Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ruth Ishbel Munro's "Jacuzzi"

Few things are more thrilling than having a piece of your writing illustrated by a capable artist, and while the story I had published a few years back by Suspense Magazine -- "The Problem with Men" -- never got that treatment, I can think of few more appropriate images than the one above by UK illustrator Ruth Ishbel Munro.

Titled "Jacuzzi," I found the illustration while browsing at Laconic Oration, which never seems to disappoint.

Check out all three -- my story, Munro's art and Laconic Orations vast library of images -- through their respective links. It's certainly my hope that my story will entertain you, but I know for sure that the latter will.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

MLive interview with poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson

For the first of what I hope will be many Q&A pieces with writers, artists, actors and musicians for, I sent a handful of questions by e-mail last week to poet Joshua Marie Wilkinson (that's him above) to preview an upcoming reading in the Kalamazoo area.

Among his responses:

"I write about desire, death, the imagined world of children, wilderness, violence, loss and pleasure."

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Demons in the Spring" Review Up at Verbicide

My review of Joe Meno's excellent story collection "Demons in the Spring" (Akashic, 2008) is up now at Verbicide. The collection is awesome, check it out. It's definitely one worth buying.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's

I started a new job recently and haven't had as much time as I'd like to read, let alone write, or blog about either one. That said, most of what I have read has been pretty good, as I haven't had the patience of late to stick with things that don't grab my attention right off. Even the skips here have sections that are commendable.


1) "A Better Angel: Stories," by Chris Adrian (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). One of the standout story collections of the past few years, Adrian's collection also has to be one of the most underrated artistic responses to the events of 9/11 currently in book form. It's interesting to note that the protagonists of these stories are nearly always observers, and that the emotional climax often comes late, when the protagonists finally decide to actually do something. I couldn't recommend this book more.

2) "No Doors, No Windows," a novel by Joe Schreiber (Del Rey, 2009). I interviewed Schrieber shortly before "No Doors" came out in advance of a local book signing. However, the interview focused on his other novel, released the same day as this one, which is a "Star Wars" horror novel titled "Death Troopers," (the bulk of the interview, incidentally, was published in the Fall 2009 issue of Weird Tales). My editor was primarily interested in hearing about the latter, and so Schreiber and I spoke about "No Doors" only in passing. It's a shame, as the book is fantastic. It's one of the few horror novels in the past few years that I've stuck with to the end.

3) "Ghost Machine," poems by Ben Mirov (Caketrain, 2010). Winner of Caketrain's 2009 Chapbook Competition, Mirov's collection is like an expanded version of his previous chapbook, "Collected Ghost," available free online from H_NGM_N and discussed at length in a previous post. "Machine" is worth checking out whether you've read the previous chapbook or not. The "petal in a glass of vodka" line always kills me.

4) "Stitches," a poem by Lucas Farrell (La Petite Zine). The poem first appeared in La Petite Zine, but it's been collected in Farrell's "Bird Any Damn Kind" (Caketrain, 2010), which was the runner-up to Mirov's collection in Caketrain's 2009 Chapbook Competition. The poem introduces the collection, which I'm only about 60 percent through reading but can't help feeling has gone downhill since the beginning. The collection will probably end up in a "Hmm's" section in the future, but the poem in question is too good not to check out. You can read the poem (the collected -- and much improved -- version actually starts at the line "The bird fell from the sky") through the link in the title.


1) Star*Line 33.1 and Star*Line 33.2, by various writers (SFPA, 2010). Star*Line is the official journal of the Science Fiction Poetry Association and is distributed free to all members. A newly christened member myself, I received my first two issues a few weeks ago, the January/February and March/April editions, respectively. There are perhaps a couple of gems in these collections, but I have to say that nothing great has stayed with me enough to mention here.

2) "My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said Yes," stories by Bradley Sands (Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2010). I reviewed this collection recently for Verbicide and basically wrote that I felt these stories -- written in the "bizarro" genre -- would appeal to those familiar with the genre but would be less accessible to those not terribly interested in bizarro literature. I am among the latter.


I haven't been on the fence about much of my reading lately -- I either dug it or wasn't too excited to keep reading. Recent lackluster issues of Wired and Esquire likely fall into this category, however, as well as a number of movies I've seen of late ("Iron Man 2," I'm looking at you).

Soon I hope to be fully settled into my new job and up for posting more regularly.

President Obama Speaks in Kalamazoo

President Obama gave a commencement speech to graduates of Kalamazoo Central High School last night, right here in my native Kalamazoo, Mich.

I caught the bulk of the speech, which I thought was a breath of fresh air relative to the talks Obama usually has to give, doing his best to put out fires everywhere. He seemed laid back and casual, though I suppose he seems that way a lot.

The photo above was taken at the event by Kalamazoo Gazette photographer Mark Bugnaski, who just happens to be stationed in the newsroom just down the hall from my cube. You can view the commencement speech here on the Kalamazoo Gazette's website.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ben Mirov's "Taco Wolf"

Says poet and small-press darling Ben Mirov in a recent blog post, regarding the image above: "This is probably going to be the cover of my next book."

Incidentally, you can get a copy of Mirov's most recent book, "Ghost Machine" -- the winner of the latest Caketrain chapbook competition and the book I'm currently reading between bouts of chasing my seven-month-old away from the television cords -- here.

