Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Ben Lerner read Jan. 30 at Washburn University from Leaving the Atocha Station, which has gained recognition from The New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Kansas City Star,  and many other reviewers. The novel from Coffee House Press centers around a character who is a Charlie Brown-like Language Poet. The self-deprecating humor makes for a good reading, as well as the syntax fandangos. The audience of 80 or so, including his parents, laughed often. Also engaging was the questions-and-answers, beginning with his former high school English teacher who asked him why he chose such long sentences for the narrative.  His answer was, greatly paraphrased: the opening 64-word sentence creates the ruminating pace he wanted for the interior voice of the protagonists. He said he was influenced by friend Cyrus Console's recent book Brief Under Water, written in expanded 19th-century formal prose about popular culture topics. The tension between the two, a clash between form and content, enlivens Console's project. Lerner also talked about the tension between the lone writer (like his hero) who finds identity(ies) within interactions with others, since language is essentially and completely social.Paradoxes abound. He also said he likes listening to his own voice on an answering machine, which processes sound to be like others hear it, and therefore quite Otherly. A poem is like that machine, transforming self into otherness. His novel has an illustration with the caption: "I tried hard to imagine my poem or any poems as machines that could make things happen" (52). Someone asked him  how much of the hero, a poet from Topeka on a fellowship to Spain, IS Ben Lerner. Lerner replied all the furniture in the novel's apartment is real, but the lives of his wife and himself do not take place in that apartment. The character's experiences are quite different. Recursive perspectives, the hero looking down on himself looking up at himself, is one of the mazes Lerner builds. His poem "Rotation," on Poetry Daily's website http://poems.com/poem.php?date=15372 (published in American Poetry Review Jan.Feb. 2012) continues the spirals.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Readorama: Tuning into Midwestern literary voices - KansasCity.com

Readorama: Tuning into Midwestern literary voices - KansasCity.com

Kansas City Star Interviews Denise Low--Midwestern Voice and Natural Theologies

Here is the beginning of the article about what makes the Midwestern voice unique: "What makes modern writing Midwestern? No one, says Denise Low, has done what she’s done: try to define a Middle Western voice in contemporary literature. In her new book “Natural Theologies: Essays About Literature of the New Middle West,” Low attempts not so much to map the region’s boundaries but list the characteristics of those writers working within them. In 12 essays, Low compiles several manifestations." See more of Brian Burnes' article at the Kansas City Star:http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/27/3393726/readorama-tuning-into-midwestern.html

Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2012/01/27/3393726/readorama-tuning-into-midwestern.html#storylink=cpy

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jo McDougall's Memoir Daddy's Money: Drama Elaborated by Fancy Style

I could argue that the best prose writers begin as poets, but exceptions would come to mind. Nonetheless, I will say that the best prose writers have a poet's ear for language. Jo McDougall is an established poet who has honed her style from early days with BookMark Press to more recent books from the University of Arkansas Press and Autumn House Press. This first book of prose subtitled "A Memoir of Farm and Family," is out recently from the University of Arkansas Press. McDougall is a lyrical storyteller, with entertaining passages like this:
"When I was about fifteen, Mother insisted I take voice lessons from Gay's aunt Frances. It was rumored Frances had lost her fiance in the war, although no one in that house ever spoke of it. I was immensely undertalented in the singing department, but Miss Frances persevered. Recently I heard an old recording of Mario Lanza singing 'Be My Love,' and Miss Frances's upright piano, the sheet music, and Frances herself--tall, slim, with shoulder-length, curly brown hair--rose before me. I was back in that sweet, disheveled house that smelled of clabbered milk, singing as Frances played 'O Promise Me' or anything by Sigmund Romberg, my mind full of romantic visions, my voice improving not a mite" (71).
The self-deprecating wit, the richly described scenes, and the characters all stay with me.The paragraph is beautifully built, leading up to the final word "mite." It evokes biblical language and hyperbole. It emphasizes the profound lack of talent she had as a youngster, juxtaposed with the tall pile of romantic yearning. Beautiful. "Clabbered" is such a perfect word here, evoking rural wholesomeness, past times, cloying aromas. What a poet. I had trouble putting down this book. Hear McDougall read from it in her own inimitable voice Friday, Jan. 27, 7 pm, at Lawrence's Raven Bookstore, with Al Ortolani, a fine poet from the southeast corner of Kansas called the Little Balkans. This is not to be missed.

