Guest Post, Cynthia Clem: Yoga, Self-Publishing, and the Importance of Ignoring Your Thoughts

Your New Self

Part 1

The story begins with me moving from mountain to cat, passing through cat tuck. Leading with the back of my neck, I pull forward, bringing my knees to ground and curling my spine outward, tucking my chin, chest, and stomach in, in, in, then flattening it all to natural alignment starting at the tailbone and moving up the spine to my head.

I kneel in cat, wrists under shoulders, head forward, back straight. The teacher approaches and reaches down to touch the vertebrae between my shoulder blades. “Can you straighten here?” she asks. I let my spine sink between my shoulder blades. “You don’t want to make a valley,” she says. I lift my spine back up a little. She presses down. “Now what about this vertebra?”  I feel her finger on the bone, and I know how she wants me to move, but I can’t imagine how to move there. “It’s as if you’re beginning cobra,” she says, and so I pull my shoulders down my back, lift up through my chest. “Where are you feeling that? What are you tightening to make that happen?” she asks.

“My arms,” I say, and my armpits are quivering with effort but it’s not quite my arms—this position is creating a curious feeling in my stomach and chest, an opening that feels close to a breaking. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s difficult—and new. It’s also triggering insight: this is my problem, this is the weak link. “That’s what you want,” she says. “Every time. Every time.”

Oh the ecstasy of self-improvement fantasies. I walked home marveling at the new lift in my chest and ribs, the catch of my breath as if the top of my lungs weren’t used to such space and struggled to fill it. I envisioned a new me, one who, empowered by strength in the small connective muscles of my back, could throw farther, lift more, sing louder, swing a bat faster, and impress my father-in-law with my steady grip on the pistol we shoot once a year or so at the hunting camp.

Poor unimproved former self, I thought. That unenlightened she found it easier to breathe when slightly slumped, could push herself harder and farther if she went sloppily, bullying past her field of energy instead of staying in it. But this NEW self leads with her heart. She moves deliberately, discerning what is needed from what is not. She knows how to be where she is and how to fill that space. She will never slump again.

 

Part 2

Cat/Dog & Other Binaries. That’s my new book, my first book. It looks real, right? It is real.

Can I tell you it is self-published? Can I say that without it feeling like a confession? It’s a book of poems, and it didn’t win any contests. No one important wrote a blurb. The back cover is blank but for my bio and a barcode. I paid for the rights to use the cover art, and I looked at other poetry books to figure out how to format the front and back matter. I chose the font type and size and spacing. I set the price. I wrote the description for amazon.com. I did it by myself on createspace.com, a division of Amazon.

My motivation to self-publish was 80% closure (i.e., get these 10-year old poems out of my head so I can move on) and 20% hope (i.e., maybe someone will like them). The first draft of my book bio: “She is happy to put this book (her first) into the world so she can forget about it and move on to other things.” I thought it was amusingly self-deprecating at the time, but on one of my final proofs it suddenly sounded sad and a little F-you if you’re dumb enough to buy this book.  Shame runs deep. I haven’t worked hard enough, I haven’t tried hard enough to win a first book contest, I don’t participate enough in the literary community. Someone important will see this and shake their head: There’s a lot of crap out there.

I changed the bio. Cutting out that sentence made it bland, but it dissipated the darkness that hung around the whole process. It inspired some much-needed revisions of a couple of poems I’d been pretending were okay. It made me excited, finally. I wrote a book! I can give it to people! Some people might even buy it!

And then the ensuing upward spiral…I will give this book of poems to people, I fantasized, and their enjoyment will grow to a fervor. They’ll tell their friends, who will tell their friends, some of whom will work at libraries and bookstores, and I’ll be invited to read, to autograph, to write the screenplay. Someone famous will nominate my book for a famous prize. More importantly, I will not be someone who has regrets on her deathbed. I will instead have a pile of my own books around me, testament to my warm embrace of the person I was meant to be.

 

Part 3

I’m a sucker for self-improvement. Caught in my visions of perfection, I never dream that I could backslide to that former dud of a self. But every time, I do. Even now, as I write this, I’m slumping in my seat and worrying that I might never finish a book again.

I could take comfort in the Buddhist teaching that I’m already whole, that I can stop striving and just be where and who I am. But if I give up on a new self, then what becomes of these moments of experience that feel so true and inspirational? Do they matter?

Not really. What matters is that I took a single moment in yoga class and my excitement about my book and turned them into thoughts: thoughts of perfection and self-worth, thoughts of the future, thoughts of the past. All of these thoughts are illusion, and any indulgence in illusion comes with a crash. When I fail to live up to my vision, I’m left with guilt and shame.

What matters is that I did something brave with my poems. I finished something, released it to the world as a thing, an artifact, and by doing so removed it from the possibility of change. If it can’t change, I can stop thinking about it.  (If only I could publish myself, right? Then I could stop thinking about her…)

What matters is the moment of connection with my yoga teacher. I went to yoga that night grudgingly, resenting how long it would take and how crowded it would be. Instead, I was given a gift, perhaps for that night only, that made me happy I went.

