Post Writer’s Block meets Jesse James

If you’re like me, and took in as much Writer’s Block goodness as you had time for, you may still be drunk on language Or enjoying a slight verbiage hangover. This is a good thing.  A feeling that you packed so many words into your day from other writer’s ideas that your dreams may be different, dimensionally, from your usual REM stomping grounds.  You may also have jotted several inspirations on your writer’s block handbill that are barely legible because you were listening. Because having ideas and listening is like trying to drink and breathe at the same time.  So, if you’re like me, you might still be drunk on Writer’s block or slightly in a haze of egregious swirling inspiration.

Writer’s Block is not for the faint of heart. It takes a serious literati to commit to all events encompassing the day.  I had to take a lunch and dinner break. And still my thoughts were pre-occupied to what possible nuggets of truth were falling on the ears of others that I was not available to hear as well.

However, if you did miss the annual InKY extension, the 2014 Writer’s Block, I will be playing excerpts from what I was able to attend on the radio hour-– on Thursday, November 20, at 1pm EST.  Including: Ben Tanzer, Isiah Fish, Tasha Cotter, Sean Patrick Hill, Matt Hart, Chris Mattingly, and Joy Priest.

A full day of readings, panels, workshops, walking, and 40 degree weather might not be your style.  Maybe you prefer your experiences with writers to be more bite size.  Louisville rarely fails to deliver. This week, it’s Jesse James.

McQuixote books and Coffee : We are excited to host Eric F. James, author of Jesse James Soul Liberty, an authorized historical biography of the family of Frank & Jesse James, drawn from primary family sources. Eric will lead a talk on the book and a signing afterwards. Join us for a coffee and a night with an engaging storyteller speaking on this notorious American icon and his family.

ERIC F. JAMES co-founded the James Preservation Trust with Judge James R. Ross, Jesse’s great grandson.
Eric also is the archivist of the Joan Beamis Research Archive that produced the first genealogy of the Jesse James family, Background of a Bandit, published by the Kentucky Historical Society.
Recently, Eric supervised the exhumation of Jesse’s twin children, Gould & Montgomery James, reuniting them with their parents per the wishes of their mother, Zee Mimms-James.
Since 1997, Eric writes & publishes the official web site for the Jesse James family, Stray Leaves and the family blog, Leaves of Gas.

Saturday November 22, 6pm

McQuixote Books & Coffee

1512 Portland Ave Suite #1, Louisville, Kentucky 40203


Or, if you’re in the Lexington area, the Holler Poets Series is still going strong.  One of the features is the LLA’s very own, Lynnell Edwards.

“Holler 78 features the return of the King of Pine Mountain, Jim Webb, author of Get In, Jesus and Lynnell Edwards, whose latest is Kings of the Rock n’ Roll Hot Shop (Or, What Breaks). Providing the music is Lexpatriate Sheri Streeter. Open mic begins and ends the show with signups beginning at 645pm. As usual, the Holler bucket will be available so you can support the artists. Support your local arts! See y’all there.”
While the Axton Reading Series has concluded for the year,  the LLA has InKY readings throughout the year at The Bardstown.
Other readings throughout the year include: Speak Social, hosted by Sarah Maddox and John James, and  Subterranean Phrases, hosted by Rachel Short @ Decca.
McQuixote Books and Coffee has also started booking several readings and has a scheduled open mic.
Stayed tuned to Keep Louisville Literary for continuing info regarding all things Literary Louisville.

Maurice Manning Discusses His Dark and Lively Valley, “Fog Town Holler”

Long-time Kentucky poet Maurice Manning will read with fellow poet Makalani Bandele Friday, May 24th for Speak Social at Java Brewing (1707 Bardstown Rd. Louisville, KY).

I recently contacted Maurice to talk about his fifth book of poetry, published last month, The Gone and the Going Away (2013 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Brandon Stettenbenz: As the narrator in your book (the unnamed observer of “Fog Town Holler” and its denizens) recollects/dreams tales which are generally raucous or silly, and at times sobering, we get a broad swath of earthy characters from a past gone if not far removed. Did you set out to capture some impression of historical charm or community tradition you see fading from Kentucky?

Maurice Manning:  It is always a process, of course.  As I was nearing the end of my last book, The Common Man, I realized that the world I was writing about was nearly gone.  I was thinking of a small Kentucky town, a community with its own integrity, history, and ties, a distinct place with distinctive people living in it.  Rather than bemoan the loss of our small communities in my next book, I decided to imagine a small community and fill it with imagined characters, perhaps to suggest what we have lost.

BS: I personally felt the themes of family, heritage, and belonging continuously reinforced throughout this book in passages such as, “And so, / I suffer and love it still, and drag / my father with me, knowing it came / from him, from being here…” Here we see the narrator tied explicitly through his heritage to the land. What connection, if any, does this book have with your own history or that of your kin?

MM:  The poem you quote is called “The Debt.”  It is a true poem.  My father grew up on a farm along the border of Clay County and Jackson County.  The landscape in my mind is a combination of that region of eastern Kentucky, the knobs outside of Danville where I grew up, and the farm where we live in Washington County.

BS: There’s something in “Fog Town Holler” of the mystic and mysterious natural world—the people there seem closer to their origins, closer to the earth, and whether skeptics, preachers, or spirit “slain” parishioners, perhaps closer or more curious about the nature of being (alive) and the spiritual nature of their living world. Could you discuss for us this reverence for everyday beauty and nature evident in these poems?

MM:  Well, I think you’ve put it as well as I can.  I admire people who are closer to the earth and closer to their origins.  Such people have roots and a history of being in one place.  I think belonging to a place is important—to feel known and claimed by the place.  Rather than us making a place our own, I prefer the notion of allowing a place to make us its own.  That puts us more properly I think in a subordinate position.

BS: That reverence is also evident no only in the character’s ruminations upon life and the land, but also in your rendering of the landscape:

“and fog / rising from the ribbon of river / unstrung and loose below the hills / which fetched up like a row of knee / poked into the rosy sky”

Imagery is the primary mode used to immerse a reader into a place and sometimes into the mind of role of the speaker. However, your living pictures of “Fog Town Holler”, like the candor of its people, are rendered using colloquial modes of speech. Please tell us about the importance of writing in this way, of this place.

