A New Year, New Authors, Lists and a look back at KLL: the first 5 months

Well, I don’t know if I’m spearheading a literary revolution, but I’ve had damn good time doing this blog. I started in late August 2012 and set out to change the dynamics of our local Lit. scene by co-mingling crowds and attempting to generate public/community interest in new and resurfacing authors via interview. Since no “year-in/year-end” blog posting is complete without them, I’m going to all the awesome people I’ve interviewed this year (which you can still check out!), some of the inspiring books I’ve read, and the people I have slated and in-mind for interviews this spring.

Past interviews: John James, Hannah Gamble, Joe Brashear, Makalani Bandele, Ada Limón, Jessica Farquhar, Erin Keane (and her questions answered by me, Brandon Stettenbenz), Sean Patrick Hill, Jennifer Woods (Typecast Publishing), Nettie Farris, Jimmy Besseck, Kiki Petrosino, Sheri Wright, and Rachel Short. I’m sure this wasn’t the highlight of the year for any reader or interviewee, but I hope everyone had fun!

Recommended reads for the year: Ada Limón’s Sharks in the Rivers, Sean Patrick Hill’s Interstitual, Hannah Gamble’s Your Invitation to a Moderate Breakfast, Kiki Petrosino’s Fort Red Border, Jimmy Besseck’s Bus Boy Moments, Sheri Wright’s The Feast of Erasure, Erin Keane’s Death Defying Acts, Dean Young’s Fall Higher, Charles Simic’s That Little Something, Richard Taylor’s Fading Into BoliviaW. Loran Smith’s Night Train, M. Bartley Seigel’s This is What They Say, and many more than I can list or remember.

Reading list 2012 (So far): Dorthea Lasky’s Thunderbird, Dean Young’s Bender: New and Selected poems, Sean Patrick Hill’s Hibernaculum, William Carlos William’s Paterson, Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems, and so forth and SF books no one cares about.

Slated & possible authors/publishers to interview: Adam Day, Jeriod Avant, Meg Bowden (Sarabande Books), The White Squirrel (UofL) staff, Thomas Olges (later this mo.), Eric Sutherland (Holler Poets, Lexington, KY), Chris Mattingly, Matt Hart, Lynnell Edwards (LLA, InKY, Poet), Brian Leung (LLA, Inky, Novelist) and hopefully many more interesting persons.

I’ve had a decent year personally, and an excellent five months with this blog. I’m hoping that 2013 will bring the Louisville Lit. scene closer together than ever before (we are the only support we have folks!), and I look forward to seeing great readings and interviewing/meeting interesting writers.

Keep Louisville Literary in 2013!

Best wishes to all,

Brandon Stettenbenz

p.s. If you curate, edit or are otherwise part of literary events, magazines/journals, workshops or festivals anywhere in the region, I’d love to collaborate with you for this blog! My goal is not an insular one; enriching any literary community also means connecting with other literary communities and traveling writers! Its a two way, mutually beneficial endeavor.

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National Poetry Series Winner Hannah Gamble Gets Intra/Inter – spective/personal

Chicago poet Hannah Gamble will give a house reading to celebrate her debut collection Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast(Fence books, 2012; winner of the 2011 National Poetry Series) on Friday December 21st at 8pm hosted by Speak Social at the curators’ residence: 1259 Eastern Parkway.

[Note from them (John and Sarah): “Please try and carpool as parking is limited. Take a left on Barret, left into the first alley and park out back.”] RSVP Here.

Keep Louisville Literary utilized the awesome power of the internet to pick at Hannah’s brain for clues to the nature and origins of her book:

Keep Louisville Literary: Aesthetic aside, poets are ever aware of the specific and the universal. How do you approach weaving your personal experience with broader allusions?

Hannah Gamble: I don’t think I ever consider it in quite that way (I mean, I never think “How can I talk about myself in particular and human experience in general at the same time?”). I mostly think “Am I enjoying writing this?”

It seems to me that the writer should think about herself first. If she’s not enjoying herself, then something is wrong, and that poem won’t move anyone the way it could or should.

Of course, the poet enjoying herself (or at least being really interested in, really caring about, what she’s doing/ saying in a poem) is only the first step in the making of a good poem. When going back to revise a first draft, it’s important to ask, “Have I articulated this in a way that someone who doesn’t have access to my brain and my history will be able to understand/ connect with?” [That phase is usually the phase wherein I take out all the puns I made in the first draft.]