National Book Critics Circle Poetry Finalists are mostly from independent or university presses

Forrest Gander, Core Samples from the World (New Directions)
Aracelis Girmay, Kingdom Animalia (BOA Editions)
Laura Kasischke, Space, in Chains (Copper Canyon Press)
Yusef Komunyakaa, The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Bruce Smith, Devotions (University of Chicago Press)

This list shows further de-centralization of the publishing industry, with poetry, which is not at the top of the money pyramid, showing which presses are committed to this oldest artform. The NBCC writer Barbara Hoffert writes on the NBCC blog that all these poets demonstrate "a mastery of form while advancing their art." This is a good summary of judging guidelines, proficiency, but something beyond the expected. And poetry is about form more than other genres, not only subject matter. Winners will be announced March 8 in New York.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Julie Buchsbaum To Read at Raven Bookstore

Julie Buchsbaum is a 2011 National Poetry Series Award winner for her forthcoming book The Apothecary's Heir (Penguin). She will be reading at the Big Tent –Raven Books series Thursday night Jan. 26, 7 pm—not to be missed.  I first met her at the University of Kansas when she was presenting research techniques to a class of mine, pro bono, in her role as KU Humanities Librarian. She was witty, able to calibrate to a wide range of Indigenous students, and clear. I got to know her further in the Ronald Johnson study group last summer in Topeka/Lawrence. She has an amazing clarity, as this poem shows:


Flutes in Tunisia

The purple mosque casts
a shadow of green
quite far from where we are
or want to be.

Telephone wires
encircle a pole
like electrocuted snakes.
Still we are drawing the pall

over a love
short-circuited long ago.
We should admit that now
we’ll never know

why flutes in Tunisia
do not sound the same
as they sound here,
though arsonous flames

consume as quickly
leaves that look like they
were dipped in blood.
As if there were a way

to attune a man’s
sleeping tympanum
to thunder and the pules
of wind while from

a fragrant monticule
where once his sultan frowned,
he observes the cloistered
circle of a sleeping town

and lights that fibrillate dimly
in the skin of night.
Even his minions were
unnerved by fright

as waves collapsed at the prow
like torn fans
and corsairs hooted
on the Mediterranean.
I admire the images in this and the way they are pulled into a skein of syntax, always the tension held exactly right.  The long comparison of failed love to a variety of sinister images is unforgettable.
Buchsbaum also is the author of the poetry collections Slowly, Slowly, Horses (Ausable Press, 2001), and A Little Night Comes (Del Sol Press, 2005). Her poems have appeared in many journals, including The Iowa Review, Verse, Conduit, Denver Quarterly, and Harvard Review. Her degrees are an MFA from Iowa Writers Workshop, Masters of Library & Information Science from the University of Pittsburgh, and PhD in Literature from the University of Missouri. She is the Humanities Librarian for English, Philosophy, and Classics at the University of Kansas.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New Mayan Calendar + Numbers Poem by Stephen Bunch

This Lawrence writer continues to engage my attention with his wit and finesse. I see mathematics interpenetrating every aspect of my day, and he riffs on this. Thanks to him for writing this and for granting permission to print it here. Stephen Bunch 's new chapbook Preparing To Leave is reviewed at this website, with purchase information from the press:

