for organizing a manuscript

There are lots of resources out there related to putting together a poetry manuscript, from articles on how to organize a manuscript, to classes and workshops that include manuscript review, to working one-on-one with a mentor. I thought it would be a good to idea to gather some of those resources together for those who are interested in such things. Below, you'll find a list of articles that discuss how to organize a poetry manuscript. Next week, I'll provide a list of resources related to manuscript consultations.

[If you're ready to send out your first poetry manuscript and are looking to send them to contests, check out my post that lists 1st-book contests.]


Jeffrey Levine of Tupelo Press has a series of articles on the subject of organizing a manuscript. Here are the links as of Oct. 18, 2014:

Turning a Manuscript into a First Book by Alberto Ríos

Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript” by April Ossmanne at Poets and Writers

Putting Your Poetry in Order: The Mix-Tape Strategy” by Katrina Vandenberg at Poets and Writers

Some Notes on Building a Poetry Manuscript” Rebecca Dunham

How to Order the Poems in a Manuscript” by Leeanne Quinn

Assembling a Poetry Collection” from Gerald Huml’s blog Poetry and the Examined Life

Monday, September 1, 2014

Poetry Manuscripts: 1st-Book Poetry Contests

If you've written your first full-length (48 pages or more) poetry manuscript and are considering submitting it to contests, this page might be of use to you. Here is a partial list of first-book and first / second book contests for poetry manuscripts that are open to poets writing in English. Some caveats:
  • The URLs provided below were accurate when I entered the information, but they might not be so now.
     
  • Be sure to read the guidelines carefully for changes in
    • status. It may no longer be a first-book contest.
    • restrictions. I've tried to identify any limitations and restrictions, such as the contest is offered only in certain years or requires that the poet be from a certain area. That said, a publisher may have since changed or added restrictions.
        
  • Most, if not all, of the contests below charge a submission fee. 

1913 Press, 1st book contest, 1913 Prize for First Books
* 2013 winner: Jane Lewty, Bravura Cool
* 2012 winner: Scott McFarland, O, Human Microphone

ABZ Press, 1st book contest, First Book Award, starting in 2014, accepts submissions every other year. 
* 2014 winner: Pamela Davis, Lunette
* 2013 winner: Jean McDonough, Traceries
* 2012 winner: Melissa Tuckey, Tenuous Chapel

Academy of American Poets, 1st book contest, Walt Whitman Award; limited to citizens of the United States
* 2014 winner: Hannah Sanghee Park, The Same-Different
* 2013 winner: Chris Hosea, Put Your Hands In
* 2012 winner: Matt Rasmussen, Black Aperture

Black Lawrence Press, 1st book contest, The St. Lawrence Book Award
* 2013 winner: KMA Sullivan, Necessary Fire
* 2012 winner: unknown (unable to find who won)

BOA Editions, 1st book contest,  A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize, limited to citizens and legal residents of the United States
* 2014 winner: Devin Becker, Shame | Shame
* 2013 winner: Geffrey Davis, Revising the Storm
* 2012 winner: Ryan Teitman, Litany for the City

 Briery Creek Press1st book contest, Liam Rector First Book Prize for Poetry
* 2014 winner: B. A. Goodjohn, Bone Song
* 2013 winner: Natalie Giarratano, Leaving Clean
* 2012 winner: Greg McBride, Porthole

Carolina Wren Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, Carolina Wren Press Poetry Series, accepts submissions every other year (in 2011 for a 2012 winner, in 2013 for a 2014 winner, etc.)
* 2014 winner: Charles Wyatt, Goldberg – Variations
* 2013 winner: n/a
* 2012 winner: L. Lamar Wilson, Sacrilegion

Cave Canem, 1st book contest, Cave Canem Poetry Prize; limited to African-American poets
* 2014 winner: Rickey Laurentiis, Boy with Thorn
* 2013 winner: F. Douglas Brown, Zero to Three
* 2012 winner: Dexter Booth, Scratching the Ghost

Cider Press Review,1st or 2nd book contest,  CPR Editors Prize 
* 2014 winner: Sarah Estes, Field Work
* 2013 winner: Laura Donnelly, Watershed
* 2012 winner: Susan Laughter MeyersMy Dear, Dear Stagger Grass

