Dorianne Laux’s fourth book of poems, Facts about the Moon (W.W. Norton), is the recipient of the Oregon Book Award. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions, as well as Superman: The Chapbook and Dark Charms, both from Red Dragonfly Press. Recent poems appear in The American Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Cerise Press, Margie, The Seattle Review, Tin House and The Valparaiso Review. Her fifth collection of poetry, The Book of Men, will be published by W.W. Norton in 2011. Laux lives with her husband, poet Joseph Millar, and teaches in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University.
Joseph Millar is the author of Fortune, from Eastern Washington University Press. His first collection, Overtime (2001) was finalist for the Oregon Book Award and the Robert H. Winner Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. Millar grew up in Pennsylvania, attended Johns Hopkins University and spent 25 years in the San Francisco Bay area, working at a variety of jobs, from telephone repairman to commercial fisherman. His poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Southern Review, TriQuarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, Shenandoah, DoubleTake, New Letters, Ploughshares, Manoa, and River Styx. His work has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in Poetry, Montalvo Center for the Arts, Oregon Literary Arts and a 2008 Pushcart Prize in Poetry. In 1997 he gave up his job as a telephone installation foreman. He now lives in Raleigh, NC and teaches at Pacific University’s Low Residency MFA Program in Oregon and yearly at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA.
Ever since my first tentative steps into poetry, I have been fortunate to have been surrounded by people who consistently raise the bar. The Galway scene of the mid 2000´s which I was 'born into' was both supportive and healthily competitive. There was Kevin Higgins, Mary Madec, Lorna Shaughnessy, Stephen Murray and Dave Lordan to name a few. And I mean a few. And also there from the beginning was Elaine Feeney from just out the road, with a penchant for turning up at the regular readings at BK´s Wine Bar or Over the Edge in the Galway Library and roughing us all up with some carefully delivered wallops. In fact, if there are two words that are missing from the cover of her third Salmon Poetry collection, they are "Continue to".
Not since Brendan Kennelly´s The Man Made of Rain have I read such a vivid and raw tale of recovery. From the very first line of Hindering Hercules, three poems in, ("There´s nothing holy about dying on a hospital ward.") I´m ready to be taken on this trip. That this poem appears at the start of the book was either carefully planned, or a coincidental stroke of brilliance. It blows every brick out of the wall of reservedness that a reader might naturally hold onto until later poems. In the very next poem In the Way we hear a somewhat quieter, accepting voice "relieved that machines/ now speak for me / put me on guard/ in the middle of the / resuscitation bed". The line breaks are short, like measured breaths. A little calm before we are headfirst into Antaeus, who, according to Greek mythology, was invincible as long as he remained in contact with the earth. In her recovery, the poet leaving the bed, leaving the house "like a wheel free dinky / car tumbling" is that very risk when it could all go south. The coffee table becomes a coffin table and in turn it becomes another object to let go of. Line by line, we slide our shoulders under hers, prop her up and walk to the end of this poem with her.
This though is not merely a collection of recovery. Feeney picks up from her previous collection The Radio was Gospel in addressing her family with heartfelt poems such as Jack and Venturia Inaequalis - reminders of how precious time really is; a concept which, perhaps, in this latest book exudes gravity. For me though, The Harvest is the poem with which this book really bares its teeth. And I´d been waiting for it. As mentioned, in her previous collection Feeney demonstrates a remarkable variety and shift in her tone, subject matter and language; the poems coming quickly like jabs to test the distance and defense of the opponent. In this sense, Mass was the uppercut to land us on the canvas. In Rise, we have The Harvest to execute the same action: a brutal and ferocious piece of social commentary reflecting on one of Ireland´s darkest histories. You just have to read it to know.
A brushstroke of lyricism and headbutt of honesty: all in all, brilliant as both an achievement and a collection from Elaine Feeney and one which you should buy here from Salmon Poetry.
Michael McGriff is man who is alive to his senses. When a friend of mine in Vienna gave me Dismantling the Hills, I read it and thought "Okay...let´s see what you got." Home Burial found its way into my satchel next and kicked out all the other books. By the time I had had a sniff at Black Postcards, I couldn´t wait for Early Hour. What I will say off the bat is that I have never been to or know anything about the Pacific Northwest, but McGriff has that envious knack of being able to make the reader feel as if they grew up there. He has an arsenal of similes and metaphors that makes this latest collection easily one of the most descriptively refreshing books I´ve read in a long long time.
