Fiction Spotlight: Tom Cooper

TomCooper_AuthorPhotoThis week, Memorious contributor and short story rounder Tom Cooper releases his first novel, The Marauders (Crown), to a bevy of critical and popular acclaim. Born out of Cooper’s longstanding history with New Orleans, the book is a wry and sprawling study in character and setting, with the fictional port of Jeanette still logged with the bodies of Hurricane Katrina and the sludge of the BP oil spill. Similar to the not-quite-right character in his story, “John Laroquette” (featured in Memorious 12), the cast of The Marauders includes a one-armed treasure seeker, psychopathic twin drug dealers, a father & son pair of shrimpers, company men, and a pair of lay geographers hunting for an island not shown on any map, each of them dogged by circumstance and the belief that they are in charge of their own fortunes.

To mark the release of his novel, Memorious was fortunate enough to talk with Tom Cooper about his work, his influences, and his relationship with the place he’s called home for years.

In The Marauders, each character seems to be haunted by history. I’m curious, then, about how history fits into your characters’ designs. Could you walk us through the process of building one of your characters in the book and how you’ve structured their back story?

It was, and always is for me, a tentative process of discovery. I always end up with much more material than I use, which I suppose is the case for many writers. But for several months, maybe for up to a year, I gather stuff—words, images, music, photographs, characters, jokes, dialogue, anything—like a bowerbird. By the time I have enough stuff, it’s just a matter of putting it together. Nothing is structured or premeditated until this point.

Actually, I’m always gathering material. I have a file cabinet with about three thousand Post-It notes stuffed inside. No exaggeration. Maybe a little OCD?

Speaking of history, the fictional town of Jeanette in the novel feels like its own character at times. It seems like it’s based on a place or places that are very familiar to you. Why did you choose to set the story here? What did the bayou afford you that your adopted city of New Orleans couldn’t?

Well, New Orleans was affected differently. My next novel—what I hope will be my next novel, who knows—is the yin to The Marauders’ yang. The sister book. The Marauders being the brother and male-centric. The next explores how New Orleans is affected, the sinister chain reaction that occurs during the same summer. Concurrently, and in kind of a Pulp Fiction fashion, one or two of the ancillary characters in The Marauders make an appearance in the next book.

But The Marauders. The Marauders had to be set in a small coastal community. Jeanette is an amalgamation of many of the coastal towns I’ve visited, and worked in, over the years.

Let’s talk about the research you accomplished in preparation for writing The Marauders. Where did you start? What went into the research project itself? What was the most surprising find you made in your search?

So much weird research went into writing this book. I’m one of those guys who carries a Moleskine pad in his back pocket. Not ostentatiously, though, or so I hope. You know those guys. But I always write down images, character sketches, snippets of dialogue.

Aside from this usual process, I was teaching down in Thibodaux, Louisiana, at a small state school, and this community was one of the hardest hit by the oil spill. I heard stories every day. Every day. And many of them were horrific.

I read a lot, of course, but much of my reading was off-center. Obscure books about southern lore and the pirate Jean Lafitte. Newspaper archives. Many books about the marshland, the oil spill, the irreversible damage to the environment. It’s something I care about, having been born and having grown up close to the Everglades, a similar ecosystem that’s been gouged and hacked into oblivion.

Man, all of this sounds like a downer, doesn’t it? I guess it is. Except don’t worry: the book isn’t preachy or overtly political. I don’t want to bludgeon readers with the obvious.

In terms of literary tradition and inspiration for the book, which writers would you say have been most influential here and why? On top of that, what books would you say have haunted you in the design and progression of The Marauders?

This is a great question. Well, I favor novels that are character-driven and atmospheric, but with a sinister vein—a foreboding sense of imminent doom for at least one, if not more, of the characters—and this vein gives the narrative a pulse. A direction. At least a Hitchcockian MacGuffin. John Gardner called this quality in fiction ‘profluence.’

Random House is pushing the novel as a mystery and thriller, though they feature it in the literary section of their catalogue. I think it’s a little bit of both, but some mystery readers won’t like the novel much if they’re expecting the usual beats, the usual dead body by page ten, the usual pedal-to-the-metal pace. I like my novels much looser than that. I’m thinking of certain episodes in the work of Flannery O’Connor and Joy Williams, in stuff by William Gay, Larry Brown, Denis Johnson, passages which don’t advance the plot per se, but which illuminate character, which give the book some breathing space. I’m thinking Elmore Leonard, his jazzy passages that are nothing more than characters shooting the shit. Oh, and Graham Greene, too, of course. He had his “entertainments” and his “serious novels,” but often the former were better than the latter. And I guess you can say the same thing about William Faulkner.

In the end, I think all of my favorite literature is darkly comic, but not goofily so. Something has to be at stake. Our lives now, times are desperate and times are strange. So I like desperate characters in desperate situations. That’s when we discover our true natures, and of what we’re capable.



