Wednesday, April 1, 2020

DENISE LOW interviews KIM SHUCK, Poet Laureate of San Francisco

KIM SHUCK'S new chapbook from Mammoth Publications, Whose Water: Poem, is a chance to reflect on her writing process. This email interview took place in early March, 2020. My appreciation to this outstanding writer, poet, beader, and educator. She is Poet Laureate of San Francisco with previous books:  Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. For orders, contact, $10 plus tax and shipping OR order with PayPal Link

Denise Low: Kim I ran across your Rabbit Stories (Poetic Matrix Press) and bought it immediately. It had some influence on my own writing of Jackalope (Red Mountain Press). Tsisdu is an energy I have to reckon with in my writing life and elsewhere. How about you?
Kim Shuck: Those iconic cultural symbols are absolutely there to speak to inner truths. For many reasons I find trickster energy, and particularly the gentler, sillier trickster energy, something that has led me. Sometimes right into a bramble patch, but it has led me.
DL: What I love about your work is how there are these nuggets placed throughout each work, no matter what the genre, turns of phrase like “Thumbprints of the sacred / Human measures / Thumb, forearm, heel to toe.” How do you strategize such moments, and/or how do you edit to emphasize them?
KS: Thank you. I used to write from those notes. I'd find a phrase that rang and then I'd write around
it. Now, should I confess? I don't really edit much at all. I may change a word or two but nothing that would really qualify as editing. It happens in my head. I write like playing free jazz. There are things that come up in my thoughts and I know that they will work and then there are things that I see that might lead me somewhere else and I grab them. The notes that repeat, the knots that hold the fabric together, I don't know why I put them where I do. I find a place where they feel right and then I read them out loud a few times and if they chime there I leave them.
DL: In Whose Water I admire the rhythm of the mostly short lines and the momentum of the poem. Repeated motifs like waterways and rural sightings of silos, cornfields and churches (boxes), as well as geography, tie the work together. How did themes arise? Did you write in the car, as the movement of the words suggest?
KS: When we left San Francisco to take that trip I had just organized a reading by Pacific Island people about Mauna Loa and I was thinking about sacred space and how some people need there to be a building for something to be sacred and wondering why that was. At the same time I was thinking about the readings I was going to do and in two cases working out the land acknowledgements, which led me to prayers and going to water and what constitutes belonging to a place. I think that I came to some conclusions on the way. I write about water all of the time anyhow. Then there's the way I travel, which is in a car with a partner to whom all of this Indigenous reality is fairly new. I do write down a few words in the car sometimes. Sometimes I just remember the images and write them later it depends upon the urgency of the image. Most of that poem was written in the car.
DL: What did you leave out of the long poem Whose Water? Why?
KS: Oooh, I left a few things out. I read at Haskell on that trip, read from Murdered Missing (FootHills Publishing) and that day was a separate place for me. So what is in there of that moment is heavily redacted. There were also moments in the trip that were seriously alienating: signs, flags, comments. If I am tempted to adjust the reality of a moment I leave it out. I want to be as clean in my images as I can be.
DL: Do you see any influence of your beadwork and other textile arts on your creative writing? 
KS: Story, textiles and beads are my first languages so they are probably in there if I see them or not. I think that they all influence one another. I will notice things I like to bead and those things make it into my writing. I suppose my taste in nouns shows up one way or another.
DL: Would you share a poem and then describe what success you feel you had with it?
Then night splits the  Husk of day and emerges
Slick with the damp of
New things and
Spangled with the prickles of
Human need an
Incidental loveliness that
Burns like the
Gems my grandmother
Imagined and maybe
Thinks of still somewhere and we
Look at the dark and reference
Heat or cold depending upon our
Experiences our frames our
Lenses which
Magnify the varicolored
Lights it's difficult not to
Smile so I do because with all of the
Smudge and creak of
Person led creation with all of our
Silly and greedy and
Ill-considered there is also
Beautiful and some days that is what I
Want to say about us

I like the forgiveness in this poem. Both for myself and others. The rhythm is good. I like the way some of the lines slide from one to the next. It feels familiar and not too familiar.

DL: Thanks for that ending paradox here about how we want both repetition (the familiar) and the surprise (not too familiar) in poetry. This is your magic trick. And thank you for this discussion.