Dan Walsh's "Odds of Annoyance"

While doing research recently for a Genre Whore blog post on the existentialist genius that is the website Garfield Minus Garfield, I stumbled upon the blog of the site's creator, Dublin-based artist, musician and writer Dan Walsh.

Among other gems, the blog -- -- includes the following keen and wonderfully depressing observation, posted Feb. 22 and reprinted here with permission in its entirety. The post is titled, "The odds of annoyance."

"At the age of 34, with some good luck and modern medicine, you could say I'm less than half way through my life. Taking that as a given, let's make a few assumptions:

> I started interacting with other people, through speech and actions, around the age of four.

> That gives me 30 years of interaction with other humans.

> During that time I've met many people and been in many situations. Sometimes these people have been annoying, and annoying things have happened.

> Let's be optimistic and say I'll live to 100. That means I've had, roughly, a third of all the interactions with other humans, that I’ll ever have.

> If that is the case, and we take into account some basic laws of probability, then that means I probably haven't met the most annoying person I'll ever meet.

> In other words, the most annoying thing that will ever happen to me, probably hasn't happened yet.

This is pretty distressing.
I've met some huge assholes in my time. HUGE.
Casting my mind back on the scale of all the annoying things that have happened to me, inevitably leads me to this conclusion:

Sometime in my future, I'm going to be kicked in the balls by George Bush, while he sings 'I Gotta Feeling' by the Black Eyed Peas."

Puts things in perspective, no?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bryan Charles to Release a Memoir in October

Former local and fellow Gull Lake High School alumni Bryan Charles announced on his Facebook page today that his forthcoming memoir, "There's a Road to Everywhere Except Where You Came From," will be released in October.

The book -- which Charles has described on his website as a memoir of his first few years in New York City (after leaving the area surrounding our native Kalamazoo, Michigan) -- follows his stellar novel "Grab On to Me Tightly as if I Knew the Way" (Harper Perennial, 2006) and the recently released "Wowee Zowee" (Continuum, 2010), a contribution to the 33 1/3 series of books focused on classic music albums.

Charles was working in one of the Twin Towers on the morning of 9/11 -- he wrote a great short story about it, published here -- and it will be interesting to see how he addresses that in the forthcoming book, if at all.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Swartwood Reloads "Hint Fiction" Contest

There's still a day left to enter Robert Swartwood's "Hint Fiction Contest Reloaded," commemorating the one-year anniversary of Swartwood's "hint fiction" concept of creating "a story of 25 words or fewer that suggests a larger, more complex story."

The judge of the contest is the notorious James Frey, and the lucky winner he chooses will receive a plethora of literary goodies, including:

> $100
> A copy of PANK
> A copy of Fox Force 5

In addition, the second-place winner will receive $50, the third-place winner will receive $25, and one of 10 copies of "Sudden Fiction Latino" will be awarded to each of the winners and finalists, as well as to some "random contestants."

To enter the contest, simply submit up to two entries in the comments section of the contest post. At the time of this writing there are 154 posts, many of which contain multiple entries. A personal early favorite is John Jodzio's "#2":

"Someone had written the word 'Shite' on our baby's forehead in permanent marker. Someone broke in, I said. No one broke in, my wife said."

The contest ends at midnight (EST) on April 30. Swartwood's "Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer" (that's the cover image above) is set for release from W.W. Norton & Company on Nov. 1.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's

I assume like most people, my time spent blogging is "extra" time, that fortuitous time that sometimes falls within the tiny spaces flanking the every day responsibilities of work and family and which more often than not is consumed with catching up on "Lost." That said, I have very little time for full-fledged reviews of books I'd recommend, recommend you skip or fall somewhere in between on. Thus the new, occasional Poetic Desperation abbreviated review feature, "Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's." Enjoy.


1) "Dolls," prose poems by Tom Whalen (Caketrain Press, 2007). Whalen's "Dolls" is at once both infinitely creepy and saturated with a strange kind of sadness. The dolls that inhabit these prose poems terrify you at the same time they make you want to pick them up and hold them.

2) "Shutter Island," a novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, 2003). The basis for a feature film of the same name released in February, I picked this one up as research for an interview I'm conducting in a week or so with Lehane in preview of a reading he's giving in my area. The book goes pretty much exactly where you think it's going to, but Lehane's great talent is in keeping you reading regardless. The dream sequences are fantastic.


1) "during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present ," poems by Brandon Scott Gorrell (Muumuu House, 2009). There are some interesting lines here, but the only thing I really liked about this book was the lack of page numbers. Seriously: I tend to be slightly OCD when it comes to making sure the page numbers are truly consecutive every time I turn a page, and Gorrell's book at least took that out of the equation.

2) "Just Before the Black," a short story by actor James Franco (in the current issue of Esquire). This short is presumably from Franco's first story collection, "Palo Alto," which will be released in hardcover by Scribner in October. I like Franco as an actor. He's great. But if this story is any indication of his capacity for writing, I'll pass on his written work in the future.