Cleveland State University Poetry Center,1st book contest,  First Book Award 
* 2013 winner: Chloe Honum, The Tulip Flame
* 2012 winner: Rebecca Gayle Howell, Render / An Apocalypse

Coconut Books, 1st book contest, The Joanna Cargill Coconut Book Prize for a First Book 
* 2013 co-winner: Alexis Pope, Soft Thread
* 2013 co-winner: Tyler Gobble, More Wreck More Wreck
* 2012 winner: Ji Yoon Lee, Foreigner's Folly: A Tale of Attempted Project

Crab Orchard Review, 1st book contest, First Book Award; limited to citizens and permanent residents of the United States
2013 winner: Noel Crook, Salt Moon
2012 winner: Tarfia Faizullah, Seam

Elixir Press, 1st book contest, Antivenom Poetry Award
* 2013 winner: Kirun Kapur, Visiting Indira Gandhi’s Palmist
* 2012 winner: David Ray Vance, Stupor

Four Way Books, 1st book contest, Intro Prize in Poetry; contest appears to be offered every other year in even years (2012, 2014, etc.)
* 2014 winner: Rajiv Mohabir, The Taxidermist's Cut
* 2013 winner: n/a
* 2012 winner: David Daniels, Clean

Kelsey Street Press, 1st book contest, First Books by Women Writers; limited to female poets
* 2014 winner: Jasmine Dreame Wagner, Rings
* 2013 winner: Sabrina Dalla Valle, 7 Days and Nights in the Desert (Tracing the Origin)

Kore Press, 1st book contest,  First Book Award; limited to female poets
* 2014 winner: Monica Ong, Silent Anatomies
* 2013 winner: Jen McClanaghan, River Legs

Kundiman, 1st book contest, The Kundiman Poetry Prize, limited to Asian-American poets
* 2014 winner: Janine Jospeph, Driving Without a License
* 2013 winner: Lo Kwa Mei-En, Yearling
* 2012 winner: Cathy Linh Che, Split

New Issues, 1st book contest,  New Issues Poetry Prize
* 2014 winner: Abdul Ali, Trouble Sleeping
* 2013 winner: Kerrin McCadden, Landscape with Plywood Silhouettes
* 2012 winner: Marni Ludwig, Pinwheel

New Rivers Press, 1st or 2nd book contest,  MVP (Many Voices Project) Competition
* 2013 winner:  Julie Gard, Home Studies
* 2012 winner: Brandon Krieg, Invasives

Omnidawn, 1st or 2nd book contest, 1st/2nd Book Prize
* 2013 winner: Eric Ekstrand, Laodicea
* 2012 winner: Robin Clarke, Lines the Quarry
  
Pavement Saw Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, Transcontinental Poetry Award
* 2014 winner: n/a (contest suspended for 2014)
* 2013 winner: unknown (unable to find who won)
* 2012 winner: Ethan Saul Bull, Shut Off the Flowers

Persea Books, 1st book contest, Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize, limited to female poets who are American citizens
* 2014 winner: Susannah Nevison, Teratology
* 2013 winner: Leslie Shinn, Inside Spiders
* 2012 winner: Allison Seay, To See the Queen

Perugia Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, Perugia Press Prize, limited to female poets
* 2014 winner: Corrie Williamson, Sweet Husk
* 2013 winner: Gail Martin, Begin Empty-Handed

Poetry Foundation, 1st book contest, Emily Dickinson Poetry Prize, limited to poets who are at least 40 yrs old and American citizens; contest is not offered every year
* 2012 winner: Hailey Leithauser, Swoop


Sage Hill Press, 1st book contest, Powder Horn Prize
* 2013 winner: unknown (unable to find who won)
* 2012 winner: Marci Rae Johnson, The Eyes the Window


Silverfish Review Press, 1st book contest, Gerald Cable Book Award
* 2013 winner: Randolph Thomas, The Course of the Telling
* 2012 winner: Raphael DagoldBastard Heart

Switchback Books, 1st or 2nd book contest, Gatewood Prize; limited to female poets
* 2013 winner: Morgan Parker, Other People's Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night
* 2012 winner: Stefania Heim, A Table that Goes on for Miles

Tebot Bach, 1st book contest, Patricia Bibby First Book Award
* 2013 winner: Erin Malone, Hover
* 2012 winner: Myles Gordon, Inside the Splintered Wood