Kim Shuck is a Tsalagi (Cherokee)/Euro-American poet, author, weaver, and beadwork artist born in San Francisco, California. She belongs to the Northern California Cherokee diaspora and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. In 2017, Mayor Ed Lee named Shuck as the 7th Poet Laureate of San Francisco.  Other awards include a PEN Oakland Censorship Award, National Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, KQED Local Hero Award, American Indian Heritage Month, Mentor of the Year Award from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, Native Writers of the Americas First Book, Diane Decorah Award, and a Mary Tallmountain Award. Previous books of poetry are Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. She earned a B.A. in Art (1994), and M.F.A. in Textiles (1998) from San Francisco State University. She has taught American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University and was an artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum in June 2010 with Michael Horse.  Photographs of the poet and the beadwork image by Doug Salin. Copyright 2020 by Kim Shuck, art and interview text.
Copyright 2020 by Denise Low, interview text.
Contact mammothpubs[at] gmail for permissions.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Denise Low interviews poet Lindsey Martin-Bowen

DL: Lindsey, you and I have had parallel lives, as we lived in the Kansas City area for decades, and now we find
ourselves on the western edge of the continent in Oregon and California, respectively. How has the move affected your writing life?

LM-B: Every morning, I am blessed to look through our living-room “picture” window and be mesmerized by beautiful foothills a few blocks away. Between our home and those hills, two-story, clapboard houses, circa 1905, their chimneys often puffing miniature clouds of smoke from wood-burners, create a scene from another century. It’s as if I live inside a greeting card, especially during the Christmas season when many neighbors edge their houses with lights.
Thus, those foothills whether draped with snow, spring flowers and greenery, or the rusty browns and mauves of autumns, call me to write about them. So I do. In fact, a poem I wrote within the last year, entitled “No Exit” (originally “The Foothills Snow”) is one where I focus on those surrounding hills in lieu of using them as a backdrop. I stole the title from John-Paul Sartre, but in my poem, the “no exit” theme is more positive because in it the persona mentally moves from Mount Emily’s foothills to the Rockies, (where I once lived), onward to the Alps, and lands back in La Grande—home. (This poem will appear in 365 DAYS: A Poetry Anthology Volume 3, so I can’t yet share it here.)

DL: I think of your work as being very descriptive of your surroundings, complicated by mythic connections. Your Jim Morrison book has vivid road scenes as framework for an apotheosis of this inter-dimensional rock personality. 

LM-B: Thank you. Along with giving me visual images, setting often inspires the rhythms and sounds in my poems, especially when I write about water settings, whether they lie beside a lake or an ocean. And of course, the sea pulses with and flashes mythic allusions.
            A poetry teacher once restricted my classmates and me from using the word, “mountain,” because its meaning is “cliché,” he said. I understood his point. Yet, I also discovered sneaking “cliffs” and “hills,” even “foothills,” into poems did not incur his wrath. He merely wanted to challenge us to use words beyond the standard ones. (He also liked Anglo-Saxon words, like “jut” and “cut,” which work well with cliffs and ridges that jut along the horizon and emulate cardboard layers of rock.)

DL: You have such a vivid style. Do images come early in your writing process, or do you add or amplify them in later drafts?

LM-B: Again, thanks, Denise. I am honored that such a master of describing the land has referred to my description as “vivid.” Recreating vivid imagery in a reader’s mind fulfills me. I admit sometimes it seems easy: the visual images flow. Other times, the auditory images seem to roll off my lips.
Yet, there are the other times, when I write a “stick figure” poem that lacks muscle—rather like that 95-pound weakling in those old “muscle-builder” advertisements. For example, “That Day in Williamsburg,” the opening poem for Standing on the Edge of the World (Woodley Press/Washburn U 2008), started out as a stick figure weakling back in 1976. Although I tried revising it over and over again at the time, it didn’t quite click. Nevertheless, I kept it. I wanted to retain a scene that occurs in it—and some of the imagery of Williamsburg.
Then, in either late 2001 or early 2002, I came across that old attempt. This time, the rhythms of the ocean started taking over my rhythms as I revised it. The poem grew into something strong. I wrote more drafts and worked on it until it came alive—and the last half of the final stanza went to the imagination realm. Finally, the poem passed the rigid Carl Rhoden acceptance test. (He’d claimed I had to “earn” that last line, which came before the few lines preceding it.) John Eberhart, then The Kansas City Star’s Poetry Editor, read it, liked it, and published it (July 14, 2002).