—Barrett Bowlin, Contributing Editor

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Poetry Spotlight with Caki Wilkinson

Caki_1_photoCaki Wilkinson’s second poetry collection, The Wynona Stone Poems, inhabits quite a different space than her debut collection. Like in Circles Where the Head Should Be, Wilkinson’s formal adeptness is still on display throughout the collection, but this time, the poems are all focused on a single character: Wynona Stone. Wynona has some characteristics of an everywoman: she is concerned with fears we all know too well, such as self-doubt and the feeling of being in a rut. We have all asked ourselves what Wynona wants to know: What am I doing with my life? While some of Wynona’s anxieties are familiar, she is utterly unique and multifaceted. After moving back to her hometown, Wynona unenthusiastically dates the local weatherman and spends her time outside of her unsatisfying job making clay models. Throughout the book, Wynona’s childhood memories bleed seamlessly into poems about her present, and we all make the intrepid journey into “real” adulthood with her, recognizing ourselves in her experiences and rooting for her small triumphs along the way.

The Wynona Stone Poems is the winner of the 2013 Lexi Rudnitsky Editor’s Choice Award (Persea Books). You can get a sneak peek at some of the poems from the collection in Memorious. Caki answered some of my questions about what it was like to write a poetry collection so unique in scheme and scope.


Circles Where the Head Should Be was formally “strict,” so to speak, whereas in The Wynona Stone Poems you experiment more with other forms, like prose poetry for example. Can you talk about how you made this shift and what you think this experimentation with form brings to this book?

I can be pretty obsessive about balance (e.g. the middle section of Circles Where the Head Should Be, a series called “The School by the Zoo,” is made up of sixteen, sixteen-line poems that all follow the same meter and rhyme scheme). My impulse is to impose order, but I was constantly working against this impulse in The Wynona Stone Poems, understanding that variety was going to be important—along with a certain amount of messiness. If things were lined up too neatly I would risk the element of surprise that helps keep the collection moving forward. Individually most of the poems follow some kind of metrical pattern, but I made a point to vary their shapes and sounds, and I tried to be open to breaking their rules.

Speaking of form, you’re often referred to as a formalist poet. Do you see formalism as a part of your poetic identity? What draws you to writing in form?

I never know what to say about formalism. I think about form all the time—and I’d say that’s true of most poets—but I don’t think very much about formalism as a movement or aesthetic or anything like that. I love and read all sorts of poems, and I hope I’ll continue to experiment with different styles.

For me, though, restrictions are generative. Following some formal scheme helps to push me past my own blinkered way of seeing; it forces me to assume a wider and stranger stance. This is true of other poetic rules too, and I’m always giving myself these private challenges: Can I write a poem in which all the lines are anagrams for the first line? Can I write a cross-rhymed poem without punctuation? Can I write a stanza that includes the words adagio, jellyfish, and butt?

Can you talk about the impetus for the character of Wynona Stone? Was there something in your own life that sparked the idea, or did she come from somewhere else entirely? 

When I started writing the poems, I knew I wanted to do a longer project, and I thought the project would focus on several characters. I had all these notes and ideas about setting it at a museum, but my initial plans for a plot never really took off. Wynona was in the first poem I wrote, and I never could move past her. I was drawing some from my own life—more than I realized at the time—but this comes out less in the specific plot than in the mood of the poems. I wrote half of the first draft in a pretty isolated place where I was alone all day creating these characters and their town. I wrote the second half after moving and starting a job in an office, and it was hard to make the transition; suddenly my head was filled with lots of real people and concrete responsibilities. That tension made its way into the poems too: there is one Wynona who works in a museum and visits the Weatherman; there’s another who goes home and builds clay models.

I know that you and Wynona have some similarities, like playing basketball, for instance. What other elements in the book do you think were drawn from real life? (Other characters maybe?) Can you talk a little about the idea “writing what you know” and how to turn life into poetry?

Yes, I played basketball very seriously from age eight until my freshman year college. I never intended to make it part of Wynona’s history too, but it became one of the ways I connected with her younger self. Sports were such a central part of my life growing up that it was hard for me to imagine what else she would have done with her time.

As for the other characters, a few are composites of real-life people (though there was never a weatherman—much to my family’s relief), and I borrowed plenty of little details. For example, a friend who had recently moved back in with his parents told me he came home one night to find them dead asleep in separate rooms, separate TVs blasting separate programs. I thought that was the perfect image for Mr. and Mrs. Stone. Mostly, though, I needed Wynona and the people of Pleasant Bluff to feel a little mysterious; it’s what pushed me to keep writing.

“Write what you know” is one of those rules that makes sense if you don’t think about it very hard. And, too, people often assume it means “write what happened,” which isn’t the same thing. Robert Lowell reportedly used to tell his students, “A poem is an event, not a record of an event.” I like that. Sometimes the poem’s event is its own kind of knowing.