I can forgive Franco, for instance, for calling the building the narrator is sitting outside "tan" in paragraph two, then calling it "beige" in paragraph six, but in graph six when he writes, "The building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color," he loses me altogether. "Shadow-color"? That's just lazy writing. Was the sky sky-color? Was the car car-color?

Actually, we find that out in the trainwreck that is paragraph five, where he describes the car using the phrases "Grandpa's old blue boat" and "Grandpa's blue machine" within a handful of words of each other. We get it: It's Grandpa's car and it's blue.

Then we have graph seven, where Franco writes, "Joe smokes. His window is all the way down, and he breathes his smoke out the black gaping gap." A "gaping gap"? Maybe it's just me, but I usually assume a gap is gaping without having to be told. The phrase reads like a Dr. Seuss lyric.


1) "How to Take Yourself Apart / How to Make Yourself Anew," prose poems by Aaron Burch (PANK Press, 2010). I say prose poems, but they could be flash fiction. Whatever. Unfortunately, this collection had two strikes against it before I even started reading: 1) It's a perfect-bound square, a structure that for me is always aesthetically annoying and always makes me feel like I'm reading a "Mr. Men" book; and 2) Why does the title say "Anew"? Why not just "New"? I realize "Anew" hearkens back to the "Apart," but it sounds clunky. Anyway, I liked the middle section of the three, but the other two did nothing for me. I'm mixed on this one.

2) "Wolf Parts," short fictions by Matt Bell (Keyhole Press, 2010). I usually dig Bell's work (what I've read of it), but not this one. I pre-ordered it through Bell's site and received an instant audio download, which I couldn't even get halfway through listening to before canceling my order for the book. It's not the writing; the writing is fine. It's the subject matter. It's billed as a "dark, fragmentary retelling" of "Little Red Riding Hood," and it is that, but it also touches on what to me sounds like child sexual abuse, which I don't really want on my bookshelf. If you can get past said issues with the subject matter, however, it's probably a decent read.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

1,000 Words from Laconic Oration

That egg is a puppy! Just another one of the who knows how many awesome images up at the image blog Laconic Oration. I just wish they'd post more often (says the pot calling the kettle black).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Read Zachary Schomburg

Do yourself a favor and read Zachary Schomburg's "The Man Suit" (Black Ocean, 2007). Preferably now. This second.

Then read Schomburg's "Scary, No Scary" (Black Ocean, 2009) or, like me, browse through it constantly while letting it sit unfinished on a shelf because you don't want to face the prospect of waking up tomorrow with no new Schomburg to read.

Black Ocean offers free shipping on all retail orders of the books through their Web site, and as an added bonus orders of $25 or more come with a free book.

"The Man Suit," incidentally, was No. 4 on Small Press Distribution's Best-Selling Poetry list for 2009 ("Scary" was No. 9), and was No. 27 for the decade.

"The elephant has a point"

Everyone concerned about the health care "debate" needs to read the March 9, 2009, opinion article from Joe Conason, writing for on "The questions our health care debate ignores." I would argue that the questions -- Why does every developed nation except the U.S. have universal health care? Why do they pay half as much in medical costs? Why are their infant mortality and longevity statistics superior? -- are ignored because there is no debate, just a bunch of fear peddlers engaging in disgusting and misleading news conduct.

According to Conason:

"Among the OECD's 30 members -- which include Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom -- there are only three lacking universal health coverage. The other two happen to be Mexico and Turkey, which have the excuse of being poorer than the rest (and until the onset of the world economic crisis, Mexico was on the way to providing health care to all of its citizens). The third, of course, is us."

This is pathetic. If Mike Cox, Michigan's attorney general, goes through with his plans to sue the federal government in response to the current health care bill -- which is way weaker than it should have been -- I'm afraid there's little hope for the future of my already unfortunate home state.

If you think it'll make a difference -- though really, what is there to lose? -- contact Cox's people through one of the numbers listed here and stand up for those in our government who are actually trying to do the right thing by supporting health care reform.

(The comic above is by the New Jersey Star-Ledger's Drew Sheneman, who gave it the headline, "The elephant has a point.")

Monday, March 22, 2010

i have thoughts and feelings about tao lin

And those thoughts and feelings are mixed.

Tao Lin is known as much for his eccentricities as he is for his writing, maybe more. He notoriously financed the writing of his forthcoming novel "Richard Yates" (Melville House, 2010) by selling $12,000 worth of shares to investors. Last year, he may or may not (see the comments) have sold his MySpace page to an investment banker for $8,100 on eBay.

I don't remember when I first ran across Lin's writing, but my personal experience with his perhaps more singular personality began last fall, when I ordered a complete set of his art prints (images above) in October during a special Halloween sale.

It took more than a month and a half for the prints to arrive, and when they finally came Lin had written, on a small, square piece of cardboard included in the package:

"I'm sorry for the very massive delay. To compensate I've included some 'bonus' items. I hope you find this satisfactory overall. Thank you for your order."

The "bonus" items included a blank, pocket-sized Moleskine notebook, two narrow bumper stickers that read "fuck america" and five random photographs: four taken of other pieces of Tao Lin artwork and one of a random white poodle standing on a grassy beach. Also included was a copy of Brandon Scott Gorrell's poetry collection, "during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present," published by Lin's small press, Muumuu House, in 2009.

