Friday, December 19, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Rodney Koeneke



Rodney Koeneke’s latest poetry collection, Etruria, is just out from Wave Books. He’s also the author of Musee Mechanique and Rouge State, as well as four chapbooks. He studied history at U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, and currently teaches it in Portland, Ore.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different? rob, it’s been so long since my first book—over 10 years—that I can’t quite remember. I suppose it was affirming, like it is for anyone. Then you go back to the silence to pull out more poems, and the book’s like a snapshot on your desktop of that vacation you took that one year.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction? Stung by a bee on the lip as a youth.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes? I tried to answer this one for you rob, but it varies so much from poem to poem that I couldn’t make an accurate generalization.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning? My three books so far have been collections of poems, few longer than two pages. “The book” starts to happen at around 50 poems I can live with.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings? Readings help find the 50 I can live with. Don’t all writers enjoy readings? They sure enjoy readers.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are? What is a poem? What can poetry do?
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be? I like thinking of Skelton at Diss, shaking fists at Wolsey. “Ware the Hawk.”
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)? Essentially difficult?
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)? No one listens to poetry. Wait. That’s got a nice ring. rob, feel free to use that somewhere.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal? Prose is a snow machine; poetry’s snow.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin? A typical day begins with routine, which I try to keep poetry free from. 
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration? Other poets.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home? Other poets.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art? I went to Google for this one to meet David W. McFadden, and it tells me “his poetry critiques the commercialism and shallowness of modern society.”
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work? O rob, that’s a dangerous question! You’ll get one of those panicky Academy Award-type speeches that keeps cramming in more and more names, but somehow omits mom and dad.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done? Question 17.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer? Plastics.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else? Seems I’m made to do lots of something else, as opposed to writing.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film? Against the Day. Solaris?
20 - What are you currently working on? I just finished a chapbook for Oakland’s Hooke Press that Brent Cunningham’s editing. It’s called Seven for Boetticher and Other Poems and it’ll be out later this year. I’m also at work with the great Team Wave to help Etruria find its way in the world.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Michelle Detorie, After-Cave



In motion is how we live, sleeping inside skin. I want wheels turning only in, around. My clothes, they get thin as I get worn. We were looking out for tracing clouds, fin slid under wing. We were without beds. I nurtured sounds. We came to land on land like rest. We fluttered full to nest only sticks built into temporary chambers. (“Fur Birds”)

Following the publication of a series of chapbooks through Insert Press, eohippus labs and dusie, Santa Barbara, California poet Michelle Detorie’s lively first trade poetry collection is After-Cave (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2014). Composed in three sections, each of which are constructed via a collage of untitled poem fragments, prose-pieces and short lyrics, she opens the first section, “Fur Birds,” with “I am 15. Female. Human (I think).” The poems then move into an exploration of what the book describes as “feral life,” disappearing into the wilderness and abandoning numerous comforts of human culture, writing:

Digging underground, I disrupted homes that did not belong to me
but wound deep and tethered together.
          I thought of coupling tunnels and the downward wind of tubed
                    figure-eights.
                              Like swans
                                        leaning in, their necks so long:
         the forged reflection
            the rubbed-out lake

Remember: her narrator may or may not be human, openly admitting at the offset to a rather considerable uncertainty, allowing the reader to find nearly anything else the narrator describes as possibly suspect, however open and sincere ‘her’ descriptions, admissions and considerations might be. Exactly what might our narrator be describing, one might wonder, or do we simply take her at her word? The way the accumulation of short pieces stitch into each other to create a larger construction is quite impressive, and her section-fragments shift and shimmy between abstract considerations, pure description, articulations of shelter, displays of animalistic tendencies, and talk of social interactions, shifting between a narrator who claims to have left the world long behind (in the ‘mad hermit in the woods’ sense), to someone who has merely stepped away for a moment. Towards the end of the collection, Detorie admits to the possibility of the abstract and even contradictory qualities of what this unnamed narrator presents: “To insist that something—someone or some being—cannot be / imagined is, in fact, its own form of oppression.” As poet and critic Bhanu Kapil suggests in her back-cover blurb, this is very much a collection exploring a space between “feral life and the ecology of shelter.”









