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Pushcart Prize Nominees

Congratulations to eight of our contributors from Poetry International # 17 who have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes for the following poems:

“My Mother’s Passing” C.G. Hanzlicek
“Elegy for Kenneth Koch” Fred Moramarco
“Standing on the Earth Among the Cows” Malena Morling
“Boundless” Alex Lemon
“Amateur Night” Michael Waters
“The Olympus Theater” David St. John
“The Box Elder Bug” Steve Kowit
“The Promise” Jane Hirshfield

We’re proud to publish great work by fantastic poets! Kudos to all!

Fred Moramarco, In Memoriam

Fred Moramarco, the founding editor of Poetry International, passed away last Monday. He was  professor emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, where he taught for many years. Fred was the author and editor of seven books, including The Poetry of Men’s Lives, Men of Our Time, Italian Pride: 101 Reasons to Be Proud You’re Italian. His most recent book of poetry is The City of Eden where many of his selected poems have been gathered together. Links to Fred’s published poems and essays as well as his introduction to the inaugural issue of Poetry International can be seen below. His poem, “Elegy for Kenneth Koch,” was his last poem published in Poetry International.

As editor of Poetry International, Fred Moramarco published many notable poets which include Charles Simic, Kim Addonizio, Jane Hirshfield, Billy Collins, Charles H. Webb, Stephen Dunn, Al Zolynas, Wanda Coleman, Thomas Lux, Robert Bly, Yusef Komunyakaa, Maxine Kumin, Gary Soto, David St. John, Marilyn Hacker, Charles Harper Webb, Osip Mandelstam, Octavio Paz, Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, Glover Davis, Suzanne Lummis, Taylor Graham, Virgil Suarez, Sarah Maclay, Jorge Luis Borges, Susan Wheeler and James Tate.

An excerpt from the editorial introduction to the inaugural issue of Poetry International:

“The poets of the world and those who value poetry comprise a community. In the buzz and hustle of late twentieth-century life, that community sometimes seems threatened with extinction, but despite the steamroller of deconstructive forces in our time that has tried to crush its essence, poetry remains the language of the soul. It is also, as Ezra Pound noted, a ‘purification’ of the language of the tribe. By that, Pound, despite his own political and ideological excesses, meant that it cleanses language of the corruption of commerce and political cant. Poetry exists exactly at that axis where the language of the soul meets the language of the tribe.”

“Many years ago, when I first read Frank O’Hara’s moving poem about the death of Billy Holiday, the lines about buying ‘an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets/ in Ghana are doing these days’ made a strong impression on me. Imagine, I thought, someone actually interested in what poets are writing in Ghana! Years later I came to understand what the poets are doing in whatever part of the world you want to look at can get you in touch with what really matters in that part of the world far more intimately than daily newspapers, history texts, or television specials can. It can get you in touch with what people are feeling about the lives they live and the world that surrounds them. A poem can be many things but if it is not first of all the inside of one person talking to the inside of another, then it is very little. This magazine is intended to be a repository for that kind of interior exchange.”

Fred Moramarco

Elegy for Kenneth Koch
d. July 6, 2002

It seems too crazy, like one of your mad, funny poems,
that you’re not with us anymore, not here to point out
the thisness of things, like mountains, circuses, and fresh air.
You were always the court jester of poets,
topping pretension from its granite and marble heights.
“Look,” you would say, about this or that,
“how absolutely strange, marvelous, and ordinary it is,
like everything else you will meet on your daily rounds.”
You noticed the blueness of blue, the curvature of the round,
the still beats of silence within seconds.
One of my favorites of your lines is
“To learn of cunnilingus at fifty
Argues a wasted life.” This from your poem,
“Some General Instructions,” which pings in my head even today.
Ah, Kenneth, the obit said it was leukemia and you were 77.
Hard to imagine either. You, a frail old man, eaten by blood cells.
I rarely saw you when you weren’t laughing, darting here and there.
I remember we wrote a sestina in your class,
each student writing a line as the poem went around the room.
I wrote the last line of that poem, and remember it forty years later
because you thought it was the perfect ending:
“Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?”
And I say that again, for this summer, when you’re no longer here:
Who would have guessed at such a meaning for summer?

                               published in Poetry International 17

Selection of Fred Moramarco’s Poems

“The Day Lady Died, Lady Died”
http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2011/apr/06/poetry-day-lady-died-lady-died-fred-moramarco/

“Clark Kent, Naked”
http://www.menweb.org/ckentnak.htm

“A Conversation With John Donne”
http://delsolreview.webdelsol.com/epicks6/moramarco.htm

(An in-depth interview with Fred Moramarco, on his book of poetry, The City of Eden, can be heard on The Moe Green Discussion on blogtalkradio: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/onword/2011/10/28/the-moe-green-discussion-with-guest-fred-moramarco.)

