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).