An interview with Tasha Cotter. Reading tomorrow at Down One Bourbon Bar with Derek Pollard and Eric Sutherland.

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I got a chance to email interview Tasha Cotter about her writing process and her recent book of poems Some Churches.

Tasha Cotter is the author of the chapbooks That Bird Your Heart (Finishing Line Press) and Spectacular Girl (Chantepleure Press). Her first full-length collection of poetry, Some Churches, was released in 2013 with Gold Wake Press. Her work has appeared in journals such as Contrary Magazine, Country Dog Review, and Booth. You can contact Tasha at tasha dot pedigo at gmail dot com.

 

Q- On KLL, I’ve been chatting with a lot of poets about thematically structured chapbooks.   Do you feel this is a tool to generate material or is it the only way to fully explore a specific topic within the format of poetry?
 
 
I’ve authored one chapbook and I am working on edits for another: I do think chapbooks have a lot of potential in terms of exploring one theme. Generally, chapbooks are between 18 and 30 pages so it’s just enough room to explore an idea or a style. I’ve been at work on a chapbook that was inspired by the work of Mexican poet Dolores Dorantes. I’m working in a very bare, experimental style that’s a far cry from my usual narrative-driven lyrical work. And I think that 25 pages is about all I muster, so the chapbook was something I was immediately drawn to.
 
Q-How closely do you relate religion and the physicality of the church as a building?
 
Poetry has always been akin to prayer for me and in locating an emotional center for this book it became clear to me that a theme seems to be the volatility of the heart — and heartbreak. I began delving into this when putting the book together and deciding on the title. It became clear that a key poem in the book was Some Churches — it orbits around the idea of an expectation of happiness and what happens when that expectation isn’t met. I wanted to treat life experiences with reverence. Life is a precious thing. These poems operate as churches.
 
Q-Do these structures give your poems reverence?
 
I hope so. I hope people read these poems and find some amount of solace or at least feel some familiarity with the book.
 
 
Q-Are  your poems structured like the architecture of a church?
 
I don’t think so! I do kind of like this idea. 
 
 
Q-How is form related to your writing style?
I tend to write free-verse narrative poetry and I’ve always loved the prose poem. I don’t tend to write a lot of formal poetry, though I sometimes like to incorporate the sonnet form or the villanelle when exploring an idea. I tend to pay most attention to syllabics and the music in a line. Most of my poems are one page, maximum. I’ve never had much luck sustaining the energy for a longer poem, though I really admire poets who can do this, like Tracy K. Smith and Brian Turner.
 
Q-Aesthetic aside, poets are ever aware of the specific and the universal. How do you approach weaving your personal experience with broader allusions
 
Good question! I think there’s such a thing as emotional truth: a way of understanding the emotional depth of a particular experience that may have little relation to an actual past, but still manages to carry weight. I rely on this in my work and I do incorporate moments, places, and images of my own life in my work, but I always try to build something universal around it. In some ways I feel like an architect trying to envision something and see it through to its creation. Poems are their own structures — they need to stand by themselves.
 
Q-Literature is a (if not the) powerful, transportative medium, formative and informative to us all. So, what books/author’s have had your attention lately?
 
 
Lately I’ve been reading a lot of fiction. I’m currently at work on a novel and some of my favorite writers these days include Hilary Mantel and Jeanette Winterson. I’m leading a discussion on Saturday for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference on the work of poet Tracy K. Smith, so I’ve been reading a lot of her work, too. I read a little bit of everything: :literary work, chick lit, and poetry. I’ve always been interested in a little bit of everything. 
Q-Most bio’s include the writers list of educational pedigree, yours does not, what lead to this decision? Tell us a little bit more about the Lexington scene and writers that inspire you locally.
 
I graduated from UK in 2006 and knew even then that writing was important to me. My mentor was Nikky Finney and she was an inspiration to me. Lexington is such a rich, fertile place to be a writer. We have the Carnegie Center and there are local MFA programs that add to the cultural richness of the area. Over the last three years I’ve served on the board for the Kentucky Women Writers Conference and I’ve been able to meet writers I’ve admired for a long time such as Kim Addonizio, Molly Peacock, and Bonnie Jo Campbell. I earned an MFA in Creative Writing from EKU in 2010. Kentucky is home to so many writers who inspire me: Gwenda Bond, Ada Limon, and Jim Tomlinson continue to impress me.
 
Q-How do you go about choosing poems to read for a live audience?
 
In choosing poems to read I go with my gut. Generally, I try to choose two or three from my book Some Churches and read a couple of new poems. I always like to read something new — I think of it like taking the poem out for a test-drive. I want to hear the sounds of the poem. I want to see if the line-breaks are working well and of course, if people like the poem, I want to know that, too
 
You can hear Tasha read live tomorrow evening at Down One Bourbon Bar with Derek Pollard and Eric Scott Sutherland
 
Here is the Facebook event page.
 
