Keep Louisville Literary Radio show UPDATES!

Dear Readers,This Thursday my guest will be poet / professor Matt Hart, who’ll be discussing with us education models for creative writing, his latest book Debacle, Debacle (H_ngm_n, 2013) and his new work-in-progress Radiant Action forthcoming from Typecast Publishing here in Louisville, KY!

You can check out Matt reading “Amplifier to Defender” from Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless (Typecast, 2011) HERE

And over HERE are five poems from Radiant Action over at Hobart.

NEXT Thursday, 7-25, my guest (who was originally slated for this week) will be Adam Day, University of Kentucky educator, poet, and Louisville Literary Arts (LLA) board-member. Adam holds an MFA in creative writing from NYU, where he studied with former U.S. poet laureate Philip Levine, and coordinates the Baltic Writing Residency which now includes residencies in Scotland, and at Bernheim Forest in KY. Adam Day is the recipient of a 2010 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for Badger, Apocrypha, and is also the recipient of a 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award. He has a ton of experience and insight about the poetry world, is working on several projects, and will be chatting about all that and hopefully reading poems for us!

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Poet and WFPL Radio Personality Erin Keane on ARTxFM, 1pm Today!

(NOTE:   Keep Louisville Literary streams live on http://www.artxfm.com at 1pm Thursdays)

Hello readers,

Today I’ll welcome WFPL’s Erin Keane to the studio to discuss the show she recently produced: “Unbound: Ficiton on the Radio” in which authors like Brian Leung, Frank Bill, Silas House, Tessa Mellas, Claire Vaye Watkins and others read their stories in their own voices.

Erin is also a wonderful poet, and we will discuss her work past and present, including her new collection forthcoming from Typecast Publishing. As a preview, I’m linking this poet on poet interview we did last year. I say we because she literally turned the tables, hence the dual format. I hope you’ll tune in today to http://www.artxfm.com at 1pm to hear all about Erin’s new endeavors to Keep Louisville Literary!

Now that @KeepLouLit has international listeners

Seriously, Germans and other international people are tuning into ARTxFM! We have so many talented writers here in Louisville, and we all know language and literature are universal. So how can this blog better expose authors to the world at large? I’m researching interconnectivity in the blogosphere and more…but multiple brains are better than one. And this blog is a community, so SPEAK UP ya’ll! Comment below with thoughts, ideas, encouragement or anything else you’d care to share.

P .s. Thanks for being an active, important part of the amazing literary community sprawled throughout KY and elsewhere!

Keep Louisville Literary Goes Live!

Tomorrow at 1pm on ARTxFM.com! I’ll be airing performances by Maurice manning and Makalani Bandele, as well as an interview with Chris Mattingly, author of Scuffletown (Typecast, 2013). I’ll also read a few pieces from local authors, and announce upcoming events. Tune in for great local literary culture and some chill tunes! The show will air weekly!

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

Poet Amanda Smeltz Discusses Wine, New York, the Ambiguity of Destruction, and Her New Collection IMPERIAL BENDER

Typecast Publishing authors Amanda Smeltz, Chris Mattingly, and Matt Hart will read April 20th 7:30pm at Seidenfaden’s (1134 E Breckinridge St  Louisville, KY 40204). I guess Jen Woods couldn’t resist throwing a party here in Louisville for National Poetry Month! Smeltz’s Imperial Bender is forthcoming as a limited VAULT edition, the first run of Mattingly’s Scuffletown is due shortly, and Matt Hart’s Sermons and Lectures: Both Blank and Relentless is being reprinted in box-set (letterpressed booklets and the CD album of the same name by Matt’s band TRAVEL stuffed into a cool box). To celebrate her own book and the rest, Amanda Smeltz is coming all the way from Brooklyn, NYC to party with us!

 

Brandon Stettenbenz: As a sommelier you have to know your product intimately, down to the slightest nuance. In Imperial Bender, your poems often compare individuals to very distinct wines, and you seem to mull them over carefully, in a similar way to wine though perhaps with less professional distance. How does your profession fit with or influence your poetic?

Amanda Smeltz:  I compare people to specific wines in the book? I know there’s one poem where I liken my skin getting tan to Heiligenstein (which is a famous vineyard in Austria, it means holy rock)— but this has less to do with wine knowledge and more with my capacity for mythologizing. My profession isn’t being a somm; that’s an aspect of my day job. Thinking about wine isn’t a superpower, though of course it doesn’t suck to think sensually and emotionally as part of your job. But listen, a lot of it’s throwing around cases of booze in storage and dealing with imbecile salespeople. The Muse turned down my invite to visit the walk-in where I’m counting kegs.