Guest Post, Leslie Standridge: An Interview with Tanaya Winder

Words Like Love coverWhat is the source of inspiration for “Words Like Love?”

Good question! I suppose that is the question, too and it’s complicated because I’d have to say that it comes from, well…everywhere. The inspiration came from my life, events I’ve experienced, things I’ve born witness to, and people I’ve crossed paths with along the way. It comes from my own unpacking, attempts at deconstructing, questioning, interrogating, and re-examining what it means to love. For me, questions like “what is love” and “how do we live love” have made their home at the back of my mind. Love is the lens through which I view the world; I’d like to think everyone (family, relationships, friends, etc) and everything (my home, the land I grew up on, the earth we inhabit) I have had a connection with has somehow influenced my understanding of love. One of the main driving forces of the book was a deep connection I had with a friend who ended up taking his own life. The combination of who he was, the role he played in my life, how he died, and where I was at physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally at that time in my life forced me to look deeply at my own understanding of love in all its forms.

 

You discuss the idea of cultural love in an interview with Indian Country. How does your heritage impact and shape your work?

I think for any writer “who you are” deeply impacts how you live in this world and how you live impacts and shapes your work. For me, my heritage is who I am. I’m very blessed to be grounded in my culture and heritage…they’re a big part of my identity. My worldview is shaped by the beliefs I grew up with. I write from that beautiful, strongly rooted identity and it is my love for my culture and Indigenous people that also fuels my motivation as a writer. I want the youth who follow in my footsteps to know that there are many talented writers from all backgrounds and different walks of life. I hope that Native Americans can continue to be more present in the literary landscape that often leaves us out of the conversation.

 

What was your writing process like?

My writing process was basically: put on my “writing” playlist, get some coffee, read over the poems, and edit. During this time I was also reading other poems as well as books of poetry by writers I admire and look up to. Also, whenever I write I always take notes (pen to paper) in my journal. It always starts out organic like that, my mind works better when I can feel the words being penned onto the page. From there I usually take the notes and translate lines that resonate with me to my laptop. I write rushed and not as methodically as I wish I did. By that I mean I need to develop more of a daily routine. Right now, I’m a writer who writes when I’m inspired, although when it comes to revision I’m more of a sit down daily and work out lines like I’m a sculptor constantly chiseling away piece by piece until the form slowly reveals itself.

 

What was the process for organizing the poems?

I’d compare organizing the poems within the theme of the book to the way one would organize stanzas within an individual poem just on a grander scale. I thought about the bigger picture, the overall theme(s), and emotions I wanted the reader to feel before the release at the end of the book. In my mind, the metaphor for the book is a person’s heart unfolding with each page; I wanted each poem to open into another room into the spaces we try to keep locked and private. For me, that meant breaking it down into sections that related to one’s understanding of love from life’s fragility, the way time impacts our living to the lessons we learn without words (the power of actions, things done and undone), to questioning ways we’ve been taught (perhaps even unhealthy) to love, express ourselves, and view the world, to finally contemplating the order in which things happen to us. Some might call it fate or relate it to the expression “timing is everything” and honestly, I think it is. I wanted to bring home that point extra hard at the ending.

 

Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite poem from the collection?

I have a few favorites from this collection but right now I’d have to say my favorite is “in my mother’s womb” because it gets to the “heart” of ancestral memory and the historical and personal traumas that can be passed down from generation to generation. Our duty as human beings is to figure out within our own lives how does that happen and then we must ask ourselves – am I (or is my generation) going to be the one to break cycles of hurt and/or trauma to bring about the healing we all deserve.

 

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m at the tail end of an 8-month book tour. I’ve been very fortunate that it’s been going on this long. Later this month I have a reading at the British Library in London and will be reading/performing at the Lincoln Center La Casita Out of Doors in NYC later this summer so writing new work has been on the backburner though I’m slowly working on a second collection and dabbling in writing my first play. I’m also working more on music (singing) and finding ways to experiment with my voice in that capacity.

Guest Post, Caroline Knox: Sound Mode

My heart and my brain are currently colluding to make me write poems in which sound is a main factor.  In the past few years, I’d made poems on a precise subject on purpose – a sculpture, an aromatic herb, a waterfall, a kimono, a collapsed shed.  But then I began to swerve away from choosing subjects beforehand, and toward writing poems where sound is foregrounded and seems a subject in itself.  I instance three poems, and wonder about why.  The first is called “Poem.”

 

Poem

 

The aoudad, a North

African sheep, doesn’t

eat the fruit of the

baobab tree, a South

African native.

“Chaos” and

“inchoate” sound

like words related

to one another,

but of course they

aren’t.  Totally

different roots.

American Heritage

says “inchoate” is

from Latin for “not

yet harnessed.”  It

says “chaos” is from

Latin (and Greek) for

“empty space.”  Well,

both words are lovely

noises to dramatize

confusion.  So are

ukes of koa wood,

a fine-textured

Hawaiian tree.