KLL: Though you write mostly about urban-scapes and people (as opposed to the pastoral), you poems seem to deal often with the concept and feeling of loneliness, even when the speaker is not physically alone. Could you elaborate on this recurring theme?

HG: Pretty easy answer here: I get lonely a lot! Though less so now (now that I realize that being with myself is often less lonely than being in the company of people who don’t think that what I think is important is important, for example, or don’t understand me, or whom I don’t understand).

A story that I hope you’ll see as relevant: Here in Chicago there’s a very old orthodox catholic man named Matthew who has an office in the Fourth Presbyterian Church downtown. He does healing energy work (like a mix of Qigong and praying to the saints) for the seniors (people from the community, age 60 and up) who take classes in the building. I was teaching a creative writing/ memoir class there and (in the late spring when a lot of things were happening in my life that were exhausting me so much that I got out of breath just holding my head upright on the train) I went to see him.

At the beginning of our first session he laid me on a table and turned out all the lights. He put on a small crocheted hat that looked like the ones that Muslim men wear. He put his hands on my shoulders, feet, and head and, at some point, I just completely went away. It wasn’t like sleep. It was just going away and being nothing. And while I know that people usually have negative associations with the word “nothing,” it was wonderful, peace-inducing, and restorative. I “woke up” mystified and grateful and feeling much better.

Matthew asked to write about my experience, and I wrote that the best thing was that I had reached a point where there was nothing. Matthew said later, “I think, when you wrote ‘there was nothing,’ you meant ‘nothing else’.” (Nothing, in other words, besides the me that wasn’t thinking about being me, nothing that I was aware of needing, because when you lose your identity you lose all the awareness of intra- as well as inter-personal deficits.)

Being in a city can be lonely. Being with a person who loves you but is so angry that she doesn’t want to look at your face is lonely. But forgetting who you are is not lonely. So I try to think about myself less these days, and when I do that, I am less lonely.

KLL: At times your poems compare humans to animals or reference people as “animals”, either blatantly or by insinuating. Can you tell us more about this repeating metaphor and why you are drawn to use it?

HG: I think it has a lot to do with way I was raised, which was in a very conservative Christian community in Tennessee. [Let me just explain where I’m headed by saying that, for me, bodies are the most animal thing about humans]  In Nashville, Tennessee it seemed that no one was supposed to show their bodies, or talk about the things they wanted to do with their bodies, or with other people’s bodies. I remember going to a summer camp where a woman delivered an afternoon lecture on how girls shouldn’t wear solid-color shirts with horizontal striped across the chest because it made boys looks at our chests.

At the time, I didn’t value my body because my body was a natural thing that often did or wanted to do things that animals’ bodies do. I was constantly being told, in effect, that my body was the thing I should be fighting against, and that my mind and my soul were the good things. Essentially: “We are not animals. We are better than them. We rule over them. We might have bodies and certain survival-based instincts like them, but with the help of God and moral advisors/ supporters, we must overcome (rule over) those parts of ourselves.”

I’m no longer a part of that community, but even in a community of academics, you’ll notice that what being adult is, what being sophisticated is, is having some design, some cunning, some savvy about you– knowing what to conceal, what to reinterpret to make yourself look good, how to rationalize your brief moments of unfiltered hurt, fear, or libido. If a person is honest even most of the time, we might view them as clueless [or think], “Why don’t they understand that they should keep those thought and feelings to themselves?”, or [consider them] crazy. I’ve been judgmental in that way and I’ve been judged in that way.

I love the people who recognize that they’re animals: they cry when they are hurt; they fight back when someone threatens their family; they are unashamed of wanting sex; they want to sniff each other and tackle and nuzzle and muss the hair of the people they love…

Of course, the tricky thing is that I really value cunning and savvy and tact as well. I think, in the end, that it’s great to be human; I just want to be a human who recognizes that I’m part of the natural world, not better than it.

KLL: In an issue of Gulf Coast (where you used to work as an editor), you ask several poets how they feel when their work is labeled as “surrealist”. The resulting conversation waxes a bit on the origins and use of the term, and also addresses things that the author’s consider “surrealist” in their own work. I also see in your poems surrealist qualities where something physical defies our laws of physics, and I think the result is an altered reality which takes hold of or otherwise changes your character(s). To what purpose do you employ “surrealist” elements, and how do you feel about the label?