BS: Speaking of spirits, this collection is boisterous, surreal at times, but also seems very personal. Some of the poems, in my opinion, read like letters to loved ones lost to death, or simply left behind. There’s an elegiac fondness working like vines through this book, like some organic network of human experience that binds crazy parties and indiscretions into a tapestry of being (as opposed to a National Lampoon movie). Could you tell us how you approached balancing your personal experience/narrative with the universal/philosophical images that delve into/aim for our “collective unconscious”?

AS: Hey, there’s plenty universal and philosophical about indiscretions! Shakespeare was more bawdy than I am, and no one pokes him about showing too much undapants.

I was fretful about a very confessional poem I was writing in grad school, one that was about as realist as they come, and a friend advised me not to be so nervous: he said the more honest we are in poems, the more others will recognize themselves in them. Through empathy, I wager. Admittedly I sometimes fear being considered an inferior intellect for my need to overtly explore my personal history, but that’s only when I’m being pathetic. I’m bound by my personal experience, even my body, but I mean to use them both to enter being beyond my own. As to how I go about doing it, I don’t understand my own methods. A lot of the poems are just frantic attempts. Rhyme I tried, and bravado, and narrative, and vivid imagery. How does any poet do it? I’m still learning. Seidel has: “I don’t remember poems I write. / I turn around and they are gone.”

I like that you said “elegiac fondness” in the same breath as “vines,” though. Couldn’t be happier to have those things said in earshot of my poems.

BS: Your poems in Imperial Bender go back and forth between allusions involving Greek mythology and romanticized modern experiences akin to the dramatically embellished beaches and pastoral places a reader might find in say, a Harlequin Romance. I found these transportations surprising, at times hilarious and at other times dead serious. I just don’t see many people hitting two very disparate ends of the literary spectrum within one collection, let alone one poem, very often. Delivering believable emotions to your reader in two modes back to back seems like an inherently difficult approach. Why did you decide to layer your work with these different allusions?

AS: Because that manner of counterpoint delights me. High and low, pah. It seems to me our notion of poetry lags way behind our notions in the visual arts. We’re comfortable there with not differentiating between high and low. I make a shitty realist, it turns out, and I can’t “correct” some of my bad taste. I populate my poems with things I delight in or am vexed by. If that’s Tupac and the book of Isaiah in the same breath, I can’t help that any.

BS: You also address people in your personal history (most notably in “Letter to Denny from Brooklyn”) as well as historical figures (ex: George the second) and poets (ex: Keats, Li Po). Besides being obviously rooted in your past and education, perhaps in your development as an artist or just personal development in general, what reasons did you have for using such specific figures? What’s their function for you, and also for your readers?

AS: I like people! I put people in my poems because they’re what I spend the bulk of my time thinking about in real life – whether alive or dead, fictive or “real…”  The people in what I write are alive to me. To employ someone from my life is strange anyway: the moment you put them in your poem, your intention of how to depict them or what they mean to you is out of your hands. It belongs to the reader immediately. Denny Smeltz may as well be John Flippin’ Keats to you. And who Keats is to me is my own goddamn business, and I intend to keep talking to and about him. Although, as regards the habit of name-checking my poet loves, the very intelligent Mark Bibbins told me I’m too much FUCK YEAH NEW YORK SCHOOL, and that’s likely true.

BS: There’s quite of bit of self-destructive behavior, which you lament, celebrate, and forgive almost simultaneously. Likewise, the destruction and mutilation of individuals, societies, and landscapes wrought by war is also present. Finally, the motif of destruction, mutilation, and change inevitable to time and human experience is implied by natural imagery (most notably in “Baby, Vivere”). Those are three quite distinct ways to address our malleable reality and growth/decline as individuals and as a species. Why did you choose such an aggressive mode to tackle this subject? Is the natural imagery intended to quell or defang the terror of war and abuse?

AS: “Lament, celebrate, and forgive almost simultaneously” – that’s very accurate. That’s close to how I encounter wrongdoing and suffering in myself and in the world. Some kinds of destruction have no redemptive aspects – rape, abuse of power, brutality. But even in the wake of horrible suffering, there’s sometimes a pasture… And some kinds of destruction aren’t evil at all; I’m not the only artist who’s made good, lucid work in a gnarly hangover. I don’t know how to talk about the ambiguity of destruction better than this. It is probably one of the reasons I write poems.