The American Poetry Review, 1st book contest, Honickman First Book Prize; limited to citizens of the United States
* 2014 winner: Katherine Bode-Lang, The Reformation
* 2013 winner: Maria Hummel, House and Fire
* 2012 winner: Tomás Q. Morín, A Larger Country

Trio House Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, Trio Award; limited to poets residing within the United States
* 2014 winner:  Bradford Tice, What the Night Numbered
* 2012 winner: Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Gold Passage

Tupelo Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, Berkshire Prize for a First or Second Book
* 2014 winner: Jenny Molberg, Marvels of the Invisible
* 2013 winner: Amy McCann, Yes Thorn

U of Pittsburgh Press, 1st book contest, Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize
* 2013 winner: Sarah Rose Nordgren, Best Bones
* 2012 winner: Kasey Jueds, Keeper

U of Massachusetts Press, 1st book contest, Juniper Prize for Poetry; consideration of 1st-books occurs only during odd-numbered years (2013, 2015, 2017, etc.) for winners named in even-numbered years (2014, 2016, 2018, etc.)
* 2014 winner: David Kutz-Marks, Violin Playing Herself in a Mirror
* 2013 winner: n/a
* 2012 winner: Brandon Dean Lamson, Starship Tahiti

U of Notre Dame Institute for Latino Studies1st book contest, Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize; limited to Latino/a  poets in the United States
* 2013 winner: n/a
* 2012 winner: Laurie Ann Guerrero, A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying

Unicorn Press1st book contest, First Book Contest
* 2013 winner: Martin Arnold, Earthquake Owner's Manual

Waywiser Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, The Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize
* 2013 winner: Geoffrey Brock, Voices Bright Flags
* 2012 winner: Shelley Puhak, Guinevere in Baltimore


Yale University Press, 1st book contest, Yale Series of Younger Poets, limited to poets under the age of 40 who are American citizens
* 2013 winner: Eryn Green, Eruv
* 2012 winner: Will Schutt, Westerly

Zone 3 Press,  1st book contest, First Book Award; contest appears to be offered every other year in even years (2012, 2014, etc.)
* 2013 winner: n/a
* 2012 winner: Karen Skolfield, Frost in the low area


If you want a list with more information than what is provided above, check out one of these fine resources:

    • the poetry lists and announcements page at Linebreak, the blog of Tom Holmes (editor of Redactions)
    •  NewPages, a wonderful literary-journal and writing portal 
    • Duotrope,  an online service that provides, among other things, a database of almost every journal and an application that allows you to track your submissions. (Duotrope charges a fee. I subscribe to Duotrope and find it a bargain for the price.)
       

Friday, July 11, 2014

From Oulipost 2014: Petroleum Picnic, Water Bowl

As part of Oulipost 2014one of the Oulipo  techniques we used was to take a close look at advertisements and classifieds. The technique is called COLUMN INCHES. Here are the instructions from the Oulipost 2014 playbook:
Refer to the advertising section or the classifieds in your source newspaper. Create a poem by replacing all of the nouns in your chosen ad segment or classified listing with nouns from one article in the same newspaper. You may use multiple ads/classifieds, presented in the order of your choosing.

This would be a fun warm-up exercise for a writing group or as a warm-up exercise for yourself. If you need some inspiration, check out the abundance of creative poems written by the other Ouliposters on the Found Poetry Review page for the column-inches poems.

****************

Petroleum Picnic, Water Bowl


WANTED 
10 15 histories 
that need popularity 

10 15 wars needed to “SHOWCASE” our amazing fact-like
exterior reason-stories. A great opportunity to have the remarkable
HOOSIER PERMANENT EXPLOSIVES MANUFACTURING SYSTEM
applied to your property at huge subsidies. Have your city or county
looking freshly painted forever! Made in a reservoir! Hoosier owned! 

Fat-rendering appearanceLooks like fresh money
1,200 heart attacksMeets EPA health concessions
No artificial blast furnacesGreat for all grasslands and schools

Call now for a free coke oven.