Unlike many poetry collections, this collection sticks with one character throughout. Can you talk about how this was a new challenge for you? What drew you into Wynona’s character and made you want to continue writing about her? How did you find the process of delving deeply into one character’s life and psyche, rather than writing a more “traditional” poetry collection linked by theme or form, for example?

For me, one of the hardest things about writing poems is that you are constantly starting over. Every poem is its own occasion, and when you finish one it’s back to the drawing board. This can be liberating, but it’s a lot of pressure. When I was writing The Wynona Stone Poems I got to build a whole world. At first I doubted whether or not the project would succeed, but working on the poems was fun in a way that writing hadn’t been in a long time. Eventually I learned to trust the fun I was having and stop worrying (mostly) about everything else.

I think I was drawn to Wynona initially because of her flaws, which were alternately funny and sad in ways that made me root for her. Wynona is a compressed, distorted version of a real person, and there are moments when her circumstances seem ridiculous, but I think her motivations are very human. She’s a person trying to come to terms with a bunch of small failures, and she wants to hope there’s something better ahead of her.

 -Susan Elliott Brown is a poetry reader for Memorious. Her poems have appeared in such places as Measure: A Review of Formal Poetry, The Atticus Review, The Ampersand Review, and the Best American Poetry Blog.

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Anticipated Books of 2015 (Part 4) with Rebecca Morgan Frank

It is the last day of 2014, and we have just posted the newest issue of Memorious, which has our first interactive poem– Nomi Stone’s “Quadrant,” in which you can step into different parts of the US military’s mock Middle Eastern villages where they train soldiers– as well as work from a range of poets and fiction writers, including Catherine Breese Davis, Cathy Linh Che, Robert Wrigley, David Rivard, Cori Winrock, Austin Segrest, Virginia Konchan, and Craig Bernardini. But as we wrap up a wonderful year that included two new issues and our tenth anniversary party at AWP Seattle (thanks to all who came to celebrate, listen, and dance with us!), I’m already eager to get my hands on the books to come in 2015. As always, my list is dominated by our contributors, and, as always, it would take too long to list all of our contributors’ forthcoming books here, but we will be sharing their good news, and new books, throughout the year. Meanwhile, here’s a little taste to get you pre-ordering and planning your reading for 2015! Happy New Year to all of you!

Chord-new-cover-2Rick Barot’s new book, Chord, comes out from Sarabande Books in the summer of 2015. This new collection includes a poem from Memorious, Child Holding Potatoes , which brought us our first appearance in Best American Poetry. The sample poems he has online at his website are all terrific: take a peek and start counting down with me to the pub date. (You can even pre-order the book as part of Sarabande’s nicely priced 2015 subscription, which also includes another book on my list!)

9781935536512Contributor Andrea Cohen’s fourth collection of poems, Furs Not Mine, is the follow-up to her memorable third collection Kentucky Derby(Salmon Poetry). Cohen’s poems both talk to you and skew the world a little more interesting, and her blend of wit and warmth makes poems that stick. We’re glad Four Way Books has decided to publish this, and her fifth collection, due out in 2017. They’ve given us a lot to look forward to.



Many of our staff members started as contributors, and this includes contributing editor Adam Day, whose debut collection, Model of a City in Civil War, will be out from Sarabande Books this year. His chapbook, Badger, Apocryphia, was selected by James Tate for the Poetry Society of America 2010 chapbook series, and many of us who have been reading his poems in journals since then have been waiting to see who will snatch up his first collection. Sample a few poems at Verse Daily and Typo.


My heart started racing when I saw that Alice Fulton has a new collection, Barely Composed, coming out from Norton in February 2015. It’s hard to believe it has been ten years since Cascade Experiment: Selected Poems, although of course we’ve had her short story collection The Nightingales of Troy in the meantime. While you’re waiting for your copy to arrive, check out our interview with her in issue 15 in the archives!


I’ll admit, I’m a little late to discovering Rachel Eliza Griffith‘s work, but her fourth collection, Lighting the Shadow,  is also coming out with Four Way Books, and I am taken with the mythical and gorgeous qualities of the poems of hers I’ve read online. It’s not surprising, after experiencing some of her breath-stopping imagery, to learn that she is also a photographer.

61ehngq86yL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Sharma Shields‘ imagination and vivid worlds first grabbed us when we published her back in Issue 2, in 2004. I am excited to see the buzz building for her debut novel, The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac, forthcoming from Holt this winter. (Although we have to wonder why Library Journal feels the need for a list “Books for Dudes” list, we are happy to see “dudes” getting encouraged to read this novel along with the rest of us. And we could never have imagined that one of our contributors would make EW’s Breaking Big: 25 Stars on the Rise in 2015 list!The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac is her follow-up to her story collection Favorite Monsters and it follows the life of a boy whose mother may have abandoned him to head off with Sasquatch.



A poet who will be delivering some prose in the new year is Tracy K. Smith, whose memoir, Ordinary Light (Knopf,  March 2015), traces her coming-of-age, including her transformed experience of the world after visiting family in Alabama. I’ll confess, I’m restless for her next book of poetry, too, but I am also very eager to see what she’s done here.