An incredibly detailed account of the book's publication can be found here, in which Lin writes:

"I feel it may take ~1 to ~5+ years to sell ~1400 copies. I feel strongly that Brandon's book will become 'a kind of classic' (as I feel with Ellen's book), that it will be referred to by people in the future and remain 'known' for 10+ years or something, and that Brandon's second poetry book, blog, first novel, etc. will continue to generate interest in Brandon as he remains alive, and doing things, in the world; and so I felt secure, and other things, printing 2500 copies. I anticipate 2nd, 3rd, etc., printings of any book published by Muumuu House."

I read Gorrell's book rather quickly, and can see why Lin likes it, as it's basically like Tao Lin Lite. The book is rife with experiences of being an adolescent in the digital age: The only major player aside from extreme bouts of self-consciousness is the Internet. It's a book that -- and I mean no creative disrespect to Gorrell when I write this -- feels like it was written by someone inspired by and emulating Lin's poetry.

That in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, though it is, I think, why I've started becoming disillusioned with Lin's poetry. While I don't remember how I first came across Lin's work, I do know it was the originality of his poetry that first drew me in. I remember posting the link to "a poem written by a bear" on my Facebook page with a caption that read something like, "Sometimes you discover certain writers who make you feel bad for not being a genious. This is one of them."

And of course, there's the clever-upon-first-reading "i went fishing with my family when i was five," which I've heard he reads in its entirety at open mic nights (follow the link and you'll see why that's notable, if not necessarily necessary).

I still enjoy Lin's poetry to an extent -- this entire post began as a way to say that since the end of February Lin has had 12 poems up at The Lifted Brow, and for the most part I enjoy them immensely -- but the more I read work in the vein of he and Gorrell the more it feels unnaturally forced.

I appreciate the formation of what to me seems like a new school of poetic expression, fueled by those up-and-coming poets who may have grown up with current technological innovations as the norm, but I can only read so much poetry that seems like such a hybrid of high school vanity poetry ("i think," "i feel," etc.) and text and instant messaging.

That said, Lin has a knack for narrative poetry, which despite its possible flaws keeps me coming back for more. And with titles like "i feel weird, like my favorite book is a novelisation of 'metroid'" I'm afraid it's impossible for me not to keep reading, even when the opening line is "i feel like giving my penis papercuts."

ABC News: "Checkbook Journalism"

In which ABC News waits two years to admit a $200,000 payment to accused child-killer Casey Anthony. Great piece.

A highlight:

"Some argue the money doesn't distort coverage, but that seems a fantasy. If a news outlet pays $200,000 for access to a source, will they report information which limits or ends that source's value as a news source? Will they report stories which anger the source and make them uncooperative?

"In Anthony's case, ABC News had the answer to a question which had been bugging observers of her case for a while: How does a woman who was unemployed for a year before her arrest pay a "dream team" of defense attorneys? But viewers never learned that information from ABC News, because it was already ethically compromised."

Read the whole article at The Feed, a blog on TV, media and modern life by St. Petersburg Times TV/media critic Eric Deggans. Then send Deggans a complimentary e-mail at

(Link via Super Punch. The image above is from Common Sense Journal.)

Holden McGroin Steps Up for Writers

Author Robert Swartwood continues his campaign against journals taking advantage of aspiring writers in his latest blog post, "Reminder Redux: Money STILL Flows To The Writer," a follow-up of sorts to a previous post taking the journal Narrative to task for charging $20 to submit a prose manuscript.

In response to the journal's recent call for interns, Swartwood set up a Gmail account under the name "Holden McGroin" and began a correspondence with the editors. A highlight: When the editors respond that "Holden" failed to attach a resume to his previous e-mail, Swartwood replies:

"Dear The Editors,

"I am very sorry about that. I was not aware I had already started something. What would you like me to resume?"


I agree Narrative has it coming. Yet, unfortunately, even Swartwood must agree it's a person's own fault if they shell out $20 to submit to a journal.

P.S. If anyone wants to pay me $20 to consider their work, feel free to shoot me an e-mail. I, like Narrative, will accept multiple submissions, since I, like Narrative, feel that "it's unreasonable to expect writers to give a magazine an exclusive look at a work unless the magazine can respond within two to three weeks."

I mean the last thing I want -- and I'm sure Narrative must feel the same -- is to be unreasonable.

(The image above is from The Writers' Police Academy, whose motto appears to be "Sweat Now, So Your Manuscript Doesn't Bleed Red Ink Later." Nice.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Reality Check, Courtesy of John Klima

Electric Velocipede editor John Klima posted the above graphic on his blog this past Monday, showing his journal's submission and acceptance numbers from 2009.

Klima writes that he received 967 submissions last year from August through December, and of those submissions only 33 pieces were accepted for publication. That's an acceptance rate of about 3 percent.

It's a kind of reality check for writers, as it shows why it's so important that you're work be at its best when you send it out. Editors are deluged with submissions, and if your pieces aren't up to par it isn't hard for an editor to scrap them and find work that is.

Thanks to Klima for the blog post. I wish more editors would publish the numbers for their publications in a similar way.

Incidentally, Electric Velocipede's sale celebrating their 2009 win of the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine is still going, and as those who read the review on my genre blog know, it doesn't disappoint.