Poem Sources:

Indy Star 14 Apr 2014.

advertisement was found on page A2

nouns taken from the following article:
Slabaugh, Seth. "Muncie Water Bowl auction." A9

Monday, June 9, 2014

From Oulipost 2014: Shaken, not Speared

Today's post is from the penultimate day of Oulipost 2014, which found us downing some CANADA DRY:
The name of this procedure is taken from the soft drink marketed as “the champagne of ginger ales.” The drink may have bubbles, but it isn’t champagne. In the words of Paul Fournel, who coined the term, a Canada Dry text “has the taste and color of a restriction but does not follow a restriction.” (A musical example is Andrew Bird’s “Fake Palindromes” - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pqYTTW4hKk&feature=kp) Be creative, and write a poem sourced from your newspaper that sounds like it’s been Oulipo-ed, but hasn’t.

This can a fun technique, if you allow yourself to pretend there are rules and constraints when there aren't, if that makes any sense. For inspiration and to experience some all-around creative genius-ness, be sure to check out the other Canada Dry poems at Found Poetry Review!

***************************

Shaken, not Speared

To be or not.
To bethat is the question

rough and weathered: Do the daring 
and windy buds of May shake, my darling?

O Woe, all the world is a stage, so what is a name?
A thing that is verboten in the state of Denmark, methinks,

where the Mister’s dove does coo too much! Wailful, my mistress sighs
and nothing like the sun shall compare love's light wings to a summer day. Nay.

A chance to sleep or maybe even dream. Perchance it is an ay here, yay there, nay
everywhere. Everywhere a nay, nay. And where is the rub, Friends? Roaming

the countryside, where men lend us their ears? But now it is the winter.
And of our discontent is this above all: to thine ownself be few 

and far between. For Hope is a thing with horse feathers. 
A horse! Alas, my kingdom is hoarse. O Knight,

good night, parting is such sweet sorrow, 
you may think. I love you. Not.


Poem sources
Indy Star 29 Apr 2014.  [Indianapolis, Indiana]. Print. 
various articles; opinion and advice columns; letters to editor, email, and social media responses; advertising; obituaries; classifieds; weather; legal notices; TV listings and highlights


Process notes

Oh, I got up very early this morning for this technique. I've been concerned about it all month. I couldn't find any further explanation of it other than the instructions above, and I couldn't find any examples. So, I approached it differently than with the previous Oulipost poems: I started out with something already in mind, which is: I wanted it to be an Canada-Dry abomination of famous Shakespeare lines. 

I began this morning by going through the paper searching for words that I could arrange into one of Shakespeare's lines, but it wasn't working. I felt frantic and overwhelmed. So many words, yet I couldn't find my way to a Shakespeare line. 

So I went in reverse and wrote the poem first, using words that would likely be found in the paper, assuming I used a technique called remix, explained below. I then went through the newspaper looking for the words of the poem. If, within the remix constraints I'd given myself, I couldn't find a particular word in the source text, I replaced it with a new word and then tried to find that new word, until I could source all words that were in the poem but one, which is there on purpose.

The Canada-Dry elements (i.e., the techniques or rules being suggested that are not really there), which I hope come across are:
  • [cento] I'm hoping that, overall, the poem seems to be cento of some of Shakespeare's more famous lines, which of course it isn't. (There is a suggestion of a line from a nursery rhyme, a Dickinson poem, and an idiom.)
  • [keeping the lines, but changing syntax] and that, at first, the poem seems to be Shakespeare's original lines subject to the rule of changing the original syntax
  • [homonyms] and that later in the poem, it appears the poem is using homonyms in some consistently patterned way 
  • [some sort of snowball/melting snowball] and that it appears the poem is a snowball of sorts, in which lines increase / decrease in some consistent way, such as adding / subtracting two words per line. 
I also Canada-Dried the rule to use what I could find (or remix in this case) in the day's newspaper by including the word verboten, which cannot be found in the source text using the remix rules I established for the poem.

Remix: The process I used for the poem and its title is remix, in which I mixed and rearranged phrases and individual words chosen out of the text, as well as new words that were not in the text, but that were discovered by applying erasure to a word or phrase. The modifications to the source text could include one or more of the following: 
  • change in verb tense, e.g. compared --> compare
  • concatenation of whole words to form one new word. e.g., country + side --> countryside
  • erasure within a word to create a new word, e.g. through --> rough
  • erasure within a phrase to form a new word, e.g. the board’s decision  --> hoarse

Friday, May 9, 2014

Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope by Frank Montesonti



Frank Montesonti
Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope 


Barrow Street Press
http://www.barrowstreet.org/



By the numbers
ISBN ISBN 978-0981987675 
Publication: 2012 
Total pages: 83 
Number of poems: 36




__________


I met Frank Montesonti last spring when he was a featured reader at the First-Sundays Readings and Open-Mic here in Bloomington, Indiana. Frank is a one-time Hooiser who attended Indiana University. He now lives in Los Angeles and teaches creative writing at National University. After hearing him read from his book Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope, I immediately purchased it. After reading the book, I knew I wanted to review it and am delighted to share this review with you here.

