Sunday, November 9, 2014

Interview With Poet Nicelle Davis

My myths crossed when I was four. I mistook the pastel picture
of Jesus hung in every Mormon home for John Lennon. Both
called the Prince of Peace. Was encouraged to talk to him. Offer
up suffering. Let him carry my scabs in his satchel; red letters
addressed home. Inside the paper-wrapped package: a six-string
guitar interpreting lyrics. I still talk to John when praying to Jesus.

- from "Disclaimer: Assumptions Made by This Homemade Religion" by Nicelle Davis

*   *   *

Nicelle Davis is a California poet who walks the desert with her son, J.J., in search of owl pellets and rattlesnake skins. The author of two books of poetry, her most recent book, Becoming Judas, is available from Red Hen Press. Her first book, Circe, is available from Lowbrow Press. In the Circus of You is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in Spring 2015 and The Walled Wife is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Beloit Poetry Journal, The New York Quarterly, PANK, SLAB Magazine, and others. She is editor-at-large of The Los Angeles Review. She has taught poetry at Youth for Positive Change, an organization that promotes success for youth in secondary schools, and with Volunteers of America in their Homeless Youth Center. She currently teaches at Antelope Valley College.

*   *   *

I met Nicelle Davis twice, most recently in Ireland where she and I both attended the Ireland for Writers workshop. The workshop was beyond delightful, not simply because of the magic that is Ireland, but because of the amazing people in the workshop. Early on, we all decided to connect on Facebook. As it turns out, Nicelle and I were already Facebook friends. And after a bit of sleuthing, we deduced that our first meeting must have been at an AWP Conference. The poetry world is a small one indeed.

The workshop was held at Inish Beg, a ninety-acre island estate with gardens, trails, and woodlands. At one end of the island happens to be a white bird cage large enough to hold a woman. Nicelle and Annette, a writer/artist/singer from Minnesota, came up with an idea for performance art: to create a dress out of the stuff of Ireland—feathers, moss, curios. Nicelle and Annette, and any of us who wanted, would then take turns wearing the dress while sitting in the bird cage reciting poetry.

The idea for the performance was my first glimpse into Nicelle's wildly creative spirit. As the week progressed, her encouragement that we be brave in the making of our art—whatever it might be—was inspirational and continues to impact me personally.

Unfortunately, the performance was not to be. Nicelle and Annette worked tirelessly on the dress. When the day came for the performance, something interfered; I don't remember exactly, perhaps that was the day it rained. But we did get some fascinating photographs. The one here is of Nicelle wearing the Ireland dress, looking like a goddess, perhaps Circe or one the Muses, rising from the moss.

After I returned from Ireland, I read Nicelle's most recent book Becoming Judas and found it totally engaging—thought-provoking and smart, as well as evocative. I wanted to share her work with others and asked if she'd consent to an interview, to which she kindly said yes, despite her busy, busy schedule. You're in for a treat, folks. Hers is a fascinating interview, sure to intrigue.

But before getting to the interview, as a way of introduction to Nicelle's work for those unfamiliar, I'd like to leave you with a quick overview of Becoming Judas from the publisher, as well as one of her poems from the book.

—Nancy Chen Long

Becoming Judas (Red Hen Press, 2013)
"The second collection by Nicelle Davis, Becoming Judas, is an "elemental bible-diary-manifesto," that weaves together Mormonism, Mamaism, Manson, Lennon, Kabbalah, and the lost Gospel of Judas into an ecstatic, searing meditation on raw religion. Nicelle Davis is a poet with an eye towards the spiritual. Loosely based on Davis's upbringing in the back-room of a record store in Mormonville, Utah, this unexpected fusion becomes a "spontaneous combustion" of matter turning into energy. In these poems we encounter Jesus, Judas, YouTube, Joseph Smith, Hollywood, the Knights of Templar, Missouri, Utah, a prostitute, turnips, libraries, and God. Spirituality and faith eventually become, like Mallarme's "Dice Thrown," a game of chance: "I know only chance. My feet will / won't hit ground." Instead of choosing a faith based in the material world, which becomes a roll of the dice, Davis embraces the non-material of a pure energy: Let there be light."
Reviews of   Becoming Judas can found at:  Mom Egg Review, Ampersand Review, The Mockingbird Sings

When I was a Boy by Nicelle Davis

My mother bent a Lamborghini on a hydrant, crossing the street in a pair of stilettos.
Men couldn’t stop looking.

She knew the values of being wanted. My bowed nose concerned her. She always
asking if I'd been touched. Yet.

Where I shouldn't. I cut off all my hair—lived on the highest branch of a tree. As a
tomboy I gave her less to worry

about. Out-wrestled the sixth-grade. Taught myself, no. Ding-dong, a Sarah-Jane Adams
Elementary boy said, pushing my ten-

year-old nipple. Opening a door. You’ll appreciate being wanted one day, mother said,
rubbing the bump out of the rim of my nose.