DL: Do you see any influence of your legal training on your creative writing? I would say there is precision.

LM-B: I agree that both poetry and the law require precise language. In the law, the difference between “and” and “or” can be tremendous. Nevertheless, although legal language must be exact, it often lacks rhythm. Thus, the legal script varies so much from flowing and “singing” as poetry often does, I find the legal lexicon often drags me away from writing good poetry. Besides, such teachers as Jim McKinley, David Ray, and Dan Jaffe stressed being precise (when writing poetry or fiction) that I entered law school with that goal.
            Moreover, law school remains my most arduous intellectual experience. It was boot camp of the mind.

DL: Would you share a poem and then describe what success you feel you had with it?

LM-B: Here’s one that made me feel successful for various reasons:


Some sprout in earth—dirt,
rich mulch, where molecules
are born, split and fuse into more
cells, then sweet potatoes, carrots,
beets, and rutabagas—roots—
vegetable limbs sinking into blackness,
growing deep, building skin to protect
soft meat from animals and elements.

Some blossom—broccoli, cauliflower—
miniature coiffures of granny hair—
and shimmer with dew early during
June and July when morning
glories bloom and climb gates. These
veggies stay awake, feel wind against
their heads, wait for the perfect
hour before they lie in beds.

Others are towers—monuments
of phallic energy: Asparagus
stems stretch toward the sun,
artichokes spit spiky leaves
at the moon, and celery stalks
grow ridges for strength.
And can we name sugar cane
among these solid shoots?

And then come the fungi:
mushrooms bloom in wet
places, show button faces
in spaces where many
dare not step.
Amanita muscaria—no, not yet.
Published in Where Water Meets the Rock (39 WEST Press 2017, first published in I-70 Review)
 First, I surprised myself because it was the first time I wrote about vegetables (in poetry), and the humor appearing in the double-entendres made it fun to write. Then, I realized the poem also contains imagery and sound, and another “layer” of meaning. So for fun, I submitted it to the 2016 Writers Digest 85th Writing Competition in the “free verse” category. Later, I learned that the contest received 6,000 submissions (including all three poetry categories). At the same time, I learned that I didn’t win—but I did receive an “Honorable Mention.” Writers Digest also sent a gold Award Winner seal to place on any collection containing the poem. Even if it’s only an honorable mention, out of a huge number of competitors, the poem caught someone’s eye. That indeed was a pleasant surprise.
Dr. Lindsey Martin-Bowen teaches Criminal Law and Procedure and American Court Systems (online) at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon. Until August 2018, she taught writing, literature, and Criminal Law at Metropolitan Community College-Longview and taught at the University of Missouri-Kansas City 18 years. Her most recent poetry collection, Where Water Meets the Rock (39 West Press 2017) contains "Vegetable Linguistics," which received an Honorable Mention in the Writers Digest's 85th Annual Writing Competition (2016). Her previous collection, Crossing Kansas with Jim Morrison, won the "It Looks Like a Million" Award for the 2017 Kansas Authors Club competition. The book is an expansion of her chapbook named a finalist in the 2015-2016 Quills Edge Press Chapbook Contest. "Bonsai Tree Gone Awry" from Inside Virgil’s Garage (Chatter House Press 2013) was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. This collection was also runner-up in the 2015 Kansas Authors Club Nelson Poetry Book Award. Woodley Press (Washburn University 2008) published her first full-length collection, Standing on the Edge of the World,  which McClatchy newspapers named one of the Ten Top Poetry Books of 2008. Paladin Contemporaries released her novels Rapture Redux (2014), Hamburger Haven (2009) and Cicada Grove (1992). Her work has appeared in New Letters, I-70 Rev., Thorny Locust, Tittynope Zine, Bare Root Rev., Coal City Rev., Flint Hills Rev., Amythest Arsenic, The Same, Silver Birch Press, Phantom Drift, The Enigmatist, Rockhurst Rev., Black Bear Rev., Little Balkans Rev., Kansas City Voices, Lip Service, 11 anthologies, and others. With Dennis Etzel, Jr., she edited Gimme Your Lunch Money: Heartland Poets Speak out against Bullies (Paladin Contemporaries 2016). She holds an M.A. in English (creative writing emphasis) and a Juris Doctor.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Mammoth Publishes Kim Shuck's WHOSE WATER: POEMS