If this mode, whatever it is, seems aggressive to you, I can tell you that you aren’t the only person who’s found being with me exhausting. Being a human is intense!

For the natural imagery – no, it can’t de-fang the horror of the world. But it is still crazy beautiful here sometimes. There’s a begonia blooming outside my window right now, on my gritty industrial block. I love it, and I love the neighbors who insist on it despite their nonexistent backyard.

BS: Ok, that was a ton of literary, philosophical and craft talk. Lastly, I’d just like to share a note I wrote while reading Imperial Bender and maybe get your reaction to it: “Celebrations of the wild mundane and of modern misfits drunk on dreaming.”

AS: I’d say you’ve captured perfectly my romanticizing self-indulgence. Cheers.

BS: If you aren’t excited Louisville readers, you might want to check your pulse. Seidenfaden’s (1134 E Breckinridge St  Louisville, KY 40204) April, 20th @7:30PM: Grab your best hat, slip on your boots, get ready to laugh, hoot and holler, put a couple books and maybe some bourbon on your tab for the authors!

 

Author Bio: “Amanda Smeltz is the assistant poetry editor for Forklift, Ohio. Her interests include philosophy, history, swears and insults, bourbon and big laughter. In addition to writing, you can find Smeltz in her Brooklyn stomping ground working as a sommelier and wine director. Buy her a drink.”

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

Speak Social Presents: Matt Hart & Patrick Wensink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Bio (from the author’s own page):

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

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 on Poet Interview: Erin Keane and (yours truly) Brandon Stettenbenz

[For this one-time interview, I bow to the superior journalist skills of Ms. Keane. At her suggestion, we will take turns answering questions about ourselves and our writing. Presenting, the KLL poet-on-poet one-shot!]

Erin Keane is the author of three books, Death Defying Acts (2010), and The Gravity Soundtrack (2007) both on Word Farm and the chapbook One Hit Wonders (2006) put out by Snark Publishing. Ms. Keane is a graduate of the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, Bellarmine University and Spalding University’s low-residency MFA program. She currently covers the arts for 89.3 WFPL, and has been an active contributor to and supporter of Louisville’s local literary community for many years, including a stint as director of the InKY Reading Series. You can find links to her poetry books and journalism at her home page.

Brandon Stettenbenz (“Keep Louisville Literary” author incognito) is a graduate of Indiana University Southeast. His poems are published or are forthcoming in Straylight magazine, GlassFire, and Crack The Spine. Brandon has also published reviews and news stories in L.E.O. weekly and The Louisville Paper. He lives in the Highlands of Louisville with his partner Ariel Fischer and daylights as a Barista. He is currently applying for entry into several competitive Creative Writing MFAs and submitting his tentatively finished chapbook manuscript to potential publishers.

 

Brandon. Q: Your education and experience is well-rooted here in Louisville and the Bluegrass Region. Could you elaborate on your past experiences with Bellarmine, Spalding, Velocity, and the Louisville arts community in general? With three books and an ongoing career in journalism relating to the arts, I assume you’ve found great support and opportunities here locally.

Erin. A: I have found great support for my writing here in Louisville. The Spalding MFA program was such an important apprenticeship for me, and the lessons I learned about work ethic and the importance of grindstone over genius go to work with me every day. After I graduated, I started a personal blog to keep myself writing without the pressure of publication, which led to a gig blogging for Velocity, which led to reviewing plays for LEO, which led to a full-time arts writing job at Velocity and The Courier-Journal, where my editors were extremely supportive of my literary career. Heck, my boss ran a literary journal and small press (Five Chapters) himself. Budget cuts, lay-offs, blah blah, back to freelancing, until I was hired by Louisville Public Media back in the spring. Now I’m a full-time arts and humanities reporter for public radio and I couldn’t be happier. I’m working for an organization that’s growing and that shares my values and coverage interests, and I’m lucky to feel a great deal of support for my work from Louisville’s arts community.

The thing about Louisville that I’ve always found amazing is how willing folks are to give a new event or a new publication a chance. You don’t have to spend a lot of time defending why you’re creating a new reading series, or a new magazine, or putting out a book, and why it’s cool enough for the “right” people to care about. We’re a fairly enthusiastic community, I think, with a natural curiosity about new projects. That welcoming atmosphere can be really freeing for an artist, too. In my less confident moments, I don’t have to worry about whether I’m creating something that fits into the scene, right? That leaves my less confident moments focused on myself—what I want out of my writing, what I need to create at this moment. The best way I’ve found to handle those episodes at this point in my career is to take a long drive or a long walk—depending on the severity of the crisis—alone, to free up my mind to wander without any distraction. Discernment takes time and space and a busy working and creating life doesn’t always allow for that to happen naturally, so I’ve learned to create time and space when I need it.