Brave Men Press Reading Manuscripts in March

Massachusetts-based Brave Men Press has announced the details of their first open reading period for chapbook manuscripts, which continues through this month.

According to their e-mail on the topic:

"We are primarily interested in POETRY, will most likely choose POETRY, but are also possibly interested in ESSAYS and OTHER MULTIFARIOUS WORKS OF NONFICTION. Sorry though, NO FICTION. Manuscripts may range between 12-30 pages. Multiple submissions okay. Please send electronic submissions in a WORD document to"

I like Brave Men Press and I will be submitting work to the fine people there this month, possibly in the form of multifarious works of nonfiction. Won't you join me?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Alternate Covers for Mirov's "Ghost Machine"

Ben Mirov has revealed two alternate covers for "Ghost Machine," his soon-to-be-released winner of Caketrain's 2009 Chapbook Competition, on his blog. The post covers his writing process for the collection, as well as for the related "Collected Ghost," another of his chapbooks I reviewed on this site in November.

Among the revelations:

"The poems are all collage poems made up of sentences I wrote after a breakup. I was also unemployed and sleeping on my brother's couch. I wrote most of the sentences as a method of passing time and dealing with my fucked emotional state. I would describe my overriding emotion during that time as a feeling of emptiness. I wrote so many sentences during that period. I wrote down things I heard people say. I wrote down things I thought or dreamt. I wrote down things that happened on TV or in books I was reading. I wrote down sentences I made up. I wrote down anything. The majority of the sentences were short and used simple grammar. They weren't really poems."

Most of the poems were written in San Francisco in 2006, Mirov writes, and he didn't revise the manuscript until later when he moved to New York. It took him three years to do it.

"It was like sampling myself," he writes.

"Ghost Machine" will be published by Caketrain sometime in May. One of the alternate covers -- the other is much more colorful -- is pictured above, designed by Caketrain's Joseph Reed.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brave Men Press: Open Reading, New Coinsides

Details are forthcoming, but Brave Men Press will be holding an open reading period for poetry manuscripts during the month of March.

In an e-mail, BMP editors Brian Foley and E.B. Goodale write, "If you feel ready, send your chaps to And please help spread the word."

Additionally, BMP is offering Series #8 of their coveted Coinsides, featuring poets Julie Carr, Elizabeth Marie Young and Jessica Bozek. Each one is hand-painted in a limited edition of 20.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Read Kathleen Bonanno's "Slamming Open the Door"

Art based entirely on a singular event, situation or concept for it's emotional impact often runs the risk of being at best gimmicky and at worst exploitative, so it was with some apprehension that I initially approached Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno's debut poetry collection "Slamming Open the Door" (Alice James Books, 2009), which chronicles the murder of her daughter Leidy (pronouced "Lady") and the trial that followed.

Yet the concept of utter loss that creates the narrative arc of the book -- an arc as tightly executed as any collection I've read -- is what gives this collection its power, the sheer emotional force of which rivals that of any contemporary literature now available.

Bonanno lives in Oreland, Penn., and teaches English at a nearby high school. She also is a contributing editor of The American Poetry Review, of which her husband David also is an editor. I spoke to Bonanno recently by phone for a newspaper article I was writing in advance of a reading she will be giving at a local college late this month. I was particularly interested in asking her about “Poem About Light,” which is the last poem in the collection but was the first she wrote, just days after her 21-year-old daughter was strangled by an ex-boyfriend.
The poem seems more optimistic, more hopeful than the rest of the collection, and I asked her if there was anything telling about the fact that it was written so soon after the event.

"I think that it's telling about the grief process, which is not simply a solitary walk in the deepest darkness," Bonanno said. "At least for me it wasn't. It was partly that, it was partly about the comfort of the people who surrounded us. It was partly the joy of the memory of her. And somehow, through it all, even the hardest times, I knew that there is always still light in the face of shade. That one doesn't exist without the other."

The poem was read at Leidy's memorial service, and Bonanno read it aloud to Leidy's murderer during his sentencing (he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole).

"The other thing is that was sort of an empowerment poem in the sense that it's basic purpose was to suggest to Joseph Eaddy, Leidy's murderer, that he didn't have the last word," Bonanno said of the poem. "That Leidy by her nature had the last word. That his attempt to make her nonexistent was an impossible feat. The sun will rise tomorrow like it did yesterday."

It may be because my wife and I had our first child -- a daughter -- this past October, and thus I'm more susceptible to the tragic possibility of losing a child, but Bonanno's acutely honest collection had my heart in a Vise-Grip from start to finish. Im fact, I can't remember being so emotionally affected by a collection of poetry.

When toward the end of our interview I asked Bonanno if she found herself continually pulled back to writing about Leidy's murder, she said she doesn't feel pulled to write a "sequel" to the story or another collection about the event, but she does think Leidy will figure into her future poems "in the same way that my most important relationships will figure into my poems in the future. But I'm not called to keep writing that story that way."
Instead she's working on another collection -- the working title is "Oh, Suburbia" -- that's "sort of a consideration of the suburbs and what really goes on here. Sort of the beauty and the horror and the fascination that is the suburbs."