In Maori, the

particle noa means

all these words or

phrases:  only,

just, nearly, quite,

until, at random,

idly, fruitlessly,

in vain, and as soon as.

Noa sounds like

an adverb to me.

What is it with

O and A – alpha

and omega?

I logged onto

AOL to see.

Aonia is where

the Muses live,

in Helicon.  In

Italy, Aosta was

St. Anselm’s home

town.  The lifting

organ, the aorta,

carries blood for the heart.

 

gothic text A and OI’d always thought the words “chaos” and “inchoate” were weird and wonderful (and not very useful).  One day, digging around, I kept coming on other words in which O and A figured.  Who has heard of the aoudad sheep?  How many people know the versatility of the particle noa?  The items on my list clung together, together with the grand concept of A and O, alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  It seemed good in a poem to have small things brought into a relation with higher things.  And there’s nothing small about the aorta or about what its job is.

 

Saints Partying

 

On the Santa Ana winds this elevated group

soars, and at night by the light of St. Elmo’s fire

they drift as far as San Domingo and beyond.  You should

see them gyrating to “The St. Louis Blues”

and “The St. James Infirmary”!  The opposite of St. Bernards.

 

On breaks, this one reads Four Saints in Three Acts, by Stein;

that one is reading Saint Joan, by Shaw.  A third is

reading MontSaintMichel and Chartres, by Henry James.  They are all

reading about themselves in The Lives of the Saints

in St.-Tropez or St.-Moritz, watering-places of glamour.

 

The saints make frequent use of the antidepressant and antioxidant St. John’s wort.

Settling in with cases of St.-Émilion, one of them retells

the riddle of “As I was going to St. Ives.”  Another recites

“The Eve of St. Agnes.”  One is immersed in Rumer Godden’s

lovely novel A Candle for St. Jude.  They dine on coquilles St.-Jacques.

 

And they think this is lots of fun, but extreme hedonism and extravagance

and cultural overload catch up with every one of them.  So they go on the

historic pilgrimage – mountain and valley, desert and plain and swamp – to Santiago de Campostela.

 

The use of the word “saint” in this poem is distant from that of the historical figures revered by churches.  Many uses here refer to geographical places named for saints; some to literature, to music, to an herb; to a wine, to a stately dog breed. The situation is slightly absurd.  It’s not that saints have attached themselves to the secular world; rather, the secular world has attached itself to them.

I chose this poem-making method:  I ransacked reference works to get names of saints; I collected these names and tried to unite them on a page in some sort of relationship dictated by the repeated use of the names.  It didn’t make logical sense, and I didn’t expect it to.  It was an “artificial” method.  But when I had finished, I thought it had become a poem.  Repeating the word “saint” throughout the poem makes it seem like a litany.  Is it a secular one?  Or not?  The saints in this poem seem to be living in the midst of joy and energy, peaceable, the way we’re supposed to be.

 

 

The third and final poem is a ghazal.  The form has the built-in sound repetition of the compulsory end words, repetitive whether you like it or not!  (I’ve only written one ghazal before.)  As I wrote, I heard the long O’s and short O’s make themselves known.  I thought they helped make the poem both unified and ridiculous (the latter especially, in that the poet thinks she would be any good at playing a horn).  “Bone Ghazal” praises “distinguished figures” with sonorous names – the Aldas, Marilynne Robinson, Goya.  (The Bonapartes are of course distinguished for warfare.)  All three poems were calling to me to pay careful attention to the aural presence.

 

Bone Ghazal

 

There is a handsome wildflower/weed, eupatorium perfoliatum, bone-

set, which I worked my fingers to the bone

 

trying to transplant, without success.  It bears white umbels –

umbrellas, really – and its blossom is the color of bone.

 

Alan Alda, they say, told a Columbia Physicians and Surgeons

commencement that “The headbone is connected to the heartbone.”

 

The brother of Napoleon, seated on the throne of Spain,

was painted by Francisco Goya:  this was Joseph Bon-

 

aparte, they say.  Glamour and privilege; in those circles

they dined on the delicate veal sauce and marrow-bone

 

flavor of osso bucco.  You wouldn’t find this dish in the

town of Robinson’s masterpiece, Housekeeping, Fingerbone,

 

Idaho.  Boneset was used in home remedies, teas to assuage

pain of ague, flu and colds, indigestion in the elderly, bone

 

fractures.  (Boneset tea!  Catlap!)  Alan and Arlene Alda gave so much

to help the world of poetry, I think there isn’t a mean bone

 

in the body of either one.  Goya painted masterpieces

galore, despite a tumor on the legbone.

 

This ghazal celebrates distinguished figures

whom I wish I had the musical talent to praise with the trombone.

Guest Post, Caroline Knox: Samples

Blueberry and Feta Salad
“Arugula salad with blueberries, mangoes, parsley, and feta cheese” by Alexandra Guerson is licensed under CC by 2.0

I’ve always thought that the most powerful poems were those that included in style and content the very highest and most important matter, right along with the most ordinary and insignificant. Such a combination can bring about surprise and evenhandedness, as if everything might be susceptible of comedy and respect. I think this because of reading Dickinson, Stevens, Moore, Auden, Plath, and Ashbery, among many others.