Erin. Q: So that leads me to my question for you, Brandon. As a writer, how do you handle your less-confident moments?

Brandon. A: As far as creative process & confidence, I try to write whenever I get an idea and to remain as non-committal about a poem as humanly possible until I’ve had time for multiple revisions. My natural self-criticism can be overwhelming at times, but I don’t toss anything until I’ve worked it over, sometimes for weeks. This can go the other way. At times, I torment myself over pieces that just don’t work.

Quiet-space and free-time have been in short supply for me since I started writing, so it’s hard for me to find the breathing room that can be necessary for writing. I’m naturally an active person, and when I start reading a story I have to finish it. Instead of resisting my nature, I’ll often bury myself in other people’s poetry. To prevent an assumption of another writer’s voice during these reading stints I make sure to diversify what I’m reading at any given time; I generally try to keep 2-3 poetry collections or journals with me. So, for me, its finding the right types and amount of creative ballast to keep my own writing afloat. Reading poetry during open-mic segments helps. Trying to have new, strong poems every few weeks to perform keeps me from slumping too much.

Brandon Stettenbenz. Q: As a reporter on the arts and culture in our fair city, you are able to continue endorsing the arts and helping our community to grow and thrive. Please tell us about your segment/column. Who are some performers you’ve been excited about covering lately?

Erin Keane. A: I report on the city’s arts and humanities news for our daily newscast, (89.3 FM) and I also write reviews and blog posts for our website, WFPL.org. I am a theater geek at heart, and Louisville is a great city for a theater writer. Actors Theatre of Louisville is exciting to watch right now because they have a new artistic director who’s also an amazing director himself, and so things feel very energized over there, and because I don’t know all his moves yet, he’s so new, it feels like anything could happen. That’s fun for a reporter, when you can’t guess what will happen next. Smaller companies like Theatre [502], Savage Rose and Le Petomane Theatre Ensemble also do so much amazing work with not a lot of money or time. On Monday, I’m interviewing two writers—Jason Howard and Justin Torres—about their recent books, and that means it’s going to be a fun day at work.

Erin. Q: So you’ve become a player on the arts coverage scene as well, with the new Keep Louisville Literary online initiative. What made you decide to start this project? Have you learned anything about Louisville’s literary landscape that surprises you?

Brandon. A: The KLL blog is a community building concept that has been in the back of my mind for the better part of a year. The true story of why I finally pulled the trigger on it actually relates to WFPL. They had a job opening posted online for a “Web Content Editor”, or something along those lines, and although I had some editing experience and my B.A., they also required someone who could manage their social media. I realized I knew nothing of the way social media has evolved since Facebook. Avoiding excessive social media was one way I sheltered myself while zealously pursuing my undergrad. I decided then that I needed to add social media to my resume.

Another major part of the project was a realization that the few people I had met while attending InKY and other literary events over the past few years didn’t know each other very well. For example, being an IU Southeast student, I knew only one or two UofL students or grads. I attended events when I could and noticed that those who attended InKY often wouldn’t be in attendance for Sarabande Books’ reading series at 21c. As I met more people, diagrams of various groups took root in my mind, and I saw a lack of bridges between them. Everyone is very busy; I understand this whole-heartedly. While pursuing my undergrad, I worked five days a week and took five days of classes for two years straight; I only had days off in December. So perhaps no one can attend every event, but there’s no reason in our internet-age that they can’t at least have the opportunity and the motivation. Doing interviews, sharing event invites, and linking poems/stories/essays by featured readers on the blog and across social media means that most if not all of our literary community can be interested and informed across the board.

The surprising thing has been a phenomenal amount of support from everyone in our community right out of the gate. I didn’t have to convince anyone about my motivations, conviction, or sincerity, and I haven’t encountered any elitism. From the self-taught to the academics, from the up-and-coming to the well-established (none of those categories are exclusive by the way) Louisville is teeming with kind, enthusiastic, talented writers who are eager to share their work, their experience, and the spotlight. At this-year’s Writer’s Block festival, guests from near and far all had the same sentiment “you have an incredible literary scene here in Louisville!” Even more recently I’ve heard some locals saying things like “our literary community is booming” or “we’re on the verge becoming a recognized as a great place for writers and literature”. Going into this project, I hadn’t realized the extent of our community’s recent growth (thanks to Sarabande, UofL, LLA, Typecast, Stone Soup and new players like Speak Social and Subterranean Phrases) and soaring potential. I’m ecstatic to be a writer in Louisville right now!