MM:  I think the colloquial is something I can’t avoid, because my experience with language starts with listening to it.  I love the natural rhythms of our local talk, but a local language also has a role in what is observed or thought or expressed.  One of my duties is to point out that local language can be intelligent.

BS: This is certainly the funniest, most colorful elegy I’ve ever read. I would even venture to say that humor lures the reader into this half-dreamed, half-remembered holler by endearing them to the long-gone (but perhaps not lost) characters of this fading memory/place. Could you discuss the role of humor in this book?

MM:  I enjoy humor is the short answer.  In The Gone and the Going Away I think some of the humor is there to provide comic relief.  There are a number of heavy poems in the book as well.  Humor is also neighborly—my neighbors are always stopping by to share a tall tale or tell a little joke or share something funny.  I often think I’m writing to a neighbor.

BS: Speaking of sing-song, there are many short, funny poems throughout this book, interspersed between longer dream sequences which seem to skirt the border of fable and parable. Do these song-poems stem from a regional tradition?

MM:  The short poems are described by a friend of mine as “honky tanka”.  I call this a stanza, since there are a few poems in the book composed of several of these stanzas.  The stanza is 30 words: 5 words to the line and 6 lines.  Odd-numbered lines begin with an iambic foot and even-numbered lines begin with a trochaic foot.  I believe each stanza has three rhetorical moves.  The stanza is like a little math problem.  I like the description of “song-poem.”  This is a case where the form had a real role in generating the poem.  Once I wrote one of these I wanted to write another one.  And so forth.

BS: The longer, dream-like poems in this book seem to reach or search for some wisdom, lesson or knowledge perhaps once known and lost. Did you have traditional fables or Christian parables in mind when you wrote these pieces?

MM:  To some extent I would say a parable is a form I often think about.  In my own life I respond to what I call spiritual confirmation.  Some of the longer poems are attempts to seek such confirmation and to enter into all of the paradoxes that accompany any sense of faith.

BS: Oral traditions have always influenced and sustained literature and storytelling; poetry is no exception. In the aforementioned short poems, I noticed some exaltation declared in a Whitman-like candor: “O—I’ve been dizzy too!” I also see some imagist influence reminiscent of William Carlos Williams—the way he dealt intimate glimpses of his native Rutherford/Patterson, sharing his elation for the place by inviting the reader into the complex simplicities of his home and his neighbors. Please tell us a bit about the influence of both storytelling traditions and other poetic forms on your work.

MM:  Storytelling is the beginning for me.  I was lucky to have known my great-grandmothers and other elders who were wonderful storytellers.  The stories were informal and usually incomplete, because the occasion usually wasn’t an official story.  If my grandmother told me about the time she stayed with cousins in Paint Lick and a train derailed, I would have been fascinated by the fragment of the story, but I would also have known what my grandmother was thinking about years later.  Those kinds of stories don’t come from an overt desire to tell; instead I think they reveal what someone is wondering about.  That usually means the story doesn’t have a “lesson,” or even an end.  That sense of wonder and ambiguity suit poetry very well.  Beyond hearing stories in my head, I’ve been drawn to Wordsworth and Coleridge and their pioneering belief that landscape can be the genesis of the poem.

BS: Dear Readers, Carmichael’s Bookstore will be on hand Friday during Speak Social to sell The Gone and Going Away, and Maurice will no doubt be happy to speak with you about the book and sign copies.

Author’s Bio (taken from The Gone and the Going Away):

“Maurice Manning is the author of four previous books of poems. His most recent book, The Common Man, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. A winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize and a Guiggenheim fellowship, he teaches at Transylvania University in Lexington, KY.”

Interview with Tireless Artist Matt Hart: poet, teacher, Typecast Publishing and H_NGM_N author, and punk rocker

Speak Social Presents: Matt Hart & Patrick Wensink

Poet Matt Hart will be reading with novelist Patrick Wensink @Java Bardstown for the February 22nd installment of Speak Social at 7:30pm. I haven’t spoken with Patrick Wensink—who’s readings have been known to become drinking games as Erin Keane will tell you here, and who also had “four  days of (internet) fame” after receiving the world’s “nicest cease and desist letter” from Jack Daniels whiskey— but I was fortunate to catch up with Matt (busy poet, father, educator, and musician) to try and dig up some insight for those of you who may not already be aware of this prolific, regional powerhouse of written and spoken verse.

Brandon Stettenbenz: Let’s clear the air. This interview is not going to be as awesome as the one you did with BookSlut (it’s really worth a read!); of course that was a few years back… Since then, you’ve put out a book with Typecast Publishing here in Louisville, called “Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless.” Your band, Travel, also did an album inspired by the book. Can you fill us in on that experience?

Matt Hart: I’ve been a big fan of Lumberyard (the print magazine that Typecast publishes) almost since the beginning. I think it’s really exciting what they do with typography, exploding the poems, reconfiguring and re-contextualizing the various moving parts of the lines and stanzas, emphasizing the visual, material, and sculptural (not to mention, wooden and concrete) qualities of language. There’s something radical and radicalizing about their vision, and the DIY nature of the thing is something that really resonates with me and with my background, both with Forklift, Ohio (the magazine I co-founded and edit) and in punk rock.

With that in mind, I was only maybe a third of the way into the poems that became Sermons and Lectures, when I started thinking that Typecast would be the perfect publisher for that book. The poems are so full of fracture and speed, and the material quality of the language that comes through in the collage technique is a prevalent mode of the book’s poems. Of course, there are also numerous references to early punk rock and the idea that everything might fall apart at any second.  It seemed to me to that the book had a lot in common with the Typecast aesthetic and vision, so I approached Jen Woods about it, and she liked the manuscript and took it on. I don’t remember exactly when in the process I got the idea to do a new Travel record using cut-up versions of the Sermons and Lectures poems as lyrics, but it all sort of came together right around the same time. The resulting record, Blank Sermons…Relentless Lectures, is one of Travel’s best, I think; full of noise and skronkiness that actually ends up sounding like music. Go figure.