“Objects,” a long poem, tries to situate high and low style and content together. It collects anecdotes, reading notes, and overheard conversation; five stanzas appear below, and then a few thoughts about making each of these five. (Other stanzas include a translation, a speculation about music composition, and a comment on landscape design.)

From “Objects”

“I only owe the University three hundred

dollars, and if I can’t get it I

can’t graduate with the class.”

Karen said this to Sarah, and

went out to read bulletin boards.

POETRY READING CONTEST

THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS

FIRST PRIZE. Karen registered

and got up on the stage and read

“Sunday Morning,” won, and graduated.

“You never forget a beautiful

thing you have made,” said Chef

Bugnard of the Cordon Bleu

to Julia Child, “even after you

eat it – it stays with you always.”

******

These are the words

of Robert Darvin,

a Haitian refugee

evicted from a

tent camp, of his

new and flimsy

home: “It is made

of cheap concrete.

If you think too

much about it,

you lose your mind.”

Samuel Sewall wrote:

“Sabbath: This day

so cold that the

Sacramental Bread

is frozen pretty hard

and rattles sadly

as broken into plates.”

******

“The research highlighted

that one critical component

to building the capacity

of strategic execution is

the establishment of a

value attitude.” This

sentence has so much

wrong with it that you

hardly know where to

start. At least it doesn’t

have topic drift, or does it.

******

A salad: chopped

cucumbers, chopped

romaine, blueberries,

mint, feta cheese, FRESH

MINT, scallions;

for dressing: oil

and vinegar, and a

little honey. In a

bowl, stainless steel

rimmed with beading,

making clunks of noise

with serving tools, on

a cloth, a blue cotton,

on a table, maybe,

maple, maybe,

refinished by Alan

Marbury, an

accomplished

woodworker.

******

Flora Thompson wrote, “The

hamlet looked down at

the village as ‘stuck up’;

while the village looked

down on ‘that gipsy lot’

at the hamlet.” And Angela

Thirkell wrote of

a child’s thoughts:

“No one quite under-

stood what [the boy]

meant and by the time

he had spoken, what he

said appeared to

him to be meaningless.

We have all had that

experience.” And

finally – clear-eyed

and incisive – Laurie

Capps wrote, “We are

all/ issued white

coats; we are

forever/ taking

samples of the world.”

“I only owe the University” – Karen the serendipitous has managed not only to read the right bulletin board, earn the prize, pay her bill, and graduate, but also to accomplish all this by high-quality performance art. Her story stands in an interesting complementary relation to Chef Bugnard’s words about the transcendent quality of great cuisine and the permanence of its memory.

“These are the words” – Darvin expresses the privation and bleakness of the Haitian hurricane in extreme brevity and ellipsis, rather than lengthy mourning. But his brevity also shows his courage to survive. His view is mirrored in Sewall’s, as the austerity of the season in 17thc New England is made real in the harsh sounds of altar bread crumbled, it’s that cold. These speakers belong in the same stanza, they don’t need to explain further.

“The research highlighted” – It’s always a joy to find truly fresh language that works with precision, and it’s also a joy to find language that’s appallingly bad, like this.

“A Salad” – A recipe invented by my gifted neighbor, Kay Lisle, full of surprise ingredients, great taste and texture. But the stanza is also full of unsought and useless information: why do we need to know a) that Alan Marbury refinished the table? And b) that he is a fine craftsman? Because the poem’s voice insists on it, insists that minor and local information be brought into some relation with the very original salad from Kay.

“Flora Thompson …” – The speakers in the first quote here use very vernacular language — “stuck up” and “that gipsy lot” — to dish out their two-way social (and economic) snobbery! Casual style, ugly content of principles, in small-town England. Then, in Thirkell’s quote, the child who speaks is immediately consumed with self-doubt, and Thirkell sympathetically writes, “We have all had that experience.” (It’s both ridiculous and poignant.) Finally, the prophetic view that seals both the project and the poem comes from the eloquent Laurie Capps; her vision comprehends everyone: “We are all … taking samples of the world.”

Note: Julia Child, Life in France, Anchor, 2007, 65; Robert Darvin, Quotation of the Day, New York Times, April 24, 2011, A3; Samuel Sewall, Diary, I, 94; Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford, Godine, 2010, 37; Angela Thirkell, Love at All Ages, Knopf, 1959, 203; Laurie Capps, Denver Quarterly 45/3, 2010, 10.

Intern Post, Bradley Brandt: Writer’s Conference Series

ww_gatesThis past summer I managed to stumble into the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, an eight day gathering in a beautiful and quaint Ohio town about an hour east of Columbus. I wished I could have found more information about the experiences of past attendees. So I hope this might be helpful for someone. But let me begin.