Selection of Fred Moramarco’s essays

“Carver’s Couples Talk About Love”
http://www.whitman.edu/english/carver/moramarco.html

“What Do Women Want”
http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2003/oct/02/what-do-women-want/

“The Father I Carry With Me”
http://www.menweb.org/fatherca.htm

(All of Fred’s poems, essays, and list of publications can be viewed on Fred Moramarco’s personal home page: http://www-rohan.sdsu.edu/~fmoramar/index.html)

Write Me in Your Marrow, Stuff Me in Your Bones: Love in Poems, Poems in Songs

by Jen M. Lagedrost


Not all poems are songs, just as not all songs are poems, but the crossroads between the two is often monstrously moving.  Songs, like poems, span an enormous variety of genres, themes, senses, and tones.  My favorite Jack White riff screams through my fury (watch out when I put on the White Stripes) the same way Noah and the Whale can fold my heart in half when it’s feeling hopelessly tenderized.  Revisiting Rilke is nothing like Anne Sexton’s fairy tale poems, nor is either of these anything like picking through the strange and often hilarious narrative poems of James Tate.  We experience poems and songs in an endless variety of contexts from an endless variety of moods.  The best walk the lines of more than one complex emotion at the same time, which this song, “At The Hop,” by Devendra Banhart, does.  The song plays on a child-like, light-hearted tune that weaves through a poem of hopeful hopelessness that knocks the knees out from under you.  You’re left not only missing the one you’ve loved, but in love with indulging in the pain of that longing.  In a song that embraces and laments simultaneously the fact that “you’re never comin’ back,” the final lines, “Write me in your marrow, stuff me in your bones, sing a mending moan, a song to bring you home,” leave you ruined and overjoyed in their sincere and shameless devotion. The song is playful and sexy, too, heaping a little more into the emotional charge.  Who says the complexity of our feelings can’t be a devastating delight, anyway?

“At The Hop” by Devendra Banhart

Put me in your suitcase, let me help you pack,
Cause you’re never coming back, no you’re never coming back.

Cook me in your breakfast, and put me on your plate,
Cause you know I taste great, yeah you know I taste great.

At the hop it’s greaseball heaven,
With candypants and archie too—

Put me in your dry dream, or put me in your wet,
Oh if you haven’t yet, no if you haven’t yet.

Light me with your candle, and watch the flames grow high,
You know it doesn’t hurt to try, no it doesn’t hurt to try.

Well I won’t stop all of my pretending that you’ll come home,
You’ll be coming home, someday soon—

Put me in your blue skies, or put me in your gray,
Cause there’s gotta be someway, there’s gotta be someway.

Put me in your tongue-tie, make it hard to say
That you ain’t gonna stay, that you ain’t gonna stay.

Wrap me in your marrow, stuff me in your bones,
Sing a mending moan, a song to bring you home.

Ellen Bass Interview


“I often tell my students, ‘Be brave.’ In poetry, I think we have to recognize that our experience is not unique to us, no matter how personal it is. That we’re more like other people than unlike them, so whatever we reveal, no matter how frightening, is not going to be utterly foreign to others.”

Ellen Bass teaches poetry and creative writing in Santa Cruz, CA.  Ellen Bass’s most recent book of poems, The Human Line, was published by Copper Canyon Press and was named a Notable Book of 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973), has published several previous volumes of poetry, including Mules of Love (BOA, 2002) which won the Lambda Literary Award.

Ellen Bass reading In Which A Deer

Her poems have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies, including The Atlantic Monthly, Ms., The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and Field. She was awarded the Elliston Book Award for Poetry from the University of Cincinnati, Nimrod/Hardman’s Pablo Neruda Prize, The Missouri Review’s Larry Levis Award, the Greensboro Poetry Prize, the New Letters Poetry Prize, the Chautauqua Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and a Fellowship from the California Arts Council.

Ellen, I heard you speak at the Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference a few years ago, and I recall you talked of how difficult it is to reveal what matters to us, but how important courage is to a writer.  Do you think writing poetry demands more courage and commitment to openness than other kinds of writing?

I think many kinds of writing require courage. I often tell my students, “Be brave.” In poetry, I think we have to recognize that our experience is not unique to us, no matter how personal it is. That we’re more like other people than unlike them, so whatever we reveal, no matter how frightening, is not going to be utterly foreign to others. And a good poem, though it may begin about the poet, must make the leap to be about the reader. I have a dear friend, Dan Gottlieb, who is a psychologist, a quadriplegic, and a true teacher. On his business card, in place of his PhD or other titles, is just the single word, “Human.”

Your poems often measure minute distances between love and pain.  Do you believe they are always or almost always linked in real life?

Anne Sexton wrote, “Oh love, the terror.” The more we love, the more we open ourselves to loss. All love, all beauty, is set in time and change. Poets are always writing about this. Matthew Dickman in “Slow Dance,” says it simply, “one of us will die first and the other will suffer.” But of course if we don’t love, that’s a worse kind of suffering. Then we have nothing. So the challenge, as so many disciplines teach us, is to try to open our hearts anyway. Someone once said that a poet is someone who remembers every morning that we’re going to die. To some people that could sound morbid. But to poets it’s a reminder to be present, to be awake, to praise each minute.