What I wanted was her—the way I wished for a branch to grow past where I climbed—
to be lifted without others spading for our roots.

first published in [PANK]
© Nicelle Davis, Becoming Judas (Red Hen Press, 2013)

[This interview was conducted via email in August 2014 and originally posted on Poetry Matters.]

I recently finished reading your second book of poetry, Becoming Judas. It’s a tour de force, a remarkable book really, braiding and conflating the various story-myths of Jesus, Judas, John Lennon, yours, and others. Please tell us a little about the book’s becoming.

ND: Becoming Judas was written while I was a student at the University of California, Riverside (URC). It was the first complete manuscript I’d ever written; it taught me that a manuscript is more than a collection of poems—it is an unfolding of ideas. One poem tells the poet what to write next—and in this way, the book takes the author on a journey. Becoming Judas revealed to me that a poet doesn’t write a manuscript, the manuscript rewrites the poet. 

There were three factors that lead me to this realization. First, I had my son while at UCR—this experience literally tore my body in two; this physical reality mirrored my interior divisions. I was coming undone, falling apart, and in this space, my past, present, and future began to violently collide. Second, I was surrounded by incredible people while working on this book. As a new mom, my only time to write was late at night; I would stay up all night at a Riverside Denny’s to write Becoming Judas. My cohort took turns staying up with me. Over bottomless cups of coffee and shared sunrises, I fell deeply in love with my fellow writers; we became a family. Third, I had mentors who were willing to guide me through the darkness. I’m trying not to cry right now—because they (especially Kate Gale and Mark Cull) would all call me a wimp for tearing up—but without them and the help of Maurya Simon, Susan Straight, Goldberry Long, Juan Felipe Herrera, Robin Russin, Christopher Buckley, and Chris Abani, I wouldn't have been able to navigate the emotional toll of a first manuscript.

So here (without all the blah-blah) are my five steps to a book’s becoming:
  1. Let the book be what it wants to be—even if it is or isn't pretty or popular. 
  2. Let the book rupture you—let it change you forever. 
  3. Let the sun rise on your work (in other words, work all night / write your ass off.) 
  4. Let your cohort be your family—build a writing family. 
  5. Let others be your light. There are gracious people who are willing to help; let them, even when you don’t understand how or why they are helping you. Pray that their grace will teach you how to be gracious.

Grappling with the spiritual and transcendent in light of the human condition seems to be pivotal in Becoming Judas. Could you talk a little bit about that aspect of your work? I found The Gospel of Judas [a gnostic text first translated by National Geographic in 2006] to be fundamental to the book. When did you first encounter that text? What attracts you to it?

ND: I love the National Geographic’s documentary The Gospel of Judas—I love how they made Judas into a sort of religious Mickey Mouse—the commercialism is grotesque—which is delightful. The film is full of gangsters and backstabbers who, through violence and deception, allow us to encounter The Gospel of Judas. Leave it to Judas to be resurrected by thieves and brought to light by marketers.

I also enjoy Tobias Churton’s Kiss of Death: The True History of the Gospel of Judas, which does an excellent job making fun of the National Geographic documentary. His book however, mainly focuses on the concept of authenticity—what makes a gospel a gospel?— what makes a disciple a disciple?—what makes a kiss right or wrong? The “this or that” of the Churton’s book is a little difficult for me. Even so, this book was one of my dearest companions while writing Becoming Judas—so much so, that now six years later I find my son’s “lost” ultra-sound photos wedged between the pages. So it seems, Churton's book continues to help me explore the idea of “lost,” “saved,” and everything in-between.

There are many code phrases that distinguish authentic believers from non-believers. In the Christian community, I am often referred to as fence rider; Judas might be called a fence rider too. Fence riders believe but don’t do what they're told—or they do what they're told but they don’t believe in it; they are considered dirty because they are indecisive and noncommittal. But Judas never struck me as uncertain or unfaithful; he seemed a man born into a world of flux—his is the story of when all the stories collide—he wasn't riding a fence—he is the moment of impact—he is / was a kiss. Judas (in his historically and / or mythical form) betrays and saves us with a kiss. We all save and betray each other with a kiss.

I have often felt like a religious tourist; I grew up in Utah, but wasn't raised Mormon. This isn't to say that I didn't go to several Mormon events and attend church(es) regularly. I’d often take myself to church, any church, and watch. If I have any authenticity it is that of a spiritual voyeur, which in my later years, I encounter more in tattoo parlors and trapeze class than churches. (Though, I still love churches; I’m drawn to them.)

In addition to churches, I’m drawn to religious texts, same as I am a devout reader of Rolling Stone magazine and tabloids. I’ve poured over the Gnostic texts for years; Gnosticism is one of the few places where women are seen as active spiritual beings. Pop-culture tabloids are also a rare resource for visible and active women. (We take our models where we can find them.) So, I pounced on the text as soon as I heard Judas (the most feminized of the male apostles) had a gospel. (This gospel, ironically, was published around the time I was working on a book about being a rotten-no-good snitch.) I started to enjoy the synchronicity of things—started looking for synchronicities—I wanted to feel all the stories collide.