If you would like to meet an agent or if you want to pitch your next great American novel, then the Kenyon Review Writers workshop is not for you. However, if you want to be submersed in the craft, attend exhilarating workshops, and sweat from writer’s exhaustion (yes, this is a thing) then Kenyon is your calling.

Every day you attend a workshop with the same workshop leader. You are then given a challenge that you will write that same night and then workshop the following day. Crazy. Forget the privilege of a poem a week or a poem a month because Kenyon is purely about the blood and sweat of writing (and trust me, you will bleed).

The poetry faculty included David Baker, Carl Phillips, Linda Gregerson, and Stanley Plumly. I also heard nothing but wonderful comments regarding the rest of the faculty. There is also guaranteed one-on-one time with your workshop leader in which you can talk about whatever you would like. I recall confessing my fear of marriage and commitments. You can have fun with it.

Every night there would either be faculty readings, fellow readings, and student readings. While some people love reading their own work, I do not entirely enjoy it. However, it is enforced that everyone reads and I didn’t meet anyone that managed to get out of it. Despite my personal feelings, you do read in a room of people that truly support you.

If you are going to suffer over writing, Kenyon is the perfect place to do it. A place reminiscent of Hogwarts, Kenyon will embrace your creative craft. It is also in lovely Gambier, a small town in rural Ohio that really only consists of the college.

In terms of accommodations, I stayed in the Kenyon dorm rooms (some opted and paid extra for apartments). Breakfast and dinner was included in the tuition. Gambier deli sold sandwiches and lunch is usually attended on your own time.

In my past workshops, I often wondered if I had learned something that is applicable to the craft as opposed to just marking up a bunch of poems. At Kenyon I did not feel this way at all.

With this, I am reminded of a moment in The Art of Recklessness, by Dean Young. “It is also worth entertaining the notion that the least important time in any workshop is when your own work is being talked about.”

I loved it. I walked away from Kenyon feeling as though I learned something about the craft that I could actually hold onto and would then carry to my own aesthetic for years to come. With this being said, I highly recommend Kenyon if you consider writing a top priority. Kenyon has an amazing way of embracing you in a setting that is truly only temporary.

Guest Post, Dixie Salazar: On Blogs and Blocks

Dixie SalazarRecently, I have had a block in regard to writing poetry. This really hasn’t happened to me before, at least not for this long. Something feels different, but I can’t quite put my finger (or pen) on what it is. When I started writing, I wrote a lot, like reams of really bad poems and then depended on my teacher to cull through it all and find the seeds that could germinate into real poems . Finally, he told me that I needed to do a little culling myself before turning them into to him. I just hadn’t trusted myself to know what was cull-able. When I got more confidence, I waited for the aha moment. That’s when I felt like a poem was coming that demanded to be written. Getting that idea was so exciting and the energy that emerged pushed the momentum of the poem forward, almost as if I couldn’t stop the poem from being born. These were fun, productive years.

But, gradually, I began to write more and more infrequently. There was still the initial rush that came from an idea that just jumped up and down and wouldn’t shut up, much like a two year old demanding attention. But as my poems matured (and maybe I did also) I found poetry less demanding of my attention and I could leave it alone for longer periods of time and trust that it would behave and still be there when I returned.

The years went by, and I would even wonder sometimes if my poems were leaving the nest for good, since I didn’t feel the urgency to write that I had before, and our relationship had certainly changed. We didn’t need each other in the same way that we had before. There was a phase where I wasn’t sure I even liked poetry anymore. It hadn’t really done a lot for me, in terms of tangible rewards. And the other poems that found their way to our house were not like the ones I had been taught to write as a younger poet. I was mystified by them sometimes and other times horrified by their shocking language and loose ways. Were they even poems? I wasn’t sure I knew anymore.

Which brings me back to where I started– five children sent out into the world, and living respectable lives, but none of them setting the world on fire. And I’m not sure where I go from here. As I write this, I’m sure of one thing. I will always love poetry, even if it doesn’t call me as often as it should, and even if it shows up pierced and tattooed, hungry and asking for a small loan. Maybe I need to branch out, think outside the poem—I might even write a blog.

Guest Blog Post, Elizabeth Bradfield: Here/Now/There/Words

Elizabeth Bradfield I’m on a sailboat, traveling north from Mystic, Connectictut, reading the Odyssey.  I’m on the boat because a friend asked for help (and I love boats, miss boats, miss the essence of myself that enlivens upon them).  I’m reading Homer because I’m mentoring a low-residency MFA student, and we’re exploring on “the long poem” (and I haven’t read Homer since I was an undergraduate, and I love boats).

It’s day two of our sail.  There are four of us aboard.  It’s spring.  Cool on the ocean, lilacs blooming on land.  It’s morning. We’re having coffee before leaving Cuttyhunk Island.  Common eiders moan in the harbor, a crèche of chicks following three females (they nest here?  Holy shit.  They nest here.  This is not in the books.).  Oystercatchers cry overhead, pairs scribing the early sky.