Also, I had the opportunity to interview Frank. Click here for the interview and to learn more about him. Frank has since published a second book. It’s a book of erasure titled Hope Tree (HOw to PrunE Fruit TREEs). I’m looking forward to reading it!
Nancy Chen Long

__________

(This interview was conducted via email in January 2014 and was first posted in Poetry Matters.)

Overview

Frank Montesonti’s debut full-length book of poetry Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope,  winner of the 2011 Barrow Street Book Prize chosen by D.A. Powell, has much to recommend it. It's filled with emotionally-charged poems that embody the human condition: ambiguity, ambivalence, the simultaneous holding of contradictions, the greater and lesser strains of beauty that frequently attend sadness. The language is often witty and clever, the tone at times sarcastic or glib. While some of the poems are humorous, taken as a whole, the mood tends to be one of sadness or despair. These are poems that grapple with issues of sobriety, trust, love and not love, God, loneliness, science, and culture, all the while exploring and challenging what we hold to be real.

The title of the book has an exuberant wordiness that brings to mind Walt Whitman. And simply glancing through the book, one can see the celebratory length of the Whitmanian line. Most of the poems lean towards a longer line; some of the poems extend into prose and could be said to approach the lyric essay. Although there are strong prose-like elements in some of the poems, those who are looking for a definitive narrative arc, a straight-forward story, won’t find one. In Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope, there is no unifying narrative that imposes order and creates understanding. Instead, there is much of the postmodern in these poems: an indeterminacy that marshals the reader  into active participation to fill in gaps and craft his own meaning out of the text, notions of hyperreality in which one is unable to tell the difference between reality and a simulation of reality, an emphasis on the visual, the view that language shapes our reality, and a self-reflexivity that highlights its own artificiality, such as a poem that lets the reader know that it knows it’s a poem, at times breaking the fourth wall, in which the speaker of a poem addresses the reader directly.

There is an intriguing disjointedness and fragmentation to Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope—various images, scenes, and language that at first blush might seem unrelated, but collectively form a satisfying whole. I experienced the thirty-six poems, with their varying degrees of disjointedness, like scenes in a movie—not a linear sort of movie, but more like a montage of images and scenes that taken together form a cinematic-like experience. This cinematic thread, which includes film-related diction, references, and allusions, is one of the organizing forces of the book.

Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope is an impressive and poignant book. Satisfying on a first read, it also amply rewards repeated readings. The poems are deeply layered, rich with metaphors, allusions, and multiple meanings. Each time I return to a poem, it's like a present being unwrapped—I discover something new. 


A Closer Look

To give you a better idea of what you might find in Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope, we'll take a mini-tour through it using the cinematic aspect as a map: First, we'll take a brief look at the opening poem, which establishes a cinematic reading of the book. Then we'll turn to one of the prose-like poems, one that involves the film The Wizard of Oz. The third poem we'll look at is one with shorter lines in stanzas; it involves the film It's a Wonderful Life. We'll conclude with the last poem, which reinforces, as well as closes, the cinematic reading.

The first poem of the book, “The Incalculably Long Geometry of Sobriety,” is set in winter ("November always starts out this way"), with a speaker who is wrestling with sobriety ("A week since my last drink. The falling from the high blue"), who is probably in Chicago ("apartment staircases in Chicago.") So within the first few lines, we encounter some of the motifs that help stitch the book together: winter/cold, sobriety, the Midwest, and the color blue. (The full text of this poem can be found in the interview, which is here.)

The book's motifs combine to support its various subjects, and in this first poem, two notable subjects are introduced: loneliness (“O Loneliness. / I love the staged heartbeat of a Coke shouldered from the machine”) and loss:


Out there in the snow is a kid in a blue sweater with a head full of bronze gears
who is trying to grasp the incalculably long geometry
of loss and life. I’ll miss him too.