Billy Collins said of your 2007 book, The Human Line, “Ellen Bass’s frighteningly personal poems about sex, love, birth, motherhood, and aging are kept from mere confession by the graces of wit, an observant eye, an empathetic heart, and just the right image deployed at just the right time.”  Do you see these right images in the natural world, or do they appear to your imagination?  Do you begin with images or ideas?

I begin with anything I can. I don’t have a set way of writing. I wish I did because that would make it easier, but I grab hold of anything I can–an idea, an image, a feeling, a line of conversation overheard, a memory. I work a lot from the actual–from what I’ve seen, heard, felt, stumbled across or through, although sometimes my imagination kicks in and that’s always a lot of fun. I take anything I can to get the poem started.

You’ve often written, both in poetry and in nonfiction, about women’s issues, lesbianism, and about child abuse recovery.  Do you feel that some of your poems carry a burden of explaining hard issues to people?  Are those poems harder to write?

I don’t try to explain issues in my poems, but I do try to grapple with them. And yes, I do find it hard to write poems about some of the issues that are important to me. For example, I worked with survivors of child sexual abuse intensively for over ten years, but I have only a few poems from all that experience. I don’t know why that’s so. I wish I could have written–or could write–more. But my poems seem to have a mind of their own and I’m not in much control over what manages to grow into a poem. I work very hard, but, ultimately, the poems seem like gifts that are granted to me. I can’t demand them or buy them with my effort. I just put in the work and take what is given and say thank you. Of course, I can make requests, but I can’t dictate what arrives.

Do you currently have a favorite poem you’ve written, and if so, does it vary over time?

Yes, my favorites do vary over time. Often my favorite is the newest baby. Sometimes it’s one that’s required the most work and given me the most trouble.

Thank you, Ellen!

Interview by Laura Hoopes

Interview with Wayne Miller: “The City, Our City”

Interviewed by Jen M. Lagedrost

“our modern alchemy: / a finger tap floods the room”

Wayne Miller, poet, translator, and editor of Pleiades, shares here with poets, writers, and readers of PI his brand new book of poems The City, Our City (Milkweed, 2011), addressing his project, process and poetics for writers and readers of poetry. Important and powerfully written, the book’s poems and chorus of voices within them all contribute to the central entity of Our City that he conjures, historically and contemporarily throwing into relief ourselves, our communities, and the histories of which we are a part and that we continue to create.

Wayne, The City, Our City  (TCOC) is your third book of poems in five years.  What are some ways the experience of your first two books have informed the creation of your third?

I should start by saying that this is my third book of poems that’s been published in five years. I could never have written three poetry collections in that time. I finished my first book, Only the Senses Sleep, in 2003. I then spent the next 2+ years shopping it around while I was working on the poems in The Book of Props, which I finished around 2007. The oldest poem in The City, Our City I started in 2003, and I worked on the book up until about six or eight months before it came out (in Oct 2011). Thus, these three books were written over about a twelve-year period.

But, to get back to your question:  it’s a cliché to say, but it’s also true that it would have been impossible to write The City, Our City without having written the previous two books. A few poems in Only the Senses Sleep attempt to address some of the more “public” (to borrow Richard Hugo’s word), historical subject matter of The City, Our City—but I just hadn’t written long enough to fully realize what I might want to do with them. The Book of Props tried to expand my poems formally (particularly in the “Notes for a Film in Verse” sequence), but not necessarily in terms of subject matter; it’s mostly a “private” book about loneliness and love. Without those first two books I wouldn’t have had the poems under my belt—and, at the same time, the place cleared in front of me—to see, and then focus on, The City, Our City.

History, alluded to in familiar historical events and periodic vocabulary, plays a large role in the poems that develop this entity of Our City you create in TCOC.  What kind of research did you engage with, and how did you begin to gather and shape it?

In the wake of the 2004 election I became pretty obsessed with the notion that talking about “red states” and “blue states” missed the point. If you looked at an election map divided by counties, you saw urban counties voting almost exclusively for Kerry and rural counties almost entirely for Bush. (In 2008, even Salt Lake City and Dallas went for Obama.) This links current American politics to Europe’s long history or urban vs. rural conflict (e.g., in the French Revolution, Paris conquered the more conservative countryside; in the Spanish Civil War, the countryside one by one conquered the cities) and spoke to the things that cities tend to share: human proximity, diversity, left-of-center politics, a certain comfort level with collectivism, and, at the same time, the engines of economic and political power that have often driven nations toward war. Ironically, in 2003, those urban centers generally opposed the Iraq War, though if things had worked out according to the economic plans proffered by Rumsfeld and Co. those same cities would have benefited disproportionately. (Meanwhile, rural kids were overrepresented in fighting that war, though their generally dying towns would have seen very little economic benefit from its potential successes.)