What attracts me to Judas? We are both rotten-no-good snitches; we are tabloids. I believe every writer must come to terms with being a tattletale—every snitch has to take their stitches before they can really begin to write. This book is what I needed to become a writer. It is an awkward position to be in—to attempt to save the moment while betraying it. As a writer, I want the ephemeral to become everlasting; this is problematic. Judas and writers are problematic, but what I love about Judas is that his love seems greater than his failings. Because he loved Jesus as he betrayed him, we have a story that transcends time; this betrayal is as present today as it “was” before or after the kiss occurred. I can only hope to be a Judas.

Both Becoming Judas and your first book Circe include illustrations by Cheryl Gross. Tell us a little about how that collaboration process worked. Will there be visual art in either of your forthcoming books?

© Cheryl Gross, an illustration from
In the Circus of You
ND: Cheryl and I were recently interviewed by the amazing Liz Bradfield for the Alaska Quarterly Review. We submitted our responses separately, and yet there were these astounding moments of overlap which highlighted for me how lucky we are to have found each other. At one point in the interview Cheryl announces, “Nicelle and I are rebels. We care more about the art/projects and pushing boundaries.” Cheryl's statement was one of the few times that I felt proud to be a writer—that I belonged to something larger than myself. We are friends who push boundaries and this is because of collaboration.

We started collaborating on a book called In the Circus of You, which will be released from Rose Metal Press this spring. After this experience, it seemed natural that Cheryl and I make more art together. We have started other projects that I’m very excited about; I can not wait to see where our collaborations take us.

You’ve also done collaborations with Cheryl and others on trailers/motion graphics for your books, including motion graphics for five poems in Becoming Judas, trailers for both Circe and your upcoming book The Circus of You, and a video poem “The First Hour of Being Buried Alive in the Walls of a Half-Built Cathedral.” The idea of video poetry and moving/motion poems is fascinating. What kind of responses have you been getting from those who “watch” your poetry? What has been the most surprising thing for you about making these?

ND: Motion Graphics are great! Great!

As the famous Shakespeare quote goes, The play's the thing. I couldn’t agree more. The “play” of twenty-first century is the Motion Graphic; these films allow multiple artists to gather and return to their roots—to a place of performance. The Motion Graphics feel like pure art to me; they are so collaborative by nature that no one person is in control; in this way, such projects are as terrifying and exhilarating as live theatre. I feel so grateful to live in a time when artists from across the globe can virtually gather to create a very tangible performance of art, poetry, music, and dance.

The most surprising thing about making these films is how well people work together. Very serious artists are given a space to play, and they do play with diligence. This is a sort of work that adults rarely get to participate in—it approximates how, as children, we created imagined worlds together—it feels like falling in love, but without any of the complications.

I’m also surprise at how far the Motion Graphics travel: they have been shown in film festivals across the globe. My poems go places I’ve only dreamed of. I hope they are leading the way—teaching me how to be a resident of the world.

In addition to visual art, performance seems vital to your connection to the word and to poetry, such as your reading at Pasadena Central Park. While I’ve heard wonderful, dramatic readings by poets reading their own work, I’ve never seen a poet perform her poem at a reading. You do so, complete with costumes. It must take a tremendous amount of work to perform a reading like that. How do you prepare for such a reading from an energetic standpoint? From a practical standpoint, who creates your costumes? Does the performance aspect ever come into play for you when you’re in the first stages of creating a poem? Could speak a little about costumes and poses on the cover of the Becoming Judas

ND: It takes hours and hours and hours of work. It requires the efforts of many people.

All this effort and yet it is met with mixed reviews. Not everyone likes performance art for a host of reasons. I love performance art because it’s hard to ignore; it’s raw and it’s experiential; it is often awkward and uncomfortable, in other words it’s human. The documentary, Women Art Revolution, is a great introduction to the role performance art in women’s rights. When women are visible, raw, and experiential, people can get mean; I find this interesting and at times difficult. However, I find it much more difficult to be invisible. There is a group of performance poets whom I appreciate for their efforts and process, including, Lauren K. Alleyne, Ching-In Chen, Kate Durbin, and Sierra Nelson. These ladies are inspirational to me, as I am sure they are for others.

Costuming is one of my favorite art forms. I’ve spent years obsessing over the history of fashion. Clothes create a silent conversation; costumes amplify this dialogue. My favorite costume artist is Pavlina Janssen; I consider her my art sister because we know each other’s secret language. As a collage artist, Pavlina doesn’t just make a dress, she creates layered stories. She made the dress for the cover of Becoming Judas.

For this dress I brought her all the remnants of my failed marriage: a feather comforter, a fox coat, a negligee, bones, and teeth. She mended these things into a dress that brought the dead back to life. Dennis Mecham took the photos. He has an incredible knack for conducting light; his tones are so intense that they seem to sing. I was so anxious to work with him that during the photo shoot I didn’t notice that the fox claws were shredding my legs; it wasn’t until the next day that I realized my thighs were scratched and bleeding from the little fox paws.