Kim Shuck's new long poem Whose Water: Poems

Kim Shuck, Poet Laureate of San Francisco, writes a stunning long poem about her journey across the United States, what becomes a personal migration along its waterways. She names and transforms history, politics, nature’s beings, and her own ties to Cherokee Nation, of which she is an enrolled member. She notices “Selu” (corn in Cherokee), orchards, “dead gas stations,” and “ravens in parking lots.” In the flow of scenes, Shuck articulates an identity, “Americans are defined/by crossing water/Atlantic, Mississippi, Rio Grande, Pacific.” Place names of Latin, Spanish, and Algonkian origin wend together. An unanswered question haunts the verse as the poet moves in a terrain of observation and imagination. Readers join Shuck in creating possible responses.

Truck stop coffee

In through the passes
The satisfying watersheds whose punch lines we know
Here through the fog on the hillside
Through the sunwink and traffic of the floodplain
Here again among handprint bridges and watersong
Here at the straights
Whose water?


Kim Shuck is a Tsalagi (Cherokee)/Euro-American poet, author, weaver, and beadwork artist born in San Francisco, California. She belongs to the Northern California Cherokee diaspora and is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. In 2017, Mayor Ed Lee named Shuck as the 7th Poet Laureate of San Francisco.  Other awards include a PEN Oakland Censorship Award, National Laureate Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, KQED Local Hero Award, American Indian Heritage Month, Mentor of the Year Award from Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers, Native Writers of the Americas First Book, Diane Decorah Award, and a Mary Tallmountain Award. Previous books of poetry are Deer Trails: San Francisco Poet Laureate Series No. 7, (City Lights Publishers), Murdered Missing (Foothills Publishing), Sidewalk Ndn, chapbook (FootHills Publishing), Clouds Running In, (Taurean Horn Press ), Smuggling Cherokee (Greenfield Review Press, Poetry Foundation bestseller list, SPD Books bestseller list. She earned a B.A. in Art (1994), and M.F.A. in Textiles (1998) from San Francisco State University. She has taught American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University and was an artist-in-residence at the de Young Museum in June 2010 with Michael Horse.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Denise Low Posts Poems on Climate Blog curated by Joe Harrintong

I am honored to have Joe Harrington select two new poems that are from a new collection of reflections on climate, natural processes, and imperfect bisymmetries. His essential site is Poems On Climate.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Denise Low recommends a poetry anthology website: HEARTLAND!

This ongoing, collaborative sequence of weekly poems, with editors changing every month, features wonderful work, like that of James Benger, "Blood,"  this week, monthly editor Ronda Miller.  , The poem begins:

Dad sold his blood
on Saturday afternoons
a couple times a month.

Mom off waitressing,
or maybe the warehouse job,
or any other place the temp agency
would send her,
Dad’d load us into the
rusted quarter panel conversion van,
soup can dangling from baling wire
(I think it was beef noodle)
to catch the constant oil leak. . . [continued on ]

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Denise Low describes evacuation from the Kincade Fire

Dear Friends / Family,
Thank you for good wishes during the trying time of evacuation from our home during the Kincade
Fire, Oct. 26-Oct. 31.  A small fire in the Fitch Mountain neighborhood in August helped us to mentally prepare for a mandatory evacuation. We saw the local firefighters in action and how they were quick, had effective defenses, and worked with helicopters that carry water bins; jets that spew retardant; and impressive fire trucks. New to firefighting in this region is use of motion camera surveillance on mountain peaks. Also new is the meteorologists’ experience of what these Santa Ana-like winds can do in Northern, not just Southern, California. The fire crews were alert and arrived quickly.

So, when the bleepingly intrusive alarm of the Kincade Fire came over our phones Saturday noon, Tom and I were somewhat prepared. We had our legal papers together in a portable file box. We had a go-bag of food. We had gas in the cars, water, and some cash. But we were still overwhelmed when we got a 3-hour notice that we should evacuate. The fire was 5 miles away with strong winds blowing toward us. We unplugged appliances, found our overnight bags, and charged our phones. We then had time to select a second tier of possessions to pack—finer clothes, family photographs, jewelry, mementos, a few books and paintings, and the Sabatier knives my brother gave me in 1972. Wine. I packed a case or so of my winemaker son’s wine from the basement, for barter and for solace.