With these things in mind, I started reading obsessively about cities—books on urban history and design, the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, the plague—as well as books on the history of war. I was also reading Auden, and his poem “Memorial for the City” struck me particularly. In it, Auden sees Darmstadt devastated by allied bombing as a synecdoche for all European cities—those seats of Western culture ruined by the war (“The humor, the cuisine, the rites, the taste, / The pattern of the City, are erased”). It occurred to me that, despite Auden’s pessimism—and his accurate sense that after World War II Europe had ceased to be the center of the Western world—all those cities were rebuilt and today continue to be important economic and cultural centers. Wasn’t the period’s destruction and rebuilding merely a brief chapter in the larger history of “the City”?

In, I believe, 2005, I began writing a long, multi-sectioned “history of the City” poem that eventually divided into the roman numeraled sections of The City, Our City. When I looked at the other poems I’d been writing, I realized they, too, were obsessed with cities, human proximity, and violence. That’s when the shape of TCOC began to come into focus.

As for your particular process, how do you go about generating poems and moving toward the project of a book?  Did poems addressing the idea of “City” start to accumulate and point to the project, or did the idea or issue of “City” come first to direct the creation of poems?

Really, both: once I had the spine of the book in those roman numeraled poems, it became clear that many of the poems I’d been writing could fit in among them. From that point on, whenever I started a poem from some triggering image, phrase, situation, or imagined persona, I’d ask myself if the poem might occur somewhere inside “the City.” Not all the poems I wrote found their ways in, but “the City,” at least as I imagine it, is pretty big. Most poems I wrote in that period were able to find a corner of it in which to reside.

Since PI focuses on international literary and artistic consciousnesses, please tell us how the experience of translating Moikom Zeqo’s I Don’t Believe In Ghosts in 2007 enriched your poetics.

I began translating the poems in I Don’t Believe in Ghosts in collaboration with Zeqo and his daughter when I was a junior in college—when I was just starting to write poems with any seriousness. It would have been nearly impossible for Zeqo’s work not to leave a profound mark on my writing. Translation used to be a pretty standard way for a young poet to learn his craft, and my attention to Zeqo’s poetry since 1997 has greatly enhanced my understanding of syntax and my general sense of the elasticity of language. More directly, Zeqo is a master with metaphor, and I think my appreciation for metaphor as both a reader and a writer comes in part from the many hours I spent—and continue to spend, since I’m working on another of his books—with his poems.

How do you manage developing the project of a book like TCOC that demands vast exploration of many facets of a topic, and the many ideas that feed into it, without feeling like you might exhaust the idea?

I’ve been fascinated by cities since I was a kid. (I was a history major in college, and my first-year symposium was professor Geoffrey Blodgett’s “History of the American City Since 1835”—a class that left an indelible mark on me.) I’ve also lived in them (specifically Cincinnati Ohio; Rome, Italy; Anchorage, Alaska; New York City; Houston, Texas; Madrid, Spain; and Kansas City, Missouri) for nearly all my life. So the things that spark my poetic imagination tend to emerge from inside cities anyway.

I think the larger concern in writing this book wasn’t so much exhausting the idea of “the City” as maintaining a balanced perspective on “the City.” I didn’t want merely to condemn “the City” for its violence and economic rapacity, nor did I want to laud it blindly for its diversity and art. When I felt I’d been writing too many poems that were generated out of anger at our historical moment, I tried to turn my attention to those things I found beautiful about cities. When I felt “the City” becoming too idealized, I turned my focus to “the City’s” nastier history—its wars and colonialism, for instance.

As Editor of the journal Pleiades, how has your experience with the journal contributed to writing TCOC?

Editing Pleiades takes a lot of time and energy away from writing, but it also keeps me in touch with a broad swath of the poems that are being written right now, which I like to think keeps me on my toes. Plus, I’ve worked with extraordinary editors at Pleiades over the last decade, and our conversations about poetry, literature, history, etc., have been invaluable to my writing.

It’s also worth saying that the University of Central Missouri, where I teach and where Pleiades is housed, is the town of Warrensburg, 45 miles outside Kansas City (from which I commute). In addition to the University, the other major institution in the area is Whiteman Air Force Base, from which the stealth bomber missions during the Iraq War were flown. In retrospect, I feel deeply lucky to have been working in Warrensburg over the last ten years; without proximity to the base and contact with numerous students who work on the base, I might have had the luxury of a less complicated or conflicted perspective on the military—and I might have had a less immediate sense of the war’s presence. When you’re talking with your students about Voltaire and a stealth bomber swoops down outside the window—a stealth bomber that just a few hours ago was dropping ordinance in the Middle East—and when your students start disappearing from classes mid-semester because they’ve been deployed, it’s pretty hard to feel entirely sequestered in the abstractions of the Ivory Tower.

What advice would you have for PI’s writers and readers of poetry when addressing large, political and worldly topics in contemporary poetry, both as orchestrating writer and educated reader?

I hope The City, Our City doesn’t stink of polemic, and I guess not to do so would be at the heart of my advice. If a person’s goal is to have a political impact, then writing poems is surely not an effective means since poetry books sell at best a couple thousand copies (and these days almost entirely to a like-minded audience). But I do like Milosz’s idea  (in The Witness of Poetry) of the poet as witness to history, and I think the role of witness asks a poet to speak to the future about the present, rather than to speak to a contemporary audience also immured inside the political moment. The larger goal of historically engaged poetry, I think, it to try to articulate the complexities and paradoxes of the time—and, in the process, to be an individual voice speaking inside of history, which generally seeks to erase the individual from the earth.