My friend asks me if I’ve read Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar.  It’s just the two of us on board.  The others—her girlfriend, her girlfriend’s father—have taken a morning stroll.  Yes, I’ve read it… but it’s been years.  I can’t dredge up a single thing.  In the book, she says, past lives speak.

The book she’s reading is about past lives and being in the present.  She is a healer.  She is a seeker.  All lives, she says, are also with us in this very moment.  I am woefully untuned to her world, but I’m reading.  I’m reading of sailboats in the Mediterranean while I’m on a sailboat.

I turn a page. Odysseus is sharpening a stick to thrust into the eye of the Cyclops.  It’s gory.  The boat.  The wine-dark sea.  The Westwind Odysseus wants to take him home….

We’d welcome it.  We’d welcome any breeze other than one on the nose, because it’d let us sail instead of use the engine as we head north to my home.  I am heading home.  To the tip of Cape Cod.  Odysseus is trying to head home, too.  He’s not making very fast progress.

My friend is laughing.  I am laughing.  She is reading a book about being in the present, and she can’t concentrate because… well, because it’s a beautiful morning.  She’d rather be in the present than read about being in the present.

When she talks about being in the moment, about all those pasts converging, David Byrne’s lyrics come to mind.  I sing to her:

Oh my brother, I still wonder, are you alright…

Everything that happens will happen today.

 Nothing has changed but nothing’s the same

and every tomorrow will be yesterday,

and everything that happens will happen today.

Past lives. Tomorrow.  Today.  The ducks are breeding.  The boat floats on the tide. We read.  We rouse ourselves to the morning. We are distracted and awake.  The world feels limpid and clear and of this moment.

Odysseus carried his lives with him.  The past, the past, the past, his wrongs and hurts and the gods that he must cannily anticipate and placate.  He’s with the goddess/monster on the island. He’s in Troy. He’s on the boat.  Today is about yesterday. Determined by yesterday.  It’s about stories and how they are told.  It’s about layers of disguise.

Where do poems come from?  The world insists itself.  A common tern chirrs and dives for fish.  The tide seems, in Cuttyhunk, to never rise or fall.  We are alongside a dock and have set our mooring lines to allow the tide to lift and drop us.  We can see the seaweed and barnacles on the pilings, but we seem to never rise or drop.  Is Cuttyhunk one of the magical isles of the Aegean?  Is there a goddess at work?  A god?  Dawn arrives on her gold throne.  We put on sunscreen and hats.

A goddess arrives and addresses Odysseus.  He lies to her.  She likes it.  On the beach, oystercatchers play their game of broken wing, luring walkers away from the nest.  I like it.  I like it more than the page.

Odysseus.  Homer.  Alice Walker.  Then. Now.  Now.  Now.

The world is so fucking insistent.  And that’s what I love about it.  Rose-fingered dawn.  There are poems about dawn.  There are poems about boats in harbors.  It is dawn.  We are in a harbor. Soon, we will cast off.  Odysseus will come with us, shut in his covers, riffled by wind.  I might open him if I’m bored.

We will scout for rocks.  We will watch the buoys set out to warn us against grounding—are they our gods, the things Odysseus would have poured wine to placate?—we will sail the tv glow-blue sea.  We will not be lured by sirens.  We will sing of a woman and of a voyage.  We will make our short journey.

Words will travel with us from Homer, from Byrne, from Walker, from sage minds that help us find our way.  We will invent words to detail what we see and what gives us wonder.

The currents will eddy around us.  The currents of what we’ve know, what we’ve read, what we’ve learned.

Odysseus, the wily, the brave, the canny, is going home.  I am going home.  I am carrying a huge horse full of lies and trickery with me.  I am carrying those ducks, those birds, the fact of the narrow entrance into Cuttyhunk.  Alice Walker, temple-maker, you are with us, too.  We are traveling together.

Everything that happens will happen today.  Look up. Look up from the page.  Everything that happens…

Interviews with BatCat Press and Kevin Haworth

During AWP 2013, Superstition Review had the pleasure of meeting a small press called BatCat Press. They publish soft cover, but mostly hardcover works of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and mixed media. However, they welcome all genres and encourage authors of all ages to submit work. What’s unique about BatCat is that they hand-bind all of their publications. You can view their process here. They have published a wide variety of authors some of whom are graphic artists, teachers, and award-winning authors including Kevin Haworth who I had the opportunity to interview about his experience with BatCat Press and his essay collection they published, Far Out All My Life.

Mai-Quyen Nguyen: What drove you to submit Far Out All My Life to BatCat Press?

Kevin Haworth: This is kind of embarrassing, but when I was three years old I had a gray striped kitten that I named Batcat. I had a photo of him that was taped inside my metal lunchbox and I looked at it while I ate lunch each day at preschool. (I was kind of a lonely child.) He grew up to be a very loyal, if not terribly clever, cat and lived a wonderful life until a truck backed over him in our driveway. Really! So when I saw the name BatCat Press it grabbed my attention, and the more I learned about the press the more intrigued I was. I loved the idea of a small press operating out of a charter performing arts school. I have a colleague who grew up in Midland, where the school is located, and all his stories about the town paint it as pretty grim. When I ultimately visited the BatCat students, once my collection of essays had been accepted, I found the town to be as low-rent as advertised, and the school all the more amazing for it. It’s a remarkable place, full of life and creativity.