This process of  choice was a rapid recapitulation of our year of packing for the move to California
last July. The resonance added to the surreal quality of the day. Our home was dissolving under us, again.

We found someone willing to take us in—our daughter-in-law Allison’s mother Tami lives in Santa Rosa 15 miles away. We started the drive through back roads to Tami’s house, and luckily, Tom found a gas station and topped off the tank. At Tami’s we shared burgers from a local joint and some of the wine. All seemed normal, except for the layer of smoke to the north. At nightfall, Tami and her friend decided to leave for another city, while we stayed and went to sleep. We thought we were set.

We did not really understand the likelihood of a progression from an evacuation warning to a mandatory evacuation. Nor did we understand where we were on the map in this new town and how close we were to the fire. At 4 a.m. the phones made the wretched alarm again, and a neighbor pounded on the door and told us to evacuate. He affirmed that we were in the projected path of the fire.

We were loaded and on the road fifteen minutes later. We headed out the driveway with no clear plan
of where to go—north to friends in Ashland, Oregon, who would not be awake, or south to be with relatives? Our son was in Petaluma with his in-laws, and he texted that address, so we decided to join him. We edged onto Highway 101 and joined the stream of trucks, motorcycles, cars, and emergency vehicles. This was the scariest part of the entire experience. A few drivers were panicky and trying to weave in and out of the moving wall of cars crammed together. Ambulances were in the median shoulders because no one would give them room. Nightmarish. Going south was the right choice, because we found out later that Ashland  was only accessible from the south—101 North closed within minutes.

Two hours later, we turned off 101 onto dark country roads near Petaluma and managed to find Uncle Bob and Aunt Elaine’s ranch, thanks to Siri the Omniscient. At 6 am they had coffee ready, good pour-over coffee. That meant a lot. Then they cooked us a seriously good breakfast. Our son David advised us, and we mapped directions to Oregon, where former Lawrence friends Jim Gilkeson and Diane Tegtmeier live. They had been displaced by the Valley Fire four years ago. They would understand.

We made it as far as Redding that day, where we spent a tense night in a motel. In the morning, we watched television news of the fire, miniaturized on the tube into brief, dramatic clips. This odd echo of our experience, distorted, added a sense of unreality.

Then we traveled to Ashland, by way of Mount Shasta. We stopped and appreciated this white-topped
eminence. Out of the fire zone, such touristy normalcy was eerie.

By the time we reached Ashland and found our temporary abode, I was snappish. I was disconnected from my surroundings and did not register the beautiful colors of an Oregon autumn. Our patient friends served a lovely dinner, and we contributed wine. Food and drink and talk worked their magic. Jim and Diane conducted informal therapy with us for the duration—listening, comparing stories, sharing outcomes. They introduced another survivor of the Valley Fire, and I listened as she told her story. We were becoming part of a new fellowship in the evolving pattern of days.

On the 3rd day came the rescinding of the evacuation order. The narrative that we had been living
would move toward a “happy” ending, unlike that of our friends, whose workplace had burned to the ground. Survivor’s guilt is real, but I did not expect a rush of satisfaction for getting through the difficulties. 

We made the long drive home on Halloween, expecting power outages but happy to have an intact house. When we reached Healdsburg, we saw burned hills directly above our son David and his wife Allison’s house. Everything was okay, but oh so close to the upturned Tower of the Tarot deck. Out our back yard, we could see pink fire retardant on hills across from us and a burned patch. Light ash covered the rose leaves. 

And that should have been the jubilant ending. But the gas was still out. Still is out. At first, this is not such a problem. The microwave, a single space heater, the refrigerator, even the washer and dryer work. The coffee pot works. But the stove does not, nor the hot water heater. This is too many days without a shower and a week without a shampoo. Nights are very cold.

So, we are still between worlds, in a suspended time. We can’t leave the house unattended from 8 am
to 10 pm because the power company might appear. The day revolves around this fact. Grocery stores are slowly repopulating their shelves. There is a shortage of mayonnaise. When refrigerators don’t work, everyone throws out the mayonnaise, so remember to keep an emergency supply. The meat department only had veal and rack of lamb at first, but very little ground beef or other middle-class cuts. Ice cream is a distant dream.