We measured the mountains.
This small sadness:
I can hold in my swale, taste
it only tongue. Salt
showers and the glow
inside bones—lit up,
electric signs. The desert
is the pain of home, the home
away. This withholding—
it makes me pine all the more.
Sympathy is a craving. The stone
around us turns to ice.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

the chaudiere books blog:

There has been a ton of activity lately on the Chaudiere Books blog worth paying attention to, including new reviews of Amanda Earl's Kiki, Roland Prevost's Singular Plurals, Monty Reid's Garden and my own The Uncertainty Principle: stories, as well as links to new work by a variety of Chaudiere Books authors, and upcoming appearances and events. You can even follow press activity via the Chaudiere Books Facebook group, and consider directly ordering any or all of our titles via All Lit Up. And did we mention we're doing a critical collected poems by William Hawkins (edited by Cameron Anstee) and a second poetry collection by N.W. (formerly Nicholas) Lea in the spring, and a first poetry collection by Chris Turnbull in the fall? There's so much more to come.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Alex Leslie, The Things I Heard About You




The book that dreams all the names swollen green and black and yellow. Watermarks, birthmarks, names left out in the rainforest grow a new spore body, spine slipped by the pages that broke out. Popped a disc, the book staggers. No cellphone reception, the man in the store called Store heaves an eyebrow at my story. I open the phone book on the island where you now live. Open it, exhume pulp rot, head stuffed with wet leaves. An island where everybody knows each other’s name, your address it the place where the index is left to become microbe, become feast. Centres of pages mauled out, sections of letters (half the Ks, a few pages of Ps). After the cancer you decided you’d seen the worst. You decided to be positive and therefore become humourless. Moved to this place. Fell away. I turn the heavy edges. Where the names slope and wilt. My hands slow at the pages before your name. Qu Que—I’ve heard how different you are now, survivor, washed. I find your name, untouched by green, crossed out by a human hand.


                                                                                                smaller

Vancouver writer Alex Leslie’s first trade poetry collection, The Things I Heard About You (Gibsons BC: Nightwood Editions, 2014), is a book constructed as a narrative exploration in precision, excision and the variation. Originally titled “I know how small a story can be,” the book is constructed out of a series of single paragraph prose poems, each with a subsequent ripple of two or three poems that follow utilizing the same language, but incredibly boiled down, including the occasional end-piece made up of a single, short sentence. Combined with a prior chapbook of microfictions, 20 Objects for the New World (Vancouver BC: Nomados, 2011) and trade collection of short stories, People Who Disappear (Calgary AB: Freehand Books, 2012), Leslie gives the appearance of having an ongoing interest in utilizing condensed prose forms, and the poems in The Things I Heard About You seem to exist in a curious boundary between the prose poem and the short story. Each piece is thick with narrative, yet openly lyric, and incredibly dense. Given the explorations into multiple tellings, each denser than the last, there are echoes of the reworkings of Toronto poet Margaret Christakos, specifically in the reworkings-as-chorus-codas of her What Stirs (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2008) [see my review of such here] that play the same language as the main piece to remark, boil down and further examine what has already occurred.



The names by watermark, by birthmark, rainforest book body popped, cell store. I open the story at cancer, exhume an island where everybody is index, where you left to maul wet loss. Therefore place fell away. I edge the wilt, slow at different cold. Left to this, I find you by hand.


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What makes the poem-sequences, even poem-breakdowns, of The Things I Heard About You so intriguing is in how Leslie works to not boil down per se but to extract, creating new poems in the variations as much as continuations of each base piece. The strength, and the innovation, comes from that very variety, seeing just what is possible in the space within, and even between, each piece. The final poem in the four-poem “Pacific Phone Book” (the first two appear above) reads:

            Dreamed you crossed and washed me.

Monday, December 15, 2014

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Craig Santos Perez

Craig Santos Perez is a native Chamoru from the Pacific Island of Guåhan/Guam. He is the co-founder of Ala Press, co-star of the poetry album Undercurrent (Hawai’i Dub Machine, 2011), and author of three collections of poetry: from unincorporated territory [hacha] (Tinfish, 2008) and from unincorporated territory [saina](Omnidawn, 2010), a finalist for the LA Times 2010 Book Prize for Poetry and the winner of the 2011 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Poetry, and from unincorporated territory [guma'] (Omnidawn, 2014). He is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at the University of Hawai’i, Manoa, where he teaches Pacific literature and creative writing.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

I am grateful to my first publisher, Tinfish Press (edited by Susan Schultz), for believing in my work. My first book opened up many opportunities for me, the most important of which was the opportunity to reach new readers.

My first book was the first book-length excerpt of an ongoing story about my identity, culture, and family in the context of the history, politics, and ecology of my home(is)land, Guahan (Guam). My newest book is the third installment of the series, and its subject matter focuses more directly on migration and militarization. In form, the newest book explores the poem-essay and the conceptual-collage poem.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
Although poetry is my major genre, I am also working on a non-fiction book about food in the Pacific and a fictional collection of short stories about canned meats and culture.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

It doesn't take me long to start poems or projects; however, my writing process is very slow so it does take me a long time to finish. Any writing I do will go through pages of notes and outlines, as well as multiple draft, edits, and revisions. I try to consider every decision and alternative before a work is finalized.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

Poems usually begin with a subject matter, theme, or idea. I simultaneously work on longer and shorter poems, and then I will weave these poems into a book.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I enjoy readings because I enjoy connecting with readers/listeners and being in a space enlivened by poetry. Public readings are part of my creative process in the sense that I am always experimenting with new ways to engage audiences.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?