This is a book-length sequence inspired by the painting Frühe Stunde by German painter Karl Hofer. It´s the second time the writer has challenged himself in this way (following the joint project Our Secret Life in the Movies with J.M. Tyree) and the result is a book which wouldn´t be out of place in a gallery. In the title poem, McGriff dabs his brush into the night to paint the morning: "In this room lit up / like the throatlatch / of a horse, like sea-foam / under the breeze of a black moon." The poem is a cascade of imagery which deftly sets up what this collection is going to do: address the subject of the painting - (when)... "a bucket of sparks / empties onto the mantle-dark / shoulders of the early hour, / you become the early hour. "
The poems that flow after this brilliantly combine the physical and the romantic. There is repetition without anything becoming repetitive. Such is the vividness of McGriff´s brush strokes, it´s sometimes hard to distinguish whether the romance lies between the narrator and the surrounding landscape or the narrator and the living body for whom this landscape serves as a gorgeous counterpart. "When I say you have the beauty / of a dirt road / I mean you have thin shoulders / that twist in me / like the fault lines / in a minor planet´s moon." (Letter Sewn into the Hem of a Dress made of Smoke) Poems such as this bring us close to Hofer´s painting before the very next page places us outside the window, outside the frame, on the dirt road, in the fields, in the grass by the creek, on the river bank where "The moon is fishing for compliments / along the sandbar" (Sleeping beside White River) . It´s as if the poems wander as often as the thoughts of the narrator watching over his sleeping muse.
I will not suggest that the writer intended to tease the reader, but what I will tell you is that this book is filled with humdingers, punctuated by the Black Postcards that fizzle and pop like sudden moments of early hour genius that we wish we had written down.
I will suggest that this is a book you invest in, and, if you too are a poet, read Overlook, Cape Arago and then the last poem of the collection, I am an Ox in the Year of the Horse, and see if you can resist clapping in a public space at the last two lines of each.
Early Hour is available here.
A brilliant weekend in Doolin is still fresh in the mind. You couldn't ask for a more stunning & isolated backdrop than the west coast of Clare to be stuck with a great bunch of writers and attendees. Huge shout out and thanks to Hotel Doolin and Donal Minihane for putting the weekend together and looking after us, also to Stephen Murray for the tip of the hat and for untouchable MC-ing skills. It was also great to see and hang out with again some of the features (some pics below) - Elaine Feeney (what a reading!), Dave Lordan, Billy Ramsell, Elizabeth Reapy, June Caldwell - and a very entertaining Salmon Anthology reading by Trevor Conway, Paul Casey, Knute Skinner, Sarah Clancy & John Sexton to name a few! And as for the Bogman's Cannon Open Mic... that needs to be filmed next year!
I must say I am really looking forward to getting back to the podium/mic/megaphone - or even a table with a few pints and like-minded individuals with a couple of pints of stout.
I have never been to the Doolin Writers' Weekend but from what I've heard it's a great few days. A stellar lineup - a great location - a host that is pumping new life into the wild west coast.
After a few blistering hot weeks in Vienna, we're on our way to autumn (if the shop window displays are anything to go by!)
So on September 8th, come and join us at The Vienna Globe for some whiskey and poetry. Fingers crossed, it will be whiskey weather by then. but then, when isn;t a good time for a whiskey I ask you?
The first evening, where attendees will share a poem - either their own work or someone else´s - will take place in The Vienna Globe on Zieglergasse 65, Vienna 1070. (details and tickets below). It will be a relaxed, informal, friendly evening of chat and banter with words and of course the grain... For the first evening, I have talked with the Whisky Experts (www.whiskyexperts.net) at Pot Still on Strozzigasse and between us we´ve selected 4 quality Irish whiskeys (with per chance a bonus whiskey if I think that the contribution of the poets merits it!) There will also be food and the chance to shake hands and meet new friends.
Some good thoughts on two chapbooks: ‘Riding off into that Strange Technicolor Sunset’ by Kevin Ridgeway and ‘Dried Up’ by Trista Waxali-Hurley.
At a time when Arts Councils around the world are announcing cuts as cooperatively as butchers’ shop windows, the humble chapbook is thriving. Let me hit you with the opinion from the offset and we’ll see where we go from there: chapbooks are just as important to the writer as any book deal from a national or international publisher. I talked before in a previous post (“To the page we turn”) about beginnings, and this is not only about beginnings, but also sustainability. You can stick all sorts of definitions onto the word ‘chapbook’, (and agree or disagree with Writers Digest’s definition) but essentially, it’s a smaller book of 40 pages or less, produced inexpensively by either the author or a small independent publisher.