HG: One of the things I love best about that interview is that someone (I think it was one of the Matthews) is very insistent about how “surrealist” is not a synonym for “weird,” though that’s pretty much how everyone uses the term these days.

I haven’t thought about surrealism in a while, but I do remember that when I first read about it in college I was pleased to learn that “surreal” didn’t mean “unreal” (as someone looking at paintings of giant clocks melting in the desert might conclude), but instead “extra-real,” or “real-in-a-way-that-trangresses-what-most-people-accept-as-the-limits-of-the-real.” In my poems I’m trying to say the truest thing, and often this means trying to let subconscious things bubble up– a situation in which things can get (quote-unquote) wacky.

KLL: In your poem “Think About a Knot of Twine”, the knot of twine is immediately likened to the female sex organ and subsequently becomes the womb, at one point even addressing an umbilical attachment to one’s mother by “a length of twine”, assumedly unraveled from her womb. This is the most striking, as well as the most direct and the longest surrealist trope I saw in your work. Could you tell us a little about the function of surrealist images in this poem and how they may tie in with specific life experiences as well as the universal?

HG: You know, I guess this poem is surreal, at least by the provisional definition I gave that word in my previous answer…Hopefully the poem feels extra-real (by using images that come from my subconscious so maybe are truer than more filtered/ tampered with images or ideas?)…Though some of the things in that poem are just flat out, journalistically true: I had a boyfriend in college with whom, before he was my boyfriend, I went camping. At some point, I fell asleep sitting at a picnic table, and when I woke up there were white ducks all around my feet because he (Paul) had put breadcrumbs around me so that I would get to wake up surrounded by a large number of really attractive water fowl.

On the other hand, there are other things in that poem feel true because the part of my brain so-deep-and-hidden-in-me-that-I-don’t-even-know-what’s-going-on-in-there thought them up, like the part at the end of the poem where the newborn talks to the mother to whom she’s still attached by cord and says that her (the newborn’s) organs appear to be on the outside (which, I think, is what I would think if I were a baby with fully developed consciousness, and I slid out of my mother’s vagina and saw a placenta come out right after me– but I really wasn’t aware of that thought until I saw I’d written it).

I recall now that I wrote the poem in a manner that maybe the actual French surrealists would have approved of, in that I had no idea what I was going to write when I started; my friends and I were hanging out in one friend’s living room writing imitations of Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” but with things assigned to us by one another. So I think one of us had to write about a kidney bean, but I got lucky and was assigned twine.

KLL: Perhaps one day we will have express-train service between Chicago and Louisville, but until then I bet more than a few literary Louisvillians will make the trek up to your city. What enticing/exciting things can you tell us about the literary community in Chicago?

HG: There’s a ton of great reading series here. Honestly, Louisville is only about 5 hours from Chicago, so why not head up here sometime and hear some great poets read?

Dolly Lemke, Holly Amos, and Ryan Spooner curate The Dollhouse reading series which is fairly new to the scene but got national recognition pretty quickly.

What I like about it:It’s in an apartment, my friends go there, and everybody’s all squished together on the floor/ coffee table/ windowsills; before and after the reading it feels like a big ol’ house party. Recent readers include Zach Schomberg, Jenny Zhang, Anthony Madrid, Marcus Wicker, Matt Hart, Cathy Wagner, Adam Fell, and Glenn Shaheen.

I’m also a big fan of the Danny’s reading series curated by Joel Craig.

What I like about it: It’s in a very low-lit tavern with orange-ish floral cloth stretched over the windows and nice bar tenders; mostly everyone in the bar is there to hear poetry, and the setting is very calm and intimate; Joel is incredibly tall and verbally economical.

Recent readers includeCathy Park Hong, Sandra Simonds, Nick Demske, Gabriel Gudding, and Ashley Capps.

KLL: Now for the generic wrap-up question: Literature is a (if not the) powerful, transportive medium, formative and informative to us all. So, what books/author’s have had your attention lately?

HG: Okay, did you know that the advice columnist Anne Landers wrote her own encyclopedia? I bought, at a thrift store, Volume 2 (which starts with Hiccups and ends at Zoonoses, which are, apparently: “diseases of man which are transmitted to him from animals”. Some of her entries include “Marriage Between Jew and Non-Jew,” “Sex for the Handicapped,” and “Thin People.” I’m hoping that this book will be kind of like Pliny’s Natural History, but with more rigid hairstyling. 