At this point there have been hundreds of costumes and dramatic events—I wish there was time to go into each of them at length, but events are not meant to last. I owe a great deal to photographers Jason Hughes, Marcelles Murdock, and Lauren Marquardt who have helped document the making. Making is the best part of any art; it brings people together—it is an organic magic. The puppets used for the Pasadena LitFest were a joint effort of Brandon, Natasha, and me; we stayed up late talking and carving. Brandon is an amazing craftsman and Natasha is an intuitive designer. It was fun to perform with the puppets, but the real benefit of this collaboration was spending time with these two friends. Making helps me form relationships and forge meaning in my life. The artistic products (I feel) are just an invitation to join in the making.

For example, I was delighted this summer (dear Nancy) by our writing group, who accepted the invitation to make and foraged for feather. We made a dress out of Ireland. I feel like the feathers gave us permission to touch the landscape in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise. We are so lucky to be makers.

Of all of the poems you’ve written, what is one of your favorites? 

ND: My favorite poem is always the one I’m writing; once the writing is over, the poem doesn’t belong to me anymore.

When your first full-length manuscript was published, were there things you thought would happen, yet didn’t? unexpected things that did happen?

ND: It is difficult to write a book, twice as difficult to publish a book, and infinitely more difficult to gain readership. On the surface poetry isn’t very practical—there is less than no money in it (I’ve hocked all my jewelry and skipped many meals to afford poetry)—however, there are treasures in this pursuit that exceed the monetary. I feel that this difficult process has shown me the best of people. My teachers and editors have shocked me with their grace and loyalty. I’ve watched my publishers risk everything to sponsor a book; seeing their dedication to art (or rather, their efforts to extend the world of ideas and imagination) is humbling to say the least. Also, after going through the “publication” process, I have cultivated a great appreciation for readers.

As a first time author I wrote a book to create a gift—a tangible item that could be handed to another person. When I was younger I privileged the giver, but now I recognize that the receiver carries the bulk of this intimate exchange. It is the intangible actions (such as engagement and acceptance) that sustain us. I now recognize that time spent with a piece of art costs a portion of a person’s life; I’ve learned (maybe the hard way) that I will never write a book worthy of a person’s time—but I can try, I will try, and hope that the effort bleeds through the pages—I try to create art that fights to meet readers half way.

With your two forthcoming books, you will have had four published in the span of five years. You’re prolific, not to mention hard-working. It takes sustained effort to write, prepare, and promote a book of poetry. Do you have any favorite tactics for promotion? What have you learned from your first two books to help with your next two?

ND: I have found that the same attributes that move a person forward also hold them back; a writer has to work with and against themselves when creating their writing life. For example, I’m a very creative person (I can see the possibilities clearly), but this also means that I have a hard time recognizing my limitations. I have to tell myself no sometimes. Most of the time I rebel against the idea of no. This leads me to do more, which is great; this can also lead me toward total collapse, which is very bad. Because of that quality, I’ve had to learn how to listen to myself and others. In this way, my strengths move me forward as my weaknesses teach me.

I recommend that a writer identify key attributes—the things that make them who they are—and use these characteristics to carve out a writing life that reflects them. My toolbox includes: shamelessness, shyness, awkwardness, and pride. (Not the best tools, but they’re what I’ve got, so I have to make them work.)

I’m shameless when it comes to who and what I love; I love poetry, so I’m willing to try just about anything for it. I’m also shy by nature, so if what I’m doing doesn’t feel dangerous, I know I’m not risking enough. This devotion to risk has guided me past my comfort zones; risk also involves a lot failure, or rather, many awkward moments. I’m trying to embrace the awkward by putting myself out there—I allow myself to experience rejection and acceptance. Getting out there includes asking for publication, asking for readings, asking bookstores to carry books, asking for reviews—asking, asking, asking. I’m a proud person, so asking for anything makes me nauseous—but I have that shameless thing to help me deal with the awkwardness of puking.

I also highly recommend forming a writing community. I have my five; they keep me going—they keep me honest. I keep my core writing family near me: I would be lost without them.

As an editor at The Los Angeles Review and Connotation Press, what would you tell hopeful poets looking to find homes for their work?

ND: Every editor is different, so if you receive a rejection from one publication try another.

What I look for in writing is something that surprises me. Often I’ll read a submission that sounds exactly like the twelve I rejected before it. These can be well-wrought pieces; they just lack a mark of uniqueness. The same way that I’m drawn to brush strokes in a painting or thumbprints in ceramics, I like to see an intrinsic quality in a piece of writing.

If I’m still thinking about a submission an hour after reading it, I feel that writing has done its job and will be accepted for publication.

Who are you reading now? Do you have a favorite poet or poets? What poets influence you?

ND: I’m currently obsessed with Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty; I love this book. Right now, I have Natasha Saje’s new collection, Vivarium, sitting next to me. I also have, no exaggeration, 100 poetry collections stacked in alphabetical order at my bedside; my goal is to read a book a day—sort of a read-a-thon. (I’ll let you know if I finish this race.)