Congrats to the new Nobel Prize Winner Tomas Tranströmer

“This is a great news for all of us, as he is truly one of the world’s best living poets, and it is wonderful to have the attention that this prize brings in the media be focused on poetry again,” said Ilya Kaminsky, Poetry International’s Editor-In-Chief.  It’s too bad that according to this Washington Post article (and this writer’s own unsuccessful trip to Barnes and Noble) his collections are out of stock. While Amazon had been out of stock, “for at least a week,” you can now buy his collections at Amazon (click here to read the Amazon preview of Tranströmer’s The Great Enigma). For those of you who don’t already own his books, P.I. has you covered. First off, click here to read a Washington Post article that dates back to the second of April 1986 profiling the 2011 Nobel winner, called The Poet and His Double Life: The Psychology of Sweden’s Tranströmer. We’ve found seven poems and various articles that you can enjoy.

Enjoy a selection from Tranströmer’s contribution to Issue 15/16 of Poetry International, Grief Gondola #2, below:

I
Two old men, father-in-law, Liszt and Wagner, are staying on
the Grande Canal
together with the restless woman who is married to
King Midas
he who turns everything he touches into Wagner.
The green chill of the sea pushes up through the palace floors, (Transtromer, 336).

To read the rest, click here to buy Issue 15/16. Follow the link and scroll down to issue 15/16 and click on Add to Cart. His poem, Grief Gondola #2, included in 15/16’s Swedish Poetry Feature, edited by Malena Mörling and Jonas Ellerström.

For your next Tranströmer fix, we’re heading over to Poets.org, who have two of his poems translated by the amazing Robert Bly. Thanks to Poets.org, you can read “Outskirts” and “After A Death” from The Winged Energy of Delight: Selected Translations by Robert Bly (2004).

Thanks to Poetry Foundation, we can read three more of Tranströmer’s poems from his book New and Collected Poems, translated by Robin Fulton (1997): “National Security,” “The Indoors Is Endless,” and “November in the Former DDR.”  We can read his poem Sketch in October from his 2006 collection The Great Enigma translated by Robin Fulton at the bottom of  this ABC News article.

An avid pianist, Lizst influenced Tranströmer’s poem Grief Gondola #2.  Enjoy Liszt, Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, Martha Argerich 1966 below.

TOMAS TRANSTRÖMER| Short bio

Tomas Tranströmer

On the Nobel Prize website they say that they were motivated to award Tranströmer the prize, “because, through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”  Tranströmer, “lost the ability to speak and the use of his right arm through a stroke more than 20 years ago.  But he still expresses himself – through music, by playing one-handed piano. And that is how Tomas Tranströmer will accept his prize in Stockholm on Dec. 10,” (click here to read more at ABC News).

“Like a glass-blower by a wintry sea, Tomas Tranströmer has been slowly and painstakingly making poems in his native Stockholm since the early 1950s,” notes John Freeman at NPR (Read the rest of this article at NPR by clicking here). “He attended the University of Stockholm, where he studied psychology and poetry. One of Sweden’s most important poets, Tranströmer has sold thousands of volumes in his native country, and his work has been translated into more than 50 languages,” (read the rest at poets.org by clicking here).

Poetry Foundation says, “Tranströmer’s poetry, building on Modernism, Expressionism and Surrealism, contains powerful imagery concerned with images of fragmentation and isolation. ‘He has perfected a particular kind of epiphanic lyric, often in quatrains, in which nature is the active energizing subject, and the self (if the self is present at all) is the object,’ notes critic Katie Peterson in the Boston Review.”

“In his debut work,” notes John Freeman from NPR, “the modestly titled Seventeen Poems, published when Tranströmer was just 23, the Swedish poet imagined Thoreau in the woods, ‘disappearing deep in his inner greenness/ artful and hopeful.’”

MORE LINKS

Notes From The Undergrads #9

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Synesthesia editorial board.

“Rummage Sale”
Natalie Cook

With the joy in our spirits of warm days and sunny skies, a friend and I dusted the seats of our beach cruisers and headed through North Park neighborhoods to San Diego’s delightful Balboa Park. As luck would have it, we happened upon a rummage sale put on by the local philanthropic organization The Thursday Club. In the midst of clothing piles, artwork, antiques and dishware, we found ourselves trapped for the better part of the afternoon browsing through the book section. At first, it felt a little overwhelming, much like walking down the spice aisle of an open market without a recipe in mind. We lifted, flipped, scanned, and read the back jacket covers of the seemingly endless colorful and diverse selection and in a matter of minutes I was searching for a box to relieve my arms of the balancing act I had begun.