Brandon. Q: Considering your first two books, one would assume your muse lives in the electric air of a packed night club and within the tormented lyrics and wild riffs of rock n’ roll. What transition occurred that drew you away from these inspirations and toward writing persona poems like those in Death Defying Acts

Erin. A: I do love music. I grew up in a house filled with rock and roll and my first rebellions were musical (hip hop, indie rock, things my mom didn’t care about). But music runs throughout Death-Defying Acts, too—I wrote a Book Notes (http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/archive/2010/07/book_notes_erin.html) about the different playlists I created for each character. But what I really love are subcultures, the rules and norms that a community creates and what happens when you push against them. So much interesting human material comes out of that question.

Erin. Q: What about the world around us inspires your work?

Brandon. A: Man’s indomitable will to survive. My work often goes through dark places, which I believe to be natural since we live in dark times, but I like to think that the light cast by humanity’s intrinsic fire shines through that darkness. When I’m writing about the way late-capitalism has ravaged a character, I’m also insinuating what they have lost and just as importantly, what has endured. It’s the same beautiful struggle humanity has always been fighting and losing, and also winning since our origins. The same struggle that religion is founded on, that love facilitates and sometimes conquers. We see this perseverance every day of our lives.

In more specific terms, I’m inspired by the stories of other people’s lives and of course my own. Whether told first-hand, read, or re-told, our stories reflect our will to endure. Life is a beautiful struggle, and that to me is inspiring. All artistic mediums are an attempt to relate this story, at least I believe that sincere artists attempt it, and I am influenced by those storytellers.

Brandon. Q: Death Defying Acts is written from the perspective of several carnival performers, each with their own dark secrets, tormented perspective, and sordid history. Each character is not only believable in their profession, but also complex and emotionally compelling. When and how did the inspiration for this book strike you? Could you tell us a bit about your process when researching and writing this particular collection?

Erin. A: I started writing persona poems in grad school, and my first collection is full of them. At the time, persona poems felt to me like the perfect intersection of story and character, and I loved the freedom of exploring someone else’s motivations and desires. I wrote the first poem for Death-Defying Acts as a one-off about a tattooed lady, and the next time I tried to write a poem, I ended up back in her voice. I went with it, figuring that I’d write a series in her voice, but when I started imagining her world, the voices of her co-workers started butting in, and from there it kind of bloomed into a bigger narrative. On some level, each of those four characters is a part of me, but I did do research to get the details right. I read a very instructive book on big cat taming, and I read lots on clowns and aerial training, and watched circus films like “The Greatest Show on Earth” to immerse myself in the world. I went to the circus. I drank bourbon with dissolute men. I got another tattoo.

Erin. Q: Do you research for your poems? What are you working on now?

Brandon. A: I have, in the past, absolutely buried myself in research projects of all kinds for college. But I’m bad about researching for inspiration or to seek a cohesive direction. Sometimes I think I should assume a more scholarly approach with writing, but I tend to get ideas and run with them. This hasn’t quite yielded a coherent manuscript, so far, though I’ve put together a collection that holds thematically with struggle and survival in the face of a corporate world. Much of it is, perhaps unfortunately, my own history and experience, though there are other characters. Since there’s not quite a narrative, some poems being unrelated aside from theme, I decided to make it conceptual, to embrace the chaos of my rapidly evolving, novice poetic. The collection, titled “Lineating the Cranium”, divides and categorizes said group of poems based on terms coined in the twentieth-century pseudo-science phrenology. Many of us have seen their drawings of human skulls cross-sectioned by dashed lines, even if we know little about the actual practice. Pherenologists thought that personality and behavior could be explained by physically mapping the skull, and that the size of a single area correlated to certain behavioral traits. Interestingly enough, four of the main categorizes that I used are attributed to humans and animals. The latter two, firmness and veneration, were only applied to humans. The manuscript is short and the table of contents resembles something like a textbook. I suppose the concept is an observation of the modern man’s struggle through a clinical lens. Without discounting religion or philosophy, perhaps in response to both, the collection approaches our struggle cerebrally. Whether successful or not, I can’t say, but that’s the attempt. As for my newest work, I have no clear focus, but I’m writing almost everyday.

Brandon. Q: Aside from the inspiration of experience, who are some particular authors that inspire your poetic? In what ways do they inspire you?