My favorite poets are Stephen Crane and John Keats (I don’t think that will ever change.) Of course Anne Sexton, Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, and C.D. Wright are my guiding lights.

When do you remember first being interested in poetry? Was there a mentor who encouraged you?

ND: I was 7; I was annoying my grandmother. She handed me a book by John Keats and said not to bother her until I knew what it was about. I’m still trying to figure that book out.

There have been many mentors. Natasha Saje, Alma McKertich, Charles Hood, Kate Gale, Mark Cull, my instructors at UCR—these are the few who were willing to put up with me. They have been good to me in ways that surpassed my expectations of kindness.

When you write, do you imagine a reader? If so, what type of reader?

ND: I usually write a book with one person in mind. With my latest project, I’m writing for one but editing with a larger audience in mind. I would like to write a book that shows its bones—a book that anyone who is willing can access.

Generally speaking, how do you approach revision? Do you use a checklist or have any tried-and-true practices?

ND: Forming a manuscript is like carving a sphere—you can tell it’s off because it wobbles in motion. I can recognize when a work needs revision, but I get lost in the muck of it. I get too close, too focused on the material to see what the overall manuscript needs. I require smart and honest readers to make a book. I have a handful of readers. Kate Gale and Mark Cull will give me no-holds advice. My dearest reader is Adam Smith; he’s brutally honest and wildly funny. Adam helps me laugh through my shortcomings. He is nothing short of a brilliant editor. Readers and editors are not recognized enough for their contributions to a book.

If you were a place, where or what type of a place would you be?

ND: I try my best to be as many places as possible, but really I’m a southwestern kind of gal. The desert never washes off.

Are you working on a fifth poetry book? When you and I were recently in workshop together, you were working on fiction. How is that project coming along? Could you tell us a little about it?

ND: I’m playing with three poetry projects; I’ve been obsessing over maps, taxidermy, and Caliban. I also hope to finish the Ghost Republic project this year, which involves 20 poets, a photographer, and a concept album by the Willard Grant Conspiracy: we’ve recreated the ghost town of Bodie through art. (I have to finish this project or this project will finish me.)

I’m working on an experimental memoir / graphic novel that will revolve around the concept of social noise. Noise is all the static found in poverty, racism, sexism, and inequities. Noise is the invisible weight that keeps people down. I’m really excited about this because I’ll get to collaborate with Cheryl again. (I love working with Cheryl.)

The fiction project you referred to, currently titled After the Rats, is the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do. Long form is so foreign to me, but I love it. The plot is basic: boy meets girl, they fall in love, its all fucked up and crazy, but so is life. After the Rats is a man’s search for meaning in the wake of a horrible catastrophe. Loosely based on the legend of the Pied Pier, this is a love story that happens in the graveyards of dead rats and the empty rooms of missing children. It’s trying to reconcile moments of happiness that are found in the wake of a tragedy. I have a feeling that if I can pull this book off, I’ll believe in a joyful form of love again. I want to believe again.

Is there anything you like to share about any of your books or say about poetry or writing in general?

ND: In general I feel it is important for us to be mindful that we are more than an individual artist, we are a community. To keep this community going—to keep books in the world—we have to be supportive of each other. We also have to allow for mistakes and conflict. Art doesn’t make us human; it challenges us to act humanely. This is always difficult but important work. Art is the place where we are allowed to fail at failing better. There is no winning or success in this space, only a chance for growth.

Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

ND: My dad is an artist; he gave me three important pieces of advice:
  1. Dirt and gravity can only be pushed so far. You have to push past these limits for it to be art. If you chance the miracle and the pot survives the fire--that's art.
  2. Some people are born to play the love and understand Jazz. Just because your music (poetry) isn't what everyone likes doesn't mean you can't play. Be nice to yourself.
  3. Call when you can; those who love you, miss you.

Nicelle’s website:

A sampling of Nicelle’s poems on-line:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Some Notes on Remix Poetry

I’m fairly new to remix. So far, I’ve only used it in conjunction with three projects initiated by The Found Poetry Review. However, a number of people have asked what process I use for remix, so I thought I would provide an overview of it.

Generally, I take an arbitrary selection of a source text (or I am assigned a selection), for example the first paragraph of every page of a text or a specific chapter from a book, and then use the words in that selection as the general vocabulary for the poem that’s to be drafted.

I mix and rearranged individual words chosen out that selection of text. On occasion, I might remix using a phrase. But for the most part I use individual words: I separate all of the words out of the text so that they are not in context, because I don’t want to simply regurgitate the text in condensed form—I want to transform it somehow. Therefore, for my personality, it’s best that I not see the text on the page.

Then, using computer programs like Adobe Acrobat Pro, Microsoft Word, and/or Microsoft Excel, I create two lists—one in which the words are alphabetized in a single column and another that is randomized with the words in rows across the page. I select words from these two lists to make the poem. It's something akin to that prompt in which someone says “use these five words to make a poem” and then gives you an arbitrary set of words. Except in this case, all of the words need to be tied to the source text.