We are having unpleasant emotions about Pacific Gas & Electric, which turned off our gas well after the major threat of fire. Our insurance company emailed and offered to spray our house with fire retardant gel 6 hours before we were cleared to return. We declined. After collecting and totaling receipts, I found our expenses were $50 less than the deductible. Some things never change.

The power outages and evacuations are all worth it for one outcome—no fatalities. We will contribute to the relief effort for Sonoma County evacuees who are less fortunate (our church is taking a collection for undocumented workers), and we will count our blessings. For now, we are trying to adjust to a new understanding of our environment and new identities, for we do identify with our surroundings. The water, air, and local foods circulate in our bodies. The burned scar on the slope opposite us is a reminder of this time of fragility when our houses and bone-house bodies were in balance.

After a few weeks, we will have a family meeting, Tom and I, and maybe a few of the turkey vultures
that circle our house regularly. We definitely will make some improvements on our emergency strategies. Until then, we wait for our town and our region to return to regular, forgettable routines.

We truly appreciate each of you and your kind words of support. This is my first national disaster, so I have been fortunate to live this long without a tornado or other catastrophe—just those of my own making. The gas company might come tomorrow, and Tami has offered her house for a hot shower. Life in this interstitial space is, well, goodish.

Best to all, Denise  

PS, we just had the gas turned on. End of the evacuation saga, part I.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Denise Low comments on National Book Award-Poetry Finalists

The winner will be announced November 20, 2019. In alphabetical order, here are the finalists for the NBA in poetry (my comments in italics):
Jericho Brown“The Tradition” Copper Canyon Press. This might be my frontrunner. Brown works with passion, cultural layers (including biblical, Gospel music), and sheer lyricism. His work is inventive and moving, joining head and heart. From the publisher: The Tradition details the normalization of evil and its history at the intersection of the past and the personal. Brown’s poetic concerns are both broad and intimate, and at their very core a distillation of the incredibly human: What is safety? Who is this nation? Where does freedom truly lie? Brown makes mythical pastorals to question the terrors to which we’ve become accustomed, and to celebrate how we survive. Poems of fatherhood, legacy, blackness, queerness, worship, and trauma are propelled into stunning clarity by Brown’s mastery, and his invention of the duplex―a combination of the sonnet, the ghazal, and the blues―is testament to his formal skill. The Tradition is a cutting and necessary collection, relentless in its quest for survival while reveling in a celebration of contradiction.”
Toi Derricotte“I”: New and Selected Poems University of Pittsburgh Press. Derricotte is a master, a founder of the important Cave Canem, a fine poet. Her new book of selected and new poems shows a full range of an important career. From the publisher: “The story of Toi Derricotte is a hero’s odyssey. It is the journey of a poetic voice that in each book earns her way to home, to her own commanding powers. “I”: New and Selected Poems shows the reader both the closeness of the enemy and the poet’s inherent courage, inventiveness, and joy. It is a record of one woman’s response to the repressive and fracturing forces around the subjects of race, class, color, gender, and sexuality. Each poem is an act of victory, finding a path through repressive forces to speak with both beauty and truth.
This collection features more than thirty new poems as well as selections from five of Derricotte’s previously published books of poetry.”
Ilya Kaminsky“Deaf Republic” Graywolf Press. Kaminsky brings reader’s into the 21st century of dictators, coded language, disability—places where readers enter into a new citizenship. This is important work, and this is a frontrunner for the award. From the publisher: “Deaf Republic opens in an occupied country in a time of political unrest. When soldiers breaking up a protest kill a deaf boy, Petya, the gunshot becomes the last thing the citizens hear—all have gone deaf, and their dissent becomes coordinated by sign language. The story follows the private lives of townspeople encircled by public violence: a newly married couple, Alfonso and Sonya, expecting a child; the brash Momma Galya, instigating the insurgency from her puppet theater; and Galya’s girls, heroically teaching signs by day and by night luring soldiers one by one to their deaths behind the curtain. At once a love story, an elegy, and an urgent plea—Ilya Kaminsky’s long-awaited Deaf Republic confronts our time’s vicious atrocities and our collective silence in the face of them.”
Carmen Giménez Smith“Be Recorder”  Graywolf Press. This high-profile editor of Noemi Press, co-director for CantoMundo, Professor of English at Virginia Tech, and with Steph Burt  poetry editor of The Nation is a powerhouse writer. Be ready to learn new pathways in your brain when you follow her inventions. From the publisher: “Be Recorder offers readers a blazing way forward into an as yet unmade world. The many times and tongues in these poems investigate the precariousness of personhood in lines that excoriate and sanctify. Carmen Giménez Smith turns the increasingly pressing urge to cry out into a dream of rebellion—against compromise, against inertia, against self-delusion, and against the ways the media dream up our complacency in an America that depends on it. This reckoning with self and nation demonstrates that who and where we are is as conditional as the fact of our compliance: “Miss America from sea to shining sea / the huddled masses have a question / there is one of you and all of us.” Be Recorder is unrepentant and unstoppable, and affirms Giménez Smith as one of our time’s most vital and vivacious poets.”
Arthur Sze“Sight Lines” Copper Canyon Press. Sze taught many years at Institute of American Indian Arts. He is a fine, fine poet in addition to his role of mentor. His Chinese American perspective gives him layers that make this a very global and very 21st century American book. From the publisher: “From the current phenomenon of drawing calligraphy with water in public parks in China to Thomas Jefferson laying out dinosaur bones on the White House floor, from the last sighting of the axolotl to a man who stops building plutonium triggers, Sight Lines moves through space and time and brings the disparate and divergent into stunning and meaningful focus. In this new work, Arthur Sze employs a wide range of voices―from lichen on a ceiling to a man behind on his rent―and his mythic imagination continually evokes how humans are endangering the planet; yet, balancing rigor with passion, he seizes the significant and luminous and transforms these moments into riveting and enduring poetry.”