Erin. A : I have stolen more moves than I care to confess from Molly Peacock, Richard Cecil, Anne Sexton, Alan Michael Parker and Kim Addonizio, though I always hope that by the time I run those moves through my little sausage factory they come out assimilated into my own peculiar mess. When I’ve overspent my allowance, I go back to Eliot and Yeats. But I can’t really point to how they’ve inspired me, except to say that it’s all part of what grinds and churns up in the factory, which also includes the visual poetry of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Bill Murray’s sense of timing, the use of image in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Michael Stipe’s deep image lyric, and Wes Anderson’s world-building. What I’m reading right now: Jason Howard’s A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music, Traci Brimhall’s The Rookery, and Kelly Link’s Pretty Monsters.

Erin. Q: Who are you reading these days? Who’s really blowing the top of your head off?

Brandon. A: Timothy Donnely, Paul Guest, and Dean Young all blew me away with their last collections. M. Bartley Siegel whose book “This is What They Say” was put out this year by Typecast Publishing here in Louisville. That’s a great book, and his reading from it after Writer’s Block shook me up. He’s writing about the demise of the rust-belt and the closing of all those auto factories over the last roughly twenty years; gut-wrenching, true Americana.

I’ve also been reading more and more journals, many online, and there are literally hundreds of good writers who don’t yet have books or whose books I haven’t been able to read yet. I’m talking about journals like Diagram, Octopus, Transom, diode, Night Train, Pleiades (UCMO), Blackbird (VCU), Devil’s Lake (Wisc), Tin house, and many others. I could open up my bookmarks and drop the names of at least fifteen people I know almost nothing about whose poems I’ve read online over and over. A few: Sally Wen Mao, Rachel Marston, and J.P Dancing Bear. We also have many local writers who continue to innovate and surprise; I won’t name them because I’d feel awful to leave anyone out, but I will say that anyone reading this should go to a live reading and see for themselves. I think anyone could pick a Louisville or Lexington reading at random and be guaranteed at least one inspiring poet or poem, despite the obvious subjection of individual taste. Our regional literary community is growing exponentially every year.

Though the saturation is hard to filter and ultimately I can’t read even a fraction of what’s out there, I think this is an amazing age for poetry and writing in general. A writer may think that there’s too much competition and no opportunity, as I have lamented fleetingly in the past, but the truth is that there are many active writers starting new journals almost everyday. The tragedy, Twilight Zone style, is that we will never have enough time in our busy lives to read all of it.

Erin Keane and Brandon Stettenbenz will both read Oct. 28th at 5:30pm for the Stone Soup Series at The Bards Town (1801 Bardstown Rd.) with Ken Parks and Tish Moscow. Arrive early if you want to sign up for the open-mic; spaces are limited.

Jennifer Woods Welcomes Us Into the Unique World of Typecast Publishing

Jennifer Woods founded Louisville, KY based Typecast Publishing in 2009. She previously worked for the non-profit Louisville, KY publisher Sarabande Books as their Assistant Editor and also as Editor-in-Chief for Gannet’s Custom Publishing Division. The Lumberyard Magazine, which started the creative fire that is Typecast Publishing, has bolstered Louisville’s reputation as an artistic, hip, weird, and literary place to be through its aggressive yet playful graphic format and unique poetic content. Typecast has since become a corner stone in the foundation of our growing local literary industry and community. Keep Louisville Literary interrupted Jen Wood’s manic schedule to get some behind-the-scenes info:

Keep Louisville Literary: The Lumberyard magazine came first, if I’m not mistaken, but that project seemed to lunge head-first into Typecast Publishing. Could you relate to us your “origin story”?

Jennifer Woods: Yes, you are correct. The Lumberyard began conceptually in 2006, with our first issue appearing on the stands in 2007. Initially, the project was an excuse for me to join with my brother, a designer and letterpress artist (http://www.firecrackerpress.com), to combine our professional endeavors and see if we could make something new and fun. Back in 2006, you didn’t see the emphasis on aesthetics in literary publishing like you do today, and I just felt like poetry deserved that kind of venue. We made that issue mainly for ourselves, not really anticipating anything, but the project took off like a small wildfire, and after several years of continued growth and a positive review from Dwight Garner at The New York Times, I decided to make the leap and expand our efforts even further by forming Typecast Publishing. The magazine continues to evolve and, I’m happy to say, still delights us to make, but we also now produce books of various stripes both for our own publishing house as well as some works-for-hire for other presses who want to have the deluxe print experience but need a practiced hand to guide them through gorgeous and affordable book-making. We also house the Typecast Inspiration Institute, which hosts readings, workshops, and our online magazine, Sawmill, along with just about any idea we come up with that we think will actually inspire others as well as ourselves to continue investing in reading and writing.