Separating out the words from their source context helps free me to use them in ways not tied to the source. For example, I feel more free to use words that can function as different parts of speech, such as bolt, which can function as a verb, adverb, or noun, as it fits the poem, not necessarily how it was used in the source text. Of course, a good number of folks aren't influenced by the story or specific meaning of the words on the page and can use the words without having to separate them from their context. I, unfortunately, am not one of them and so I create lists of free-standing words.

In addition to the word lists, I allow myself to use words that are not in the selection, but that can be discovered by:

 concatenation, e.g. sun + light --> sunlight

 erasure within a word to form a new word, e.g. erasing “ling” from “sparkling” to form "spark", sparkling  --> spark

If I get stuck, I allow myself to return to the source text on the page in order to apply erasure across a phrase to form a new word. If I can’t find a word I want within one line or 80 characters of text, I move on to another word or idea. As an example, take the phrase “as the new moon with.” By erasing “a” + “ the new” + “n wi” , you get the word “smooth”: as the new moon with --> smooth

For each revision of a poem, I go back to the word lists and techniques for finding new words.  I keep detailed notes so that I can adequately cite the source text, which is important.

Different people do remix differently and the above process is nothing official—it's just one that works for me. (I’m not sure there is an official remix method.)

It’s been interesting to note some of the comments I've received regarding remix poems. Some folks who are not fond of found poetry don’t consider it “real” poetry because they don't think it's original—not enough of the mark of the maker. Some who are ardent fans of found poetry don’t consider remix (or at least my remix process) to be “real” found poetry because there is not enough foundness to it. There’s too much original language—in this case, too much the mark of the maker, because the poem contains language that is not found directly in the source text or language that is not found in the same order as in the source text.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Poetry Manuscripts: Resources for Manuscript Consultation/Coaching

(updated 12/17/2016)

This is the second post of two concerning resources related to putting together a poetry manuscript.

Last week, I posted a partial list of online articles that discussed ways to organize a poetry manuscript. Today's post is a partial list of individuals and organizations with an online presence (they're publicly accessible, have a website, etc.) that offer some sort of manuscript consultation or mentoring. The options below are 1) classes or workshops that include manuscript review, and 2) working one-on-one with a mentor.

Of the options listed below, I've done the post-graduate residency. I've also worked with some folks on a manuscript consultation:

  • I contacted Sandra Simonds for a consultation after I'd been sending my first manuscript script out for a couple of years. The manuscript had received some favorable results (occasional finalist or semifinalist), but remained unpublished. I thought a set of fresh eyes on the matter would help.  After she and I exchanged emails and mutually agreed we'd be a good fit, I emailed the manuscript to her. She responded in a timely manner, on the exact day we agreed to. Her feedback included a page of comments with respect to her overall impressions. Then, for each poem, she provided line edits and comments, including suggestions on arrangement, themes, narrative arc, weaknesses, strengths, etc. Her comments were to the point and insightful. It was just what I needed to help me better see how I should shape the manuscript. I cut twenty pages and added five new poems (eight pages). Some of the poems that were removed were ones that Sandra suggested; others were ones that I felt needed to go.

  • I worked with Sandra Beasley after I replaced about 20% of the poems in a manuscript. The changes resulted in a manuscript with a somewhat different focus. When I contacted Sandra, I wasn't looking for a full manuscript review. Since a large chunk of the manuscript had been torn out and filled in with brand new poems, I wanted a second opinion on whether it still held together as a book. Sandra's response was timely and substantive. She provided two page of comments / recommendations and a suggested reordering. She even offered line edits, which went above and beyond what I'd requested. I found her feedback to be quite helpful.
Both Sandra Simonds and Sandra Beasley are listed below in "Services Offered by Individuals".

Please note: The resources listed below came to my attention because I received an email about it or I heard about it at a conference or someone sent me a link to it. Except for the two mentioned above, other than what scant information is provided below, I know little about these services. So, as with any service on which you spend your hard-earned pennies, caveat emptor.

And if you're ready to send out your first poetry manuscript and are looking to send them to contests, check out this list of 1st-book contests.


Colrain Manuscript Conference, fee is approximately $1,400 and includes lodging and some food

• The Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers' Conference  has a workshop for full manuscripts for those who have an MFA (“members of the Poetry Manuscript workshops submit drafts of book-length collections.”) Poetry Manuscript tuition is a little over $1,000, room and board not included.


One-on-one services are divided below into two groups: those offered by a journal, press, or other organization and those offered by an individual. In fees listed are current as of the date of they were added to this page and might have since changed. Please contact the organization or person for current rates.