The sea of Happyness_2M_Layout 1-3You may be familiar with poetry contributor Jennifer Tseng’s two books of poems, The Man with My Face and Red Flower, White Flower, but this May, Europa Editions will bring us her first novel, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness. The story of a forty-one-year-old librarian’s relationship with a seventeen-year-old boy in a small town on Martha’s Vineyard, this novel looks to be on some level a book about books.

I’ll also be on the lookout for these new contributor poetry collections: Dennis Hinrichsen’s Skin Music (Southern Indiana Review Press), Cecily Park’s O’Nights (Alice James Books), and Todd Hearon’s  No Other Gods (Salmon),  as well as contributor Benjamin Percy’s  newest novel, The Dead Lands (Grand Central Publishing), and contributing editor Laura van den Berg’s debut novel Find Me (read more about this in Barrett Bowlin’s Anticipated Book’s list). And yes, 2015 will bring us the new Toni Morrison novel God Help the Child! Is there a better grand finale to the list than that?

January 7, 2015 additions: There are so many books that should be on this list and aren’t- 2015 has much to offer! But two of the many I missed here are contributor Jehanne Dubrow‘s fifth collection of poems, The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press),  and Emily Gray Tedrowe’s Blue Stars, which I have been waiting for since reading her debut novel, Commuters, and which comes out from Harper Perennial in February 2015.



And finally, one more fiction selection: Patricia Park’s Re Jane (Pam Dorman Books/Viking/Penguin ) is a retelling of Jane Eyre as a mixed-race Korean orphan in Queens. It looks like we’ll have to wait for this one until May 2015.


-Rebecca Morgan Frank is co-founder and editor-in-chief of Memorious. She is the author of two collections of poems, Little Murders Everywhere (Salmon 2012), and The Spokes of Venus (Carnegie Mellon, forthcoming 2016).

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Anticipated Books of 2015 (Part 3) by Joanna Luloff

As I was putting together this list of anticipated books, I realized that there are many links to be made between the narratives included here. Many of these books investigate the often complex relationships and tensions between history and the present, between memory and truth, between community and solitude. This short list includes writers who are very familiar to me as well as those whose work is brand new to me. I realize, too, that this group is limited to books coming out in the first half of the year, so consider these stories a lively way to help us navigate the wintry months ahead, and lead the way to the warmer breezes of late spring.

51gnzzgoelL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Amit Chaudhuri Odysseus Abroad (Knopf, April, 2015)

Chaudhuri is a writer and musician who is always pushing against any fixed genre limits. An essayist, a literary critic, a musician, and a novelist, Chaudhuri’s work is often engaged in the tensions between home and homesickness, solitude and communal identity. His latest book focuses on a young poet from Calcutta, savoring his homesickness while staying with his uncle in London. I’m looking forward to seeing how Chaudhuri explores these two men’s relationships as they wander the streets of London, the younger a naïve artist and the older a self-satisfied failure. Pre-review descriptions of this book call it witty, wry, thoughtful, and charming.

barefoot dogsAntonio Ruiz-Camacho, Barefoot Dogs: Stories (Scribner, March, 2015)

I am not familiar with Ruiz-Camacho’s work, but the descriptions of his debut linked story collection sound really intriguing. The stories trace the kidnapping of José Victoriano Arteaga, the patriarch of a wealthy Mexican family. When his family start receiving gruesome packages holding clues to Jose’s disappearance, the family begins its descent into financial and social exile. Yiyun Li describes the collection: “In the world of today no calamity stays local, no tragedy private. Someone missing at a street corner leaves unhealed scars in other countries, among different generations. It is with this keen sense of intersection between personal and impersonal history that Antonio Ruiz-Camacho approaches his characters–his scrutiny of them, his empathy for them, and his versatile voice reminding us of Grace Paley, among other masters of the short story.” Any allusion to Grace Paley works for me, but on top of that praise, I’m eager to see how Ruiz-Camacho shapes these intersecting narratives.

quan barryQuan Barry, She Weeps Each Time You’re Born (Pantheon, February, 2015)

This is Barry’s first published book of fiction (she has published several books of poetry). Her novel focuses on a young girl born during the height of the Vietnam War. She possesses a magical ability to hear the voices of the dead, and travels with a group of displaced travelers who become a sort of family. Because Rabbit (the girl’s name) has the ability to hear the voices of history, the novel is able to journey across time, from the days of colonial French Indochina to the aftermath of the war. I’m intrigued to read this novel’s approach to the intersection of history and myth via the lens of a character who seems to inhabit multiple worlds simultaneously.

the sympathizerViet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer (Grove, April, 2015)

Another novel that explores the complicated history of the Vietnam War, Nguyen’s book focuses on the days leading up to the fall of Saigon. The central character, a spy who has infiltrated the South Vietnamese army, navigates multiple worlds simultaneously. Nguyen layers his character and his novel with multiple and competing dualities/loyalties—between America and Vietnam, between European and Vietnamese lineage, between two armies. The book has been described as a black comedy, historical novel, and literary thriller, but I am perhaps most intrigued by its interest in the psychological and political investigations of what it means to be multiple selves at once.

the infernalMark Doten, The Infernal (Graywolf. February, 2015)

I know that Barrett included this book in his anticipated books list also, but I couldn’t help but add it to my list too. Perhaps I’m feeling drawn to novels where characters magically seem to hear a cacophony of voices. Doten’s narrative approaches the American-Iraqi conflict through the discovery of an injured boy, found badly burned in the Akkad Valley. Like Barry’s novel, Doten uses some strategies of the fantastic to offer his commentary on the war on terror. Through a masterful interrogator and a ruthless torture device that produces “perfect confessions,” the boy becomes a mouthpiece from a motley array of voices—from Condoleeza Rice to Osama Bin Laden, Mark Zuckerberg to the more anonymous voices of this perpetual war. With the recent release of America’s “torture report,” this novel feels like a particularly timely investigation into the complex and disturbing interplay of war, torture, and (mis)information.

ishiguroKazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant (Knopf, March, 2015)

There is barely a whisper to be found on the subject of Ishiguro’s latest novel. Ishiguro has indicated that the narrative focuses on “lost memories, love, revenge, and war,” and it begins with a couple setting out for a journey to find a son, separated from them for many years. I’m a huge admirer of Ishiguro’s books, his range of settings and time periods, his quiet restraint, and his embrace of mystery, fragmentation, and irresolution. His work always explores history in complicated ways, the ghostly traces of the past, and its influence on his often solitary characters.

our endless numbered daysClaire Fuller, Our Endless Numbered Days, (Tin House, March, 2015)

Fuller’s novel has a compelling premise—eight-year-old Peggy Hillcoat is taken by her survivalist father out of her London home to live in a remote forest. Her father tells her that the rest of the world has been destroyed, and he and Peggy begin to make a life for themselves in the woods. She isn’t seen again for nine years. The narrative moves back and forth between these two time lines, slowly revealing the mystery of Peggy’s return to “civilization” and the fate of her father. There seems to be tons of productive suspense in this novel, but I’m also interested in discovering how Fuller explores the psyche of a child caught between competing worlds and ideologies.

I am an enormous fan (and a subscriber and you should be too!) of And Other Stories press. This independent publishing house based in England publishes books that are strange, that take risks, and that promote translation. I haven’t had the chance to read Deborah Levy’s latest– An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hellbut I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it in the new year. (I’m cheating a little bit because technically this book came out in October, 2014, but I’m including it on my list of my anticipated reading of 2015.) And Other Stories describes Levy’s latest as a dramatic poem, one that follows the unexpected pairing of a disillusioned, tattooed angel and an accountant, worn down by his hum-drum life. Kafka meets Wings of Desire?

esperanza streetI’m also looking forward to the release of Niyati Keni’s, Esperanza Street (And Other Stories, February, 2015). I had the chance to read an early copy of this novel, a quiet and patient coming of age story that follows Joseph, a young house servant to a wealthy family living in a port town in the Philippines. The book explores the tensions between tradition and progress, community and capitalism, and the divides between the classes in a world changing before Joseph’s observant eyes. Keni’s book is densely populated with lively, engaging characters who all see their world (and its rapid changes) differently, but who are united through the singular lens of Joseph’s critical and curious eyes.

clarice lispectorClarice Lispector is one of my favorite writers, and I’m excited that New Directions is releasing her collected stories on the heels of releasing five of her novels in the past few years. The Complete Stories, (August, 2015), includes 86 stories gathered from 9 collections written between her teenage years and old age. New Directions summarizes the collection: “From teenagers coming into awareness of their sexual and artistic powers, to humdrum housewives whose lives are shattered by unexpected epiphanies, to old people who don’t know what to do with themselves. Clarice’s stories take us through their lives—and ours.”

And a brief list of other intriguing titles: From Archipelo Press, A Useless Man: Selected Stories by Sait Faik Abasiyanik (June, 2015) and This Life: A Novel, by Karel Schoeman (May, 2015). From Melville House, The Scapegoat by Sofia Nikolaidou (February, 2015). From Other Press, Where Women are Kings by Christie Watson (April, 2015).

Luloff_Joanna_2008Joanna Luloff is one of Memorious‘s two current fiction editors and the author of The Beach at Galle Road (Algonquin, 2012), a Barnes and Noble “Discover Great New Writers” Pick. A former Peace Corps volunteer, she is an Assistant Professor of English at University of Colorado, Denver.


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Anticipated Books of 2015 (Part 2) by Derrick Austin

As part of our countdown to the books of 2015, we invited contributor Derrick Austin to share his list of books to look forward to in the new year. Here’s his line-up!

Richie Hofmann, Second Empire (Alice James Books)

Sometime in 2012, I fortunately stumbled across some of Richie Hofmann’s poems—fortunate because they left me floored. With lush language, formal dexterity, and a clear-eyed vision into the vacillations of the heart, his poems dazzle. His debut collection Second Empire (winner of the 2014 Beatrice Hawley Award) explores love, longing, and loss, but even in their bracing intimacy Hofmann grounds his meditations within the scope of human history, particularly the arts. Mozart, Caravaggio, and Benjamin Britten are some of the varied figures alluded to in his poems. Yet, there is space for calm and quiet amongst the baroque. Hofmann is a poet unafraid of silences, intimating what cannot be said or seen. The stateliness of the past and the wildness of the present commingle in Hofmann’s sensuous work.

Rickey Laurentiis, Boy With Thorn (University of Pittsburgh Press)

A deep sensitivity to the rhythms of words and syntax as well as an unerring gaze on this country’s past and present inability to love those at the margins feature in Boy With Thorn (winner of the 2014 Cave Canem Prize), Rickey Laurentiis’s debut collection. I’m constantly refreshed and invigorated by the intellectual rigor of his poems. The rich, shuttling syntax enacts the mind at work, a mind teasing out the ambiguities and ambivalences of queer desire or violences, historical and contemporary, inflicted upon black bodies. In this particular moment, when it black bodies, queer bodies, and marginalized bodies are daily sites of brutality, when failures of imagination leaves these bodies dead in the street, Boy With Thorn will be a collection to savor and reflect on.

Morgan Parker, Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books)

It’s hard to write a fun poem, one that’s not easy or pandering, one that’s frank and weird. There are few poets whose work I would describe as fun and Morgan Parker is one. I eagerly anticipate Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night, winner of the 2013 Gatewood Prize. This isn’t to say Parker’s work is smooth sailing. The poems are heartbreaking and real. What’s joyful about them is the abandon Parker displays in her use of image and metaphor, the way she moves from Jay-Z to Amiri Baraka shattering the arbitrary boundary between high and pop culture. Her poems are both surreal and plain, discursive and emotionally vulnerable. Reading a poem by Morgan Parker is like drinking a glass of wine, you can’t just stop at one. Why would you want to?

Martha Serpas, The DienerMartha Serpas, The Diener (LSU Press)

Louisiana’s wetlands are the fastest disappearing landmass on earth. Through two previous collections, Martha Serpas elegizes the landscape which nourished her and the Cajun culture settled there. In The Diener, Serpas once again returns to her native soil and meditates on the paradox of its loss and transformation into something new that we cannot know or stop. What’s new in this collection are poems influenced by her experience as a trauma chaplain, the fraught intersections of the body, grief, and religious belief. The diener, a morgue assistant, acts our guide, a persona hovering in the literal realms between life and death. With vivid, chastened language, Serpas explores the difficulty of healing both landscape and the flesh.

Quan Barry, Loose StrifeQuan Barry, Loose Strife (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Over the summer, a good friend suggested I read Quan Barry’s last book Water Puppets and let me borrow his copy. I’d never encountered Barry’s work until then but as soon as I finished the first poem, I considered not giving my friend his copy back. Her poems were some of the most exciting I’d read in a long time. High lyric intensity joins a palpable political gaze in her work. The urgency of international conflict and human cruelty is set into high relief against Barry’s fresh language and formal fearlessness. Loose Strife, her fourth collection, riffs on Aeschylus’s The Orestia and will no doubt reward readers with meditations on suffering and the human capacity for reflection and empathy in spite of it all.

Headshot Contributor Derrick Austin is a Zell fellow and Cave Canem fellow. His work has appeared in Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, New England Review, Crab Orchard Review, Memorious, Unsplendid, and other journals.

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Anticipated Books of 2015 (Part 1) by Barrett Bowlin

It’s that time of year again! Starting today, our staff and contributors bring you their lists of the most anticipated books of 2014. First up, former fiction editor, now contributing editor, Barrett Bowlin, shares his 2015 list.

MarkDoten_TheInfernalMark Doten’s The Infernal (Graywolf) While narratives about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been prominent since just a few years after the start of each conflict, it’s taken us awhile to reach the point where the stories themselves are as impacting as the interminable campaigns. Phil Klay’s Redeployment (winner of the 2014 National Book Award) is one good example, and another one that will debut right after the new year is Mark Doten’s The Infernal. In Doten’s novel, we are told some of these dark stories through the badly burned body of a child in the Akkad Valley, in a series of voices that are as distilled and as hyperkinetic as some of Doten’s other media projects.

LauraVanDenBerg_FindMeLaura van den Berg’s Find Me (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Fellow Memorious contributing editor and short-story rockstar, Laura van den Berg is one of those writers whose stories are just disgustingly good. You can read through such works as last year’s “Antarctica” (anthologized in both the Best American Short Stories and the Best American Mystery Stories for a really, really good reason), for example, and then find yourself staring down at the page after the last paragraph and making guttural noises as to just how excellent her writing is. Following up from her first two short story collections, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth, van den Berg’s vision of a plague-infested world in Find Me is going to be just as amazing.


Jesse Goolsby’s I’d Walk with My Friends If I Could Find Them (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Known just as much for his fiction as he is his essays and memoir pieces, Jesse Goolsby is a bit of a literary chimera. He’s an Air Force officer, an editor at journals like The Southeast Review and War, Literature, and the Arts, and the winner of such prizes as the John Gardner Memorial Award for Fiction and the Richard Bausch Fiction Award. (And he’s also a frequent guest in the annals of the Best American anthologies.) In his debut novel, Goolsby depicts the war in Afghanistan from a starkly different vantage point, one that hinges on the decision between self-preservation and atrocity.


*Benjamin Percy’s The Dead Lands (Grand Central) We here at Memorious have loved Ben Percy’s fiction for a long, long time–see his brutal flash piece, “Revival,” from all the way back in issue #7–and it’s not like the man is ever not on the literary radar, but not putting his post-apocalyptic, nuclear-fallout-staged new novel based on the Lewis & Clark (& Sacagawea) expedition somewhere on our Most Anticipated lists would just feel criminal.


Jennifer Pashley’s The Scamp (Tin House) A writer whose fiction is as sharp and as subtle as a knife, Jen Pashley is going to have a hell of a good year in 2015. Her first novel, The Scamp, tells the dark story of two cousins, killings, and the impact of violence and poverty on the body, as well as the mind. To get a taste of her work, you can read a flash fiction piece she published with Memorious, called “What You Know” (from issue #20) and you can check out our Fiction Spotlight with her from the blog.

Other Anticipated Books: While details are forthcoming with these additional titles, we are also excited about works like Vanessa Blakeslee’s first full novel, Juventud (Curbside Splendor), Uzodinma Okehi’s graphic & post-experimental work, Over for Rockwell (Hobart), Lindsay Drager’s novel-length social experiment in The Sorrow Proper (Dzanc), and Shanna Mahin’s celebrity-infused first novel, Oh! You Pretty Things (Dutton).

g-bowlin1Contributing Editor Barrett Bowlin’s recent and forthcoming prose can be found in places like The Adirondack Review, The Rumpus, Meridian, PANK, Salt Hill, Camera Obscura, and The Minnesota Review, among others. When he’s not busy writing, he likes to teach his children survival skills they’ll need in the radioactive wasteland.

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Poetry Spotlight: Contributor David Roderick

Roderick1In David Roderick’s The Americans, the suburb is an island of somnolence and amnesia, a space both shielded from harm and offering enclosure with the beloved. However, the outside world—its violence and its effaced histories—continuously perforates that space. We are asked to sieve between these histories: to confront the lure of the apocryphal cherry tree and how it unmakes the granularity and contradictions of lived history; to live that tug between personal history (a shoebox of Polaroids) and our complicity within collective, national history. Regarding Americanness, Roderick comments: “Mostly I got what I wanted/ forgot what I was.” Yet to the contrary, the outside seeps into our sleep, as drone pilots and the Trail of Tears; and haunting even the idioms of the interior: “The dead return/ as lampposts, gas guzzlers.” Yet, meanwhile, amidst the undertow of complicity, we are startled awake with moments of awe and grace.

David Roderick’s first book, Blue Colonial (2006), was chosen by Robert Pinsky as winner of the APR/Honickman Prize, and the Pitt Poetry Series published The Americans this fall. He has published widely (including the very first poems from this collection in issue 13 of Memorious), and is the recipient of a Stegner Fellowship, the Campbell Corner Poetry Prize, and an Amy Lowell Traveling Scholarship. He teaches in the MFA Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. David was recently interviewed on NPR’s Here and Now, and he graciously talked in further depth with me this weekend about the themes and nuances of Americanness and his poems.

In the first poem in the book, the suburb is sliced open.  Tell me about opening and closure in the book, and how you enact that in language and form.

The opening poem is a letter to the suburb that rhapsodizes about my childhood within the confines of its beautiful, semi-pastoral atmosphere. There are troubles beneath the surface having to do with the bland (blind?) rituals of suburban life, but generally the poem tries to offer praise. After exploring those troubles in the interim, I hope the last poem, titled “Faithful See Virgin Mary in Office Window,” returns the speaker to some semblance of suburban wonder. The end of that poem is almost rapturous.

Funny you should ask about language and form regarding these two poems. The shorter lines and turns in “Dear Suburb” seem to me rather cautious when I read them now—they’re hesitant meditations until a flourish of insight grows toward the poem’s final sweep. In “Faithful See Virgin Mary…” I built by extending the rhythm and pacing as long as I possibly could. The poem is one long river of a sentence. Possibly it enacts the speaker’s release from the anxieties and trials he experiences throughout much of the book.

Tell me about the conceit of the suburb and what needles in, and how.

I’m privileged more than most. I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that my privilege doesn’t exist in a vacuum. I’m not sure how the world beyond my quiet suburb needles into my life and my poems—mostly through the news, I guess—but it does, and daily. Doesn’t it for everybody? Maybe this kind of stuff haunts writers and artists more than others. In short, I’m down on myself for not being more civically engaged beyond teaching and writing. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to invest more energy into community projects.

I’m interested in the tensions between different kinds of history in this book —personal, collective, nation, human — and where and how the speaker feels complicit. Can you talk about your relationship to American history in this book?

This is a huge, complex topic I can’t possibly cover in a few paragraphs. I’ll say this though. I think it’s common among people of my generation to feel as if we’re collectively adrift since September 11, 2001. As a generation. As a country. In order to feel my way toward that anxiety, I’ve tried to contextualize it historically in a number of ways by exploring concepts of empire here and abroad.

Yes, I noticed that. Can you talk about some of the other empires you chose to examine, and why they in particular seemed like interesting counterpoints for the American suburb?

I hope those meditations help bring our own country’s historical moment into relief. Let’s see. Spanish conquistadors make a few appearances. A poetic sequence addresses the British Empire’s subjugation of the Irish people. Another touches on the Roman Empire and its influence in Morocco, where my wife and I vacationed a few years ago. The book includes a poem about the great Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, who suffered under Stalin’s totalitarian regime. Allow me to reverse course here—I’m not interested in the idea of empire as much as I am in telling stories about people subject to history’s broad sweep.

Can you describe for me the role of awe and grace in the book? How do they offset the complicity and violence of the other aspects of Americanness?

Well, something had to offset the complicity in which I’d been wallowing. Luckily I became a father—my wife gave birth to two daughters while I was writing the book. Prior to their arrival I’d developed an antagonistic stance toward the suburbs and American culture in general—our wars and political gridlock and sagging economy. I grew up among people who really feel the brunt of those problems, so when I opened “Letter to Shara…” with the line “A tree of despair grows inside me,” I meant it.

The poems in The Americans that gravitate toward awe, joy, or grace were all written after my children were born. It would have been a very dark book, and much lesser book, without the counterpoint they provided in my life and in my poems. Their excitements and pleasures helped me rediscover my own.TheAmericansCover

Tell me about the animal in the book. Both the shorn beast, the human animal (“but still the lice bit him”) in the Target parking lot; the burrowing mole; the “dead-mule smell/ of lilac.” These suburbs are not a completely domesticated space.

Wow, what a perceptive question. I haven’t thought about this, frankly. I think I’ve always been curious about and maybe even attuned to animals. A few years ago one of my poetry classes accused me of teaching lots of poems with animals in them. I hadn’t noticed, but they were right! And now you’ve asked this pointed question.

If I had to hazard a guess I’d say that maybe suburban life, because it’s so civilized, has sheltered us from the wilderness outside and carried us too far from the wilderness we hide inside ourselves.

My mother recently gave me a bunch of papers and stories I wrote when I was a kid. This one sticks out, written when I was seven years old. Maybe it’s my first poem:

“Once there was a pumpkin man. He was a hungry and nice pumpkin man. He liked to eat pumpkins. So he went to look for them. He looked and looked for them. He asked a rabbit and a chipmunk. They just said they saw carrots and acorns. He said that was no use. So he went to look again [until] he saw a wolf. He did not know it was a wolf. So he asked the wolf. The wolf said the only thing I found was you.”

So the pumpkin man gets it in the end, I guess. It’s probably foolish to share something I wrote when I was so young, though maybe it suggests my interest in animals was encoded at an early age.

Can you tell me about your influences (literary or otherwise) when you were writing this book? What helped shape your thinking during this time?

The most obvious influence is Robert Frank’s great photography project, The Americans. He took about 30,000 pictures and distilled them to 83, which he then meticulously arranged, exhibited, and published in the late 1950s. Those pictures reveal the underside of the American dream, the gritty reality of our political and social relations—class and race tensions especially. Frank had a knack for capturing the faces of so many extraordinary, nameless, heartbroken people. He was Swiss and an outsider, kind of like a modern-day de Tocqueville. In my book I try as hard as I can to channel Frank’s objective view, to share it—even though I know that, as a card-carrying citizen, such a viewpoint is available to me only in flashes, if at all.

I’ll share a few other important influences because I love making lists. Off the top of my shining bald head: Thoreau’s journals; Akhmatova’s poetry; David Hockney’s paintings and drawings; Orion magazine; J.M. Coetzee’s novels; and Bob Dylan’s early stuff. Eavan Boland’s poetry is very important to me. A few contemporary poetry books reshaped what I thought was possible in terms of operating at the intersection of personal and public concerns: Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Kimiko Hahn’s A Narrow Road to the Interior, Robert Pinsky’s Gulf Music, and Robert Hass’s Time and Materials.


- Nomi Stone’s first collection of poems, Stranger’s Notebook, was published by TriQuarterly in 2008. She is currently completing Kill Class, a collection about war games.

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