Our grandfather owned a lumber supply store when we were growing up, and my father worked there with him, so every day after school the bus would drop us off at the store, and our afternoons were often spent exploring the lumber sheds, playing hide and seek in giant rolls of carpet, finding snakes in sawdust piles. All of these things influenced us in profound ways. And while neither of us picked up trades as practical and quantifiable, over the years we both found paths that morphed our fine arts careers into something less ethereal and into something more hands-on and grounded. The result has been a delicious ride reinventing the concept of what the arts can be, and so much of the creative side of what we produce now, ironically, requires the tools of our youth. We’re both very frugal, and upcycle most of what we make as a point of pride. At Typecast, unlike many indie presses, we don’t farm out any of our production to a large printing house unless we absolutely have to. We like to make things by hand that look as good, if not better, than anything you can mass produce and they still hold up in a contemporary market, not necessarily taking on that DIY feel that many crafted book projects do. I think our customers can feel the number of artisan hands that have shaped and molded The Lumberyard by the time it reaches the bookshelf. My favorite thing is when people pick one up and giant smiles spread across their faces as hands begin noticing the texture of the letterpress. They sniff them for the smell of the ink, they flip back and forth through its pages, and honestly, it’s divine to watch.

KLL: Speaking of the Lumberyard, which Typecast Publishing’s website describes as “the hottest place for swinging poetry and totally wasted design”, can you tell us about the evolution of the magazine (printed by The Firecracker Press letterpress shop in St. Louis, MO) and where it’s headed?

JW: Well, as I said, when we started out, I wasn’t sure that anyone would take to the project, so we just stuck close to what my brother and I felt like would make for a fun magazine that pushed the envelope of what poetry and design could do when forced into a relationship together. After the first five issues, we were winning design awards on the national and local levels, and so, in order to keep the magazine fresh and our readers intrigued, we felt it was important to continue challenging ourselves in terms of how the magazine is produced. We changed the format to a landscape format, which massively increased the amount of white space we had to contend with. The thinking was that this might give us new ideas of how to combine poetry and design, and allow us to chart new territory. Our final issue of 2012 will mark the end of that experiment, and in 2013 you can expect to find that The Lumberyard will change again.

We also introduced new editors and head designers this past year. Lindsey Alexander, the poetry editor at Typecast, now curates the issues, and Matty Kleinberg, who has been with Firecracker for many years now, heads up the design. At first it was terrifying to let go of control, but we knew fresh perspectives are key to growth, and these two young artists had already proven their talents in other projects, so it was a natural evolution. They have brought their own personalities into the magazine, and now I’m more excited than ever to see a new issue hit the stands. I couldn’t be more proud of what they do with the magazine.

KLL: We can tell you wear many hats for Typecast, but could you educate us about some of your major roles?

JW: Oh gosh, this is something I can’t stress enough: owning your own small business is not what you think it’s going to be. No matter what your initial projection is, the reality will be different. I’ve had to push myself and become four times the person I was before I started. In any given week, I’m an accountant, a mentor, an editor, a project manager, an events promoter, a shipping guru, a web programmer, the list goes on and on. When you have your own business, you learn to be self-reliant and creative. If you don’t know how to do something, often your only option is to learn. So I learn A LOT and all the time. It can be more exhausting than any job I’ve ever had, I won’t lie, but it’s also more rewarding than I could ever imagine. I joke that my biggest fantasy is to go back to work for someone else, but in reality, I can’t imagine how I would ever do that now that I’ve had three years of pushing through fears and hesitations, only to, for the most part, come out on top at the end of the work week.

My major role now is directing and being the honest-to-goodness president of a company. Finance is imperative, and we are a for-profit publisher, so someone has to be on top of how much capital we have and how we’re going to spend it as well as where more capital is going to come from. I’m a bona fide business lady, which is not a role I ever saw myself in when I was young. I’ve got a great poetry editor and a great fiction editor to work with, so while we collaborate on everything initially, as a collective, I’m no longer single-handedly working the business side and the editorial side. I love the editorial work, and participate as much as I can for my own fulfillment, but I also recognize that the best thing I can do now for the books is to literally take good care of the business. That old saying, “the buck stops here,” takes on new meaning when “here” is you. And ultimately, the health and success of Typecast depends on me to make good decisions not just about the book projects, but all the other mechanics that keep the lights on.