"My intention was to write a book of love poems, sort of love poems to the universe, some of them romantic poems, some of them just poems that were celebratory of life," Bonanno said, laughing. "Turns out, I don't have enough love for the universe to write a full collection, so that’s quickly becoming a chapbook."

Bonanno was interviewed by Terry Gross for Gross' "Fresh Air" program on National Public Radio, and the segment aired on July 29, 2009. Listen to the interview here or read the trascript. You can read poet David Kirby's favorable New York Times review of Bonanno's collection here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

1,000 Words from Laconic Oration

The above is one of who knows how many great images posted on the images blog Laconic Oration. Check it out.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Matt Bell's "Collectors" Love Trash

Matt Bell -- who I commented on late last year for his fantastic short "Mario's Three Lives" -- has been offering "The Collectors," his runner-up manuscript in Caketrain's 2008 Chapbook Competition, as a free download on his Web site. Caketrain published the book in May 2009 but it's since gone out of print, which is good for Bell and the publisher (selling out of books is always good for authors and their publishers) but is even better for those of us who can now read it at no charge.

The book is the tale of compulsive hoarders Homer and Langley Collyer in 1940s Manhattan, whose home has become like a pool where all the tainted waters of their material lives have been collected and frozen in a kind of interior structure of decay. It's an interesting, creepy read, and holds the honored distinction of being the first (and currently only) publication I enjoyed enough to read it in it's entirety on my iPod touch.

It also reminded me of the above "Sesame Street" video, featuring Oscar the Grouch, who, after making the inadvertent connection, I can't think of Bell's story without picturing as the protagonist.

Incidentally, it was recently announced that Bell's short story "Dredge" -- originally published in Hayden's Ferry Review 45, which coincidentally has a cover image that could have come straight from the Collyer's home -- has been selected for "The Best American Mystery Stories 2010," to be published this fall. Obviously Bell is an author to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Read "The Best American Crime Reporting 2009"

A journalist by trade, I'm always interested in quality reporting of the kind that's not newspaper-stiff and that actually makes me want to read past the lead. Guest editor Jeffrey Toobin's "The Best American Crime Reporting 2009" ( Ecco, 2009) is that kind of reporting: in-depth, solid journalism that reads like an actual story as opposed to a police report. If I ever wind up teaching college courses in creative nonfiction writing, this is the stuff you can expect to find on my required reading list.

Standouts in this year's edition -- the ongoing series is co-edited by Otto Penzler and Thomas H. Cook -- include Mark Boal's "Everyone Will Remember Me as Some Sort of Monster" (from Rolling Stone) and David Grann's "True Crime" (from The New Yorker). You may recognize Boal as the writer of what was, in my opinion, the best film last year, "The Hurt Locker," for which he is rightly nominated for an Oscar this year for Best Original Screenplay. Grann is probably best know of late for his bestselling book "The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" (Doubleday, 2009).

Boal's piece in the book is a haunting profile of a teenager who shot up a mall in Nebraska, and Grann's piece documents a stranger-than-fiction case of a man who got away with murder in Poland only to get caught years later after writing a "fictional" book about it. These pieces are great, but so are the rest featured in the book. Check it out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Another Reason to Buy Literary Journals

Late last month I received the following e-mail from an annual literary journal that accepted one of my poems for publication more than a year ago (the issue it was to be printed in had been pushed back, at last query, to November, and it still hasn't come out). It's a pertinent reminder how important it is to support the arts, especially in trying economic times such as these. This journal is making things work for now -- albeit somewhat behind schedule -- but many publications aren't so lucky.

Here's the e-mail:

"Dearest XXXXXXX Poets,

"Thank you so much for your patience in waiting for the issue to be released. The state of the economy has driven funding down in all areas, including support to XXXXXXX from contributors who appeared in prior issues. Independent publishers are particularly hard hit, as well as journals affiliated with colleges and universities. These journals are losing financial support from their own schools. Many have already announced that their current issue is the final issue.

"For several reasons, securing funding for collections with multiple contributors is more difficult than for collections by individual poets. We at XXXXXXX are working furiously to secure the additional funding that you and your poems deserve, and are looking toward a spring publication date.

"It is a dangerous time for independent publishers and the writers we publish. The following statistics are staggering. The loss of funding for many of us drives the statistics down even further. According to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses:

> Less than 4 percent of publishing (that would mean all publishing) is literary (fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction).

> Independent literary publishers produce over 98 percent of poetry being published each year, and the majority of literature in translation and works of fiction by emerging writers.

"Because independent and not-for-profit publishers are mission driven, and not profit driven, we publish writers whom the large publishing houses pass over. The delay in XXXXXXX is not the scenario we had hoped for, and all of us appreciate your patience while we work diligently to present your poems in as professional a manner as we have always done.

"With admiration for you and your work,

"Xxxxxxx Xxxxxx, Executive Director"

One of the things I'm thankful for in these times is the openness which many of those in charge of publications like this one have shown to those who do support the arts and think they are important. This particular director, for instance, could have just ignored those poets whose work her journal accepted and could have scrapped their plans for the upcoming issue indefinitely.