JUDGES FOR THE NBA-POETRY (from the NBA website):

Jos Charles is the author of feeld, winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series and Longlisted for the National Book Award for Poetry, and Safe Space. She is a recipient of the 2016 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. Charles has an MFA from the University of Arizona and is pursuing a PhD in English from UC Irvine.
John Evans is an owner of DIESEL, A Bookstore in Los Angeles. He has been a board member of the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association and the American Booksellers Association. He has been a judge for the CLMP Firestarter Award for Poetry, the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association Award for Poetry, the ABA’s Indies Choice Book Award, and other awards. He is also a poet and has an M.A. in Poetics from New College of California.
Vievee Francis is the author of three books of poetry: Blue-Tail Fly, Horse in the Dark (winner of the Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize for a second collection), and Forest Primeval (winner of the Hurston Wright Legacy Award and the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award). Her work has appeared in numerous print and online journals, textbooks, and anthologies, including Poetry, Best American Poetry 2010, 2014, 2017, 2019 and Angles of Ascent: A Norton Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry. In 2009 she received a Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, and in 2010, a Kresge Fellowship. She has been a participant in the Cave Canem Workshops, a Poet-in-Residence for the Alice Lloyd Scholars Program at the University of Michigan, and teaches poetry writing in numerous modes and venues including the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop (USA, UK, Caribbean). Francis serves as an associate editor for Callaloo and is an associate professor of English and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.
Cathy Park Hong‘s latest poetry collection, Engine Empire, was published in 2012. Her other collections include Dance Dance Revolution, chosen by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize, and Translating Mo’um. Hong is the recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. Her poems have been published in Poetry, A Public Space, Paris Review, McSweeney’s, Baffler, Boston Review, The Nation, and other journals. She is the poetry editor of the New Republic and is a professor at Rutgers-Newark University. Her book of creative nonfiction, Minor Feelings, will be published by One World/Random House in Spring 2020.
Chair – Mark Wunderlich is the author of four books of poetry, the most recent of which is God of Nothingness, forthcoming from Graywolf Press. His other collections include The Earth Avails, which received the Rilke Prize, Voluntary Servitude, and The Anchorage, which received the Lambda Literary Award. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, Massachusetts Cultural Council, and elsewhere, and his poems have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, New Republic, Poetry, The Paris Review, and have been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered. He is the director of the Bennington Writing Seminars graduate writing program and lives in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

National Book Award for Poetry Finalists Will Be Announced Oct. 8

The National Book Foundation announced the Longlist for the 2019 National Book Award for PoetryDan Beachy-QuickVariations on Dawn and DuskOmnidawn Publishing; Jericho BrownThe TraditionCopper Canyon Press; Toi Derricotte“I”: New and Selected PoemsUniversity of Pittsburgh Press; Camonghne FelixBuild Yourself a BoatHaymarket Books; Ilya KaminskyDeaf RepublicGraywolf Press; Ariana ReinesA Sand BookTin House Books; Mary RuefleDunceWave Books; Carmen Giménez SmithBe RecorderGraywolf Press; Arthur SzeSight LinesCopper Canyon Press; Brian TeareDoomstead DaysNightboat Books. 