So what’s their significance and how on earth can you say they hold their own among the glossier, bar coded, nationally distributed books whose publishers have a pretty logo and a website with a Paypal-entrusted store? In a recent article in Poets & Writers magazine, poet Travis Mossotti takes a look at the life of a touring poet. In it he argues that making things happen, making lasting connections through readings, class visits, book signings, lectures, workshops etc. will be a burden falling squarely on the poet. (“Unless you have Allison Granucci on speed dial; or you have Knopf printed on your spine;...or you’ve changed your name to James Franco” – oh James!). Admittedly, poets like Mossitti and fiction writers with publishers behind them also have to do this. However, the majority of chapbook authors own the stock, not just the rights. And if they do not own the stock, it’s far cheaper and easier to get hold of than a book that is retailing for 15 dollars plus tax. That makes a big difference in terms of getting on the road, networking, getting the work into the public's hands and laying the stepping stones to more fruitful ventures.
That brings us to the two chapbooks.
In ‘Dried Up’, Canadian and LA-based author Trista Hurley-Waxali offers a amiable, sometimes jocular look at Los Angeles through the eyes of an outsider. She has distanced herself enough in her writing to be objective at times, yet offers situations so familiar to our everyday pull-of-hair frustration that we can’t but help place ourselves in her sketches; ‘Self-serve Dialog’, for example, a no-holds-barred rant that we all go through at some point or another. ‘Real Things’ will also elicit a few smiles and nods when read, although, as with other poems in this collection, the subtlety of truth is there on the second read.
“She always shows off her slender legs, disregarding her/ blotchy/ department store self-tanner and the dark purple/ bruises on her knees.” (from ‘Complete’)
“Her V05-sprayed hair would glisten in the sun,/ while rose-scented talcum powder/
started to leave a line of sweat on her chest/ where she always caught me looking.” (from ‘The Worm Basks)
Her observations are always sharp, zooming in on details we might otherwise neglect, egging us on to look again. In a way, the sparseness of the chapbook (10 poems), the moment to moment imagery, could be likened to the irony of isolation you get in a crowded city such as LA where people appear as “leaves, sharp as blades, ... getting ready for battle.” This is a tidy, well-written first chapbook that will have justifiably given the author encouragement to continue.
I couldn’t have picked two more contrasting chapbooks to write about. Kevin Ridgeway’s ‘Riding off into that Strange Technicolor Sunset’ is an altogether different beast. I had originally paired it with a Neil Young LP and a bottle of Alaskan Amber. By the third poem, I had turned off the record player and shoved a few more bottles into the freezer under a bag of peas for quick-cooling access.
Some poems can be read once, digested easily before moving swiftly on to the next poem. Within 15 minutes, you could have 7 or 8 poems happily sitting in the department of checked-off-things in your head. If you try this with Ridgeway's poems, you will explode. It's rare that I've seen so much packed into a page of poetry. Images comes at you like Mayweather jabs. Sentences get you in a headlock and drag you down alleyways. You will be forgiven for reminding yourself to breathe as you sit winded in your chair getting the bejesus beaten out of you. And that can only be good.
The link keeping this collection together is Dallas-Ft. Worth, taking to the page in various forms: :
"the petrified doppelgangers of the long dead/ bearded settlers of this funky western city/
look down upon their bearded hipster/ successors playing hacky sack in skinny jeans." ('Statues of FT. Worth')
'Giraffe Hunting in Downtown Dallas' is probably my favorite poem, purely because it is bizarrely bulletproof when it comes to finding deeper meaning some of us like to look for. As with Eliot's three white leopards, here is another poem that you just have to take for what it is - it's a joyride.
Cameos appear every few pages too, from Townes Van Zandt to Buddy Holly, Hank Williams to Big Mama Thornton. But this is not just about music - it's about movies too; about what ideas we had in our heads growing up: "the old west/ with its paintbrush of Technicolor/ those afternoon movies from/ when we were young." ('Stockyards').
An honest, weird and wonderful collection.
*More from Trista Hurley-Waxali at this blog: https://tristaisshort.wordpress.com/
*Kevin Ridgeway is all over the internet. You could start here:
I could begin by telling you that this album is beautifully tied together by one song - no - one line in a song: "When does money lie awake and worry about you and me?" ('Stolen with permission from Neil McCarthy')
But I would be lying about that.
Like any fan of Niall Connolly - the man and his music - I am just delighted that we now get to listen to this his eighth studio album, currently accompanying him on a tour so long that surely it was fruitless trying to design one poster with all the dates on it. (details of which can be found by clicking here..... or for the hell of it, here)
'all we have become' sees Connolly picking up exactly where he left off with 'Sound '(2013): a man at ease with his craft, his lyrics, his audience, his uncanny knack of turning a group of songs into a 40 minute or so journey through the sublime, the heartfelt, the intimate, the poetic, the dirty and the uplifting. In opening with the gentle and stirring 'Down to the sea', from which the album title is taken, we get a feeling for Connolly's peers and diaspora; perhaps the nostalgia that follows into the second track 'The Four Face Liar' which, in keeping with its subject, has a distinctively 90's pop-rock feel to it which works perfectly. 'The Blue Dollar' put me in a Ford Capri in the 70's riding through the Mojave Desert - again, this is a good thing: I want a song to take me somewhere else, and that is exactly how this album works. From the raucously infectious 'Not my monkey' to the beautifully arranged 'Carry it with you', this is an album that you will want to carry with you, and you will be glad you did, I'm not lying about that. Available now from Niall's guitar case, itunes, and CD Baby.