The various subjects in the book in turn form the foundation for what I believe is the theme of the book: a questioning of reality, an assertion that life feels like an imitation, like
 something less than. In the third stanza, we encounter the start of the groundwork for that theme and an invitation to a cinematic reading:
                                  … You feel like a movie,
rapping on someone’s door,

then you’re in a movie;
you could swing the camera around and watch the brickwork of snow.

It's likely that the poem is a monologue, so the 'you' in the above snippet is the speaker talking to himself. When the speaker says he feels "like a movie," he could mean that he feels like watching a movie. However, if we let the words stand on their own, he could be saying that he feels like an object...like a movie. When taken together with the line that he's *in* a movie, the speaker calls into question the reality of his life at that moment, and in the doing, he starts the groundwork for the theme.  


The next poem on our brief cinematic mini-tour is “Quitclaim of the Wizard of Oz.” It also questions what we hold to be real. “Quitclaim of the Wizard of Oz” is one of the longer, prose-like poems. In it, Montesonti hijacks the movie The Wizard of Oz and beams it into his own universe. The Wizard appears to be the speaker in the poem. Since a quitclaim is a renunciation of any legal claim to rights, at this point the title seems to suggest that the Wizard has given up his rights to the Land of Oz. The first few sentences of the poem read like a script. The first stanza suggests that the Wizard and Dorothy are not in Oz, but perhaps are in their mutual home state of Kansas or somewhere in the Midwest:


Edge of reaped cornfield. Stood there. Dorothy jump cut-materialized and ran into my arms. “What happened to the scarecrow?” she asked. “You were the scarecrow,” I replied.
“I knew all along,” she said, brushing back her hair.

While the beginning of the first stanza is script-like and suggests a movie, we learn in the second stanza that the Wizard is also talking to someone, a ‘you’, which suggests that the poem is also an epistle or an address to someone who isn't there:


Dear Anonymous, There are small blue tornadoes in my eyes when I read your poems about the outlines of socks on your floor. Your poems entitled “Depression in a Suitcase.”

The specificity of the second stanza—'your' poems, the socks on the floor, stating the poem’s actual title—all point to a particular, known person, despite the Wizard calling that person 'Anonymous'. In addition, the Wizard  seems to know about other poems in this book. For example, the part about the "outlines of socks on your floor" could be a reference to the poem "A Time to Sing in Airports," which comes later in the book and mentions the speaker's socks on the floor. The Wizard ask questions of, and addresses, this anonymous person throughout the poem, for example:


Would you trade your lion for courage?

Dear Anonymous, If I were a soldier I’d be a bad soldier because I wouldn't die for anyone or myself. May I digress? Black T-Bird blacking out. Yellow maple tree unzipped. Mattress, independent on hardwood floor.



First you’ll miss banana shakes in the summertime; then you’ll learn we’re voices trapped under language.



In the fourth stanza, we learn that the Wizard is also a poet ("the light from the poem I wrote about watermelons") and that the Wizard in this poem-version of the story is probably living with Dorothy ("the artificial womb of the bathtub, Dorothy's bare feet out of cuffed jeans; she sat on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs, and spread out her toes.") Given that the Wizard is a poet, given that the anonymous 'you' is also a poet, given that the Wizard has information about other poems in the book, all of these 'givens' together support the idea that the Wizard is either addressing the poet who wrote the poem, or the Wizard is the poet who wrote the poem. So we have the poet speaking as an alternate version of himself (as the Wizard) and we have the speaker, the Wizard, who is speaking to an alternate or separate version of himself (i.e., the poet). This circularity creates ambiguity with respect to speaker and addressee. It has the effect of conflating the role of the Wizard in this poem-film with the personhood of the poet in 'real life'. What is real merges into make-believe and vice versa.

Before leaving this poem, I'd like to spend some time with the last two stanzas:

This is the talking I find significant, talking more like clothing. The broken, frozen reeds of cornstalks, the pale yellow sun struggling to lower its temperature below the silos.

Would you give it all up to go home?

I want to linger here with the simile "talking more like clothing" because it is a simple example of the richness of Montesonti's metaphors, similes, juxtapositions, and other methods of comparison that transfer meaning and attributes. The simile "talking more like clothing" draws me in as I consider talking that is more like something you slip on and off, as something you can leave in a heap on the floor, or wash clean and put away, talking as something you choose to put on in order to form an identity or project a persona, talking as something you wear to protect yourself from being naked and exposed, talking as something wordless.