Here is the NBA press release: "As was the case in 2018, the majority of the poets on the 2019 Longlist are newcomers to the National Book Awards. The exceptions are Jericho Brown and Arthur Sze, who were Poetry Judges in 2016 and 1999, respectively, and Toi Derricotte, who received the National Book Foundation’s 2016 Literarian Award for her work with Cave Canem. Three of the poets have won Whiting Awards, and four have received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Other prizes that have recognized the ten Longlisted poets include the Lambda Literary Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Paterson Poetry Prize, and the Pushcart Prize. The Longlisted poets have also received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation, the MacDowell Colony, the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, and Poets House. All ten of the books come from independent publishers, and this is the first time publishers Wave Books and Tin House Books have been Longlisted for a National Book Award. The list features poets in all stages of their careers, including one debut.
"Two titles present strong environmental themes, addressing the beauty of nature and the impending climate crisis. Sight LinesArthur Sze’s tenth collection, uses a broad spectrum of voices and forms to reflect on the imperiled natural world. The site-specific poems in Brian Teare’s Doomstead Days were “drafted on foot” at various natural and industrial locations, and explore what it means to be alive in the anthropocene.
"Climate change is just one of the many themes Ariana Reines addresses in A Sand Book, which also considers social media, sexual trauma, Hurricane Sandy, and the various manifestations of sand in our lives. In contrast, Dan Beachy-Quick’s Variations on Dawn and Dusk is more singular in its focus, serving as an ekphrastic meditation on the interplay of light and space in untitled (dawn to dusk), Robert Irwin’s installation in Marfa, Texas.
"Politics, resistance, and social justice are notably visible themes in at least four of the Longlisted collections. Build Yourself a Boat, the debut collection from Camonghne Felix, the Director of Surrogates & Strategic Communications for presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren, considers what it means to survive in today’s fractured political climate, particularly for black women. Deaf Republic, by Ilya Kaminsky, who was born in the Soviet Union, imagines a protest where a gunshot literally deafens the populace. In her sixth collection, Be RecorderCarmen Giménez Smith sounds a call for rebellion against American complacency and compromise. And Jericho Brown’s The Tradition examines the growing presence of terror and trauma in our lives—and introduces a new poetic form called “the duplex.”
"Two of the poets, Toi Derricotte and Mary Ruefle, are among those who have been delighting readers for decades. Derricotte’s “I”: New and Selected Poems includes more than 30 new poems and uses an autobiographical perspective to respond to issues of race, gender, class, and other themes. Dunce showcases Ruefle’s celebrated wit, wisdom, and uncanny awareness of the world.
"Publishers submitted a total of 245 books for the 2019 National Book Award for Poetry. The judges for Poetry are Jos CharlesJohn EvansVievee FrancisCathy Park Hong, and Mark Wunderlich (Chair). These distinguished judges were given the charge of selecting what they deem to be the best books of the year. Their decisions are made independently of the National Book Foundation staff and Board of Directors; deliberations are strictly confidential. Winners announced at the invitation-only National Book Awards Ceremony and Benefit Dinner on November 20 in New York City.
Omnidawn Publishing
Jericho BrownThe TraditionCopper Canyon Press
Toi Derricotte“I”: New and Selected PoemsUniversity of Pittsburgh Press
Camonghne FelixBuild Yourself a BoatHaymarket Books
Ilya KaminskyDeaf RepublicGraywolf Press
Ariana ReinesA Sand BookTin House Books
Mary RuefleDunceWave Books
Carmen Giménez SmithBe RecorderGraywolf Press
Arthur SzeSight LinesCopper Canyon Press
Brian TeareDoomstead DaysNightboat Books