More Double Vision interviews [1.22.15] Plus Holler, Lexington on Wednesday

PYRO Gallery pairs artists and poets in Double Vision Exhibit


‘Pyro Gallery will exhibit the collaborative works of 16 of their member artists paired with 16 local poets in Double Vision, opening at the gallery, 909 E. Market, Friday January 9, 6 – 9 PM and running through February 15.

In addition to the exhibition, there will be an exhibit catalogue. A series of literary readings/ conversations between poets and artists will be held Thursday evenings January 22, 29 and February 5 at 7 PM at the gallery. And local high school and university teachers have been invited to bring their classes to visit the gallery in a hands-on experience where several of the works invite participation and ongoing dialogue about the art/poetry collaborations.

The finished works range from an installation where visitors are invited to add their own words to form new poems in a hybrid between a Shinto shrine and Native American prayer sticks, to photography, printmaking, and a large scale fabric enclosure of image and text.

“The collaboration between artists and poets is testament to the myriad ways in which people can come together through art,” said the exhibition’s curator, Jeff Skinner, PYRO member and recent winner of a Guggenheim Fellowship. “The resulting works are varied and exhilarating: witty, intense, provocative, and profound,” he added.

“Because art making is often a solitary endeavor,” said PYRO’s administrative director, Susie Harrison, “ Double Vision offered artists the opportunity to travel outside studio routines and familiar creative processes to engage in a word and image, free-form partner dance across creative art forms.”

“We hope Double Vision serves as a counter-point to our product driven culture by placing great emphasis on process and collaboration,” said Harrison. “Some pairs met and shared meals together, others took road trips. Each pair discovered and lived their own definition of collaboration.”’

Thursday January 22nd, 1pm on artxfm.com I will be chatting with these collaborative pairs.
Sean Patrick Hill/John McCarthy
Makalani Bandele /Wendy Smith
Martha Greenwald/Susie Harrison
John McCarthy is an artist, ceramic sculptor, and art educator. His sculptural pieces are hand-built and highly manipulated to create organic shapes with an emphasis on texture and subtle, naturally glazed surfaces.  McCarthy has used stoneware firings to produce one-of-a-kind compositions that are striking and durable, whether used indoors or as exterior garden sculpture.

Makalani Bandele is a Louisville, KY native. A member of the Affrilachian Poets and a Cave Canem fellow, his work is forthcoming or can be found in print or online in literary magazines and journals such as Sou’wester, Barely South Review, The New Sound, Louisville Review, The Platte Valley Review, and Prime Number Magazine. He is a 2012 and 2013 Pushcart prize nominee, Ernest Sandeen Poetry Prize and Literary LEO 1st Prize in Poetry winner. Hellfightin’, published by Willow Books in 2011, is his first full-length book of poems.


Wendi Smith, an artist and teacher has worked in both fields for over 30 years.   Her experience as a teacher of design, drawing, and painting at Bellarmine College and Indiana University Southeast has informed her own work.Primarily a painter, Smith combines painting with 3 dimensional objects to create columns, boxes and prayer wheels.  The dominant themes in her work are nature and ritual.She is a member of PYRO Gallery in Louisville, Kentucky, and her work has been exhibited in venues throughout the region, including the Midwest Museum of American Art, Elkhart, IN, the Carnegie Center,Covington, KY, The New Harmony Gallery of Contemporary Art, and the Yeiser Art Center, Paducah, KY

Martha Greenwald’s collection of poems, Other Prohibited Items, was the winner of the 2010 Mississippi Review Poetry Series.   Her work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Slate, Poetry, Best New Poets, The Sycamore Review, Shenandoah, and is forthcoming in New World Writing.  She has held a Wallace Stegner Fellowshipat Stanford and been awarded scholarships from both the Breadloaf and Sewanee Writers Conferences.  Greenwald has also held an Al Smith Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council. Works in progress include Shivah Bullies, a memoir, and Well, Bless His Heart, a collection of short fiction. She has taught in the Englissh Department at the University of Louisville since 1999.

 Over the next few weeks, PYRO will be hosting readings  as follows:

Thursday 1/22, PYRO Gallery, 7pm 

Kristen Miller, Fred Smock. William Smith, Ellyn Lichvar, David Harrity

Thursday 1/29, PYRO Gallery, 7pm 

Sarah Gorham, Lynnell Edwards, Makalani Bandele, Annette Allen, Michael Estes

Thursday 2/5, PYRO Gallery, 7pm 

Sean Patrick Hill, Martha Greenwald, Adam Day, John James, Kathryn Welsh

Also this week, in Lexington, The Holler Poets Series
2015 begins with our 80th show! Featuring the debut of open mic fave and member of The Twenty, Jaria Nicole Gordon and the return of WKU professor, Tom C Hunley, celebrating his latest, Scotch Tape World. Providing music is Denver’s experimental outsider folk artist, Stephen Molyneux. Bring some extra dollars for the holler bucket so we can gas up our performers’ vehicles. Open mic kicks it off at 8p and closes the show. See y’all there!
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Double Vision at PYRO gallery & The Kentucky Writing Workshop

This past Friday was the opening reception for Double Vision at PYRO Gallery. A group show featuring 17 Artist/Writer pairs and their collaborative work.  Almost every medium is represented from sculpture and ceramic to oil and digital collage.  Some of the writings are placed on the wall close to the visual representation, some are incorporated within the piece, in a block of text, while others are incorporated line by line or poem by poem by being draped across, tied, or affixed with a decoupage.  Over the next few weeks, PYRO will be hosting readings of the pieces as follows:

Thursday 1/22, PYRO Gallery, 7pm 

Kristen Miller, Fred Smock. William Smith, Ellyn Lichvar, David Harrity

Thursday 1/29, PYRO Gallery, 7pm 

Sarah Gorham, Lynnell Edwards, Makalani Bandele, Annette Allen, Michael Estes

Thursday 2/5, PYRO Gallery, 7pm 

Sean Patrick Hill, Martha Greenwald, Adam Day, John James, Kathryn Welsh

Keep Louisville Literary will be hosting some of these Writer/Artist pairs on the radio hour on ArtFM for an in-depth discussion about their collaborative process.

This Thursday January 15, 1pm on artxfm.com
Kay Grubola/Lynell Edwards
CJ Pressma
Jeff Skinner/Jessica Farquhr/Adam Day

Kay Polson Grubola is an artist and independent curator in Louisville, Kentucky. Creating assemblages using natural found objects, Grubola’s work is a celebration of nature. The work is also an allegory for the natural process of human life, both its ascendance and its decline. She has shown her work nationally and internationally.

Grubola was the Executive Director of Nazareth Arts, a regional arts center on the campus of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in Kentucky, as well as the Artistic Director of the Louisville Visual Art Association.  For 10 years she taught drawing and printmaking at Bellarmine University and Indiana University Southeast.

An active curator Grubola has organized many exhibitions in a wide range of topics.  Her exhibits have ranged in subject matter from original concept drawings from the design studios of GM, Chrysler and Ford muscle car era to a nationally recognized extravaganza of handmade dinnerware and exquisite table design, which wowed audiences for more than 20 years.


Lynnell Major Edwards is the author of three collections of poetry, most recentlyCovet (October, 2011), and also The Farmer’s Daughter (2003) and The Highwayman’s Wife (2007), all from Red Hen Press.  Her short fiction and book reviews have appeared most recently in Connecticut Review, American Book Review, Pleiades, New Madrid, and others. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky where, since 2010 she has been president of  Louisville Literary Arts, a non-profit literary arts organization that sponsors the monthly InKY reading series and The Writer’s Block Festival. She is also Associate Professor of English at Spalding University.  She also teaches creative writing at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and is available for readings and workshops in a variety of settings.


C.J. Pressma is a graduate of Antioch College and holds an  M.F.A. in Photography from Indiana University.  He studied as a special graduate student with Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and with Henry Holmes Smith at Indiana University.

In 1970 he founded the Center for Photographic Studies – an alternative school of creative photography.  The Center provided a learning experience for those seeking to explore photography as creative expression.  During its eight-year existence the center attracted students from over 35 states and foreign countries to its full-time resident program and provided part-time instruction and darkroom access for hundreds of students in the Louisville metropolitan area.  Its two galleries provided monthly photographic exhibits featuring the works of local, regional, and internationally acclaimed photographic artists including Ansel Adams and Minor White.

In 1978 he was awarded a National Endowment Fellowship in Photography.

In 1979 Pressma embarked on a career as a multimedia producer and marketing communications specialist. In 1984, his seven part series Witness to the Holocaust, was released in the U.S. and Canada where it remains in distribution today.  One of the first productions to use survivor interviews as the exclusive content to tell the story of the Holocaust, Witness to the Holocaust has received numerous national awards.

In 1997 he was awarded the American Advertising Federation’s prestigious Silver Medal Award for “outstanding contributions to advertising and furthering the industry’s standards, creative excellence, and responsibility in areas of social concern.”

In December,2001 Pressma was awarded a Fellowship by  the Kentucky  Arts council.

Pressma is represented by Pyro Gallery in Louisville.


Poet, playwright, and essayist Jeffrey Skinner’s most recent book (memoir, advice, humor), The 6.5 Practices of Moderately Successful Poets, was published to wide attention and acclaim, including a full page positive review in the July 19, 2012 Sunday New York Times Book Review.  His most recent collection of poems,Glaciology, was chosen in 2012 as winner in the Crab Orchard Open Poetry Competition, and will be published by Southern Illinois University press in Fall, 2013.   Skinner has published five previous collections: Late Stars (Wesleyan University Press), A Guide to Forgetting (a winner in the 1987 National Poetry series, chosen by Tess Gallagher, published by Graywolf Press), The Company of Heaven (Pitt Poetry Series), Gender Studies, (Miami University Press), and Salt Water Amnesia (Ausable Press).  He has edited two anthologies, Last Call: Poems of Alcoholism, Addiction, and Deliverance; and Passing the Word: Poets and Their Mentors.  His numerous chapbooks include Salt Mother, Animal Dad, which was chosen by C.K. Williams for the New York City Center for Book Arts Poetry Competition in 2005.  Over the years Skinner’s poems have appeared in most of the country’s  premier literary magazines, including The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, FENCE, Bomb, DoubleTake, and The Georgia, Iowa, and Paris Reviews.

Also a playwright, Skinner’s play Down Range had a successful limited run at Theatre 3 in New York City in the Spring of 2009, and will again be produced in Chicago in 2012-13.  His play Dream On had its premier production in February of 2007, by the Cardboard Box Collaborative Theatre in Philadelphia.  Other of Skinner’s plays have been finalists in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Conference competition, and winners in various play contests.

Skinner’s writing has gathered grants, fellowships, and awards from such sources as the National Endowment for the Arts (1986, & 2006), the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Howard Foundation, and the state arts agencies of Connecticut, Delaware, and Kentucky.  He has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, McDowell, Vermont Studios, and the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown.  His work has been featured numerous times on National Public Radio.  In 2002 Skinner served as Poet-in-Residence at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut.

He is President of the Board of Directors, and Editorial Consultant, for Sarabande Books, a literary publishing house he cofounded with his wife, poet Sarah Gorham.  He teaches creative writing and English at The University of Louisville.


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.

Adam Day was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky.  He received his MFA in creative writing at New York University, where he was poetry editor for the program’s national literary journal, Washington Square. His work has been published or is forthcoming in The American Poetry ReviewColumbia: A Journal of Literature and the ArtsCrab Orchard Review,Seattle Review, and others.
Thursday January 22nd, 1pm on artxfm.com
Sean Patrick Hill/John McCarthy
Makalani Bandele /Wendy Smith
Martha Greenwald/Susie Harrison
Bio’s posted in next week’s blog 

Another opportunity to workshop in Louisville is on the Horizon with The Kentucky Writing Workshop. “..A special one-day “How to Get Published” writing workshop on Friday, Feb. 6, 2015, at the Holiday Inn Louisville East.”

In addition to the instructional courses, 5 different literary agents will be in attendance taking pitches for books & novels.

All information about agents, workshops, and registration available HERE

Chuck Sambuchino will be on Keep Louisville Literary on January 29th to discuss the event.

Chuck Sambuchino (chucksambuchino.com,@chucksambuchino) of Writer’s Digest Books is the editor of Guide to Literary Agents as well as the Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market. His authored books include Formatting & Submitting Your ManuscriptCreate Your Writer Platform, which was praised by Forbes.com; andHow to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack, which was optioned for film by Sony. He oversees one of the biggest blogs in publishing (the Guide to Literary Agents Blog) as well as one of the biggest Twitter accounts in publishing (@WritersDigest). He is a freelance editor who has seen dozens of his clients get agents and/or book deals, and he has presented at almost 90 writing conferences and events over the past eight years.

Thursday 8-1 KLL Radio welcomes Sean Patrick Hill!

Thursday I’m welcoming Sean Patrick Hill to the studio. The show streams as always, 1pm on http://www.artxfm.com. Sean is the author of three books of poetry Interstitial (Blazevox, 2012), The Imagined Field (Paper Kite, 2010), and Hibernaculum (Slash Pine Press, 2013); he is also a journalist and non-fiction writer. You can read about his recent pubs and books here.

Sean read at Holler Poets last week, Speak Social last fall, Chicago, Chattanooga, Pittsburg, Raleigh, and elsewhere in the last sixth months. He’s hard-working poet, father, and educator with a profound interest in and reverence for his literary idols.

We will talk about his new book, his recent experience graduating from Warren Wilson’s MFA in creative writing, and hear poems old and new. I’ll also be announcing upcoming regional and local contests, readings, and other opportunities to get involved with literary culture in Louisville, KY and nearby!

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”