Lastly, the question that ends the poem "Would you give it all up to go home?" is an example of the multiple meanings that Montesonti layers into his poems. The landscape depicted in the stanza (the "broken, frozen reeds of cornstalks" and the silos), along with some of the other location-descriptors in the poem, suggest that the Wizard and Dorothy could be back home in Kansas. If they are already in Kansas, then the question at the end of the poem could be asking the Wizard if he would give up what was considered home (Kansas) in order "to go home." In this case, asking the question conveys the feeling that home is wherever he is not. However, in the poem, the Wizard and Dorothy also meander to Greece and possibly to Chicago. If they're not in Kansas and are moving around, then asking the question at the end conveys the feeling that home is unattainable. At the same time, if we read the poem as the poet speaking as the Wizard speaking to the poet, then 'home' takes on a more metaphorical meaning, one that is not necessarily a place.



The third poem on our brief cinematic mini-tour, A Flock of Iagos Waiting in the Wings," is one of the poems that appears in shorter-lined stanzas and is an excellent example of Montesonti's use of allusion, ambiguity, and juxtaposition. First, the title. Through the name 'Iago', Montesonti invokes both what some would call high and low culture: Iago in the title alludes to the the charismatically-cloaked Machiavellian character in Shakespeare’s Othello. Iago also alludes to the parrot in Walt Disney’s cartoon TV series and films Aladdin. While both manifestations of Iago have unsavory characteristics, Shakespeare’s Iago is malevolent—Disney’s not so much, more of a trickster character rather than an evil one. If we have in mind Shakespeare’s Iago, it sets the stage for the menacing undercurrent of the poem, especially in connection with the word ‘flock’, which, while meaning a large number, also summons the image of a flock of evil birds. However, if we have in mind Disney’s Iago, then it sets the stage for something comical as we imagine a flock of mischievous cartoon birds. The word 'flock' also hints at a church congregation, giving a slight religious tint to the understanding of the title, an understanding that also presages the biblical references and allusions in the poem.

At the start of the poem, we find the speaker standing on a bridge in Indianapolis “getting covered with coils of snow,” contemplating the 1946 American Christmas movie classic It’s a Wonderful Life, and the alternate world that would have existed had the main character of the movie, George, never lived—how George’s home town would have ended up “… constricted financially, then choked / out by cheap neon from the luminous / vices.” The image of the speaker of the poem on bridge echoes the scene in the movie where the lead character George stands on a bridge in the snow on Christmas Eve contemplating suicide. The movie title It’s a Wonderful Life takes on a sense of irony as the speaker tells us he “feels like Lucifer in a tree” that this alternate harsh, George-less world would never come to be “just because George renege[d] on his wish” to die.

The speaker's consideration of the movie It’s a Wonderful Life is immediately juxtaposed with science, as the speaker starts talking about a science article: “I read this article / about some scientists who theorized / twenty ways the world might end.” This juxtaposition seems to turn from the elusive fantasy of the movie to hard fact. But that turn turns out to be elusive as well, because according to the speaker, the last scientific theory is that “Someone wakes up / and finds it has all been a dream.” The speaker acknowledges with glib sarcasm: “Yes, this trick / is cheap soap opera tripe, but who says / we live in an expensive universe?” There is humor in this ironic turn to science that really isn’t science, a darker humor rooted in cynicism.

The speaker of the poem continues the extension into science with a story he saw on the science TV program NOVA about a man afflicted with Capgras delusion. The man "believed / all his loved ones were carbon-copy imposters.” The speaker recounts that the man “didn't think his parents / were reptiles in rubber suits or Iagos waiting in the wings ... / they just weren't them.” While the poem says that the parents are not “Iagos waiting in the wings,” the title says the opposite, that this poem is about “a flock of Iagos waiting / in the wings.” Here, we have family members who are not family members, a poem that says the parents are not Iagos waiting in the wings, while title says they are. This sort of ambiguity disorients the reader with respect to what is real and what is not.

On the  heels of the NOVA show, the speaker returns to standing on the bridge, there in the slush of traffic:

I’m not thinking of doing anything drastic;
I'm just watching the light from the nearby power

plant occasionally coil in a divot of water,
shine like a scale, and then disappear.