Services offered by journals, presses, and other organizations
• Cutthroat Journal Mentorship and Manuscript Evaluations, fee for Poetry manuscript is approximately $2,000

• GrubStreet Manuscript Consultation, hourly rate, $75 per hour

• The Loft Manuscript Critique and Coaching, cost varies according to the mentor/editor you select

• The Attic Institute offers Individual Consultations, including “Putting Together Your Full-Length Poetry Manuscript”, fee varies depending on requested consultation

• UCLA Extention Writers’ Program One-on-One Consultation, fee varies by number of pages, $500 minimum

• Manuscript Reading Services offered by members of the League of Canadian Poets, fees vary according to mentor/editor you select

• Manuscript editing and mentoring by one of the editors of Two Sylvia Press, sliding-scale fee from $450 to $1350

• Manuscript editing and mentoring by one of the editors of Blue Lyra Review, fee varies per number of pages, approximately $25 per 20 pages

• Post-graduate semester: If you have an MFA or other degree, there's the option of checking with the school where you graduated (or another school) to see if you could take a post-graduate semester to work with a mentor to finalize your manuscript. The cost is likely to be one semester's tuition.

Services offered by individuals

• April Ossmann, Manuscript consultation, hourly rate $85, final fee varies depending on the type of editing requested

E. Kristen Anderson, writing coach, chapbook and full length consultations, and individual-poem critique at Yellow Bird Editors, see "How Much Will It Cost" for rates.

• Jeffrey Levine, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Tupelo Press, Mentoring Program for Poets, fee varies according to which plan you choose, from $1,200 on up

• Jennifer Givhan, Critique & Editing Services , fee varies according to services requested

• Jennifer K. Sweeney, Private Instruction / Poetry Critique, fee varies according to services requested, approximately $450 for a manuscript critique

• Jessica Piazza, Co-founder of both Bat City Review and Gold Line Press, contributing editor at The Offending Adam, see her author website for her contact info, fee varies according to services requested, starting at $300 for a general consultation.

• Joanna Fuhrman, poetry editor at Ping PongPoetry Workshops for Adults—Individual Consultations, fee varies according to services requested; approximately $425 for a book/manuscript consultation.

• Katerina Stoykova-Klemer of Accents Publishing, Editing and feedback on book-length manuscripts, contact her for fee amounts

• Kelli Russell Agodon, Editorial Services for Poets & Writers, rates vary depending on services requested

• Laura Van Prooyen, Writer Services, see author website for rates

• Nancy Pearson, Individual manuscript consultations, contact her for fee amounts

• Neil Aitken, editor at Boxcar Poetry Review, Consulting, rates vary depending on services requested

• Sandra Beasley, click on the For Hire tab of the author's website, contact her for fee amounts.

• Sandra Marchetti, Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary CollectionWriting Services, fee varies according to length of the manuscript, starting at $100 for a shorter chapbooks; publication coaching offered at approximately $30 an hour.

Sandra Simonds, author of 4 books of poetry, whose work has been selected for Best American Poetry 2014 and 2015, manuscript consultations include line edits, help with arrangement, and general feedback. Contact her for fee amounts,

[The links and the information shown above were current as of the date of this post.]

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 some books and 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.]


"Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems" by Susan Grimm


Turning a Manuscript into a First Book by Alberto Ríos


==Articles in a Series==

Kelli Russell Agodon of Two Sylvias Press has a four-part series of articles called "Compiling a Poetry Manuscript:"

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:

==Individual Articles==

On the Patchwork Approach to Piecing Together a Book” by Heather Christle

Assembling a Poetry Collection” by Gerald Huml

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

"Notes from a First Round Reader" by Marilyn McCabe

Putting Your Poetry in Order: The Mix-Tape Strategy” by Katrina Vandenberg

"Shaping a Collection of Poems" by Jamaal May

"Still Life with Book: On Ordering Your Poetry Manuscript" by Sandra Marchetti (guest post on Chloe Yelena Miller's blog)

Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript” by April Ossmann

"Trust Your Eye: On Ordering Poetry" by Sandra Beasley

[page last update 18-Jun-2015]

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
* 2015 winners: Laura Vena, X/She: Stardraped and Andrew Wessels, A Turkish Dictionary
* 2014 winner: Leif Haven, Arcane Rituals from the Future
* 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
* 2016 winner: Mai Der Vang, Afterland
* 2015 winner: Sjohnna McCray, Rapture
* 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 for poems or short stories, The St. Lawrence Book Award (only poetry winners are listed here)
* 2015 winnter: Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Matria
* 2014 winner: short-story winner
* 2013 winner: KMA Sullivan, Necessary Fire

BOA Editions, 1st book contest,  A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize, limited to citizens and legal residents of the United States
* 2015 winner: Derrick Austin , Trouble the Water
* 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
* 2015 winner: Donika Kelly, Bestiary
* 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 
* 2015 winner: Susan Azar Porterfield, Dirt, Root, Silk
* 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 
* 2015 winner: Leora Fridman, My Fault
* 2014 winner: Siwar Masannat, 50 Water Dreams
* 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 [This press has closed.]
* 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

Copper Nickel, 1st or 2nd book contest, The Jake Adam York Prize [2016 is the inaugural year for this prize.]