Recently, I have been an active participant in the debates of paper versus electronic forms of reading. I have entered the world of blogging and online literary journals, zines and I am no hater. I very much enjoy electronically keeping up with classmates’ literary endeavors and reactions while switching tabs to annotate my PDF class reading assignments, but pleasure is about sensation.  Maybe I’m a sucker for the smell, the accomplishment of turning a page, or it could be the fact that I am a fanatic bookmark collector, and there is something to say about being able to physically share literature.

At this rummage sale, I purchased titles such as Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled with renewed inspiration to begin my educated contribution at the poetry parties hosted by my MFA friends. I collected for discovery, Arthur Phillips’ Prague, and even found a 2006 catalog of MFA writing theses from the California College of the Arts that I plan to pass along to a friend. Please tell me where on the World Wide Web I would have found online books with personal and poignant inscriptions to accompany valued books for $1 per paperback and $2 per hardcover?  Even though my spring-cleaning goal was to tackle the books I already have on my shelves, I suppose there’s no harm in accepting another man’s trash to add to my treasured collection of possibilities. A few more to read, to learn, to lend and recommend among my growing literary community.

“Rothenberg and McClure: Impressions from a Non-Poet”
Marysia Kowoski

            Jerome Rothenberg and Michael McClure read at Scripps Cottage Monday, March 14th, and it seemed the entire English department was there. I was there too, though I profess a preference for (speculative) fiction and my knowledge of contemporary American poetry is consequently limited. I have read and enjoyed several of Jerome Rothenberg’s poetry anthologies and was extremely impressed with the amount of work that went into each volume. I am most fond of Technicians of the Sacred, which features a collection of poetry from unconventional sources—underrepresented countries, traditional shamanic chants, Inuit oral tales and ancient Babylonian love poems. These glimpses into near-forgotten poetic traditions really moved me, and I was curious to see the man behind the books whose scholarly vision preserved these overlooked poems for a modern readership.

The elderly gentleman who read at Scripps Cottage was more than venerable scholar and poet, though. He was a humble and friendly person, possessed of an upbeat sense of humor and a genuine verve for art and life. His performance style was unpretentious, cheerful, like a master storyteller sharing his experiences with a community. I was hoping to hear, “I Come Into the New World,” which remains my favorite Rothenberg poem, but I heard some lovely lines regardless: “Where a shadow in the sky is a magpie.” Many of the poems, Rothenberg announced, were written based on a Hebrew form of numerology.

Michael McClure, by contrast, was a graver presence. His performance style was more lofty and serious, his remove from the audience compensated by the music in his delivery that enchanted his listeners. His poetry was likewise more fanciful than Rothenberg’s, rife with symbolic images. Hummingbirds and tigers abounded through the verses. My favorite lines: “What’s on your side of the veil?” and “Do you dip your beak into the vast black lily of space?”

I listened. I jotted down favorite lines. And when the poets had finished, my notebook was filled with impressions of the event, scenes from my latest novel-in-progress, and—dare I say it?—something like a poem of my own. I didn’t have to reach for this language like I sometimes do while writing; it was available to me at the exact moment I needed it. Ultimately, that is the real benefit to me of attending a reading by two of our great contemporary poets, whether I am familiar with their work or not: I absorb their poems word by word, image by image, discovering through them the words I need to pursue my own art. I’m sure I speak for many a listener when I say: thank you, Jerome Rothenberg and Michael McClure, for giving us an evening of pure inspiration.

“The other side, the inside, the left side, and my good side”
Marie Brown

Literary journal. Chapbook. Memoir. Such foreign diction to a literary-canonized naïve girl such as myself.  Throughout my middle and high school English classes, I became all to familiar with the novel, and I know I am part of the majority that shares this knowledge of To Kill a MockingbirdPride and PrejudiceThe Scarlet LetterThe Catcher in the RyeA Separate Peacethe list goes on. It’s thorough, but it’s novel-centric.

Now, I do not propose a total and instant revamp of the literary curriculum—especially now during budget crisis times that have more immediate issues.   Rather I would just like to say: It’s too bad. It’s too bad it took nearly twenty years of education for me to hear the word literary journal. It’s too bad Gary McDowell’s uniquely excellent They Speak of Fruit  has been my first encounter with a chapbook.

My college experience has finally given me the opportunity to explore and pursue my passion for writing, and thank goodness I signed up for the university’s literary editing and publishing class, because until this class, I had little to no awareness to the behind the scenes work, which is unfortunate but typical of American arts society.  Even though the Academy Awards attempts to appreciate the work of the costumers, sound engineers, and script writers  as well as the multimillionaire actors, me and you know that the cinematographers of this year’s Oscars will never be on the cover of People or gossiped about on Perezhilton.com.

BUT: thank you. Thank you for your work anyway, Mr. Sound Editor. Thank you for your work anyway Mr. Publisher. Mr. Editor. Although I want to pursue my passion for writing poetry and literature rather than my interest in literary editing and publishing, I am grateful that I will be pursuing this dream with this vital knowledge and appreciation of my future collaborators.

I look forward to meeting you.