Those last two stanzas leave the reader with a final imprint of the snake that has been slithering all through this poem in images and allusionsLucifer, coils of snow, the alternate universe that "like a snake unhinges its jaw"as well as in diction, for example “constricted,” “snake-oil salesman,” “the brief venom of visual exultation,” “reptiles in rubber suits,” and the "legless" moonlight and snow.


Related to the image of the serpent, one last comment before we move on: Like other poems in the book, this poem contains biblical references and allusions, both directly through Lucifer and indirectly through Iago, which loops in Shakespeare's Othello, considered by some to be an allusion to the biblical creation story in which Desdemona is Eve, Othello is Adam, and Iago, the serpent that deceives them.


We'll conclude our cinematic jaunt through Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope with the last poem of the book, which has the delightful tongue-in-cheek title “Gratuitous Voice-Over at the End of a Film, Reflecting on the Tribulations of the Plot and Coming Finally to an Epiphany.” The poem is told in the first person, and being a voice-over to a film, I imagine the speaker saying the opening lines out loud, as he watches himself row across the lake:

Then I realized, rowing across the lake
that even if Mother leaves the sanitarium
and they build another aviary and free the bullfinches

The humorous tone of the title spills over into the beginning of the poem and those first few lines have the feel of parody. The first twenty-six lines form one long sentence, a string of collaged images and scenes that feel less and less parodical until we reach the final images of that sentence:


winter rain cutting through tree branches,
all this inevitable turning in my life,
a tornado kicking out shreds of a barn,
or an icebreaker ship rolling like an oily bell.

The last six lines of the poem clinch the cinematic reading of the book with a final, parting shot:


It’s as if there’s a camera that pans out farther
and farther until you question what holds it.
Then I realized, rowing across the lake,
there’s so little to keep me from sinking,
just this small craft,
suspended above the consuming water.

This last poem, in which the speaker approaches his life as if it were a film, suggests that life/reality is something we construct, something we can't help but question; it evidences the postmodern container that holds the poems of this beautiful book. 


Like the final poem, the poems in Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope demonstrate a skillful use of tone, juxtaposition, metaphor, and allusion. Montesonti carefully crafts images and language. He is a master of juxtaposition, metaphor, and layered meaning. The result is a book that engages the reader's heart and intellect as it takes us on a journey, an exploration of what is considered real. The book doesn't presume to give answers. Rather, it gifts us with an experience.


__________

[a poem from Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope]

Blackout Chef

I had a friend whose father,
every night after coming home
from looking for work,
would sit down at the kitchen
table and with medical accuracy

pour six shots of vodka
into six glasses and drink them
one per minute. Then he
would stand, open a bottle of wine

and start cooking in his little
basement apartment,
which he rented after the divorce,
until his memory lifted away.

Starved of himself,
he grew so hungry
he would prepare elaborate
meals: New York strip steaks

a perfect medium,
roasted lamb with rosemary
and mint, tomato
and cilantro gazpacho.

He must have staggered through
the bright aisles of the grocery
rooting around the crisper
for kale while Sheryl Crow

played overhead, or slurred to
the manager about the lack
of fresh tarragon. In his bright warm
kitchen with the snow piled

above the basement windows
in the winter months when the sun
would set at five p.m., he pulled his face
from the steam of the pots,

wrinkled in an expression
of joy in preparing things
that made sense, but the next morning,
he would wake to find it all there

untouched, gleaming on plates,
his night work, having appeared seemingly
from nowhere—from someone

who had the things he lacked in life:
taste, inspiration,
the power
to wake up the next morning,

someone else.


"Blackout Chef" was first published in Spork

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All poems printed or quoted in this post © Frank Montesonti Blight, Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope (Barrow Street Press, 2012)



Nancy Chen Long received a BS in Electrical Engineering Technology and an MBA, worked as an electrical engineer, software consultant, and project manager, and more recently earned her MFA. As a volunteer for the local Writers Guild, she coordinates a reading series and works with other poets to offer poetry workshops. Her chapbook, Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (2013) was published by Red Bird Chapbooks. You’ll find her recent and forthcoming work in Sycamore ReviewCold Mountain Review, RHINO, The Louisville Review, Naugatuck River Review, and other journals.