But she hasn't abandoned her writers, serving as a positive example to the rest of us on both sides of the publishing spectrum: Publications should stick with their writers -- and readers -- and writers and readers should stick with their publications. Which means if you enjoy good literature, take some time this week to actually purchase a literary journal (Electric Velocipede is a good place to start).

After all, we don't want our colleagues to end up like the poor guy above (image via here).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010

J.D. Salinger died Wednesday at his home in Cornish, N.H., of natural causes. He was 91 years old.

Sadly, it's an occurrence I've been passively anticipating since I first read "The Catcher in the Rye" in high school (on my own -- by the time I swung through high school it was no longer required reading). I've been half dreading the loss of such a literary icon and half excited at the prospect of a potential posthumous release of the cache of new material rumored to have been written by Salinger in the last however many decades since he went into seclusion.

It's hard to imagine a more influential contemporary author than Salinger, and I feel I owe a lot to him personally. His short stories -- particularly "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" -- helped germinate the seed planted by Ernest Hemingway's that would eventually grow into a dedicated love for the written word. Would I have kept reading -- or pursued writing at all -- had I not read Salinger's works when I did? I don't know. What I do know is that Salinger's words kept me company at a time in my life when I really needed company, and for that I am thankful.

Salinger's New York Times obituary can be found online here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

JACKET+BOOKMARK = "Vivid and Funny"

The above image shows just four of the clever JACKET+BOOKMARK concept designs created by graphic designer and illustrator Igor "Rogix" Udushlivy to -- as he states on icoeye, his online portfolio -- "use dust jackets and bookmarks together to create a unique image of a paper book."

"I love to create icons, illustrations, logos, animation and more," he writes. "I always try to combine graphics and sense, because design is a thought made in a graphic way. My ideas are always vivid and funny."

Very cool. I wish my ideas were always vivid and funny. For more cool stuff, not necessarily related to literature, check out Udushlivy's blog.

(Link via Super Punch.)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Interview with Michael Robins

I caught up with poet Michael Robins late last September, shortly before the release of his latest chapbook, "Circus" (Flying Guillotine Press), which is made up of a section from "Ladies & Gentlemen," a completed manuscript he's been sending around for just over a year and which has been a finalist for a number of book prizes.

"It's an assortment of circus imagery," Robins, 33, said of his chapbook from his home in Chicago. "But circus seemed to be a good metaphor for the events in Iraq and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of September 11."

Robins, a native of Portland, Ore., is the author of "The Next Settlement" (UNT Press, 2007) -- which was selected for the Vassar Miller Prize -- is a contributing editor at Born Magazine and is an adjunct instructor at Columbia College in Chicago, where he teaches literature and creative writing. In an interview by phone, Robins spoke about Allen Ginsberg, the structure of poetry and the influence of September 11 on form.

Poetic Desperation: How long have you been writing poetry?

Michael Robins: "I started writing earnestly my senior year of high school, although I wrote my first poem when I was in fourth grade as part of an art project. But I really didn't have any interest in poetry much after that. During my senior year of high school, however, I began reading the Beat writers. I read the work of Jack Kerouac at the suggestion of a substitute teacher, which led me to other Beat writers and Allen Ginsberg, who ultimately led me to writing my own poetry."

PD: So Ginsberg was the key?

MR: "I think I would have come to poetry without Allen Ginsberg, but he was definitely an important poet as my interest in poetry developed. A week or two before my high school graduation, Ginsberg gave a book signing in Portland, so I took my books down there and got those signed, and I passed him a note with the naïve expectation that maybe we would develop a correspondence. There was a huge turnout for that event and people gave him all kinds of things. It was really amazing to see that kind of response. Even more amazing for me was when, four or five days later, I received from Ginsberg a postcard he had written that same night from his hotel room. It was simply a postcard of the hotel where he was staying, just a few sentences, but that was very encouraging to me as a young poet. I came to understand later that Ginsberg was one of those poets who was very generous with his time and did that sort of thing on a regular basis. I still have that postcard, and come back to it every so often."

PD: Is there anything about your poetry structurally that you feel sets your work apart? Does the structure of Ginsberg's work inform your own?

MR: "Although I was a big reader of Ginsberg early on, I didn't use his work as a model for very long. In the poems I'm writing now I use a lot of couplets, but for the last little while I've worked exclusively using 10-syllable lines, with the exception of a few prose poems here and there. That might not be reflected so much in 'The Next Settlement,' but the next manuscript is almost entirely couplets and 10-syllable lines. My attraction for couplets stems from wanting the poem to be accessible to the reader when he or she comes to that work on the page. As a poet who isn't working strictly in narrative -- telling a story and offering an epiphany by the end of that story -- I feel that couplets help ease the reader into the poem. If I see a poem that has some white space on the page, then that poem is 'broken' nicely into small, digestible pieces.

"I got interested in form, oddly enough, after September 11. That might sound strange initially but I was in graduate school at UMass Amherst on September 11, 2001, so the epicenter of that morning wasn't very far away. I know there were a lot of poets who were able to respond immediately after those events. For me, the feelings that I experienced were so overwhelming that I had, I don't want to call it writer's block, but there was definitely an inability to put meaningful language on the page. The first two poems I eventually wrote after those events were the first sonnets that I'd ever written, and having that structure was something to ground myself back in the world, to create order out of what felt at the time like a chaotic series of events, a chaotic feeling in the air, my own chaotic emotions. After those first sonnets I've continued to be very interested in form and structure.