"War is a word that I pronounced very easily not too long ago: now it's filled with the weight of true meaning." And there, on page 90 of this book, was the very reason that I knew I would not be able to write a review. All I can say is that if you are prepared to put aside opinion and politics and bring to the forefront the author's poetry, this book is stunning.
- "The former municipal cemetery, brought back to life by the war." (Lions)
- "I walk by feeling helpless, aware of the next second in which maybe I'll be and maybe I won't." (Traffic)
Saddening, shocking and stunning.
In the summer of 2006, after a tired and deflated return to Ireland after another foreign sojourn, my confidence and thirst was restored by the poet Stephen Murray (House of Bees, On Corkscrew Hill) who suggested self-publishing a joint collection and taking off across the continent of Europe for poetry readings and plamasing. It was both a beautiful and important decision.
Fast forward eight years, and I’m now living in southern California. With time to kill in another one of those photocopied malls, I wandered into Barnes and Noble Bookstore, stepped onto the escalator and looked up to find the arse cheeks of a teenage girl looking back at me from under a waist-high skirt. I stepped off the escalator at the Self-Improvement section, but bypassed it and went straight for the Poetry. It’s a ritual I have as an unpublished poet, scanning the shelves to see who’s published what, which publishers are out there and active. Now, I am not jealous that peers have moved ahead of me and brought out multiple collections with various international publishers, in fact I applaud them and will do my best to help promote them in any way I can. It’s all good. However, I have recently had doubts, so help me God. Publishing houses who have brought out books I’ve either bought or thumbed through have been riddled with typos or have just simply published pretty weak poetry on account of who that poet is. That brings me to Exhibit A, if you will. The only books in the Poetry section of Barnes and Noble by Graywolf Press was by James Franco. Now, I don’t need to go quoting lines of text to batter you with my opinion on how shockingly bad the poetry is (The Telegraph beat me to it here), But I had to think of who approached who. Did Franco, having obviously read a good chunk of Graywolf’s catalogue decide that they were indeed the publisher for him as many of their writers reminded him of his own writing, or did Graywolf take a look at Franco and identify a young man who had found fame in a much more lucrative field who could possibly do for poetry what Beckham did for the MLS? If it’s a case of the latter, we are all fucking doomed. The kids from the Twighlight franchise could also help boost sales. Give them pens.
In honesty, I’m not sure who I was more disappointed with, the publisher or the poet. Who needs who more? When we write a poem, and mail it off to a journal with another four to make up a submission, what is the endgame? A book deal, perhaps. Readings organized on our behalf. Reviews in respected newspapers. Bragging rights. Book fairs. Residencies. Maybe every once in a while we get to pose, no, frown and look serious for a feature in Poets & Writers. Is A a better poet than B and C because A’s with Faber and B’s with Ahinga and C’s made her own chapbook at Staples? I’ve been thinking about this for a few years now, and in the meantime, I’ve been lucky enough to have been invited to speak as a guest poet at a number of venues in no fewer than fourteen countries, rubbing shoulders with the published and the accomplished. I have made friends along the way and seen some of the most gorgeous places that I wouldn’t have otherwise had the drive to go and see if it weren’t for poetry. So, to cut a short story long, when Chiwan Choi (Writ Large Press) asked me if I’d be interested in taking part in a reading in Union Station, Los Angeles last week as part of DTLAB's 90 for 90, to read with other self-published authors, I jumped at the chance. This is where is all began and begins again. So long as I live, feel free to punch me in the face if I ever get too big for my boots and think myself too important for any reading. In Traxx Bar on a Wednesday night, I shared the podium with the ever-lovely and possibly the greatest advocate of poetry readings I have ever met, Jessica Ceballos; I sat and listened and was charmed by clever, original and well-delivered verses of Nikita Liza Egar, wanted to hear a lot more from the modest Kirk Dietrich’s 'Junk Shop Heart'; gladly traded merchandise and took home a copy of Petrea Burchard’s ‘Camelot and Vine’ as well as Jonathin Flike’s pop culture poetry in 'It only gets worse' that was both witty and sharp. Though probably not as well-attended as the organizers would have hoped, these nights are as important as any reading or book launch. For many it's the beginning of a journey into the printed and spoken word world. That decision in the summer of 2006 came back to justify itself to me last week. It was both a beautiful and important decision.
Here's where you can keep in touch with what's moving and shaking.