Within my writing, I engage with modernist, postmodernist, postcolonial, and indigenous theories. Some of the questions I try to answer include "What is Culture & Identity?" "What is History & Memory?" "What is Language & Story?"

Other important questions ask: "How has colonialism, missionization, capitalism, and militarization impacted and changed Guahan and Chamorro culture. How has our island and we, as indigenous peoples, resisted, challenged, adapted, and survived these impacts?"

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
In Chamorro culture, the role of the writer has been to share stories; these stories are canoes/vessels that carry our languages, customs, values, practices, knowledge, memories, dreams, hopes, hurts, traumas, histories, beliefs, and much more. Chamorro storytellers have the added responsibility to protest ongoing colonization and to be involved in the decolonization movement.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?


Working with an outside editor is essential. My new book would not have been possible without my editor, Rusty Morrison. An outside perspective helps us see our poems in new ways. This new vision allows us to see what is possible with the poem beyond our own desires for the poem.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Do something poetic everyday. Live deeply and write in the moment. Transform your life into a poem.

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?

It is not very easy for me because my poetry is very fragmented and nonlinear, whereas I try to write critical prose in a linear and coherent manner. The appeal is that writing criticism helps me theorize about my poems in new ways, and writing poetry helps me understand the art form that I am trying to analyze and interpret.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I am currently a professor and administrator, so I don't have typical days. My schedule of classes and meetings are always changing from semester to semester, week to week. Between teaching, meetings, paperwork, mentoring students, and organizing events, in addition to household chores, I don't have much time for my writing. The little time I do have looks something like this: after dinner, 90 minutes critical writing, 60 minutes poetry writing.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I read other people's poetry for inspiration.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Plumeria & Spam.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?


I am most influenced by natural ecologies. The structure of coral reefs, as well as the movement of waves and ocean currents, helped me structure my new book.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Right now, the writing most important to me is Pacific literature. But I read a wide range of American poetry as well.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Finish my dissertation. So stop asking me so many questions!

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I should clarify: I do not consider my occupation to be a "writer." My occupation is an educator. Teaching, inspiring students, designing curriculum, being in the classroom, conducting community-engaged projects, and witnessing students learn and grow is what I love most. That's my purpose in my life. Writing, to me, is another way to educate and inspire.

If I could pick another occupation: Politician. No doubt I would have ended up joining the military.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

At first, writing was a way for me to stay connected to my home after my family migrated to California. This is still true.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

Javier Huerta's American Copia (I am teaching this book in my Poetry & Food Writing class). The last great film I saw was Even the Rain.

20 - What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on my fourth book of poems and my dissertation. Wish me luck!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Sunday, December 14, 2014

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Caryl Pagel on Rescue Press



Mission: Rescue Press is a library of chaotic and investigative work. We are interested in stories, essays, experiments, poetry, art, and anything else that transforms us.

Caryl Pagel is the author of two full-length collections of poetry: Twice Told (H_NG M_N Books, 2014) and Experiments I Should Like Tried At My Own Death (Factory Hollow Press, 2012). She is the co-founder and editor of Rescue Press, a poetry editor at jubilat, and the Director of the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. She teaches at CSU and in the NEOMFA Program in Eastern Ohio.

1 – When did Rescue Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?

Rescue Press was born in the winter of 2009. Danny Khalastchi (the co-publisher and co-editor of Rescue) and myself decided that we would like to form an institution—a business!, a mission!, a way of life!—around Marc Rahe’s astonishing first book of poetry, The Smaller Half. That was the start, after which we became a multi-genre, multi-media, whimsical, serious, strange, and curious train of literature. We publish a wide variety of collections: those clearly steeped in traditional forms and influences; those that are elastic and experiential in nature; those that are complex and imaginative, robust and fragile, troublesome, hilarious, and surprising. Our goals haven’t shifted much because our goal was to shift and we’re shifting. We’ve learned that running a press is a lot of work and always worth it with authors as brave and brilliant as ours. We’re a family band.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?

Art school, chapbooks, travel, the Dewey Decimal system.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?

It’s our responsibility to read well, listen, respond, pay attention, ask questions, and shepherd what we recognize as important literature through the process of editing, design, production, promotion, and ultimately a more expansive cultural conversation. Small presses can offer things that sometimes large publishing houses can’t, or don’t, or won’t, such as a commitment to editing with the author’s priorities and aesthetics in mind, collaboration on design and artwork, and an intimate community of other writers to support and share one’s vision.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?