Working with Typecast, and with Jen in particular, was truly a wonderful experience. She really helped me with ordering the manuscript, but more than that she’s a really careful editor, and I think she understands my aesthetic sometimes better than I do. I hope I get to work with her and Typecast again at some point. But regardless, I know that we’re friends for the long haul. She really is my Weird Sister.

Note: (Typecast Publishing is an immeasurable asset to our literary scene here in Louisville, and a growing force among American small presses. You can check out their impressive catalogue here, including Lumberyard magazine #10 featuring Mary Ruefle, Maurice Manning and more)

BS: I’ve read and heard mostly the poems from Sermons, but in older and more recent journals I’ve observed that your voice has remained loud; there’s really no other way to describe it whether in print or in person. Do your see this as a product of your punk/rock n’ roll roots and/or an intrinsic personal trait?

MH: Well, okay, I get that. But I think of my more recent work, especially the post Sermons and Lectures stuff that’s been appearing here and there, as really domestic, romantic, nearly pastoral in some of its tonalities and urgency toward melody/rhapsody/narrative. In fact, if I could have my way, with my new book Debacle Debacle, I would whisper the poems to one listener at a time. Sadly, that doesn’t usually fly so well against the backdrop of espresso machines and clinking beer bottles.  It’s hard at most readings to be desperately, energetically, and personally low volume—almost no one would be able to hear the poems!—even though that’s often how I hear them in my head, and certainly the way I read them out loud to myself as I’m writing them. It’s the way I imagine someone else reading them too.

I should say also that just reading poems in a monotone is so incredibly awful to my ear that I just can’t allow myself to do it. Poems are alive. They have their own peculiar voices. At a reading I’m not trying to read them the way a reader would/should read them. That’s a thing done in the privacy of one’s mind, one’s mouth, one’s soul—if we’re lucky. Poets need to realize when they’re reading in public that they’re performing. There’s an audience in front of you, and they deserve a thing delivered, a call for their response. But also the poems deserve to be inhabited and brought to life.

That said, I always try pretty hard to create something of a dynamic range in the work—all one volume all the time gets kind of boring. With Sermons and Lectures, which takes a lot of its inspiration from punk rock and hellfire and brimstone preaching there’s certainly a lot of “loud,” but that’s contrasted with very modulated quiet passages. The final sequence “Blood Brothers and Weird Sisters” has a much different tonality than a lot of the rest of the book. It’s a denouement and a finality—a last gasp—and is the result of a kind of necessary exhaustion, a gradual fade out. It is true that often at readings I like to try and build momentum (which itself often comes with increasing the volume, either incrementally or radically)—to make poems ramp up with a fever, to press their bewildered faces against the infinite—whatever that is. I definitely think that this desire for a dynamic range in the work comes from my background in music. The “louds” I want to be really loud, but the “quiets” should be barely audible, so that people have to lean in and stop breathing.

BS: The other unique thing your poems have impressed upon me is a feeling of constant work, struggle, striving, experimentation, and change that seems to extend through absurd, metaphysical, political, and historic landscapes that are ultimately examining your own past and present. What I see more than anything in your work is a tenacious drive to examine and expose the self, to unearth and divulge your own thoughts (in this instance I’m assuming the narrator of your work is most often yourself as opposed to a generalized “the self”). Do you see poetry in general or at least your own as a mode of growth, self examination, perhaps therapy or necessary release from the pressures we all face;  an exorcism/meditation if you will?

MH: I think I believe that artists always get to the universal via the personal (which is a paraphrase of something the painter Robert Motherwell said). But I don’t think of the poems as therapy. I’m not solving mental problems; I’m blasting off with joy or being awe struck or playing (which is a very serious thing). My poems are mostly exploratory, [meaning that] they point back to the process of their making and/or are demonstrations of a particular way of paying attention (my way of paying attention)— which I hope is something recognizable to other people, something they can connect with/to [via similarities] they find between my way and their way. I want my poems to open a window in the reader/listener’s life—from me to you, from you to me, and back again, forever. In other words (with other worlds), to create and court experiences of empathy is ultimately what I’m after.  Empathy is (and this is a paraphrase of something Dean Young has said) the imaginative act of putting yourself (figuratively, metaphorically) so entirely and intensely in someone else’s shoes that you feel what they feel. For me, empathy is a kind of visceral entanglement of the self with the other—one that’s entirely based in the notion that we are a lot more similar than we are different.  But it’s also those similarities which are the basis for appreciating and celebrating difference.

Of course, first and foremost, and whatever the aims, the poems have to be the best poems—as poems—that I can make, and I try to do that any way I can. I don’t want to limit possibility. I want to delimit it. My books are all really different from each other by design, because I am always trying to find new opportunities in the language—both in its form and its content—to reach out, to shock and be shocked and get a charge from our common humanity. I’m not worried about establishing a voice. I have faith that a voice will emerge from the activity of ranging far and wide wherever my interests and attention take me.

BS: Your new book from H_NGM_N Books (“Hangman” when you say it out loud) is called Debacle, Debacle. Folks can pre-order it here, an option that’s been up for only about a week. H_NGM_N also put out your last collection, so I assume you’ve forged a good working relationship with them. Could you tell us about the new book, your experiences working with H_NGM_N and a bit about them as a publisher?

MH: Well, just to be clear, H_NGM_N did my 2010 book WOLF FACE, but Typecast put out my last collection Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless in 2012. And in between those was a collection (mainly of several chapbooks) called Light-Headed that came out from BlazeVOX in 2011. My first book, Who’s Who Vivid, came out from Slope Editions in 2006—don’t wanna step on any editorial toes here.