Write on, 
Rachel Short 

 

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Jerry Deaton on KLL radio tomorrow 10/24

Jerry Deaton, author of Appalachian Ghost Stories and director of The Feuds of Bloody Breathitt, joins me tomorrow at 1pm on http://www.artxfm.com !

http://www.jerrydeaton.com

Late June lit events in Louisville and Lexington!

Tonight 6/24 Sarabande hosts poet and Ball State prof Mark Neely, as well as Iowa MFA grad Lucas Mann. 7pm at hotel 21c on w. Main Street Louisville, KY. Music by Kirby Gann and Patrick Donley to start

Wednesday 6/26th Holler poets welcomes Tasha Cotter and Sean Patrick Hill to Al’s Bar in Lexington, KY at 8pm. Open mic to start with sign ups at 7pm. Music by Cabrew

Sunday 7/30 Stone Soup will be for the first and only time an all open mic event. 12 spots 5pm (signs up at 4 or 4:30) at The Bards Town 1801 Bardstown Rd louisville, KY 40205

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.”

Holler poets’ Papa, Eric Scott Sutherland on His Baby’s 5th B-day, KY Literature, and His Forthcoming Collection “pendulum”

Eric Scott Sutherland is the creator, curator, and host of Holler Poets, a reading series held in Lexington, KY @ Al’s Bar (601 N Limestone St.) at 8pm, usually on the last Wednesday of each month. The series will celebrate its fifth anniversary at Holler 60 on May 29th with readings by Kentucky’s new poet Laureate Frank X Walker and fellow Affrilachain poet Mitchell Douglas. Musical segment by JustMe. Eric is also the author of three collections of poetry and his fourth, pendulum, is due out soon from Accents Publishing.

[Note: “regional literary scene” refers to literary happenings in Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort and surrounding areas.]

BS: Frank X Walker, our new poet laureate here in the commonwealth, is your featured reader for Holler’s fifth anniversary (May 29th). Aside from starting the Affrilachian poets and teaching, I’m sure Mr. Walker has more than earned his honors. I’m unfortunately less-than familiar with his involvement in the regional literary community…so could you perhaps tell us about the man, his work as a writer, and his contributions?

ESS:  Frank has been a tireless promoter of poetry in Kentucky and beyond our borders. His work has helped enlarge our story, adding an Affrilachian point of view to our incredible literary heritage. Frank opened the door, no, kicked it in with kindness and persistence for many to walk through. Throw in his positive presence and you have Kentucky’s first African American Poet Laureate. He’s also the youngest and so deserving of this honor. In several conversations at his historic induction ceremony in Frankfort, the consensus was that he has been doing the work of Poet Laureate for years.

Brandon Stettenbenz: Holler Poets has welcomed over 80 writers and dozens of musicians over the last five years. Man, I wish I’d heard of it sooner. Could you tell us the origin story of Holler, and perhaps a few of your favorite Holler moments?

Eric Scott Sutherland:  [In] February 2008, everybody I knew was drained of significant life force after enduring two [presidential] terms of George W. Bush, to the point of depression. The Iraq invasion had become an all out debacle and was closing in on the five year anniversary. I had been writing about the invasion and war in general for years, which in the wake of September 11th only escalated. I had marched on Washington with 200,000 other fellow human beings of all faiths and nationalities the fall of 2002, before it all began. Back home, I had performed at protest events, held signs and chanted slogans at rallies, and published a collection of poems in response, [titled] incommunicado, but somehow I [still] felt like there weren’t enough [voices] being heard. One night I was sitting in Al’s Bar, my favorite neighborhood hangout, where I have [now] been appointed, Poet Laureate, belly up to the worn bar, having some beers on a crowded rock n’ roll night. The bar was full of conversation, artists and activists and others who don’t fit into the manufactured box of modern society.  All of us [were] pioneers in [this] poor part of town: men and women of action, artists and entrepreneurs reclaiming what had been in decline for years; the abandoned communal spaces and cultural spaces. My friend Chuck Clenney and I were getting into the deep end of U.S. foreign policy and venting a desire to speak out against the runaway war machine. Chuck is a poet, as well and his work always speaks to the climate of the times. No holds barred.  We are certainly brothers in word when it came to matters of [U.S.] politics. By the time we’d finished our beers, we’d cooked up a poetry event to be held around the time of the fifth anniversary [of the U.S. invasion of Iraq]. The idea being, poets would speak out in a public forum and address our country’s role in [both] the creation of war and the maintenance of peace. It was a segment of the population we both felt was being shut out of the conversation by mainstream media. This was a way to become more actively involved. Poets for Peace was born.

We went our separate ways that evening with the idea that we’d be in touch. I left inspired and promptly began assembling names and thoughts as to how it would go down. Within a few days I had secured eight commitments (myself among them) to perform, including the [then] current Poet Laureate of Kentucky, Jane Gentry Vance. My friends Jeremy Midkiff and John Ferguson would perform as The Joybombs. When I spoke with Chuck, I told him it was all set and he was blown away by how fast it came together. He volunteered to handle the poster and we were off. Sunday evening March 30th we packed Al’s to capacity and then some. The crowd buzzed in anticipation. Folks mingled as the place became packed, adding an electric charge to the air. The stage was set for a night of catharsis, free speech and collective action for peace. Chuck Clenney, Affrilachian Poets Bianca Spriggs, Jude McPherson and Mitchell Douglas, Leatha Kendrick, George Ella Lyon, Jane Gentry and I all delivered impassioned readings of our work. The audience, in a gospel-like call and
response mood, surged with each poem and shouted out when they felt compelled to do so. It was such a special moment, to bring these writers of different pedigree together, to speak out against the war and the strange silence and complacency that had swept the nation. 

At the end of the show, Lester Miller, one of the owners of Al’s and a north side neighbor, approached me with handshakes and congratulations. He was as energized as the crowd. He told me that was the kind of thing he wanted to see happening in his bar. He also wanted to know if I was interested in doing something like this on the regular. I told him I was interested, but only monthly.  He said let me know when you come up with a date but Wednesdays would be great for us. And thus, holler was born.

As far as memorable moments, several come to mind:  Whitney Baker beginning his feature by the bar, which was loud and not paying attention.  After gathering their attention, he returned to the stage and blew the crowd away earning a rare standing ovation in the process. Maurice Manning’s second feature brought the house down. Silas House, Marianne Worthington, Daniel Martin Moore and Joan Shelley putting together a seamless hour and a half masterpiece.  Ron Whitehead’s wild rant-a-thon when he ripped the UK banner off the wall behind the stage, later licking a shot of Patron off the stage. Nikky Finney’s riveting feature six months before her National Book Award. The July 2010 Holler when there were so many literary luminaries in the audience I quipped from the stage that if the powers that be wanted to wipe out modern Kentucky literary history all they’d need to do was bomb Al’s bar.  Just a few weeks ago, Ross Gay’s amazing debut just a week after he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship.  And to be honest, each month’s show is so unique to itself that they are all memorable in their own special way.

BS: Now let’s talk about your poetry. Aside from being an outgoing, supportive literary community leader, you’re also an active writer with three books published and a forth coming soon from Accents Publishing. You also had a poem featured in Accents’ “Bigger Than They Appear” anthology, and its worth mentioning that Accents is, like your Holler series, a beacon of literature in the bluegrass. Tell us about Accents Publishing and your forthcoming collection pendulum.

ESS: Katerina Stoykova-Klemer is a dear friend; my poetic sister, if you will.  We are the same age and have brought our own unique energy to the current Kentucky literary scene. It has been a fulfilling, synergistic relationship where we support each other’s projects while raising up everyone in the community simultaneously. From Poezia to Accents the Radio show and Accents Publishing, Katerina has helped shine a wider light on the amazing powwow of talented writers in our region.  [Accents Publishing] has given voice to some of our best local poets. Her exquisite chapbooks are a steal at $5, but have helped make poetry more accessible for those who might be hesitant to purchase a book of poems for $20. I think what we both understand is that you have to develop appreciators of poetry. There are plenty of writers; we need more readers and listeners.

I am excited to have a full length collection being published by Accents.  Pendulum was inspired by my time running a café in Lexington’s Central Library. I was there for 8 years and met many memorable characters. Several of them will be immortalized in this book, though not every character in the book is an exact portrait of a real life person. I’ve also attempted to mystify the setting to keep it from being too literal. Those that know me the best will get it, but for those not familiar, they could read it and have a totally different idea of where the action unfolds in the book.

BS: You’ve also been published in more than a few journals over the past decade, including many regional journals such as Kudzu and Still: the journal (named after the late poet James Still). Your love for the land is also apparent in your poetry. Did you grow up in Appalachia? Could you tell us about your connection with Kentucky and the Appalachian region?

ESS:  I am not from Appalachia, though I do own some acreage in the Daniel Boone National Forest in Menifee County. I grew up in central Kentucky, Shelbyville to be exact. It’s not exactly Appalachia, but it is similar in a rural sense. On my grandparents farm I learned about the small wonders of nature along Rattlesnake Creek. It was this early exposure to the miracles of the woods that lead me to fall in love with Kentucky. Once I was old enough [I wanted] to move out west, like most of the people I knew, [but] I couldn’t escape the pull of this place. It was always home, a place to defend and cherish, calling me back like a Siren.

BS: I could say “I’ve seen Eric read and he’s a moving, sincere poet with a talent for conjuring the magic of Kentucky hills, valleys, and mountains” or “I’ve been to Holler, and it’s a raucous yet respectful vaudeville of poetic performance”, but I think readers want to hear your sentiments. What can we expect from your new collection, pendulum, and from the Holler fifth year anniversary event in May?

ESS: Pendulum is a departure from what I call my earth poems. Nature’s revelations recede in these poems to favor the psychological landscape of the cast who inhabit the book. I hope those who read it will be emotionally touched by each character and the stories unfolding in each poem. What happens in the dim rotunda and in its vicinity is a microcosm of the greater world, the struggle between light and darkness.

You can expect a literary celebration and a large, jubilant crowd for the fifth birthday event on May 29th.  Newly appointed Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker will be joined by fellow Affrilachian Poet Mitchell Douglas. Holler is always a monthly family reunion of writers with heaping helpings of words, but this one will be extra special.

Eric Scott Sutherland is the author of the chapbooks tall tales (1999), the psychonaut sails (2000), incommunicado (2007) and the forthcoming full length pendulum (2013). He lives, teaches, and curates/hosts the Holler Poets Series in Lexington, KY. You can find Holler Poets Series online via Facebook or his fan page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Eric-Sutherland/133556093940  and read some poems, check coming Holler dates, and keep up with Eric’s news and events at his website http://www.ericscottsutherland.com/.

Poet Chris Mattingly Talks Rural Roots and Kentucky Blues in His New Collection “Scuffletown” (Typecast Publishing, 2013)

Poet Chris Mattingly, whose new collection Scuffletown (pre-order here) is forthcoming this month from Louisville’s own Typecast Publishing, will read April 20th 7:30pm at Seidenfaden’s (1134 E Breckinridge St  Louisville, KY 40204) with fellow Typecast authors Amanda Smeltz (who’s coming down from Brooklyn, NYC just for us!) and Matt Hart— a line-up not for the faint-of-heart.

 

Brandon Stettenbenz: TYPECAST PUBLISHING (Louisville, KY) has a unique approach to publishing. They create one-of-a-kind books and assemble them by hand, ensuring that each collection has its due as an artifact worthy of ownership. Can we get any spoilers about the design, presentation, or packaging of Scuffletown?

Chris Mattingly: It’s the size of a Moleskine cahiers journal—which is what all of the poems from the book were drafted in—and the cover was letterpressed at The Firecracker Press in St. Louis.  In terms of the printing, the cover has a deep impression, some gritty noise, and nice shades of color that conjure river clay, in my mind.  The book feels good to touch.  It feels substantial.

BS: Matt Hart recently told me that Jen Woods is a “really careful editor”, and I read once that she told M. Bartley Seigel “this is going to hurt” before taking the red pen to his This is What They Say manuscript. Assuming that the recollections and ruminations in Scuffletown are hard-lived truth or nearly so, do you think developing this personal collection with an invested, supportive editor like Jen was easier or more difficult, than it would have been with a less intimate press?

CM: Easier.  The personal connection to the editor—well, to be clear, editors because Lindsey Alexander actually did the bulk of the hands-on editing with Scuffletown—was important to me as a poet and person.  To be honest, I wanted for this book to come out of this region in every way possible. This is almost [from a] political urge to grow and cultivate things—not just food—locally.  That said, I do want the book to achieve an audience larger than the local region!  This is where aesthetics comes in: For a long time, I’ve respected what Jen has done with the magazine (Lumberyard) and the work she’s done on Typecast Publishing’s previous collections of poetry.  So even though the book was created almost wholly on a local level, I believe Jen has created an audience that transcends place based on her aesthetics.

BS: Do you feel that the book ended up better because you were able to work locally with someone who, as a fellow Kentuckian, understands Scuffletown and the stories that emanate from that place (fictional perhaps in a similar way to Wendell Berry’s fictional “Port William” is an analog for his native Port Royal, KY)?

CM: Yes. Like I said, Lindsey Alexander was the editor of Scuffletown.  Lindsey, being from a Louisville family that has roots in Barren County, I fully trusted her ear.  Going back to the last question, it is important to note that we were able to cultivate trust through a personal connection based in part on both of us having deep family roots in rural Kentucky.  Also, because we were both in Louisville, we were able to sit face-to-face and talk about the book.  During these meetings, I was able to see the jubilance with which Lindsey approached the manuscript.  Seeing that joy eased any apprehension I may have had about someone putting hands on my art. For me, this trust would have been harder to achieve if I was working with a distant editor strictly through, say, email.

BS: Scuffletown contains confessions of realities beyond regret, and yet the speaker/narrator recalls his grim histories with an elegiac nostalgia. Talk a bit if you would, about the contradicting emotions that are captured so well, in my opinion, by the speaker’s raw, simply stated recollections.

CM: You’re right there is nostalgia, and that’s because it’s my childhood.  I am nostalgic about all sorts of elements of my childhood, not just the good.  I’m often equally nostalgic, or sentimental, about summer bike rides out to stripper pits as I am about sitting around the fire pit drinking whiskey with my mom after a domestic dispute.  The reason, however, is more complicated.  What I know is that in those moments, like in the poem “Bon Fire,” the mother and son connect in ways that many children never connect with their parents.  In that poem, the son becomes the parent to the mother, and in that, there is an opportunity to nurture, comfort, and even counsel the one who would traditionally be in that role.  I think there’s also something about healing and forgiveness that informs the tone you’re talking about.

BS: Getting through the collection can be difficult, not because of any tough abstractions or thick lexicon, but because of the emotional gravity involved. I have to admit, I’ve not shed tears in public for years, but as soon as I cracked the book (pg. 3) a poem titled Bonfire (mp3 here) took my knees out from under me. How would you foreword or foreworn Scuffletown to average poetry reader? To Kentuckians or others familiar with places with Scuffletown?

CM: Think of the poems in terms of the blues form.  We play the blues, we sing about hard times, sadness, and violence as a way of keeping it from having power over us.  This book is like that; it’s me singing, testifying.  I want it to be like the experience of hearing Skip James sing “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”: no matter how down-low and rough [it] seems, in the end, you feel strangely empowered, maybe even connected to the speaker’s, or your own, experience a little more.  If so, maybe the work will be validated, the experience redeemed.

BS: Level of education and manner of speech are addressed repetitively in Scuffletown, and near the end the speaker even indicates that he’s lost some part of his identity by leaving words unique to his region of origin behind. Laying judgments like “genuine” and “truth” aside, why did you decide, after college, that you would continue or return to writing in form and dialogue befitting your Kentucky heritage (as opposed to adopting non-regional standard English and traditional narrative forms or classical forms)?

CM: That’s what this project called for.  I wanted the language to insinuate place.  The themes in this book aren’t just regional, they’re American, but I think each region has a different way of understanding and dealing with those themes.  One way this shows through is the language we use.  For example, one poem ends with: “Let me beat on your for a while.”  The idea, because of who the speaker is, is that she is basically saying, “I love you” in her own language.  The line comes from an actual experience:  One day, while fiddling around in the root garden, I overheard my neighbor say, “Git over here baby girl an’ let me beat on you fur a-while.”  Because I am a sucker for a good expression, I stood up smiling while I felt the chaos of language resonate through my body.  The little girl, 4 years old, was tickled, squirmed a little and simply said: “Naw, Mamaw.”  The expression, make no mistake about it, was one of affection and tenderness.  The old woman was basically saying let me love on you with pinches, squeezes, nibblin’s and rough ticklin’.  An idea conveyed in a language that insinuated place with all its intricate familial, regional, historical, and class workings churning through my head like so many gears.  Truth-be-told, I was moved by the way her expression entangled love and violence.  And I was startled by what murked the surface of the quirky words: the brutal truth and wisdom of love’s deeply textured experience.  The way pleasure is complicated by a hurting place peppered her tongue with subjective experience that burned like bourbon in my chest as I said the words over and over later that night.  And I was startled again by the way her words evoked a place beyond the backyard in Louisville, out past the hills of her East Kentucky upbringing, and into a psychic region in a league with, say, the bullfighters, gypsy flamenco guitarists, and death infused dancers of Garcia Lorca’s duende.  Or better, Blanch was like Feste, the jester in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, who imparts real depth of understanding beneath a sheen of comical ease.  But of course, she was just talking, being her own danged self in her own danged backyard.  She was not weighing each word or measuring each syllable, calibrating lines, and synching up sounds with meaning.  She was not trying to raise a place from out of the seasoned lumber of the written word.  The way we poets do.

BS: You hold an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University here in Louisville. Would you like to tell readers who may be unfamiliar with that program about the Spalding writing/academic community?

CM: It’s a close-knit community that also is very much linked to the larger Louisville community.   I think it feels linked to the wider community because during the residency—it is a brief-residency program—many of the readings and seminars are open to the public.  As far as the instruction, it was ideal for me because it is more of an apprenticeship experience.  While workshops are the backbone of the residency, the bulk of the semester is spent one-on-one under the guidance of a master.  I worked with three different poets, one poet twice, and I always like to liken my experience to that of the young poet who’s exchanging letters with Rilke in Letters to a Young Poet.

BS: Seidenfaden’s here in Louisville is a neighborhood bar, and you’re also performing for Holler Poets at Al’s Bar in Lexington on April 17th. Do you prefer to read your poetry, rife as it is with hard luck and hard drink, in a bar as opposed to a lecture hall, classroom, gallery or other formal setting?

CM: Not really.  In a way, it seems more important to read these poems in a formal setting, but I do feel at very much home in taverns.  When I was a teenager, my mom worked in a neighborhood tavern.  I used to go in there to watch her work and listen to the stories of the people at the bar.  Also, my uncles and dad went to neighborhood taverns, so I grew up going there with them, too.  As far as Seidenfaden’s goes, on quiet nights, it’s like home: I’ve done homework there; I’ve hung out with my dad there; I was hired for a job while hanging out there; my friends and I used to spar and shadow box inside on slow nights; I’ve watched the World Series there; I’ve walked down there from the house just to unwind; And the poems do seem to ideally fit into that context.

BS: I’m betting both readings will be rowdy and raucous. You won’t wanna miss the party, dear readers! Clean out your ears and wear your stompin’ shoes. Bourbon is optional but recommended; tip your bartender(s).

Chris Mattingly is the author of Ad Hoc and a translation of Anglo-Saxon riddles A Light for Your Beacon both from Q Avenue Press. Mattingly holds an MFA from Spalding University, cultivates a great big garden, plays banjo, sometimes travels ridiculous distances for burgoo and chess pie, and is the eighth-generation Mattingly to live in Kentucky. He currently resides in south-east Georgia where he teaches at East Georgia State College

The sMarch weather isn’t so lousy, and neither are the literary events

You (and I) may have missed InKY, and Speak Social may be taking the month off, but you need not despair, there are still a few literary events still going on in and around Louisville. They will, obviously, not coincide (where avoidable) with the NCAA schedule.

TOMORROW, March 13th at 9pm. Join Rachel Short and crew in Decca’s swank stone cellar/lounge for Subterranean Phrases! This month’s reader is Thomas Olges, local teacher, poet, satirist and fiction writer. I personally guarantee evocative, weird, uncomfortably poignant satire/thematic out of this guy. He’ll be accompanied by Ryan Conroy on various instruments.

March 21. Render After Party: A Benefit for Holler Poets Series (will follow Rebecca Gayle Howell’s official release of “Render / An Apocolypse” winner of the 2012 Cleveland State University First Book Prize, selected and with a foreword by Nick Flynn, at the Carnegie Center for Literacy)
Music by Matt Duncan with guest appearances from Katerina Stoykova- Klemer, Eric Scott Sutherland, Maurice Manning, and Marianne Worthington. 9:00 p.m. | Al’s Bar, 601 North Limestone Street $5 cover & donations accepted to benefit The Holler Poets Series.

March 27th, Holler returns for its 58th installment. Tina Andry (celebrating the release of Ransom Notes from Accents Publishing), and Jeremy Paden (celebrating the release of Broken Tulips, also from Accents) will read; Chris Sullivan will play some Tunes. As always, Holler gets loud at Al’s Bar in Lexington.

Stone Soup didn’t want to compete with chocolate…I mean Jesus…so there will be no Stone Soup for Easter. In April, Jimmy will welcome Divinity Rose, Norman Buzz Minnick, and Jay Sizemore.

There are also several author signings and readings at Carmichael’s Bookstore, which I will “share” on FB.

Enjoy the Madness and the (slowly improving) weather!

Louisville & Lexington Literary Events for February, 2013

note: ALL OF THESE EVENTS INCLUDE OPEN MIC OPPORTUNITIES.

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)

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.

Exploring the Heart of Poetry with Ada Limón

Ada Limón read last friday at Java Bardstown with Jessica Farquhar and S. Whitney Holmes as part of Catch Up Magazine’s third issue release party hosted by Speak Social. Keep Louisville Literary re-connected electronically to ask Ms. Limón about her exuberance and love for the poetic craft:

Keep Louisville Literary: You’re not only a well-respected, busy poet, but also a true believer in the power of poetry (see Ada’s article in Guernica). You’ve mentioned that poems help you get through bad days, and I for one feel the same way. Why do you think poetry (especially new, experimental, or non-traditional work) remains under the public radar as compared to popular fiction? Could you share with our readers a few titles which have lately come to your rescue?

Ada Limón: I think the reason why poetry isn’t as widely read as let’s say, popular fiction, is because it’s not marketed correctly. No one knows what to think of poetry. What does it do for us? A lot of people’s initial reaction to the idea of poetry, is that it’s difficult, that they won’t “get it.”  I think that’s totally heartbreaking, but also totally understandable. No one wants to read something that makes them feel stupid, or left out, or not good enough. I certainly don’t. I think, sometimes, people have the misconception that poetry is an antiquated art form designed more to muddle meaning than to inspire or entertain us. It’s ingrained in human nature to crave stories, we want them read to us as children, to be told around the fire, we want to see ourselves, our lives in these stories, and to have a sense of both escapism and transformation. People don’t know that poetry can do that, because they have the preconceived notion that poems take a tremendous amount of work to even comprehend, let alone be moved by.

But the truth is, good poems, poems that have a sense of truth and play and yes, even a sense of story, can take us outside ourselves, transport us, and leave us changed (for the better)…and they can do all this in a brief period of 3-7 minutes. How awesome is that? If I told you that you could take 7 minutes a day to read a piece of writing that would let you feel something real, connect you to the world, and give you a deeper meaning of your own life, wouldn’t you want to do it? Good poems, in my opinion, say one thing, and one thing well. They say, “Me too.” We all need someone to say that to us. Your heart is broken? Me too. You’re poor and unhappy, but you want to go on? Me too. You feel alone when people are all around? Me too. That “Me too,” aspect of poetry is incredibly powerful; it’s the engine of empathy that we need so much. So, in my opinion, poetry needs a new slogan, something that will change what people think of poetry.

And as writers, we need to make sure we’re talking to the reader. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you’re a poet that writes poems just for yourself, that’s great, but then don’t be upset if people don’t understand them or feel shut out by them. If you want poems that sound great, but don’t necessarily have a lot of narrative meaning, that’s awesome, but they better sound amazing, so the music rises above the need for clarity. If you want poems to connect to people, if you want poetry to become more popular, that’s part of your job as a poet writing today, that’s part of your contract with the work.

And lastly, I think the other problem is that people believe poetry lives on the page. It doesn’t. It may exist on the page, but that’s not where the life is. The life of a poem is in the mouth. Pick up a poem or Google one, or whatever, and read it out loud. That’s when you’ll see the skeleton really start to dance.  Often times, poetry is marketed or viewed as something precious, beautiful, and elitist. But really, poetry is meant to be read in whispers in dark bars and read in open fields; it’s meant to turn you on; it’s meant to break your heart when you need it, and heal it when you need it. It’s something you need to read out loud to yourself, to your friends, to your lover, to your dog. It’s real and human and full of the biggest stories of all: the rich messy stories of the human heart. In some ways, poetry is the more obvious choice, even the easier choice, for an occasional reader. Want to read something that resonates deeply, transports you, and makes you feel something real…all in the time it takes to find the remote control stuffed in between the couch cushions? Read poetry!

Here are a few of my current go-to poems (there are SO many, I’m just listing the ones on my desktop at the moment).

This one. Especially after Sandy. “Thanks,” W.S. Merwin: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20492

This one. For heartbreak. For life. “Faint Music,” Robert Hass: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178697

This one. For joy. “To Be Alive,” Gregory Orr: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audioitem/381

This one. For America. For race. For fathers. “Enlightenment,” Natasha Trethewey: http://poems.com/poem.php?date=15623

This one. For nature. For the moon. For mothers. “Facts About the Moon,” Dorriane Laux: http://poemsoutloud.net/audio/archive/laux_reads_facts_about_the_moon/

This one. For fathers. For sons. For work. “In Colorado, My Father Stacked and Scoured Dishes,” Eduardo C. Corral: http://poems.com/poem.php?date=15442

This one. For words. “Vocabulary,” Jason Schneiderman: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/23178

This one. For New York. For grace. “New York Poem,” Terrance Hayes: http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/295/3320

KLL: Your first two books, both published in 2006, won prizes in 2005. Can I embarrass you for a moment to ask about that experience? It must have been an exciting year.

Ada: It was a terribly exciting year. Let’s see if I can remember any of it? It was early March 2006 that Lucky Wreck was officially in my hands. I opened my first copy hiding in the kitchen of an event studio in Chelsea, while I was working for Martha Stewart. (I was the Event Manager at Martha Stewart Omnimedia at the time.) I couldn’t believe the book really existed…that it was mine, and in my hands.  My manuscript was chosen by Jean Valentine as the winner of the Autumn House Poetry Prize; they just did a remarkable job with that book. I still remember the phone call I received from Michael Simms at my office; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was sure he’d gotten the wrong number. So, Lucky Wreck came out in March of 2006, and then only a few months later, I got the call that This Big Fake World was chosen by Frank X. Gaspar as the winner of the Pearl Poetry Prize. It was surreal. I still laugh that the awesome people I worked with at Martha Stewart must have thought that it was easy as pie to get a poetry book published since they watched me get two accepted within six months of each other. This Big Fake World was in my hands by December 2006. It was also the year I turned 30. Everything was changing…but also nothing at all. I felt this huge sense of validation as an artist, but I also still had to make rent, pay my student loans, break up with my boyfriend at the time, and learn to be a real breathing human in the world. All the big hard stuff was still there, but at least I felt like my work was out in the world; that’s a tremendously good feeling.

KLL: Follow up question— collections of any length can take quite some time to complete. Did you have a particularly productive and inspired year or were these collections both either in progress or collecting digital dust for some time before the awards?

Ada: The manuscripts for both Lucky Wreck and This Big Fake World were both circulating at the same time, that’s true, but they’re very different books. Lucky Wreck is a lyrical narrative collection focusing on autobiographical (and hopefully universal) events, while This Big Fake World is a story in verse and is entirely fictional. Lucky Wreck was a manuscript that came together over time and was a collection of poems spanning many years (I think only two poems in the book are from my graduate thesis), while, This Big Fake World was written during a seven month period while I was unemployed and was desperately looking for a life that was not my own. So, even though they were written around the same time, they were very different projects and in some ways I don’t think they ever overlapped. I never thought they’d both come out around the same time. I used to call, Lucky Wreck my girl, and This Big Fake World my boy, based on which readers seemed to relate to the books the most. I suppose Sharks in the Rivers is my spirit animal. The next book will be my heathen heart.

KLL: Reading the swath of your work that is available online, I notice that you can write very direct poems with beautiful emotional themes and steady metaphors, and also abstract, visceral and emotional assaulting poems. Both styles seem to come naturally for you; they read fluidly and feel sincere. For those poets and readers who may have trouble navigating styles, breaking out of their comfort zone, or only understand certain types of poems, could you please talk about your personal poetic, shifting between styles, and perhaps tell us about those things which you feel all good poems have in common?

Ada: First of all, thank you. I love to play with different forms and different styles of poetry. I feel like different times, different emotions, different subjects, all inherently call for different styles. Sometimes I crave the tension of a form, or the freedom of free verse, or the long line or the short line, but whatever poem I’m working on, I’m trying to get to some sort of truth. Not the literal truth, but something that rings true. We don’t say something “rings factual,” I mean truth in the way something sparkles and sings. I look for that in the poems that I love, that sense of something vibrating, opening, the original song.

KLL: You currently split your time between California, Kentucky, and New York. Could you elaborate on the differences between your three homes, or perhaps how your life as a writer changes with each location (i.e. does each place inspire your differently, or do you do different work in each place)?

Ada: Kentucky is currently our primary home, an apartment out in the country, with great neighbors, a fake fireplace, and places to hike and walk right outside the door. I have a home office where I write a great deal, do freelance marketing work, and spend many hours scheming up ways to make a living and make some decent art. It’s quiet and calm and a very homey home with cheap meals in the slow cooker and our sweet little loony dog wandering back and forth. I’m working on my fourth book of poems here now and revising my novel. The place we have in Sonoma was leant to us by our generous friends who wanted to help me work on my first novel (which is very close to being finished and is set in the Sonoma Valley). It’s a very special place and it’s where I first experienced what it was to write full time. It’s in my hometown and I feel deeply connected to the landscape and the people there. New York is my adopted hometown. I moved there when I was 23 and lived there for 12 years. Most of my coming of age was done broke and in Brooklyn. It’s where I wrote my first three books and where I worked with amazing people in the magazine industry. In many ways, it still feels like home. Currently, my heart is really hurting for those affected by Hurricane Sandy right now. The destruction the storm caused was really horrible, and it’s going to take a long time for the city to get back on track, but if any city can take a punch and come back swinging, it’s NYC.  All three of my places are very important to me, but primarily I’m happy if I’ve got my love, my dog, and my books.

KLL: We usually end with the “who are you reading” go-to, but since that was covered more or less at the start, I’ll ask this: did you bring books to sell at the Catch  Up party, and can readers find your work in Louisville or Lexington bookstores?

Ada: Thanks so much for this interview! Yes, I sold all the books I brought to the reading. And I’ve been told that Sharks in the Rivers is on the shelves in Carmichael’s in Louisville, and at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington. All three books are fairly easy for your local bookstore to order, or you can always get them on Amazon, or directly from the publishers. I’m thinking of setting up a Paypal account for the holidays so you can order signed books from me online. We shall see. Also, I’m teaching a rare online course this winter at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. I think it’s going to be a really great class; there’s only 15 slots so sign up here if you’d like to join us. Thanks again!

ADA LIMÓN received her Master of Fine Arts in Poetry at New York University where she studied with the current U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine among others. Limón has received fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and was awarded the Chicago Literary Award for Poetry. Her first collection of poetry, Lucky Wreck (Autumn House Press, 2006), was the winner of the 2005 Autumn House Poetry Prize. She is also the author of This Big Fake World (Pearl Editions, 2006), winner of the 2005 Pearl Poetry Prize, and Sharks in the Rivers (Milkweed Editions, 2010). She is currently working on a book of essays, a novel, and a new collection of poems. She works as a freelance writer and splits her time between Lexington, Kentucky and Sonoma, California (with a great deal of New York in between).