A Mayan epoch, cards
in a deck, weeks
in a year, the atomic
weight of chromium,
not the “Korean chrome”
on the straight-eight
Pontiac, not the atomic
weight on Eniwetok,
while Nixon played
Checkers. Eisenhower's
first, Lucy's first, no
lynchings for the first
time since 1882,
but shortly Boeing's
bombers excavating Vietnam,
back to the stone age, ivories
pounded, all the white
notes, shaking that love
shack, baby, the hexagram
that directs, "Keep still, no
blame," shuffle and deal.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Edward Dorn - "Inspection" and Commentary by David Mortiz

After viewing this video, David Moritz wrote on Facebook (reprinted with permission):
I remember one chat with Ed.. sitting on floor of brother John's house.. In those days, I liked to ask people the type of question that would tell me something about their psychological makeup. I asked Ed the old "if you were on a desert is...land and could only have one book, which one would you choose?" Ed answered, without any hesitation, "Don Quixote". Ok.. ummm i was puzzled.. so, not being an intellectual, i asked "Why that book?" to which he answered "its long". Now, i realize Don Quixote is considered a part of the foundation of western literature, and I'll even confess to having admired a windmill or two, but at over 900 pages, i have always suspected he was thinking of its practical use in managing one's toilet.. I also asked him if there was anything he feared in dying and he told me he was concerned that the mortician would pull out all the gold from his teeth.. this was when i decided his choice in books was not one born of intellectual concern. :) But, then, I was not a student at the time of the reunion, just a traveler so I wasn't seeking any great revelations, just some pleasant conversation to go along with the alcohol. I liked talking with Ed... my talks with him were always entertaining.. his mind explored the universe.. and he had a unique view of the world around him which included.. everything: i once heard him give an impromtu dissertation on the literature of a "number of people allowed in this building" document that was hanging in the hallway of a multi-room dwelling - even those formal government lines of text had a rhythm and breath he found interesting. This was 40 years ago, and i was bored with this world then.. and as silly as this event was to me at the time, it impressed me and I don't think i have ever excluded anything from my observation of the world around me since then.. seriously, Ed was seeing poetry in a place I doubt anyone else would ever chance to look for it..."

Friday, January 13, 2012


Photo c. by Steven Hind of Hutchinson
You can make William Stafford's birthday a personal poetry holiday with your own readings of his work, or you can meet friends and share poems, prose and memories. Stafford inspired many of use to respect words, land, community, history, and libraries. He followed his own path, as a conscientious objector (his mother was from a pacifist church) and as a writer. We remember him in Kansas.The Oregon group Friends of William Stafford maintains a website (and fine organization) with all known William Stafford birthday commemorations. The FWS website explains: "January Birthday Celebrations continue to expand around the world with new venues for 2012. Each event is hosted locally and always features well known poets. Readings include favorite William Stafford poems, followed by original poetry or stories inspired by the work of Mr. Stafford. Very often, readers share personal anecdotes about their friendships or encounters with Mr. Stafford. These events are inspirational and invigorating to all those who love poetry and poets. We encourage you to attend one of these Birthday Celebrations and experience how uplifting they can be." http://www.williamstafford.org/pages/regbday12.html Shelf Awareness (subscribe via info@shelf-awareness.com for this free newsletter) has a piece on Stafford's birthday featured, by Robert Gray, called "Poetry, Community & William Stafford's Birthday." It begins:
Making these word things to
step on across the world, I
could call them snowshoes.
It has been a snowless winter here in upstate New York, but this morning six inches cover the ground and big flakes are falling as I consider the opening lines of "Report from a Far Place" by the late William Stafford
, whose birthday is next Tuesday.Stafford has, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, become my winter poet."
Gray goes on to say he is rereading The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems (Graywolf, 1998), which has a generous selection of Stafford's opus. Those who want to understand his Kansas connections can read the selections and essays in Kansas Poems of William Stafford (Woodley 2010). I think it is accurate to say that Stafford is a winter poet, one who looks into the dark nights and describes the infinity beyond the physical world. Denise Low