MQN: Can you describe the publication process with BatCat Press? How did you decide on the cover of your essay collection?

KH: First of all, Deanna Mulye and the students designed the cover. They designed everything about the physical look of the book, and it’s quite an accomplishment. The whole book is assembled by hand, so no two covers are exactly alike. I met the student whose hand served as the handprint for the cover (she held up her hand for a high-five) and I saw photos of the assembly process. It looked like the world’s most fantastic sweatshop—all these students in a row, putting the parts together.

The publication process was a joy. I worked with a student named Maria Capelli, who was the lead editor on my book. She’s in college now. We tossed some ideas back and forth about the order of the essays, and there were a couple of minor adjustments that we made to the text to be sensitive to the fact that the book is published by a high school. But there’s a lot of stuff in it that others might consider controversial in that setting—a whole essay, in fairly graphic terms, about a newborn’s circumcision, for example—and they welcomed all of that. They’re a very mature and sophisticated group of students.

MQN: I rather enjoy that they bind all of their publications by hand, and I understand now that they designed everything physically. My question is, then, did you give any input on the cover through the process? How involved were you in what the cover looked like? I’ve read that major publishing companies can sometimes disregard the author’s comments on their covers.

KH: Regarding your question about the cover: While publishers often consult their authors about the covers, in this case, I knew that BatCat Press brought a sense of innovation and beauty to their cover designs and that the cover was an integral part of the book’s overall design. So I left it in their hands, and they did a wonderful job.

MQN: What drew you to the form of innovative, experimental nonfiction for this collection of essays?

KH: I had been reading a lot of innovative nonfiction over the years, books like Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Eliot Weinberger’s An Elemental Thing. I was really drawn to the way that these authors mixed different kinds of material—sometimes personal, sometimes scholarly, sometimes historical—and the way they put them next to each other, without apology. Writing about a Jewish life, as many of these essays do, is a deep process. Jewish history looms large, as does the many forms of Jewish observance. I wanted a style of writing that reached beyond just my own life and recognized all these different forces that work upon us everyday, layers of history, geography, identity. So this is my attempt to bring all those elements into the essays all at once.

MQN: How long did it take you to write this collection?

KH: About three years. I started submitting the individual essays to literary journals and there was a lot of enthusiasm for them—they’ve appeared in journals such as Witness, Fourth Genre, Harpur Palate, Copper Nickel—really wonderful journals to be in. Once I realized that I had a critical mass of essays with enough links between them, about four or five, I started writing with a little more intention toward making a book. I received a ten-week residency to Headlands Center for the Arts, near San Francisco, and I did a lot of work there to write some of the longer essays and to knit the book together.

MQN: What do you like best about BatCat Press?

KH: There’s a lot to like about BatCat. They have creative, dedicated teachers, led by Deanna. They have a bright-eyed enthusiasm. They believe in art. I want my children to grow up to be just like little BatCats.

Staffed and operated by Deanna Mulye and the students of Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School in Midland, PA, BatCat Press seek to publish two new titles every year, accepting submissions of complete manuscripts, which include collections of short pieces, novels, novellas, poems, and stories. In addition to Kevin, I had the chance to interview Deanna about BatCat.

Mai-Quyen Nguyen: When, why, and by whom was BatCat Press established?

Deanna Mulye: BatCat was founded in 2009, and it began as a class at Lincoln Park Peforming Arts Charter High School, where I was teaching bookbinding classes as an elective option for students in the literary arts program. There was a great deal of interest in these classes, so much so that we (program director Dan LeRoy and myself) decided that we wanted to find a way for students to parlay both their creative writing and bookbinding skills on a larger scale. Establishing a small press for the students to run seemed like the natural direction, and so we pitched the idea to the students and off it went. In the beginning it was a huge experiment, as none of us had any experience with small presses or behind-the-scenes of publishing, but we found our footing very quickly. There is a lot more to the story, of course, but I think I’ll stop it here.

BatCat meets as a class three times a week during the school year (and very frequently after school during certain times of the year). The staff changes yearly as students graduate, and I am the “teacher” or “managing editor,” depending on the context. All students who are on staff are required to have taken classes in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, screenwriting, critical reading, and bookbinding (they are usually upperclassmen, but occasionally sophomores qualify).

MQN: What inspired you to hand-bind all of your publications?

DM: I guess this was kind of addressed in my last answer – it’s not so much an inspiration to do so as it is an impulse and a shared interest among the staff members. We love the freedom that making books by hand gives us in terms of design. We want to produce books that aren’t just for reading, but for experiencing, and hand-binding has allowed us to do some pretty unique things with the physical structure that would be hard to achieve otherwise.