I’m also reading Twice-Told Tales by Nathaniel Hawthorn (who I’ve been told is very cynical, so I’m looking forward to that), little erotic poems by Gāthā Saptaśatī, and also poems written by the kids I used to teach through Writers in the Schools (WITS) in Houston. All of their poems have been bound in these little anthologies with very colorful covers, my favorite of which has a sloppy drawing of the earth “on fire with coolness.”

 

Hannah Gamble has received writing and teaching fellowships from Rice University, The University of Houston, and The Edward F. Albee Foundation. Her poems and interviews appear or are forthcoming in APR, jubilat, The Laurel Review, Indiana Review, Ecotone, and elsewhere. She teaches English at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside and lives in Chicago.

Local Literary Picks for “Cyber Monday”! (no short-term deals, only great, local books available all year!)

While these may not exactly be rock-bottom prices on consumer goods, I wanted to show everyone who may be in the midst of the early holiday-shopping frenzy where they might find some local books & journals for themselves and other bibliophiles in their lives!

Sheri Wright, poet and fine-art photographer, self-released her sixth collection The Feast of Erasure this year. You can purchase poetry books and photo prints directly.

Local poet and journalist, not to mention the progenitor of InKY (say thanks next time you see her!), Erin Keane has  two books Death-Defying Acts, a collection of gritty prose poems about complex carnival folk, and The Gravity Soundtrack, filled with poems inspired by (mostly American Rock) music.

Affrilachian poet Makalani Bandele‘s book Hell-Fightin’ is rife with jazz and history.

Sean Patrick Hill is the author of two poetry collections and a few hiking books. He has a new collection forthcoming in 2013, and you can find links to buy his book on his blog.

Lynelle Major Edwards is the president of Louisville Literary Arts (the local, non-profit organization behind InKY and The Writer’s Block festival) as well as the author of three full-length collections of poetry which you can read about and purchase here. Her blog also has a section outlining the wonderful organizations responsible for Keeping Louisville Literary!

Brian Leung is the author of the novels Take Me Home and World Famous Love Acts. Look for his work at Carmichael’s Books and other local bookstores.

Adam Day is the author of the poetry chapbook Badger Apocrypha,  which can be found at Carmichael’s as well. He is searching for a publisher for a newer, full-length collection of poems and writing a novel.

Kirby Gann is the author of three novels: The Barbarian Parade, Our Napoleon in Rags, and mostly recently Ghosting (click to read reviews including kudos from Publisher’s Weekly).

Typecast publishing is an up-and-coming small press that likes to make unique books by hand. Originating out of The Lumberyard magazine project with Fire Cracker Press (#10 available soon!), this Louisville, KY based publisher has had a huge impact on the local lit. scene and continues to volunteer time, etc. to The Writer’s Block festival, and other projects. They’ve so far published fiction and poetry which you can find for purchase on their website (I recommend M. Bartley Seigel’s collection of poems about the rust-belt, This is What They Say; he also heads a rag called PANK which isn’t local but I do HIGHLY recommend reading it).

Larkspur Press is a publisher of hand-made books whose letterpress shop is in Monterey, KY. They have published Fred Smock who currently teaches at Bellarmine, Richard Taylor formerely at Kentucky University, and UofL graduate and current KY poet-laureate Maureen Morehead among others. These hand-cut and bound books feature wood-block and linoleum block prints by artists such as Steve Armstrong and many others.

Sarabande Books is a non-profit literary press founded in 1994 in Louisville, KY. They focus on poetry, short fiction, and essay. You can search their catalog here.

Catch-up is headed up locally by Adam Day and Jeff Hipsher. They have recently released their third issue guest edited by Catherine Wagner, Sean Bishop, Hannah Gamble, and DA Powell.

You can read interviews with most of these authors and publishers here. Take a look; inform your holiday and other purchases. Remember, these folks work for a living. They don’t mark up their goods, and thus you won’t find any high-pressure sales, only fine literary art! This means two things: you’re putting money in the hands of the makers, and you can shop local books all year long! Also, whether you dig any of the books listed above or not, please BUY LOCAL and KEEP LOUISVILLE LITERARY!

(Full Disclosure: I am privileged to know some of these fine artists personally)