Our aesthetics are fairly broad and rangy; part of Rescue’s mission is to approach each book on its own terms and join forces with the author to create an exciting piece of writing and stunning art object (for example, check out Hannah Brooks-Motl’s The New Years) as well as market the work in a way that is faithful to the form, content, mood, and strengths of that particular artist. We are also interested in writing that embraces neglected or innovative forms. 

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new books out into the world?

Sweat, muscle, word of mouth, gossip, libraries, readings, independent bookstores. They all work. A few months ago I walked into a bar and saw a poet drinking a beer and reading Vinnie Wilhelm’s In the Absence of Predators. I have no idea how he came to know and love that book. Last spring Michael Silverblatt interviewed Jonathan Blum—author of the novella Last Word—for the KCRW fund drive (listen here!). What a wonderful way to collaborate in an effort to draw attention to Jonathan’s book, Rescue, and Bookworm (one of our long-time favorite literary institutions).

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?

Both. The job of an editor, in my opinion, is to understand exactly that: if a certain work requires line edits, organization, word changes, rearrangement, tonal shifts, or nothing. I try to offer my authors both suggestions for revision and a reading of their work; a reflection on and response to the piece of art that they at that point have spent so much time already considering.

7 – How do your books get distributed? What are your usual print runs?

We distribute through our website, independent bookstores, Amazon (sigh), and SPD. Print runs depend on the time of year, budget, genre, and predicted sales.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?

Our staff is made up of myself, the managing editor (Danny Khalastchi), our creative director (Sevy Perez), two editorial assistants (Zach Isom and Alyssa Perry), and occasional interns. We recently collaborated with Kevin Gonzalez and Lauren Shapiro on our first anthology: The New Census: An Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, and Hilary Plum and Zach Savich are the editors of our Open Prose Series (their first pick was Anne Germanacos’ astonishing novel-in-lines Tribute). They are all smart, generous, essential.

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?

I read all the time, all day long, everything I can find. I can’t point to a specific way that my writing or thinking has changed, but I know so much reading can’t hurt.

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?

Danny and I haven’t gone this route; we’re mostly sick of ourselves and we enjoy spending time with and learning from other writers’ work.

11– How do you see Rescue Press evolving?

Rescue is always evolving in response to the specific authors we bring on board, our readership, our interest in certain genres, the ideas of our staff, and our desire to read differently. I’d like to continue to publish work that is thoughtfully bizarre.

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?

I’m still feeling especially proud of our anthology, The New Census, because it was such a time-consuming and massive undertaking and so many wonderful people were involved in making it happen. The 40 poets, obviously, for not only trusting us with their work, but also answering a series of informative and at times goofy “new census” questions. We have Sevy Perez to thank for his gorgeous design work and Lauren Haldeman for the amazing drawings. Kevin Gonzalez and Lauren Shapiro for their selections. Alyssa Perry and Zach Isom for editorial assistance. Dara Wier for such a considerate intro. Our frustrations are too boring to tell you about.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?

1913, Action, Ahsahta, Canarium, Fence, Flood, Octopus, Omnidawn, Sarabande. To be honest, I’ve found a lot of strength in the examples of such innovative, visionary, and resourceful publishing ladies as Sandra Doller, Joyelle McSweeny, Janet Holmes, Robyn Schiff, Rebecca Wolf, Kathleen Rooney & Abby Beckel, Emily Pettit, Rusty Morrison, and Sarah Gorham, etc. These are just a few of the badass women who have built astounding literary institutions around their love of writing and editorial intelligence.

14– How does Rescue Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Rescue Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?

Rescue currently operates out of Iowa City, which is a wonderful home for any writing-related endeavor. People in that town read and then talk about what they’re reading. We are forever indebted to Prairie Lights for supporting our books and hosting events. Outside of IC, I would say we aim to converse with Factory Hollow, Essay Press, Letter Machine, H_NG M_N, McSweeny’s, Featherproof, and the aforementioned presses.

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?

Yup; we try to sponsor or host at least a few readings for the launch of each book.

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?

The what?

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?

We read poetry manuscripts in June of every year for our Black Box Poetry Prize and we read prose of all sorts in January as part of our Open Prose Series. We are looking for wit, wonder, humor, formal intrigue, variation, tradition, generosity, research, and intense attention.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.

We just released three new collections of poetry: Bridgette Bates’ What Is Not Missing Is Light (which Timothy Donnelly calls a “a muse’s dream-votary”), Lauren Haldeman’s Calenday (check a film for the book other great artwork here), and Andy Stallings’ To The Heart of the World, one of the most mesmerizing and transformative books you’ll encounter.