As for Debacle Debacle, Nate Pritts, who founded, runs, and edits H_NGM_N, is a friend of mine from grad school. We’ve kept in close touch over the years, and all that time he’s been such an incredible champion of my work. I’m really grateful to Nate for his faith and trust in my process and poems. He’s truly my brother in more ways than one. As it turns out, many of the poems in Debacle Debacle respond directly to poems of Nate’s, or to ideas that we were both thinking about and discussing at the time the poems were written—ideas about friendship and the creative process, our respective domestic situations, my dumb (and very dumbly—I won’t go into it) broken foot. It’s funny, though, those poems seem to have all been written such a long time ago—2009-10 (a few in early 11). I’m two manuscripts beyond them now, but I’m excited that the book is finally coming out. I deliberately haven’t really read them anywhere, so that I can figure out how to do that when the book is in the world as a book. I just did one of those NEXT BIG THING interviews where I talk all about Debacle Debacle—its origin story. Anyone who’s interested can see it here. I’ve really loved working with all of the editors I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. Every one of them has been terrific and insightful. There aren’t many instances, I don’t think, where you get to work with your best friends, so I feel really lucky to get to do that.

BS: Another new accomplishment/change came in the form of a visiting Assistant

Professorship this past fall at the University of Texas, Austin. I’ve never been to Austin (unfortunately!), but I’ve spent plenty of time in Cincinnati. They must be very different places. I must admit, I’m completely in the dark about both schools, though I’ve heard and read a few things about UT’s Creative Writing MFA. How did you like Austin; was it a big adjustment? Did you find more enthusiastic students at UT than the Art Academy of Cincinnati, or perhaps a larger pool of creative writing students?

MH: I loved being at UT. The city of Austin’s great, but I was so busy that I didn’t really spend much time wandering around—though I did get to see Dinosaur Jr., Pianos Become the Teeth, La Dispute, and Willie Nelson w/ Asleep at the Wheel (not all on the same night, of course). The music scene’s intense. Anyway, the big difference between what I was doing in Texas and my usual gig at the Art Academy was that at UT I was teaching grad students, which I loved, in addition to undergrads. All the students at UT were awesome, but I found the grad students in particular to be wild and bewildering with brightness and all manner of full-throttle inspiration and anxiety (which can be an artist’s best friend). I adore them all—really. They made me such a better teacher and writer. I actually wrote about 75 poems while I was there and quite a lot of prose on poetry, too. It was poetry twenty-four seven, which is really different from my normal life. I’m married (14 years!) and I have a six year old daughter. My family couldn’t come with me to Texas, so in terms of that, I didn’t have the usual (very good—and very necessary for me) distractions of family life to contend with. Thus, I got even more work done than usual, but I was also missing my home life terribly. I loved being in Austin (where I have some amazing friends, in addition to the amazing students), but it’s also really good to be back home in Cinci.

As for the Art Academy, that’s a great gig too. It’s art-college—undergraduates—so all of my students are artists, my colleagues are artists, and there’s an incredibly high degree of interplay between visual and written expression.  The whole building smells like oil paint and words.  And I have some awesome poets that never cease to up the ante and challenge me as a teacher and a poet. I’ve been teaching there now for thirteen years, and I really do love it.  

BS: Cincinnati is just a stone’s throw away, so I assume you’ve read here before (apart from the sneak peak of Sermons you laid on us at the Writer’s Block open mic in 2011). Louisville is also a music-centric town, bar town, etc… has your (I’ll venture to say) distinct brand of exuberant reading been well received here, historically?

MH: Louisville’s a really fun city—a lot like Cincinnati actually—with its river life and little neighborhoods. People in Louisville have always been really warm and welcoming to me. I’m excited to be coming back. Of course, I’m always glad to get to see Jen Woods and her husband Bill, both of whom have become great friends and collaborators (not just with Sermons, but) in various kinds of mischief over the years. For me, a reading is always a time to reconnect with old friends one already knows and also to meet new people and potentially make new friends, not only in terms of the art, but on a personal level as well. These days I like readings more for who I get to see and meet than for anything having to do with people seeing me read—though reading is an incredibly invigorating and gratifying experience. It’s fun to share the work.

BS: Poetry in general, especially performed live can be a thing of energy, and you seem to plug right into it before cranking the gain up to eleven. Are you hoping to get the Speak Social crowd riled up on the 22nd?

MH: I’ll definitely bring a good energy supply—I do hereby promise. I have lots of new poems, and I’m excited for the opportunity to see how some of them fly in the air. Can’t wait. See you on the 22nd!


Bio (from the author’s own page):

Matt Hart is the author of four books of poems, Who’s Who Vivid (Slope Editions, 2006), Wolf Face (H_NGM_N BKS, 2010), Light-Headed (BlazeVOX, 2011), and Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast Publishing, 2012), as well as several chapbooks. A fifth collection, Debacle Debacle, is forthcoming from H_NGM_N BKS in 2013. Additionally, his poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in numerous print and online journals, including Big Bell, Cincinnati Review, Coldfront, Columbia Poetry Review, H_NGM_N, Harvard Review, jubilat, Lungfull!, and Post Road, among others. His awards include a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from both the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference and the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers. A co-founder and the editor-in-chief of Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking & Light Industrial Safety, he lives in Cincinnati where he teaches at the Art Academy of Cincinnati and plays in the band TRAVEL.

Louisville & Lexington Literary Events for February, 2013


Show up early, sign-up, share your work and become part of the literary community!

(TOMORROW) Feb 12th The Kentucky Great Writer’s Series @ Carnegie Center for Literacy. David King, National Bestselling Author of “Death in the City of Light”. George Ella Lyon, National Award Winning writer of “Holding On to Zoe”. Will Lavender, New York Times & International Bestselling Author of “Dominance”. 7pm

Feb 13th Subterranean Phrases feat. performance poetry troop: “Shakespeare’s Monkey” based in Evansville, IN: “This collection of Poets, Artists, and Musicians have been creating and performing together for over 20yrs. Lead by William Sovern, curator and host of the Poet House Emporium, this group has travelled far and wide; NYC, the beats live on.” @Decca (812 e. market, Lou, KY) in the downstairs lounge 9pm.