"I don't know if I can offer a real good reason behind why I'm stuck on the 10-syllable line. I don't want to call it a puzzle -- as a teacher it gets frustrating when my students persistently feel that poems are puzzles with a single answer or meaning -- but focusing on the poetic line challenges and almost strong-arms me into revising a piece of writing and creating acts of discovery. Instead of being able to dash off a sentence and leave that sentence as it is, or a line of poetry as that line of poetry is, a syllable count gives me the opportunity to go back to each line and look closer. And most of the time, as a result, I'm making that language more concise."

PD: So you don't feel a need to necessarily force yourself into the form? You see it as more freeing than constricting?

MR: "Yeah, I think that's well put. There are discoveries to be made when you are working within a form. Implementing some constraints forces you to reevaluate your writing and look for possibility. If you have an 11-syllable line and you're looking to make that a 10-syllable line, and if you're not looking to end that line weakly or make your line breaks something less than satisfying, then you're forced to restructure the diction, syntax and sometimes the meaning itself."

PD: Are there any particular themes, words or images that you find yourself returning to in your work?

MR: "When you put a manuscript together -- whether that's in a single Word document or you have those poems laid out on your floor -- and you have the chance to see how those poems speak to each other side by side, most poets will find recurring language. Horses, for some reason, have appeared in my poems of late, and in the last two or three years I've written a number of poems that have imagery resulting from the U.S. military's presence in the Middle East. When the events of war permeate the news, inevitably my thoughts return to the individual lives of those taking part and those whose daily lives have been changed dramatically."

PD: Are you the kind of poet who can kind of spontaneously write, or do you work more slowly, waiting for something to come that sparks the process?

MR: "I carry a pen and paper with me wherever I go, and that's something I've been doing for years. In fact I feel a little bit unarmed -- naked, if you will -- if I leave the house and realize that I do not have a pen. You can always find something on which to write, but you can't always depend on finding the instrument. In terms of working on individual poems, yes, I carry that pen and paper, but I might not use them for several days at a stretch. Then again, I might hear or see something that I want to take down immediately for future use.

"When writing my best it's for me, first of all, making and taking advantage of time and space, whether it's an hour at home or even a 30-minute train ride into downtown Chicago. When I do give myself that time and space I'm nearly always able to create and shape something satisfying. That's not to say that I can sit down and within an hour crank out a poem. Some of my poems might take six weeks or longer, they might take three weeks. I think my process has gotten a little bit slower since I left college and began surviving in the real world with a job and all of the other responsibilities of life."

David Foster Wallace Profile

I came across a profile of the late author David Foster Wallace this morning, written n 1987 by Bill Katovsky for that year's April issue of Katovsky's now-defunct national literary magazine, Arrival, and later reprinted at McSweeney's with his permission.

Says Wallace in the article, commenting on his academic upbringing:

"It was an exceptional academic household. I remember my parents reading Ulysses out loud to each other when they went to bed. My father read Moby-Dick to my younger sister and me when we were 6 and 8. There was a near rebellion halfway through the novel. Here we were -- still picking our noses -- and learning the etymology of whale names."

It's billed as one of the first Wallace profiles -- he was 25 years old at the time -- and it's done fairly well. Check it out here.

(Link via Super Punch.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

PANK to Donate Proceeds to Haiti Relief

The folks in charge of nonprofit literary magazine PANK announced today on their blog that all direct sales of their magazines and chapbook (purchased here) between Jan. 13 and Feb. 13 will be divided between the International Committee of the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to support relief efforts in Haiti following the recent earthquake there. So you can help someone and get your read on at the same time. What else could you ask for?

(Link via Robert Swartwood.)

R.I.P. Slush Pile

Journalist Katherine Rosman has an interesting article up on The Wall Street Journal's Web site today, titled "The Death of the Slush Pile."

The piece is a nice wake-up call for fledgling writers with unrealistic expectations. Included among the quotes:

David Granger, editor in chief of Esquire, says slush-pile finds are extremely rare: "If we found one writer a year that sent things in randomly, that would be a lot."

The article states that literary mainstay The Paris Review publishes just one piece from the slush pile each year, which after factoring in submission numbers and the vagaries of the submissions process gives unsolicited submissions a .008 percent chance of rising to the top of the pile.

The above illustration, used in the original WSJ post, is by illustrator Lisa Haney.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mirov's "Ghost" Wins Caketrain Competition

Caketrain announced the results of their 2009 poetry chapbook competition this morning, and taking home top honors is "Ghost Machine," by poet Ben Mirov, whose "Collected Ghost" was reviewed by Poetic Desperation in November.

Mirov's manuscript will see publication this summer as the seventh title in Caketrain's ongoing chapbook series, along with runner-up Lucas Farrell's "Bird Any Damn Kind" as the eighth.

The chapbook competition will return this May, with the genre focus shifting back to fiction and with a new guest serving as final judge. The judge for 2009 was poet Michael Burkard.

You can get a copy of Mirov's latest, "I is to Vorticisim," the cover of which is illustrated above, through his blog, Amazon or its publisher, New Michigan Press.