Sunday, January 8, 2012

William Stafford's Birthday Is Jan. 17: Some Thoughts on “At the Breaks Near the River,”

A celebration of the life and work of William Stafford will take place at the Hutchinson Art Center, 405 N. Washington, Hutchinson, KS on Tuesday, January 17th, at 7:00 pm. For more information contact: Mark Rassette, Hutchinson/Reno Arts and Humanities Council, 620-662-1280, hrah@cox.net . Other groups in Oregon and Kansas will hold celebrations. Here are some thoughts of mine on Stafford's success as a skilled poet, no matter what geography he inhabits:

William Stafford succeeded nationally because his skilled poems, so place-centered, transcended place. He leapt before Robert Bly explained “leaping” poetry as "a jump from an object soaked in unconscious substance to an object or idea soaked in conscious psychic substance." This is the essence of Stafford’s verse, its movement from outer to inner sightedness, and back out again, but with a twist. He uses extreme personifications, with the same method as John Donne’s metaphors. According to Donne, two lovers are hands of a compass. According to Stafford, time can wave backwards. Stafford re-creates the world into a dimension with multiple timelines. The poem “At the Breaks Near the River,” in this volume, follows Stafford’s individualized formula of leaps among places, times, and imagined realities:
         Autumn some year will discover again
         that gesture of the flattened grass, wild
         on the Cimarron hills when a storm
         out of northern New Mexico raided
         Cheyenne country to hunt for rusty armor
         left by Coronado, and my father sifting his
         fingers in that loose ground of the Indian
         campsite said, “Oh, Bill, to know
         everything! Look—the whole world is alive,
         waving together toward history!”
Cimarron River hills are a definite place in southwest Kansas, in the path of New Mexico winds, yet the entire poem transposes to an imagined, conditional mood—something that could happen— by use of the indefinite “some year.” Time moves from seasonal cycles to historic ones to the poem’s eternal present—and again to a past-perfect (that which started in the past and ended in the past) future: “the whole world” of Cheyenne dominance and Coronado’s excursions remains “alive” and “waving” in this future. The trick of the poem is the last line, where instead of looking backwards at history, the narrator and the father see history as a future memory of the present. This is an invented verb tense. Perspectives pivot like this within all of Stafford’s language scrims.Yet another Staffordean trick is the unlikely personification of the intangible “Autumn,” which will “discover again . . . .” The poem reinforces the father’s assertion that “the whole world is alive.” Such animism not only concerns the natural world, but also the fluid elements of the entire cosmos. The moral of this short verse is: “Look.” These brief lines are an example of the kind of “looking” that Stafford’s “father” urges. (from Kansas Poems of William Stafford, 2nd ed., edited by Denise Low, Woodley Memorial Press, 2010)

Monday, January 2, 2012

How to get books reviewed! Try this Midge Raymond link.

Midge Raymond
I recently found a good piece about how to get reviews of that great American novel you just wrote, or even reviews of a book of poetry. The key is to know your niche. Who is your audience, and what do they read? The other virtue is patience. The long-term goal is to expand readership, not get rich quick, and this takes time. My first review was for the Women's Studies department of Kansas State University, of a feminist book. Maybe the review sold books, maybe not, but it did inform the target audience about a new book. It expanded the readership. News stands have a zillion magazines calibrated for every interest. You can explore that resource, as long as news stands exist--they are quickly becoming obsolete. Googling your niche, like "poetry review blog," can bring up many resources. The online world is essential, including links to your own webpage and other social media. I hesitate to make my personal social media into a self-promotion machine (there are some terrible examples of this out there), but I do use them to announce and link reviews. My own webpage, which is pretty static, is an archive of good news about my writing, and I hope it is useful when an editor or reading curator asks for a biography or introduction to my work. This article by Midge Raymond has many good suggestions: