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Memorious is an online literary journal featuring new poetry, fiction and interviews.

Literary Ventures: Acre Books

For our latest installment of Literary Ventures, our new column that highlights new presses, magazines, literary organizations, and other literary adventures,  we spoke with Nicola Mason, editor of the new press, Acre Books, born out of The Cincinnati Review.

Tell us about Acre Books.

Acre Books is the newly established book-publishing arm of The Cincinnati Review. We plan to fill our lists with high-caliber poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, and hybrid forms. The brilliant Danielle Cadena Deulen is our poetry and nonfiction editor, I’m the fiction editor, and we have a designer nonpareil in Barbara Neely Bourgoyne.

What inspired you to move from managing Cincinnati Review to creating a small press?

It seemed like a logical leap. CR has only been around since 2003, but despite its youth, we’ve developed a reputation for being a magazine that is well and truly read. Over the years, our subscription and submission numbers just kept mounting. Not only were pieces from CR’s pages getting regularly tapped for inclusion in prize anthologies (including Best American Poetry, Best American Short Stories, the Pushcart Anthology), the authors of those pieces–many of them young writers with no “names” to speak of–were winning first-book prizes. Agents began subscribing to CR and asking us to put them in touch with various contributors. I started thinking that we should capitalize on our own strengths, publish not only single pieces by the wonderful writers we were discovering through our submission pool, but their books as well. In other words, that we should rely on our reputation and further develop the relationships we struck up with these undeniable talents—people the editors of Southern Review used to call (when I started out there years ago) “comers.”

What can we expect from Acre in its first year?

Our premiere publication is out now! It’s a themed anthology titled A Very Angry Baby. The work included—from twenty contributors—runs the gamut in form, setting, tone, and angry-baby-induced trauma. Not all the babies are young, not all are small, not all are real, not all are human. But there’s an emotional center there, in the idea. An angry baby really can’t be ignored. Well, it can . . . but there are consequences. I rustled up some truly inspiring work both from writers who are well established and from those who have yet to crash the scene. Contributors include Julianna Baggott, Brock Clarke, Rebecca Hazelton, Andrew Hudgins, Erin McGraw, Jamie Quatro, and Josh Russell. All the pieces but one are unpublished, and a number of them were written specifically for the anthology. Though the volume is rather thin—130 pages—the content feels really full. Rich. Not to mention . . . fun. We even created a trailer for our YouTube channel. Check it out here.

The anthology will be Acre’s only spring offering, but we plan to bring out three or four books for the fall season. Our hope is to release one title per month starting in August.

Where can our readers find out more about you?

Our website is acre-books.com. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

Writers of every stripe should feel free to send book-length work via the website. Submissions are wide open—and free!

For original poetry, fiction, art song and art, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Literary Ventures: Krouna Writing Workshop

Welcome to Literary Ventures, a column where editor-in-chief Rebecca Morgan Frank talks to writers, editors, and entrepreneurs about their new literary ventures. Our first guest is novelist Henriette Lazaridis, founding editor of The Drum literary magazine and the newly launched Krouna Writing Workshop, which will take place this summer in Papingo, Greece.

Tell us about the Krouna Writing Workshop and why you started it.

I’ve been going to Papingo for almost my entire life, as it’s the village where my great-great-grandfather built the house the Krouna Writing Workshop takes place in. In recent years, I’ve been spending time there not just hiking but also sitting in the courtyard beneath the grape arbor, working on a manuscript. You don’t have to spend more than one day doing that to realize that it offers a great combination of inspiration and motivation—something I thought other writers would enjoy and benefit from. To me, Papingo is perfectly suited for a writing workshop. The courtyard is just right for small groups gathered around separate tables but in a shared communal space. The village is compact enough to make all attendees feel part of a community while also being able to explore within the cobbled streets or out into the mountains. But there’s a personal reason, too, for my starting the Krouna Writing Workshop. I’ve always wanted to show others how wonderful Papingo is, to make it possible for others to have those great days of hiking and writing and reading that I’ve enjoyed so often. In the last hundred years, the village has gone through many wars and has seen its population age and decline. But it has always proudly preserved its architecture and customs. I’m excited to be among the many Papingiotes helping to bring new life into the village and help it find its new incarnation as a center of art and creativity.

Where is Papingo, and what can writers expect to experience there?

Just an hour’s drive from the Ottoman-era city of Ioannina, Papingo is one of the most unique villages in Greece. Perched at an elevation of 3,000 feet, it’s bordered on one side by the cliffs of Astraka which rise to 8,000 feet, and on the other by the open view of waves of mountains all the way to the Ionian Sea. At one corner of the Astraka cliffs is Vikos Gorge, the deepest gorge in the world for its width and length. This is not the white-washed Greece of the islands, but the Balkan Greece, a gorgeous part of the country, full of mountains and valleys and a rich history of culture and, alas, conflict. To drive from Ioannina to Papingo6, you start in a city whose most prominent feature is a 17th-century minaret and wind through a valley where crucial battles of the Second World War took place. Papingo is in an area of Greece called the Zagori, where the villages prospered in the mid-19th century when the stone courtyard houses were built. The village hosts several inns and boutique hotels, tavernas, cafes, and a library, and there is even village-wide free wifi. In Papingo, writers will find themselves in a gorgeous natural setting of mountains, cliffs, and trout streams, with plenty of spots to relax and find calm and inspiration. And for those seeking activity during the KWW’s free time, there are paths and trails for running and hiking, a swimming hole in a limestone-cut stream, and more villages in the region to explore for their architecture and landscape and food.

Who are the faculty, and what will they be teaching?

21The Krouna Writing Workshop instructors are me, Henriette Lazaridis, and Daphne Kalotay. Daphne is the author of several works of fiction, including the story collection Calamity, and two novels, Russian Winter and Sight Reading.  I am the author of the novel The Clover House. You’ll find more detailed information about both of us on the website. I’ll be working primarily with novelists and Daphne with writers of short fiction.

Where can our readers find out more about the program or apply?

You can find out more about the workshop and how to apply at krounawritingworkshop.com. Writers completing an application by April 15, 2017 will receive a $250 tuition discount!

For original poetry, fiction, art song and art, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Rebecca Morgan Frank’s Anticipated Books of 2017

As editor-in-chief, I get the honor of bringing you the last installment of our week-long Anticipated Books countdown to 2017 and wishing you a Happy New Year– may books continue to challenge us; to bring joy, pleasure and solace; to expand our knowledge and compassion; to introduce us to new perspectives and voices; to connect us; and to call us to action in the year ahead. We hope many of you will join us and writers across the country on January 15th for Writers Resist, where  “invited speakers will read from a curated selection of diverse writers’ voices that speak to the ideals of Democracy and free expression.” Memorious is a co-sponsor of the event here in Boston: join us here or find an event near you.

Meanwhile, as you’ve seen from our lists this week, 2017 much to offer us as readers. Here are a few must-read poetry books for 2017:

41ovs9gjs1l-_sx331_bo1204203200_-1Molly McCully Brown, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, March 2017)

Persea Books’ 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize has a terrific history of introducing new women poets, and recent winner Molly McCully Brown’s debut collection looks to be a highlight for the series. The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded takes its title from an institution in Virginia that was central to the twentieth century eugenics movement: thousands of residents were legally sterilized there into the 1970’s. This collection, which imagines the lives of these residents, as well as the colony’s staff, promises to bring this terrible history to light with poems such as “The Blindroom” (the colony’s term for solitary confinement) and to bring us poems that allow for experiences of a variety of bodies in the world. Brown, a young Virginia native whose essays about moving through the world with cerebral palsy have appeared in The Rumpus and Image, is a bright new poet to watch out for in 2017.

51jilwdqncl-_sx331_bo1204203200_-1Erika L. Sánchez, Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf, Fall 2017)

There is so much to look forward to on Graywolf’s list for 2017 and beyond–contributor Sally Wen Mao has her second book coming out with them in 2019 and contributor Tarfia Faizullah’s second collection is slated for 2018! This year, I am particularly looking forward to Erika Sanchez’s debut collection, which explores her experience as the daughter of undocumented Mexican immigrants and promises to be unflinching in its gaze, moving from violent murders and sexual assaults to the struggles of suicide attempts. The poems I’ve seen are densely image-driven and compelling. A CantoMundo and Ruth Lilly Fellow, Sánchez has also written a young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, forthcoming from Knopf Books for Young Readers, and she was formerly the sex and love advice columnist for Cosmopolitan for Latinas. You’re going to hearing a lot about this dynamic writer in 2017.

91wqfkpnxulBill Knott, I Am Flying into Myself: Selected Poems, 1960–2014, edited by Thomas Lux (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 14)

One of the marvelous things about Bill Knott (1940-2014), who graced us with an interview in Issue 6 and allowed us to use one of his collages for cover art for Issue 7, is that at his readings he would hand out chapbooks, often with revised versions of poems published elsewhere. Later in life, he became determined to provide most of his work online on his blog. He was known for seeing himself as an outsider, from his childhood as an orphan through his days publishing books and teaching at Emerson College. As Jonathan Galassi says in The New Yorker, “Belonging was not his thing.” James Wright once brought him bananas on a lonely Thanksgiving: this was how they met. It seems fitting that a poet who, in his younger years, published a supposedly posthumous book under the pseudonym Saint Geraud, might become most renowned after his own death; in the case of Knott, this is somehow still heartbreaking. Here’s to breaking our hearts with this collection of this one-of-a-kind poet’s work.

Finally, there are so many great books ahead from our poetry contributors that I couldn’t choose only one or two. Please stay tuned to our blog over the year ahead for spotlights on many of these contributor books:

Hadara Bar-Nadav, The New Nudity (Saturnalia Books)

Michael Bazzett, Our Lands Are Not So Different (Horsethief Books)

Andrea Cohen, Unfathoming (Four Way Books)

Alex Dimitrov, Together and By Ourselves (Copper Canyon)

Jehanne Dubrow, Dots and Dashes (Southern Illinois University Press)

Leslie Harrison, The Book of Endings (University of Akron Press)

Derrick Harriell, Stripper in Wonderland (LSU Press)

*K.A. Hays, Windthrow (Carnegie Mellon UP)

Jill McDonough (Reaper, Alice James Books)

Karyna McGlynn, Hothouse, (Sarabande)

Kiki Petrosino, Witch Wife (Sarabande)

Christina Pugh, Perception (Four Way Books)

Jacques RancourtNovena (Pleaides Press)

Lloyd Schwartz, Little Kisses (University of Chicago Press)

Tara Skurtu, The Amoeba Game (Eyewear)

Jennifer Tseng, Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press)

Jessica Goodfellow UenoWhiteout (University of Alaska Press)

Erica Wright, All the Bayou Stories End with Drowned (Black Lawrence Press)

PS: And a bonus shout-out to more 2017 in poetry: Patricia Smith’s Incendiary Art (TriQuarterly/Northwestern Univ. Press), Natalie Shapero’s Hard Child (Copper Canyon); Allison Benis White’s Please Bury Me in This (Four Way Books); Marcus Wicker’s Silencer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

*added on 1/6/17

Rebecca Morgan Frank is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Memorious. She is the author of two collections of poems, The Spokes of Venus (Carnegie Mellon UP 2016), and Little Murders Everywhere (Salmon 2012), a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. Her third collection, Sometimes We’re All Living in a Foreign Country, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon in October 2017. She is the Jacob Ziskind Poet in Residence at Brandeis University.

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

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Memorious 2015/2016 Art Song Contest Winner & Finalist Announced

We am thrilled to announce that guest composer Elizabeth Kelly has selected Trenton Pollard as the winner of the 2015/2016 Art Song Contest! Kelly will set Pollard’s poems into an original work and the new song cycle will be premiered by Sabine Wüthrich (soprano) and Daniël Kramer (piano) at the inaugural Nott FAR (Nottingham Forum for Artistic Research) concert in the UK on November 11, 2016.
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Trenton Pollard’s poems have been published in The Chicago Quarterly Review, Paper Nautilus, Assaracus, The HIV Here and Now Project, Codex Journal, and elsewhere. He has received scholarships and fellowships from The New York Summer Writer’s Institute, Wildacres, North Carolina State University, and Columbia University. Originally from Michigan, he lives in New York City.

 

We would like to congratulate finalists Michele Battiste, Paula Bohince, Joyce Peseroff, Joshua Rivkin, Quang Vo, and Claire Wahmanholm, who have all been offered publication in the Art Song issue, scheduled for release in Winter 2016/17. Thank you to everyone who sent us poems for our guest composer to consider: it was an incredible pool of submissions.

UPDATE! The piece will premiere in Nottingham on November 11, 2016. Find information and tickets here.

For original fiction, poetry, interviews, and art song, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Poetry Spotlight: Contributor Megan Grumbling

Bio-1Megan Grumbling’s first collection of poems, Booker’s Point, was just released by University of North Texas Press as the winner of the Vassar Miller Prize. Her work has been awarded the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship, the Robert Frost Award from the Robert Frost Foundation, a Hawthornden Fellowship at Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, and a St. Boltoph Emerging Artist Award, and her poems have appeared such places as Poetry, The Iowa Review, Crazyhorse, The Southern Review, The Antioch Review, Verse Daily, and Memorious. One of her poems from Issue 14 of Memorious, “Leaving the Room,” was selected by Claudia Emerson for Best New Poets 2010 and was a finalist for Best of the Net 2010. Her latest poems in Memorious 25 are part of the spoken opera Persephone in the Late Anthropocene, a co-creation of Megan and librettist and composer Denis Nye, which will be produced by Hinge/Works in May of 2016, at SPACE Gallery, in Portland, Maine.

Grumbling serves as Reviews Editor for The Café Review, a poetry and arts journal, and has since 2004 written weekly theater criticism for the Portland Phoenix. She teaches at the University of New England and Southern Maine Community College.

Can you tell me about the origins of this book, and particularly about the character Booker?

When this book began, I thought I was compiling an oral history of the land around where I grew up. I had just returned to Maine from grad school in New York, and was feeling a prodigal’s need to reconnect with my home town, Wells, and Ell Pond, a lake down the road from my childhood house. My father introduced me to Booker, the old guy who lived across the pond who was its unofficial “Mayor,” and who I’d somehow never met, despite all eighteen years of growing up there. This woodsman, surveyor, and jack-of-many-trades knew about the pond, land, trees, stones, and everything else I wanted to know, or had never even thought to want to know. We tromped around the woods together, I helped dig holes or look for white stones, and I listened – and recorded a lot of – his stories. And I found myself unexpectedly moved in many ways by our work and connection. Soon enough I was writing a portrait, and poetry, and eventually I made my way into the poems myself.

This book exemplifies what is often called “poetry of place”– how does your relationship to your home state of Maine, and the particularly geography of where you grew up, shape this book?

Booker’s Point is steeped in the landscapes of my home state, some histories of those landscapes – the imagery of pond and wood, the former grazing lands returned to forest, the various town lines and how they were run. But I also meditated on more ambivalent or complicating factors of this place: What I didn’t know or even knew wrong, after all my years of living there; the human hand in the pond’s natural history; the challenge of holding the home of a place in the face of change. I wrote about these matters in the context of my Maine hometown, but very conscious that I was writing about wholly universal questions that I hope will resonate with many.

What led to your formal choices for this book?

Much of the book’s formalism – blank verse, sonnets, some nonce stuff in pentameter – was a very conscious nod to Frost and the heritage and grace of his conversational voices. This is the case particularly in many of the poems that center on Booker himself, his stories, or history in general. In the poems in which my own voice, experience, or ambivalence are more central, I often found style, music and lineation sometimes becoming more modern, more lyric than narrative, more leap-y and expressionistic.

And sometimes the interweaving of Booker and myself – and occasionally of multiple time frames in a given poem – gave rise to little experiments in a kind of poetic montage. Also, working with many hours of transcript from my recordings of Booker presented interesting challenges, including how to get documentary quotes into pentameter! Frost was again helpful for thinking about this puzzle, as was my work as a reporter and ethnographer, and, though this may sound weird, I kind of had Shakespeare’s myriad pentametric voices in the back of my mind, as a reassurance maybe.

Grumbling Book Covers V4-2You do not have an MFA, but an MA in journalism from NYU, but you have published widely in journals such as Poetry and The Iowa Review, and you’ve received the Ruth Lilly Award, the St Botolph Award, and many others awards for emerging writers. How did you come to poetry, and how would you describe your alternative path of studying poetry?

I was writing and reading poetry even as a kid, but chose not to pursue it in my higher ed – I wound up studying American Studies, oral history/ethnography, and cultural reporting and criticism. While that decision means I’m not as well networked in the academic writing realm as I might otherwise have been, I think that my path has provided really interesting alternative ways for thinking about story, telling, and voice, and for working with the notion of “no ideas but in things” on very practical levels. I think there are a lot of parallels between good criticism and poetry – using the small and sensual to meditate on the expansive – and my reporting and interviewing really attuned my ear – and my affinities – to people’s tellings.

You have a few poems in the latest issue of Memorious, and I know that you are working on an opera and a book-length collection that include poems. Can you tell us about both of these projects?

The project, Persephone in the Late Anthropocene, re-imagines the Persephone myth in the age of climate change – she comes and goes between worlds erratically, drinks too much, takes a human lover. It’s essentially a story about our narratives: how we tell ourselves and what we’ve done to the planet, which I think is fundamental to how we understand, grieve, and respond. The opera version of Persephone is co-created by myself as librettist and composer Denis Nye, and it premieres this May in Portland, Maine, with a site-specific installation as set and an amazing team of artists who have been committed to its development for nearly two years now. Denis’s score is a gorgeous, post-Romantic post-Romantic chamber work for oboe, violin, viola, and cello, filtered live through a digital delay to evoke the disjunction and crisis – as well as the beauty – of our modern world; the libretto ranges from lyric verse to edgy, magical realist prose poems and an imagined Farmer’s Almanac.

Now that the artists are in rehearsals, I am trying to finish the book form of this project, which tells the same story but includes additional threads and layers. A book is the form I started in, but I finished it in libretto mode, when I had grown immersed in writing for voice and staging rather than the page. So now the challenge is to make that translation back to page, and it’s an interestingly confounding one at times. It’s really making me think about form and page space in ways I haven’t had cause to before.

For stories, poems, interviews, and art song, please visit our magazine at www.memorious.org.

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Rebecca Morgan Frank’s Anticipated Books of 2016

Once again our poetry contributors will fill the year ahead with  wonderful new books, from debut collections to much-anticipated titles from those whose books we know and love. My anticipated books list for 2016 is dedicated to a baker’s dozen of our Memorious poetry contributors who have books on the way.

When I came across Derrick Austin’s poem “Effigy without a Body” in our submission system, I immediately wondered who would be smart enough to snatch up his first book. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long wait: this year Mary Szybist selected  his book Trouble the Water as the winner of the BOA Editions 2015 A. Poulin Jr Prize. The poems I’ve read so far are gorgeous poems: read this.

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I’ve been following Paula Bohince’s work since I included two of her poems in our 5th issue, over ten years ago. Since then, her work has been championed in the form of such awards as an NEA fellowship, an Amy Lowell Traveling Fellowship, and residencies  from the Amy Clampitt House and the MacDowell Colony.  Thanks to Sarabande Books, who published her previous two collections, we will get Swallows and Waves this year. Bohince.SWALLOWS-AND-WAVES

2016 also brings a third book from contributor Lauren Camp, whose poem “Instead—Small, Rather Huddled and So On” appeared in one of our more recent issues. Her new collection, One Hundred Hungers, draws on her experience  as a first generation Arab-American, the daughter of Jewish-Iraqi parents. David Wojahn selected it as the winner of the 2014 Dorset Prize, and One Hundred Hungers will come out from Tupelo Press this year.

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When you start a magazine, you ask friends and strangers for work, and you open up to submissions not knowing who will find you when you have got nothing to show them yet. I can remember the thrill we felt when Maggie Dietz’s poems arrived in our then email submission box; they were the first unsolicited submission that we fell in love with. Why I don’t Piss in the Ocean and Altos III were then the first poems we said yes to from a stranger, and they appeared in our first issue. And now, in 2016, University of Chicago is bringing out her second collection, That Kind of Happy.

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Carolina Ebeid recently completed a Stadler Fellowship and has been granted a 2015 NEA Fellowship in Poetry. But we’ve been reading her poems since 2007 when she appeared in Issue 8 with two poems, including the memorable “Something Brighter than Pity.” I was delighted to see that her first book, You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior, has found a home with Noemi Press, and that we can all read more of her work in 2016.

Book Cover [draft 5] You Ask Me To Talk About The Interior-1

Megan Grumbling has been quietly publishing and winning awards for a while now. Back in 2007, A.E. Stallings, Joshua Mehigan, and Christian Wiman selected her as one of two winners of the Ruth Lilly Fellowship.  Her poem “Leaving the Room” from Issue 14 was our nomination to Best New Poets, for which she was selected by Claudia Emerson, and this year she received a St Botolph Club Foundation Emerging Artist Award.  Her transition from emerging writer to debut author happily occurs this year: Booker’s Point will be released from the  University of North Texas Press as the winner of the Vassar Miller Prize, selected by Morri Creech.

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If you’ve never been to Martha’s Vineyard, or if you would like to revisit it from the view of someone who has been raised there, you’ll need to read Keith Leonard’s Ramshackle Ode, which will be released from Houghton Mifflin in Spring 2016. YesYes Books  published a chapbook of his, Still, the Shore, but it was time for a full-length from this young poet, who brings us lively and personable odes and lovely lyrics. Read the blurbs for this book and you’ll see that they speak to the spirit of this poet’s work: it’s a book you want to love before you even get your hands on it. (This is the one book on this list I’ve got an advanced copy of.)  You can sample some of the poems in our twentieth issue.

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Amit Majmudar’s latest book, Dothead, is out from Knopf this March. You may be familiar with him as fiction writer from issue 17 of Memorious, or from his well-received novels, but this is his third collection of poetry: the first was a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award, and the second won the Donald Justice Prize. You can read the title poem of Dothead in the New Yorker. Oh, and did I forget to mention that he’s also a diagnostic nuclear radiologist?

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Full disclosure: Gail Mazur is my former teacher. But you don’t have to be a friend to notice the richness and significance of the latest work from this National Book Award finalist who has appeared in four of our issues over the last decade, including with a series of drafts of “The Mission” she revealed to us all in Issue 4 and four striking new poems in our latest issue. You can read–or listen to–the title poem of her forthcoming collection, Forbidden City, due out from the University of Chicago Phoenix Poets series this Spring here.

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The next book technically came out in November 2015, but I’ve always hated the way end of the year books can fall between the years. And if you’ve just read the New York Times review of Ed Pavlic’s Let’s Let That Are Not Yet : INFERNO (Fence), selected by John Keene for the National Poetry Series, you probably already have it on order. I have been a fan of his work since he sent us work for Issue 6 in 2006, and  if you haven’t read the opening poem of his last book Visiting Hours at the Colorline (Milkweed 2013), another winner of the National Poetry Series, take some time to read it in issue 19, here.

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If you were disappointed by the recent movie In the Heart of the Sea, take heart: Melville spreads his influence in another new work in 2016, Rachel Richardson’s second collection, Hundred-Year Wave (Carnegie Mellon University Press).  The poems move among the worlds of Melville, with forays into whale fishery, and motherhood and everyday life. You can sample more poems in Issue 21. (Richardson very recently joined us as a contributing editor, and you may have seen her own Anticipated Books of 2016 list last week. But we encountered her first as a contributor in 2008, before her first book was published.)

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I want to start out with a shout out to this next collection’s fantastic cover, designed by Michaela Sullivan. And yes, I’m betting that you can judge a book by its cover– Rivard has an unmatchable voice and style that is sure to carry us eagerly through this newest collection, Standoff,  from Graywolf Press. He is one of the poets who was generous enough to share his work with us way back in Issue 4, when we were still  just getting started, and he returned to us with three standout poems in Issue 23.

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We’ve got another gorgeous cover coming our way with Tess Taylor’s second collection of poems from Red Hen Press, Work and Days, which emerged from her time spent interning at an organic farm while a fellow at the Amy Clampitt House.  She first appeared in Memorious in Issue 8 back in 2007, well before her debut collection The Forage House, which received much attention and was shortlisted for The Believer Poetry Award. (You also may know Tess Taylor from hearing her work as a poetry critic on NPR.)

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Just in case that’s not enough of a taste of our talented poetry contributors, the sprinkle on top of our baker’s dozen goes to poets to watch out for in 2016: contributors Diana Khoi Nhuyen, Phoebe Reeves, Hafizah Geter, Michael Peterson, and Tara Skurtu. The best part of this job is discovering new poets and watching their first books find good homes.  Let’s see what 2016 brings! Happy New Year, dear readers!

Rebecca Morgan Frank is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Memorious. Her second collection of poems, The Spokes of Venus, is forthcoming from Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2016.

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Poetry Spotlight: Geoffrey Brock

Geoffrey BrockGeoffrey Brock is an American poet and translator. He is the author of two books of poetry, Voices Bright Flags (Waywiser 2014), selected by Heather McHugh as the ninth winner of the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize, and Weighing Light (2005), winner of the New Criterion Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared such places as PoetryThe New England ReviewCincinnati Review, Hudson Review, Best American Poetry 2007, and Pushcart Prize XXXIV, as well as Issue 4 of Memorious. He has received poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Stanford’s Wallace Stegner program, and the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars & Writers. His work as a translator has received such awards as a Guggenheim Fellowship in support of his 2012 anthology, The FSG Book of 20th-Century Italian Poetry, and a Raiziss/de Palchi Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets in support of his translation of Cesare Pavese’s Disaffections: Complete Poems 1930-1950. The latter went on to receive translation prizes from the MLA and the PEN Center USA and was named a “Best Book of 2003″ by The Los Angeles Times. His prose translations include Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, Roberto Calasso’s K., and Umberto Eco’s  The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (which received the Lewis Galantière Translation Award from the American Translators Association). He is currently translating the selected poems of Giovanni Pascoli, one of which received the John Frederick Nims Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine, and has just completed a new translation of Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium.

Brock teaches in the Arkansas Programs in Creative Writing & Translation in Fayetteville, AK. He answered some questions on his translations and poetry for our guest spotlight interviewer, poet Don Bogen.

Along with your poetry, you have considerable achievements as a translator of Cesare Pavese and other Italian writers, and you teach in a graduate program that includes both creative writing and literary translation. How does your work as a translator affect your poetry and vice-versa?

Translation is one of those activities, along with reading and writing itself, that contributes to our ongoing literary formation in ways that are presumably vital but usually mysterious and never measurable. So I don’t know exactly “how.” But I know we always learn things about how to make poems from the poets we translate: things about their particular senses of rhythm, image, narrative, tone, etc. Translating Pavese is like taking a private poetry workshop from Pavese. Another way of answering the question is to say that translation—which is a form of Extreme Reading—affects our writing in the same way that all deep reading does. That is to say: somehow.

As for the last part of your question… For all translators, our particular talents as poets in our own language shape—and limit—our translations at every turn. I was recently asked if I thought that sonnets in Italian should be translated into sonnets in English. Many translators would say never; some would say always. My answer is: it depends on the translator. If the sonnet is not a vital, available form for the translator in his or her own work—that is, if the translator wouldn’t naturally consider writing an original poem in that form—then they probably shouldn’t translate into that form. They—and the poem—would be better off working with a form they felt at home in.

Editing the FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry must have been a major undertaking, involving reading and selecting poets and translations, and a good amount of new translation of your own. What were the challenges and pleasures of that? Do you have new discoveries and new favorites among the poets?9780374105389-167x250

The challenges were many, and I was ill-prepared for some of them. Setting out, for example, I chose to include many different translators because I wanted the anthology to also be, in part, a survey of the ways in which Anglophone poets have engaged with their Italian counterparts over the past century. But the logistical and administrative burden of dealing with so many poets and translators was much heavier than I expected: all those open lines of communication, all those permissions to be secured—and paid for! I never would have guessed that it would have been easier and faster (and much cheaper) for me to translate all the poems myself. Still, now that it’s done, I’m very pleased with the variety and range of voices—more than 200, counting both poets and translators.

The pleasures, fortunately, were many more: discovering poets I hadn’t known well before (Clemente Rebora, Vivian Lamarque, Antonella Anedda, Gabriele Frasca, to name a few) and poems that are now firmly lodged in my personal canon; getting to know my favorite poets (Pascoli, Gozzano, Saba, Ungaretti, Fortini, Penna, Cavalli, et al) better; and getting to know personally certain poets and translators—and sometimes even their descendants. In seeking permission to use a translation by the late poet Michael Egan, for instance, I met his daughter Moira, also a poet-translator, who also became a contributor. Since I used two translations by my own father, who introduced me to Italian poetry in my youth, the anthology thus boasts a father/daughter pair as well as a father/son pair. (It also includes an uncle/niece pair: after publication, one of the translators—Penelope Pelizzon—emailed me to say that one of the poets—Farfa—was her uncle!)

I also had a lot of fun digging up obscure translations in odd corners, including several by Emanuel Carnevali from a 1919 issue of Poetry magazine, a Samuel Beckett version of a Montale poem from a 1930 issue of This Quarter, an Allen Mandelbaum translation of a Cardarelli poem from a 1941 issue of The Atlantic, Fred Chappell’s versions of the above-mentioned Farfa from a 1975 issue of International Poetry Review, and Michael Egan’s Quasimodo translations from a 1975 issue of Antaeus. One of my favorite surprises was an Allen Ginsberg version of one of my favorite Ungaretti poems, “Non gridate più,” which appeared in 1970 in a special issue, guest-edited by Andrew Wylie, of Agenda. It’s a quirky little translation, one that at first annoyed me because of a couple of small errors (or liberties), but which later grew on me until I came to love it for the way it conveys the spirit of the Ungaretti in a uniquely Ginsbergian manner. The poem ends this way:

There’s an imperceptible whisper,

A rumor no louder

Than rising grass—

Happy! where man can’t pass.

I was bothered at first by his use of “There’s” for what literally probably ought to be something like “Theirs is” and by his rendering of “rumore” (noise) as “rumor.” To me, these both looked at first glance like sloppy mistakes, but I finally realized that neither mistake (if that’s what they were) really hurts the poem, and indeed the latter arguably enriches the English version. And then there’s the matter of that odd exclamation point, which appears nowhere in the original, and which Ginsberg sticks in the middle of the last phrase; who does that? Yet it’s brilliant: it makes that happiness flare, ever so briefly, only to be just as quickly extinguished by the phrase that follows. I particularly like translations, like this one, that harmoniously convey something of both poet and translator.

Screen-Shot-2014-08-10-at-3.28.22-PMThere are nine years between your first book Weighing Light and your new one Voices Bright Flags. How would you compare the two books? What are your feelings now about the poems you wrote at the start of this century?

The two books are, by design, starkly different, but I think of them as counterparts, as two sides of the same coin. Weighing Light is a book of personal poems—not exactly confessional poems, but certainly poems that set out (as a reviewer in Poetry said well), “to grapple with the mess, not to say wreckage, of human relationships.” That book is born out of private experience. Voices Bright Flags on the other hand, though it is also in various ways profoundly (if often obscurely) personal, is an experiment, or rather a series of experiments, in what might be called public or political poetry. The poems in this book are all born out of extended meditations on, or interrogations of, America’s fascinating and fucked-up past (and present). I’ve long been interested in the question of public or political poetry, and generally speaking I feel that it’s a mode that is being neglected in our time and place—especially by white writers, and especially by white male writers. I don’t think every poet can or should write in this mode, but I think that as a nation we should be writing less poetry that is exclusively personal or pastoral and more that is also somehow public or political.

As for my feelings about these books now… I must say I feel fairly proud of Voices Bright Flags, despite its flaws, because it was such a hard book to write, and while it isn’t the masterpiece I hoped it would be, it’s much better than I often feared it would be. For years I worried I couldn’t finish it at all. It was hard partly because during the same years I also had two kids, taught full time, translated a novel, and edited that fat anthology. But mainly it was hard because I was trying to write about what seem to me matters of the greatest importance (from race in America to our government’s use of torture to what it means to bring children into all that), matters that are also, for me, incredibly hard to find good ways to write about. Some readers will say that I in fact failed to find good ways to write about some of these things, and they may be right. But I would rather have tried and failed than not to have tried. (And I wish more poets would try, even if it means failing—try again, fail again, fail better.)

As for Weighing Light, I didn’t think much about it for several years after it came out, in part because I was sick of the book in the way that many writers are sick of their old work, and in part because in those years I had no time or energy to think much about anything that wasn’t right in front of me. But a year or two ago I sat down and reread it, and I was surprised at how well most of it held up for me. It definitely felt like the work of a younger and slightly different poet, and I couldn’t or wouldn’t write a few of the poems now, but on the whole I’m pretty proud of it, too. And I do think the two books make good companions—and correctives—for each other.

With seven sections ranging from two to ten poems each, your new book Voices Bright Flags has a fairly unusual structure. How did you decide what poems to include in the book, and how did you put it together?

Good question. I suppose I think of those seven sections—at least the middle five—less as sections than as sequences. Of these, three—“Staring Back at Us,” “Second Skins” and “American Ornithology”—are obviously closely-knit groups, while the other two are looser thematic aggregations. So overall I thought of the book as five sequences framed by brief opening and closing sections.

The opening and closing sections are not sequences but rather preludes and codas, which introduce or lay to rest certain themes. The first poem in the book, for example, “Bryant Park at Dusk,” sets up an idea of public poetry: the poet in his “public chair” trying to imagine his way through his personal situation (and through Auden) into the mind and life of another—it’s an emblem of course for the project of the whole book. It also, arguably, suggests that the project might be destined from the outset to failure: the poet’s assumptions about the woman he’s watching prove to be wrong. (It’s one of several poems in the book—along with “Mr. Cook’s Day,” “Cowboys and Indians,” and a couple of others—that try in various ways to dramatize failed attempts to understand the experience of others. (Other poems, such as “About Opera,” suggest the ways in which art can sometimes succeed in bridging certain gaps.)

The epigraph, incidentally, was chosen for related reasons. It consists of James Baldwin quoting (actually slightly misquoting!) Henry James about the complexity of American identity. What I love about it, and why I chose it as the epigraph, is that it illustrates beautifully how a speaker’s identity and position alters the meaning of what is spoken: in James’s voice the line suggests one set of things; in Baldwin’s voice it suggests a radically different set of things; and when Baldwin combines his voice with James’s, both sets come into conversation with each other, as if in an echo chamber. (There’s also a wry irony that accrues to Baldwin’s version, because he knows exactly what that doubleness of voice is doing—irony that is utterly absent when the same line comes from Henry James.) The epigraph, then, was another attempt to acknowledge at the outset the complex and slippery nature of any attempt by one person to share the voice of another—but also an attempt to create a kind of echo chamber of my own.

Traditional forms have been important in your work from the beginning. What does working in rhyme and meter do for you as a poet in relation to structure, say, or poetic music, or the generation of new material?

I do love constraints, and I think formal constraints of some kind, whether traditional or not, play a big role for most writers (and not just poets) in the generation and organization of new material. Any poet who is fluent in traditional constraints like meter or rhyme has experienced the ways in which such constraints can, paradoxically, be generative and even liberating rather than stifling, as they often feel to poets who are not fluent in them. And of course constraints don’t have to be traditional at all—they’re fundamental to a lot of experimental writing, such as that associated with Oulipo. (Some of the constraints I place on my poems seem to me closer to Oulipoeisis than to traditional forms, though these are often not visible to readers.)

The explanation for why constraints are so often generative lies, I think, in neuroscience rather than in poetry and has to do with the way different parts of the brain take on different kinds of tasks. Neuroscientists talk about something called “cognitive load,” and they find that placing certain demands on people’s analytic faculties—by giving them simple computational tasks to perform, say, while answering unrelated questions—can give them freer access to other, less analytic and therefore less filtered, faculties. We all know that writing poetry involves two very different and simultaneous creative processes: one that is concerned with communicating some sort of (for lack of a better term) meaning, and another that has more to do with structures of sound than with sense. In other words, formal constraints can distract the a certain part of the brain, giving freer rein to other parts.

I think of “cognitive load” when I think of that famous statement by Eliot: “The conscious problems with which one is concerned in the actual writing are more those of a quasi-musical nature, in the arrangement of metric and pattern, than of a conscious exposition of ideas.” It is, I would argue, precisely that “arrangement of metric and pattern”—that focus on constraints, on structures of sound—that draws the writer’s conscious attention away from the “exposition of ideas,” thereby allowing that exposition to happen in ways that are more unconscious, more mysterious, and often more surprising (for both the writer and the reader).

I think if I weren’t already fluent in the traditional constraints of English prosody, or if I didn’t believe in their potential to give pleasure to readers as well as to be generative for writers, then I’d try to get those same satisfactions and surprises from non-traditional constraints—I’d join Oulipo.

Both Alan Shapiro and the Hecht Prize judge Heather McHugh have noted your engagement with voices from different people and different times in Voices Bright Flags and the overall vision of America the book develops. What do the voice poem and the poem set in the historical past offer you that a more autobiographical approach would not?

I think a lot about voice and voices, both as a poet and as a translator. As a translator I’m always concerned with creating voices that seem in some way “faithful” to the voices of the original texts; they aren’t necessarily voices that come easily or naturally to me, at least at first, and it often takes considerable effort for me to imagine my way into them. I’ve translated many different poets and prose writers, after all, and I don’t want them to all sound like me. It’s one of the most thrilling things about translation: the chance to get outside your own head for a while and to (try to) inhabit another head, with different voices in it. It’s arguably what the imagination is for.

As a poet, I often lament the fact that poetry has ceded so much of its storytelling role—including its role in the creation of literary characters—to fiction. We expect fiction writers to give shape and voice to a variety of characters who are obviously not (or: not obviously) based on themselves, including and sometimes especially unsavory characters, but we don’t encourage poets to do the same. I’m convinced that this bears some relation—whether as cause or effect—to the cultural marginalization of poetry over the last century, and it’s one reason for my desire to engage different voices in my poems.

But there are other reasons too, some of which bear more directly on the themes of Voices Bright Flags. As you know, the poems in that book are, in different ways, directly or indirectly, about America—about the variety of its cultures and the conflicts between them. I wanted to suggest this variety through different kinds of poetic variety: variety of forms, tones, themes, strategies, and—especially—voices. As the title suggests, I think of each voice as a kind of flag, staking a claim to a particular set of experiences, a particular version of America. Many of the voices that are obviously not (or: not obviously) me were inspired by voices I discovered in historical texts that made a strong impression on me and that I wanted to pay tribute to or draw attention to in some way. Of course it’s impossible for writers to actually transcend themselves or their historical positions to truly speak in the voices of others, but then again most worthwhile things are also impossible: translation, for instance, as everyone knows; or knowing ourselves, or our spouses, or our children… The value in all these things lies, I think, in the quality of our failures.

Some of my favorite poets are great experimenters with voice—I’m thinking of Browning and early Pound, but also of poets of my own time like Robert Hayden, Ai, and Frank Bidart, for instance, all of whom do extraordinary things with character and voice. Hayden has been particularly important for me—as I hope the various echoes of his language and themes in my book suggest—for the way he married his interest in multiple voices to his desire to interrogate American history through his poems.

As a professor, a parent, the husband of a novelist, and an amateur herpetologist, you have a lot of things going on in your life besides writing. How do these things affect what we see on the page?  

Well, most obviously, all those roles you mention (with the exception of the herpetologist role, which is fun but trivial in comparison!) take up an enormous amount of time and energy—including creative energy—and therefore certainly diminish the quantity of what I’m able to put on the page. I have less time and energy for writing and so, naturally, I write less. On the other hand, I hope they all inform and enrich what I do write. The “Homeland Security” section of Voices Bright Flags—perhaps my favorite section of that book—is founded largely, for example, on my experiences as a father. Life underwrites art, or art writes over life, or something. And quantity, of course, doesn’t matter.

What are you working on now in poetry and translation? Are new projects and directions beginning to emerge?  

I just finished a new translation of Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, which will be out in August. I love those essays—they’re as useful for poets as for fiction writers—and I hope a new version will bring them some fresh attention. I’ve also been working, on and off for several years now, on a wonderful early-20th-century Italian poet named Giovanni Pascoli, and that collection seems to be slouching slowly toward completion. I’ve also been gradually accumulating translations of Umberto Saba, Sandro Penna, and a couple of other poets whose work I hope eventually to present in book form.

Finally, I’m working on a third collection of original poems, one that seems to mark a new direction for me. If my first book was largely personal in its inspirations and the second largely historical or political, I think the third is shaping up to be largely inspired by literary sources. Many of the newer poems are in some way inspired by or in dialog with other, usually foreign, poems; a few verge on being “free translations,” others might be called imitations or (to use Donald Justice’s term) “departures.” One thing that’s exciting to me about this direction is that it seems to be closing the gap between my activity as a translator and my activity as a poet, and I’m curious to see where it’s going and how narrow that gap can get.

Interviewer Don Bogen is the author of five collections of poems, including Immediate Song forthcoming from Milkweed Editions, as well as Europa: Selected Poems of Julio Martinez Mesanza (Diálogos 2015) and Necessary Order: Theodore Roethke and the Writing Process (Ohio University 1991).

For original poetry, fiction, art song, and more interviews, please visit our magazine at http://www.memorious.org.

 

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