Crab Orchard Review, 1st book contest, First Book Award; limited to citizens and permanent residents of the United States
* 2015 winner: Charif Shanahan, Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing
* 2014 winner: Gregory Kimbrell, The Primitive Observatory
* 2013 winner: Noel Crook, Salt Moon
* 2012 winner: Tarfia Faizullah, Seam

Elixir Press, 1st book contest, Antivenom Poetry Award
* 2015 winner:  John Estes, Sure Extinction
* 2014 winner:  Lisa Bickmore, flicker
* 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
* 2015 winner: Jennifer Pilch, Deus Ex Machina
* 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
* 2015 winner: Zayne Turner, Body Burden
* 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
* 2015 winner: Rajiv Mohabir, The Cowherd's Son
* 2014 winner: Janine Joseph, 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
* 2016 winner: Courtney Kampa, Our Lady of Not Asking Why
* 2015 winner: Sawnie Morris, Her, Infinite
* 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
* 2015 winner: Carol Kapaun Ratchenski, A Beautiful Hell
* 2014 winner: unknown (unable to find who won)
* 2013 winner:  Julie Gard, Home Studies
* 2012 winner: Brandon Krieg, Invasives

Omnidawn, 1st or 2nd book contest, 1st/2nd Book Prize
* 2015 winner: Jennifer S. Cheng, House A
* 2014 winner: Margaret Ross, A Timeshare
* 2013 winner: Eric Ekstrand, Laodicea
* 2012 winner: Robin Clarke, Lines the Quarry
Pavement Saw Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, Transcontinental Poetry Award [This contest appears to be defunct.]
* 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
* 2015 winner: Kimberly Grey, The Opposite of Light
* 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
* 2015 winner: Jenifer Browne Lawrence, Grayling
* 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
* 2017 winner: Kristen Tracy, Half-Hazard
* 2012 winner: Hailey Leithauser, Swoop

Red Dragonfly Press, 1st book contest,  The David Martinson - Meadowhawk Prize
* 2015 winner: Susan Cohen, A Different Wakeful Animal
* 2014 winner: Francine Sterle, What Thread? 
* 2013 winner: Chad Hanson, Patches of Light

Sage Hill Press, 1st book contest, Powder Horn Prize
* 2014 winner: Jeffrey Tucker, Kill February
* 2013 winner: unknown (unable to find who won/unsure if there was a contest that year)
* 2012 winner: Marci Rae Johnson, The Eyes the Window

Silverfish Review Press, 1st book contest, Gerald Cable Book Award
* 2014 winner: Robert Hunter Jones, Winter Garden
* 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
* 2014 winner: Cyrstal CurryBut I Have Realized It: A Motivational Poem in Little Arcs
* 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
* 2016 winner: Ephraim Scott Sommers, The Night We Set the Dead Kid on Fire
* 2015 winner: Ezra Feldman, Habitat of Stones
* 2014 winner: David Ebanbach, We Were the People Who Moved
* 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
* 2015 winner: Alicia Jo Rabins, Divinity School
* 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
* 2016 winner: Mary Cisper, Dark Tussock Moth
* 2015 winner: Carolyn Hembree, Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague
* 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
* 2015 winner: Patrick Coleman, Fire Season
* 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
* 2015 winner: Miriam Bird Greenberg, In the Volcano's Mouth
* 2014 winner: Nathan Marshall, Wild Hundreds
* 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.)
* 2015 winner: n/a
* 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, occurs every two years
* 2015 winner: n/a
* 2014 winner: David Campos, Furious Dusk
* 2013 winner: n/a
* 2012 winner: Laurie Ann Guerrero, A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying

Unicorn Press1st book contest, First Book Contest
* 2015 winner: Stephen Lackaye, Self-Portrait in Dystopian Landscape
* 2014 winner: Hastings Hensel, Winter Inlet
* 2013 winner: Martin Arnold, Earthquake Owner's Manual

Waywiser Press, 1st or 2nd book contest, The Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize
* 2015 winner: Austin Allen, Pleasures of the Game
* 2014 winner: Jaimee HillsHow to Avoid Speaking
* 2013 winner: Geoffrey Brock, Voices Bright Flags
* 2012 winner: Shelley Puhak, Guinevere in Baltimore

Wick Poetry Center, 1st book contest, Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize
* 2015 winner: Leah Osowski, Hover Over Her
* 2014 winner: Matthew Minicucci, No Epithets
* 2013 winner: Oliver Bendorf, The Spectral Wilderness
* 2012 winner: Michael Mlekoday, The Dead Eat Everything

Yale University Press, 1st book contest, Yale Series of Younger Poets
* 2015 winner: Noah Warren, The Destroyer in the Grass
* 2014 winner: Ansel ElkinsBlue Yodel
* 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.)
* 2015 winner: n/a
* 2014 winner: Ashley Seitz Kramer, Museum of Distance
* 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:

    • a list of presses with open readings for full-length poetry manuscripts 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.)