Sincerely,

Marie

“A Poetry Reading”
Hutton Marshall

I went to a poetry reading on San Diego State’s campus last week, and upon arrival I didn’t know quite what to expect. An underlying theme quickly became obvious once I found my seat and began to look around. It was obvious I had invaded a community of sorts. There was a clearly an inner circle, which made for a more intimate setting. Also, ever before have I seen so many George Carlin look-a-likes concentrated in such a small area. Now admittedly, I do not attend as many of these events as I probably should, so I am unfamiliar with what is the norm at these things. So if this is perfectly natural, then I apologize.

Soon after I arrived a man from the literature department approached the small stage. He introduced an MFA student, who’s name I regrettably did not catch. The program was advertised as appropriate for all ages. That was probably a mistake. Her heavily sexualized poems complimented by her low, cadent voice made for an interesting mood in the crowded, quiet room. She was startlingly cool and confident, showing off her youthful wit. People came expecting to hear to men well past the period of getting used to graying hair, and here was this sprite young woman reading tantalizing poems that made them squirm in their seats. Nevertheless, she found the reception she deserved. Her poems were accessible, emotionally charged, and carefully worded.

Jerome Rothenberg took the stage next. A humbling character, he was visibly embarrassed to read his first piece. Constantly reminding us he wrote it when he was a kid, and that he wasn’t the same person any more, I thought we were about to hear some kind of Nazi propaganda. He read the broken-English prose, frequently pausing to smile bashfully, with the utmost amusement at the kid he used to be. “What garrrr Mama is World?” was one of the lines. He was modesty was touching, showing that even he could be embarrassed by such a delicate piece of writing.

The last poet arose from the beat generation. Michael McClure rose ominously to the stage. Rising to prominence in the 60s, McClure reminisced about readings alongside Allen Ginsburg and other beat poets. This was a man who had been inspired by some of the most impassioned poets of the last century. His poetry followed script of his intense persona. Grave and unwavering, his work hit you via his low powerful voice.

“The binds of the knowable are unknowable.” He stated in one of his epics. McClure is an inspiring relic of a time when poetry was a powerful sociopolitical force.

Notes From The Undergrads #6

Notes from the Editors is a series of posts written by SDSU Engl. 576, a publishing and editing class.  They explored issues of literary life ranging from book reviews to literary graffiti, live readings to the writing process.  Today, enjoy the work of the Heliotrope Journal editorial board.

“Timeless Tales Tainted by Twilight”
by Caitlin Kennedy

Confession: I judge books by their covers.

As a graduate student in English I know that I shouldn’t, I know that it
is what is on the inside that counts. But come on, can’t we all just admit
that a book’s cover art can either make or break that text’s sales?

HarperTeen certainly understands this book-selling tactic. However, in
this case, I really wish they didn’t.

Do you hear that sound? It is Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, and Emily
Brontë rolling in their graves, because the covers of their TIMELESS,
CANONICAL, WORKS OF LITERARY BRILLIANCE, have been altered (read:
butchered) to mimic those of the Twilight Series.

In an effort to make these classics appealing to this vampire-crazed
generation of Twi-hards, HarperTeen has given the covers of Romeo &
Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, and Wuthering Heights a
face-lift (to appear younger, and more brooding I suspect). As you can see
on HarperTeen’s website, these new covers feature black backdrops paired with white and blood-red flowers– not wholly dissimilar from the cover art for New Moon, the second book of the famous vampire series.

And as if that were not enough to fool Edward-obsessed girls, the covers
even boast the same exact curly, yet dagger-sharp, font, and darkly
emotional blurbs that all gently allude to Twilight, such as “The Original
Forbidden Love,” or “Love Never Dies.” Top it all off with a sticker on
the new cover of Wuthering Heights that reads, “Edward & Bella’s Favorite
Book,” and HarperTeen has officially tapped into the money-making Twilight
market.

I suppose I wouldn’t be as upset if HarperTeen’s intentions were purely to
introduce these classics to a new generation, but clearly their goal is to
make money by fooling young readers into thinking these book are something
they are not. Sure, Heathcliff is dark and brooding, and Darcy is rich and
brooding, and Romeo is young and brooding, but teenage girls are going to
open these books expecting Edward and I fear that they are going to throw
them down again when they find something perhaps entirely foreign to
them– quality literature.

As the Wall Street Journal points on on its blog, HarperTeen has even added material to the back of each book to make it more teen friendly. Readers can take a quiz called “Which Pride and Prejudice Girl are You?”, or a test that asks “What Would You Do For Love,” to see how you measure up with Shakespeare’s young lovers. The WSJ blog even talks about how HarperTeen brings Facebook into the mix with sample profile pages for both Romeo and Juliet.

While HarperTeen claims that each of these revamped originals are,
“Beautifully presented for a modern teen audience” and “a must-have
edition of a timeless classic,” I think these new covers are merely a
depressing attempt by HarperTeen to make some cash off the platinum
Twilight bandwagon.