MQN: Can you briefly describe the bookbinding process?

DM: When we select a manuscript for publication and head into the process of book design, we ask the question, “What is the best way this work could possibly be presented? What is its ideal physical form?” and go from there. Size and binding style is usually our starting point, and from there we move on to structure, layout, and then cover design. We usually make a number of mock-ups, trying out different design ideas and to test materials, which we keep doing till we have what we want.

Once we know what the final design is and what materials we are using, we make the books assembly line style. The actual process for making each book can vary wildly from title to title, but it always involves a lot of cutting, folding, sewing, and gluing. Last year we also spent a lot of time painting, as the covers for both Far Out All My Life and Snowmen Losing Weight are all individually colored/specked. We’ll be doing something similar for this year’s projects as well.

MQN: Do you collaborate with the author on his/her book cover?

DM: Not usually, only when an author expresses interest in doing so, and even then we reserve final design approval.

MQN: What is the origin of the name BatCat Press?

DM: When the idea for a small press was being floated, our department was located in the basement of a (very old) library that had a door that led directly outside. It was a unique space, but also led to some weird interactions. That spring we were making handmade paper for the school’s literary journal and the door was left ajar – and we had visitors. One day we discovered a bat (he was hanging out next to a blender full of paper pulp) and a few days later, two kittens wandered over and spent the day with us (and that was one of the best days EVER, of course).

A week or so later we were brainstorming for press names and we got to that point in the process where everyone was just pointing at things and tacking “Press” onto the end. Someone suggested BatCat, and it just seemed right, so we went with it.

MQN: Aside from your handmade covers and books, what sets you apart from other magazines?

DM: We’re not afraid of work that doesn’t fall into a conventional category, and we’re not hyper-focused on any single style or genre. The staff changes every year and so do their preferences, so we leave our submissions guidelines wide open and read everything, looking for what feels right. This might not be particularly helpful for those looking for cues on what to submit to us, but I think the advantage for our authors is that we are extremely invested in the material and will go to great lengths to “do it right.”

Additionally, we look for work that we think will be of interest to a broad audience, not just other writers, which is how I sometimes feel about other journals/presses. Since we’re housed in a high school, we want our books to not only be of a very high literary quality, but also accessible to our most immediate audience: students studying other disciplines, their friends, and their families (and, of course, our alumni, many of whom have gone on to study writing at the college level).

MQN: I can see that a great deal of time and effort goes into publishing two original titles. What are some of your brief and long-term goals as a small press?

DM: Our perpetual goal is to give the students a great experience. It’s a lot of hard work and being on staff can be extremely demanding, but ultimately the press was created to give students the chance to do what they want to do and what they think is right, which is something I try to keep in the back of my mind at all times.

One of our brief goals is to publish some fiction! So far we just haven’t found the right piece or collection, but every year it’s come up as something we’d like to see happen. Maybe next year. For the long term, as long as there is student interest in the press, we will continue to exist – hopefully for a long time. Every year we’ve received more submissions and made more sales, and hopefully this trend continues.

MQN: You have a section called Collaborations on your Publications page—with whom have you collaborated?

DM: The website really needs some revision… this section was created years ago when we thought we’d be doing more outside collaboration, but it has not yet come to pass, although it’s still not out of the question!

Follow BatCat Press on Facebook and Twitter, and peruse their website at www.batcatpress.com. You may find yourself wanting one of their handmade journals or sketchbooks.

You can also purchase Kevin Haworth’s collection of essays, and other works BatCat has published, at their online store.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Barbara Crooker

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature this podcast by Barbara Crooker.

Barbara CrookerBarbara Crooker’s poems have appeared in many journals such as Yankee, The Christian Science Monitor, Smartish Pace, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, The Denver Quarterly, The Tampa Review, Poetry International, The Christian Century, and America. She is the recipient of the 2007 Pen and Brush Poetry Prize, the 2006 Ekphrastic Poetry Award from Rosebud, the 2004 WB Yeats Society of New York Award, and others, including three Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships, 12 residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a prize from the NEA. A 26-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, she was nominated for the 1997 Grammy Awards for her part in the audio version of the popular anthology, Grow Old Along With Me–The Best is Yet to Be (Papier Mache Press). Radiance, her first full-length book, won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition, and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize.

You can read along with her poems in Issue 2 of Superstition Review.

To subscribe to our iTunes U channel, go to http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review-online/id552593273

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Deborah Bogen

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Deborah Bogen.

Deborah Bogen is the author of three prize-winning works: Living by the Children’s Cemetery (2000 Byline Press), Landscape With Silos (2006 Texas Review Press) and the forthcoming Let Me Open You a Swan (April 2010, Elixir Press). Her poetry and reviews appear widely in journals like Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, New Letters, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, The Gettysburg Review and others. For the past 10 years she’s conducted free writing workshops in her Pittsburgh living room.

You can read along with her poems in Issue 4 of Superstition Review.

To subscribe to our iTunes U channel, go to http://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/superstition-review-online/id552593273