Feb. 20th Holler Poets #57 feat. Mischa Feigin and Matthew Haughton.Open-mic sign ups (1 poem please) at 7pm, event at 8pm. @ Al’s Bar of Lexington (601 N. Limestone)

Feb 22nd Speak Social with Matt Hart and Patrick Wensink 7:30PM  @ Java Bardstown (1707 Bardstown Rd. Lou, KY) p.s. Keep your eyes peeled for my interview with Matt Hart later this week!

Feb 24th Stone Soup with Angela Burton, Leigh Anne Hornfeldt, Matthew Haughton, And Robert L. Penick.         5:30pm @ The Bard’s Town (1801 Bardstown Rd. Lou, KY)

Literary events in Louisville this week! (Beginning TODAY 1/23/13)

Hello readers!

We have several great events coming up soon:

TONIGHT 1/23, 6-9p (readings 7pm) LEO literary awards with readings from winners, a Jazz trio, cash bar, and the winning photographs will also be on display. Spalding University Egan Center 901 S. 4th st.

Tomorrow: 1/24 at 7:30pm Daniel Khalastchi and Craig Morgan Teicher will read for Sarabande’s 21c Reading Series

Friday: Speak Social @ Java Bardstown (1707 Bardstown Rd) Martha Greenwald and Dave Harrity will read from recent collections 7:30pm. Note: Java serves coffee, tea, crepes, pastries, beer and wine.

Sunday: Stone Soup lives with Jimmy Besseck now at the helm! 5:30pm at The Bards Town (1801 Bardstown Rd) Readings from Thomas Olges (short SF/horror, and poetry; I’ve been pressuring this guy to send his work out for years now!), Mary Alice Endicott and William Freeman. Note: The Bards Town serves up a delicious, diverse dinner menu, beer, wine and full-bar.

Literary updates 1/12/13 (and a reading today!)

Tonight 5pm at The Bard’s Town (1801 Bardstown rd.) join literary journal New Southerner for readings by their 2012 literary prize winners: Amy Tudor- poetry; Richard Hague- nonfiction; plus poet Wanda Fries and several short readings by runners-up (no open mic).

Speak Social is back at Java Bardstown (1707 Bardstown rd) this month on Friday the 25th at 7pm. Locals Dave Harrity and Martha Greenwald will read, four open mic spots to start.
NOTE: this event is the 25th, not the 19th as previously stated.

Jessica Farquhar on Poetry, Purdue, and Her Personal Writing Process

Poet Jessica Farquhar will read Friday at 7pm with fellow poets Ada Limón and S. Whitney Holmes for Speak Social Presents Catch Up Release Party at Java Bardstown (1707 Bardstown Rd.).

[Comic artists from this issue will not be in attendance, sorry for the mix-up]

Keep Louisville Literary: While in the Creative Writing MFA program at Purdue you served as the Assistant Director of Creative Writing. Since some readers may not know Purdue for its English dept. (although the Sycamore Review and Online Writing Lab are well known among students and writers), could you relay both a bit about the program and specifically your experiences as both a student and as Assistant Director?

Jessica Farquhar: Actually, Purdue is known internationally for its English Department. Teaching essay writing to engineering students and hanging out in the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences library were bonuses to the MFA program (Marianne Boruch playing cassette tapes of bird songs in workshop is the obvious reason anyone would want to attend Purdue–or the opportunity to visit the cadaver lab where she composed these poems). My third year, I hung out with Mary Leader weekly, talking tarot cards and handless maidens. Like a midwife she guided that manuscript baby out of me. I also got to introduce (current U.S. Poet Laureate!) Natasha Trethewey when she read at Purdue. And interview Jean Valentine. The whole of the MFA experience was serendipitous and surreal. It was like a waking dream being there, among tens of thousands of sandhill cranes and amazing writers, my peers and the faculty. As assistant director, I was a representative of the program to the community, which means I got to experience it inside and out. It also means I could go on and on and on about what a great program Purdue’s MFA is. More of what I’ve said on the topic can be found here. Third-year fictioneer Natalie van Hoose describes the experience beautifully here.

KLL: What are you pursuing now that you are home, post MFA?

JF: Pursuing: my children, book publication, the next manuscript.

KLL: Your thesis collection completed at Purdue, Through a Tunnel You Are Leaving, was a finalist this year in Sarabande Books’s Linda Bruckheimer poetry contest. Since we may assume you will be reading from this collection Friday, could you tell us a little about your direction, intention, techniques or thematic for this collection?

JF: I used many different processes to write and revise the manuscript, and the third section (of four), which is the least likely to lend itself to an oral reading, includes the most process-oriented poem, “Institute Are To,” another example of a unique experience afforded me by Purdue. It’s a long mosaic poem made of pieces of language I borrowed from a book on Lithography and that also is inspired by the process of lithography, its duplicable and handmade qualities. Mary Leader challenged me to come up with a process that could produce ten different poems from the same source–an example of what she calls the proliferative mode. She also encouraged me to spend a lot of time and energy (and space!) ordering the poems in my manuscript. Through a Tunnel You Are Leaving starts in the darkest part of the tunnel, with the handless maiden in the middle of the woods in the dark, and the journey takes off from there.

KLL: Do you prefer to regiment your writing, sitting down and “clocking-in”, or do you prefer spontaneity? Could you briefly describe your process and the places where you write?

JF: I do like to have my dedicated space at home, but rarely a dedicated time. I have my iMac and a big work surface, also yoga mats and space to practice postures and meditation. A big benefit of the MFA for me was getting to really know my writing habits and tweaking my space. I write best in the morning, if I’m going to sit down and spend some time at the computer. But I really never know when inspiration is going to hit, and the discipline for me is putting pen to paper when it does.

KLL: In conclusion, a generic favorite: whose books are currently fueling your creative fire? If this question doesn’t apply, suggest to us some compelling work you are familiar with.

JF: Mary Ruefle’s essays collected in Madness, Rack, and Honey have been fueling my creative fire for a few months now. Anything by Rachel Zucker is a go-to for me, and I’m dying to get my hands on Mary Jo Bang’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. I’ve been haunted in the best way by Nick Flynn’s memoir The Ticking is the Bomb, which I listened to over many drives between Lafayette and Louisville. I have to go now. Mitch Daniels (current Purdue President!) is on Stephen Colbert.

Jessica Farquhar holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Purdue where she was the assistant director of Creative Writing. She is a Louisville native, and current resident. Her poems have appeared in Catch Up, Word Hotel, ABZ, Transom, New Madrid, Poetry East, and Lumberyard; reviews and interviews in Sycamore Review.

Poet Sean Patrick Hill Invites Us Into His Introspection

Freelance writer, teacher at Indiana University Southeast, father and poet Sean Patrick Hill will take some time out of his busy schedule to share work from his collections of poetry Interstitial (BlazeVOX, 2011) and The Imagined Field (Paper Kite Press, 2010) as well as some forthcoming work at Speak Social Oct. 19th, 7pm (@ Java Bardstown, 1707 Bardstown Rd. Lou, KY 40205) with fellow poet Lynnell Edwards. Keep Louisville Literary sat down with Hill to discuss his poetic:

Keep Louisville Literary:    Highways surface as a recurring theme in your work, often juxtaposed with flight. Either could be said to hold connotations of freedom, or the transformation of journeys. What significance do these two forms of travel hold for you/why are they prevalent in your poems?

Sean Patrick Hill:    When I was young, it might have been true that “highways” represented freedom, but I don’t think they do anymore. To me, highways, interstates, roads in general are oppressive. Looking back over “White River Junction,” which is the long poem that ends The Imagined Field, I can see that it’s not about freedom, though it is about searching. In the case of that poem, which I wrote while driving around Vermont, it’s about looking for a job—with all the attendant philosophy the poem contains, of course: What do I do with this life? How does one live in the midst of such disparities?

The highway motif in my newer poems is equally negative. For example, the poem “Rimbaud at 40” doesn’t discuss highways at length, but it was written entirely while driving the long run to my teaching job in Elizabethtown, a two-hour commute. It’s a nasty rant I’m quite fond of. Whereas “Tannin” clearly identifies the highway with images of death, and in “Utah” the highway is equally ominous, a kind of failed searching. “Crossing Idaho,” another favorite, imagines a highway through the void itself.

I guess poems like this come from a lifetime of driving. Maybe it’s just disappointment: when I was young, I had the freedom to go, and so the “traveling” in my life was exciting, new and fresh. Now I just drive to work, to the store, and so on. But as a poet, that’s what I’m interested in now: the inability to escape the drudgery. I drive all the time but get nowhere, it seems.

KLL:   In some of your poems, such as “Tannin”, the effect of time on your own life becomes the untamed mystery of other natural forces through one or more extended metaphors. Tell us a bit about your process when writing these meditative poems.

SH:    “Tannin” was written in the fall of 2010 while under the influence of Jack Spicer, who I had only just begun to read. Spicer opened up in me a certain freedom, of language for one thing. In his lectures, he talks avidly about a poem being a “dictation,” something I’d always believed anyhow, only now I can borrow some of his terminology. I have a bad tendency to get stilted in writing, to try too hard, especially when it comes to the “lyric poem.” It’s a real nightmare. Still, as a former teacher told our class, 99% of what we write is shit. But we keep writing for that 1%.

I had also been reading a lot of Virginia Woolf: Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves. She’s the master of interior monologue, far more so to me than, say, James Joyce. Her style resonates in me. She has a sensitivity not only to language, but also to the depths of our emotional life. What she gifted me was a way to understand my own interior landscapes and to get them in words, in sentences really. I read recently, in an essay by Isaiah Berlin, that Virginia Woolf adamantly believed that “History” lies not in the doings of great historical figures but in the emotional life of ordinary people. That’s wonderful.

So to put these two influences together—and of course there were countless other influences at play—allowed me to just trust myself and let go. Now it didn’t hurt that, for a time, I was getting up very early, before the baby was awake, in order to write. Sometimes I’d be fresh from a dream, but in most cases I was just more open, and the internal critic wasn’t yet awake.  So with “Tannin,” and other poems, I just started writing, and the poem became a kind of happening. I looked out the window, saw the geese, and off I went.

Spicer believes the poem comes from outside, that it’s a message meant for us, the poets. The message comes filtered through a sort of cloud of language. The poem comes spontaneously, without our interference. To interfere with the transmission, to impose form or structure or idea or sensibility, is to kill the poem. He was against revision, though I know he revised to some extent. “Tannin” was a spontaneous gesture, not a constricted poem. It was received. It was also a gift. When I asked poet Kyle Thompson what he thought the secret was to getting a poem down, he just said it was intuitive, and he literally decreed it a Jedi mind thing. I went with that, and “Tannin” is hardly revised at all.

So I like what Szymborska said about poetry in her Nobel address; in regards to what poetry is, she simply said “I don’t know.” But you have to trust this “I don’t know,” what the French call the je ne sais quoi. Heidegger talks about poetry as a form of “unveiling,” a getting at the essence of a thing—how it happens is a mystery.

KLL:    Some of your presumably recent poems teem with images of wilderness. Can you tell us what draws your mind to memories of the American West, and alternatively, to the Kentucky wilderness?

SH:    A lot of my poems deal with the wilderness, and have for a long time. That comes from fourteen years of reading Gary Snyder and living in Oregon. It also comes from my inordinate love of American Transcendentalism—Emerson, Thoreau, all that.

At first I just wrote a lot of landscape poems. This interested me because, living in Oregon but having grown up in New York, I had no idea where I was. Different birds, different trees, different landscape, and hence a different culture that grew up out of that. I had to find a way for that culture to grow up in me, so I used my poetry to achieve that. The American West is a landscape that fits me, and Kentucky has never really achieved that passion for me. I don’t know why, though certainly it’s the fact of a flat Ohio Valley far away from any meaningful mountains. I’m used to living with peaks of at least 10,000 feet in view of my town, if not from my apartment window.

It’s challenging for me to write about Kentucky. Maybe it’s because my life has been difficult here, which takes me back to that highway motif. In Kentucky I write a lot more about urban landscapes, or even suburban. My poems contain garbage cans, rats, weeds, and especially clouds—I’m fascinated by the geography of clouds. Probably, I just want to escape into them. The struggle here has been one of trying to identify with this place. You know, I’ve only lived here three years. I was in Oregon nearly a decade-and-a-half.

So what I’ve been doing recently is working on two long poems. One I call “The Oregon Poem.” That poem is a way for me to cement that part of myself, maybe construct an interior world I can find comfort in. Maybe I just like to think about Oregon, but I suspect it’s more a case of me exploring the part of my identity that I associate with that place. Because I’m a romantic by nature, and I mean this in the sense of German and English romanticism, not to mention my long apprenticeship in American nature writing, I identify with the landscape I live in, or at least feel I belong to.

So to feel more at home, or to understand where I am, I also began writing “The Kentucky Poem.” It’s kind of thrilling, really. I find the poems are coming out spookier.

KLL:    In contrast, your works in Exquisite Corpse, Spork, and DIAGRAM seem more personal, the “I” often seeming to refer to yourself as opposed to any character. These poems are spiritual, perhaps existential and sometimes border on the metaphysical.  Tell us a bit about when and why you focus on philosophical problems.

SH:    Really, I am highly suspect of “spirituality” anymore, and I certainly do not trust the “metaphysical.” Now I loved all that when I was young, reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead and things of that nature, but I find that my more mature work has been concerned with trying to undermine those beliefs. To me, spirituality is like reading your horoscope. I don’t want to write poems like that.

The “I,” too, I’m learning to trust less and less. A lot of that comes of reading general readership books on neuroscience, which I find fascinating, and to which I can connect a lot of philosophy I’ve found meaningful, especially Lucretius or Marcus Aurelius.

Eliot talks about the “extinction of personality,” and I’m coming to understand that. To write a poem like “Tannin,” I have to let go of myself, the self that wants to control things, the self that wants answers. The metaphysical might creep in, but I’m trying to kick that habit cold. Still, some of the main things I have to work with as a poet is simply my own subjectivity and experience. I’m unfortunately self-absorbed and vain, too. So I try to subvert that by not being “confessional” anymore. Not being “self-expressive.”

Stream of consciousness is something I’ve found liberating, and that is a way to escape the personality, but of course even Jack Spicer would say that you can’t escape it totally. You have a mind, and that mind has what he called “furniture” for the creative force to arrange into art. His prescription is to read and read and read, and I certainly do that. You can write lots of poems free flowing off the top of your head but, to me, if there’s no concern, the poem becomes nonsensical, or threatens to. I think Stein’s Tender Buttons drives a lot of people nuts. It sounds great—though not as great as Stanzas in Meditation—but as an early review pointed out, there’s no deep ideas informing it. That’s not entirely true, of course, in that Stein was intensely interested in the power of language, but it does get old after a while.  I understand some people love that, but to paraphrase Sam Hamill, poetry is a mansion with many rooms, but I don’t feel the need to inhabit them all.

I read a lot of philosophy, and I want to absorb that so that my poems contain ideas, and big ones I hope. I struggle with what has come to be called “the history of ideas.” You should, as a poet, have a philosophical grounding. I think it was Stevens said that poetry is the philosopher’s art. Look at Gary Snyder: even when he’s being simple, his poems are weighted with the great concerns of humanity: family, justice, history, ecology, and so on. It’s not the meaning of life that interests me anymore, but HOW to live. I’m no longer concerned with metaphysical junk. Once you absorb the philosophy, you can write in a stream; your philosophical sense comes out in the poem—at least, that’s the furniture in my attic.

KLL:    These loftier poems also make reference to European and western histories and cultures, relating a distant past to immediate/eternal images of nature. Could you elaborate on your poetic intentions regarding these allusions?

SH:    Snyder, Eliot, and Pound all collage history to some degree. To me, Snyder does it best, or at least in a way that speaks to me: he links Chinese poetry, European history, and mythology to show that life is always life, that no matter the time, we are all humans with the same emotions, the same ambitions, capable of making the same mistakes. Which we do. This is what Nietzsche means by the “eternal recurrence.” It’s just the same shit over and over, regardless of empire or epoch. Nature is, I hope, always the eternal stage. Maybe that’s not ultimately true, for we know nature is mutable, but it has a solidity, too. It’s even dependable to a degree.

There is, too, the idea that your consciousness is a collage anyway, a patchwork; our understanding of the universe is necessarily a patchwork. We can’t grasp it all, but we can piece it together into some sort of meaning, something to keep us warm, the candle in the dark. If I make allusions to history I’m surely echoing the Modernists, and those allusions are there to show that there are constants in our human condition.

KLL:    In poems like “When This Freight Train Burns”, the reader is invited to glimpse the certainties of mortal existence between lines which contradict the certainties of nature. Do you feel that what is unstated, each reader’s own mortal fears and existential dilemmas, is evoked by your work? Or do you feel that this implied gravitas is focused on the images and immediate meanings?

SH:    I’m really just looking at my own existential condition. I’d like to think that there are similarities in our dilemmas, and there are, but I also doubt that. It’s a struggle to come to any convincing stand here. On the one hand, I contradict myself by saying I think we’re all human, and thus we have the same emotions, fears, etc. but we still have our own private experience. It’s taken me forty years to realize what Keats’ negative capability is about. There is no secret to life, much as it pains me to say. You have to hold the opposing nature of the world in mind, and in heart, without going insane—this is the bottom line of Keats’ philosophy of life, or maybe just his vision of Shakespeare’s genius. You can’t change the world. You can hardly change yourself! The new science says we’re hardwired, that we are destined for the life we lead not through karma, though there’s that, too, but simply through the notion of determinism.

So what does that have to do with my poetry? Well, that’s my “furniture.” These are the ideas that my own creative mind has to work with. You can only accept life for what it is. I’m trying to find personal wisdom, trying to “know thyself” and know that it’s impossible to do so. There’s the two opposing forces one must reconcile, and to me, the purpose of poetry, at least mine, is to seek that reconciliation, and at least to offer it to myself, if not a reader, to achieve a balance.

Additional biographic info from Sean’s blog: “Sean Patrick Hill is a recipient of an Al Smith Individual Artist Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. A freelance writer, poet, teacher and father living in Louisville, Kentucky, he is also a graduate student in the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers, studying poetry.”

Writer’s Block Is Approaching, But in the Meantime…Several Notable Lit. Events!

Writer’s Block isn’t until next week, but there are a few other great literary events going on while we wait!

TONIGHT! Oct. 2nd, Against the Grain Brewery (401 East Main Street, Louisville, KY) Open Mike at 9pm

Thursday Oct. 4th: White Squirrel zine (UofL) open-mic at Quills Coffee (327 West Cardinal Blvd Louisville, KY 40208), 7:30pm.

Saturday Oct. 6th: Keep Louisville Literary Presents: IUS Faculty Readers @ Java Bardstown with Jack Ramey, Nettie Farris, Steve Bowman, Sarah White-Thielmeier and Michael Jackman. 7pm. (Wine special courtesy of Java Brewing: $5 glasses of wine and $5 off bottles all night!)

Tuesday Oct. 9: The Word Spoken at Haymarket Whiskey Bar (331 East Market Street  Louisville, KY 40202) 8pm

(Same night) The Kentucky Great Writers series @The Carnegie Center   for Literacy and Learning (251 West Second Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40507), 7pm feat. Al Smith (Wordsmith: My Life in Journalism), Nancy Jensen (The Sisters), and Frank X Walker (Isaac Murphy: I Dedicate This Ride)

Interview with Nettie Farris, 1 of 5 IUS Faculty Members Reading Saturday @JavaBardstown!

Teacher and poet Nettie Farris will read along with fellow Indiana University Southeast faculty members Jack Ramey, Steve Bowman, Sarah White-Thielmeier, and Michael Jackman Saturday Oct. 6th @JavaBardstown (1707 Bardstown Rd. Louisville, KY 40205).  Keep Louisville Literary, organizer of said event, caught up with Ms. Farris to ask about her poetic technique, upcoming poetry chapbook (from Accents Publishing Lexington, KY), and teaching at Indiana University Southeast:

KeepLouisvilleLiterary:  Your poems often have a terse, imagist quality to them; for example, your poems in Slow Train are actually broken via lineation into component syllables. Can you elaborate on your use of this technique?

Nettie Farris:  The shortening of my lines was a pivotal transition. I submitted a packet of poems to an Axton Writing Workshop led by Susanna Sonnenberg at the University of Louisville a few years ago. At the time I was trying, unsuccessfully, to develop longer lines, because I thought I should do that—Susanna said to stop it. That was so freeing.  So then I went in the opposite direction.  My lines got shorter, and shorter, until they became sometimes a syllable in length.  My goal is to arrest the attention of the reader, slow things down, and direct attention to the smaller component. There’s so much to think about in one syllable.

KLL:  Tell us a bit about your influences, both literary and otherwise.

NF:  Initially I was a dancer. I’ve always tended to think in terms of movement. I didn’t even realize that people thought in words until the end of graduate school. Fairly recently, I began thinking in sentences, but it’s the motion of the sentence that most appeals to me. Jamaica Kinkaid writes glorious sentences.  My chapbook was partially influenced by Chopin. My son was playing a lot of Chopin on the piano before I began writing these poems, so I was hearing it. My favorite ballet, Les Sylphides, opens with a nocturne, so there’s a nocturne poem. I’m most fond of the mazurkas. The opening poem is “Mazurka”—it’s a dance.

KLL:  Though you are primarily a poet, you have also published micro-fiction. Tell us a little about these super-short stories.

NF:  They’re short and getting shorter, like my hair.  Words more often separate us rather than bring us together. Also, I think the reader should participate in the conversation. When the writer says less, the reader tends to fill in.

KLL:  You have a book forthcoming next year from Accents publishing. Tell us about that collection.

NF:  This little book was written as a collection over the course of about two months—and they’re just about a year old—so they’re still very fresh. The first poem I wrote was merely a bit of impromptu play. It wasn’t a very good poem, but I liked the form, and continued to use it again and again.  I like to find a form and exhaust it. This allows me to write more quickly and spontaneously (I begin to think in that form). The title is Communion.  The world is so fragile, and it’s only those little moments of human connection that’s keeping it from flying apart.

KLL:  Accents publishing has a very interesting format: perfect-bound chapbooks which always sell for $5. Did their unique format interest you, or was it something else about the Lexington, KY publisher?

NF:  I love the Accents format.  However, the character of Katerina Stoykova-Klemer is what makes me most comfortable. She has an incredible ethos.  Also, Accents Publishing has a red door. They’re hospitable. I feel very honored that they are publishing this collection.

KLL:  Do you plan to do any sort of reading tour to promote the book?

NF:  Invite me and I will come.

KLL:  Though they do not offer a creative writing program, Indiana University Southeast does have a supportive faculty of long-time writers who teach everything English related from literature to argumentative and technical writing. Has teaching at IUS influenced your writing?

NF:  IUS clearly values writing. Historically, IUS students have been prominent prize winners in the Metroversity Writing Contest. These students are blessed with opportunities.  They have a yearly writing contest, publications (IUS Review and the Undergraduate Research Journal), and conferences (Indiana Undergraduate Research and Indiana Women’s and Gender Studies). It’s a productive environment.

An IUS student, Jana Morgan, inspired me to write micro-fiction.  Jana’s micro-fiction is superb.  At the time that met her, I had been wondering what micro-fiction was and how it differed from prose poetry. I’ve still not figured it out. But I’m working on it.

I’ve written about works of art in the Barr Gallery housed in Knobview Hall. I’m tactile, so, I confess, I touch anything with an interesting texture and housed in a space without a security guard.

Nettie Farris’s poems have appeared in Journal of Kentucky Studies, Louisville Review, and Appalachian Heritage. She is the recipient of the 2011 Kudzu poetry prize. You can find her poems online at Slow Trains and The Single Hound, and micro-fiction at CyberSoleil. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, with her husband and three sons.