Over-the-Shoulder Reader
by Kate Murtagh

Amongst my friends, I am known as the “book-giver”. When any gift-giving opportunity presents itself, books are almost always my modus operandi. The books are almost ones that I personally have read and loved (and if you’re lucky, I might even give you a new copy), and here’s why: my favorite thing is to see people enjoy something that I have enjoyed. I guess that’s why I love book clubs (and lit classes, since they’re basically book clubs for a grade) so much. But the worst part is—I am totally that friend who will want to WATCH as you read the book. “Oh, which part are you reading?!” “Tell me when you hit chapter twelve!” I have been asked to leave many a room for this kind of behavior, not that I can really help it.

That’s why I love  Mark Reads. I found Mark when several people told me about a guy who was blogging his way through the Harry Potter series without having any prior knowledge of the books. He was over on a site called Buzznet at the time, where he was contracted to read and review both the Twilight and the Harry Potter series. He read chapter by chapter, and reacted right in the moment—bringing back some of my memories of the first time I had read the books. It was an incredible feeling of connection, and I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Hundreds of people from dozens of countries around the world laughed, cried, and discussed with Mark as he read—completely unspoiled about what came next. His blog went viral, and he soon left Buzznet to create his own site. He’s continued with his reading, having just finished Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy, and he is now working on Book Thief by Markus Zusak. (Both of which I read because of him!) And he has a little something for everyone with his second site, Mark Watches. Reading and re-reading these books have given me entirely new insights and appreciations, plus the cherished memories of seeing someone else love what I have loved.

POETRY…AN ART ALL IN ITS OWN
by Vicki Valencia

I have always tended to lean towards writing fiction or creative non-fiction, but as of late poetry has grown on me. Now, I am far from a formalist, and I would categorize my work as prose poetry at best. Despite my lack of creative experience, I was captivated by the featured Swedish section in the latest Poetry International Double Issue 15/16. In particular, Gunnar Ekelöf’s poem Poetics struck me as the mission statement of every poet. (And to broaden the scope, every creative writer.)I feel that poetry and fiction are both creative outlets that evoke a reader’s response, participation and interpretation. This is spelt out in Poetics among the lines:

“…a search for meaningless/in what is meaningful/and the other way around…What I have written/is written between the lines” (PI 15/16: 322)

There is a comfort found in images that poets choose to share with their readers and a welcoming in the whisper of their words. It is like coming home after a looong day at work, school, or practically anywhere and being enveloped in the embrace of a lover.

I never knew how vast and diverse the poetry community in San Diego was until this year. There are so many events happening around the county. Means of obtaining that delectable poetry fix is at the fingertips of any and every interested poet and poetry connoisseur.

Poetry is an art form, and an inclusive one at that. Each poet shares a bit of themselves through their writing. And the truly timeless pieces will carry on the ideas, dreams, hopes and wishes of previous generations.

On Science and Literature
by Mike Lockwood

Cyborgs are real. Eugenics is real. And eventually, literature will be dead.

The advanced communication that humans now have combined with the inevitable manipulation of the human gene pool means that theisolated and goofy looking people we rely on for our art and literature will no longer exist, and mental problems will be fixed with computer signals.

Why live in sadness when you could just program yourself to be happy, as a cyborg will be able to do? Why have an ugly baby when you can guarantee a cute one with a little DNA tweaking?

The half man/half Mac of the future will not be driven to write about his problems or his loves and hates—a computer signal can communicate it instantly and with greater efficiency (to a whole lot of people!).

And, inevitably, as brains become closer and closer to computer hard-drives, the non-rational human emotions that inspire them to create will disappear. The incredibly fallible human brain will slowly be replaced with superior computer technology, where ideas can be sent instantaneously, and with none of the confusion that comes along with spoken words. Eventually language itself will go away, and so, inevitably, must literature.

The author will become like the modern barber: only a relic of what he used to be. His bloodletting, back in wacky times, was considered truly effective. But human technology has left him in the dust. Even the meaning of the word “author”, like “barber”, will no longer mean the same thing. Novels won’t exist, plays won’t exist, poems won’t exist.

But then again, who cares? Well, we modern humans do, but we are biased because books and words are so helpful to us. But eventually men won’t need them, because they won’t matter.

This won’t happen for a while, though, so don’t throw out those wonderfully textured and aromatic books just yet.

Inaugural C.P. Cavafy Poetry Prize Winner!

Congratulations to Kimberly Burwik, the winner of our inaugural C.P. Cavafy Poetry Prize! Burwik’s poem “And No Thief Approacheth and No Moth Corrupteth” was chosen by the editorial staff of Poetry International.

We would like to acknowledge Emari DiGiorgio as runner up for the poem “Calvin Pees on Iraq.” Honorable mentions include Amanda Auchter’s “Checkpoint Charlie’s Bar and Laundromat” and Jennifer Chapis’ “Spring Fever.”

Thank you everyone for submitting!

The deadline for our annual Poetry International Prize closes May 30th––please see guidelines below!

We Have a Winner!

Congratulations to Rochelle Hurt, winner of the 2010 Poetry International Prize for her poem “Helen’s Confession,” selected by judge B. H. Boston. Ms. Hurt, an MFA student at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, will receive a $1000 cash prize and publication in Poetry International. Well done, Rochelle!