KLL: Typecast designs and assembles very unique books. Could you tell us how these unique designs happen? Does it take many sleepless nights to produce and ship your books? There’s an obvious quality vs. cost factor (Typecast does not create simple paper-back books) with your priority obviously being quality; how does an independent publisher compete in a massive, bare bones publishing industry?

JW: Well, this is our biggest trade secret, so I can’t give away all the goods. But I will tell you that, going back to the previous question, good business sense and the creativity to find new ways to make a beautiful thing is the key. Sometimes it takes us two years to finish a project, and if that’s what is required to make the best book, that’s what we do. My brother and I still collaborate on all the design and aesthetics for every project. In the beginning, these conversations were very, very hard. And intense. And not always pretty. But the books always come out better than I expected. We never throw in the towel. After several years, we’ve literally invented processes to make books, and with several trial runs under our belt, I think we’re much more efficient at the whole thing.

I can tell you that every book we produce gets intense consideration as to how it should be produced. We don’t just pick a standard size or method and execute everything one way. That doesn’t make much sense to me when every book is so unique and special. I spend a lot of time “marinating” on the manuscript, trying to figure out what kind of book it wants to be. And then my brother and I start trying to match that to actual production methods. Often it’s a twisty road lined with many failed experiments, but when the newest book arrives it always feels like, “yep, this is right.” It’s insanely gratifying, to feel that the writing and the printing are in healthy conversation with one another. It inspires me to find the energy for the next project, because who knows where we will go next!

KLL: Speaking of unique, the collection “Oil + Water” was a short anthology of poems related to petroleum consumption and the BP/Gulf Coast disaster of 2010. Packed with the book in a letter-pressed brown sleeve, post cards were included which were screen printed with facts related to oil consumption and related ecological damage. How do Typecast books become artistic endeavors? Does the importance of something like petroleum-impact awareness effect your motivation, format, or process?

JW: Oil+Water was an idea that came about during an early phase of Typecast when I was feeling very overwhelmed and, quite frankly, very scared to be on my own in business for the first time. When I’m working on something intensely, I often need white noise to stay focused, and so many of my days were filled with news of the oil spill playing in the background (I started out in newspaper, so I’m a news junkie through and through to this day). At the time, the Gulf situation felt pretty hopeless; it was clear that nobody knew how to stop the oil from spilling, and as a rabid outdoors enthusiast, it broke my heart what was happening to the Gulf. That made all my Typecast anxieties seem very petty and ridiculous. And I wanted to turn them into something positive, to use what I was building to create positive energy towards something much bigger than this new business or myself. So the idea to create a book whose profits would benefit the Gulf seemed like a logical step. I knew time was of the essence, thus I solicited several potential partners in the publishing world to help, and Holland Brown Books of Louisville, Tuesday: An Art Project (lit mag out of MA), and the Contemporary Arts Center of NOLA all stepped up to help me make it happen. I love that book and what it represents because I think the essence of it is what a great book should be. The work inside is not preachy or dogmatic in any way; its primary purpose is just to get you to think about water and oil and how they exist on planet Earth, both in nature and in modern-day life. What you do with those thoughts is up to you, and we’ve even given you postcards to express whatever that is, however you’d like, and to whomever you’d like to tell them to.

KLL: What Typecast project has you most excited at the moment?

JW: All of them! I mean that sincerely. We don’t take on projects that we don’t love from the outset. It’s that love that gets you through the tough parts that inevitably arise during production. But we have two books out next spring that I never stop thinking about. Scuffletown by Chris Mattingly, a poet from Louisville who now resides in Georgia, and Imperial Bender by Amanda Smeltz, a poet from NYC. It’s the first full-length book for both writers, but when you read the books, you’ll not believe it. I joke they are the yin and yang of 2013. One, a true southern poet, the other all NYC all the way. But both very exciting, so look for more on them in the coming months. We also got involved with the Slant Culture Theatre Festival that’s coming in November to Walden Theatre. We’re producing two shows I’m tickled to death about. One is a showcase of the young poets (13-19 years old) of Generation iSpeak, a local spoken word troupe based out of the west end of Louisville. They’ve been nationally recognized, and they are some of the most inventive and brave poets living in our hometown, but almost nobody I talk to locally has heard of them. That’s terrible if not embarrassing! So we’re giving them a stage, and you should definitely check them out. The other show is a one-hour performance from Chris Mattingly based on his upcoming book Scuffletown, which I mentioned above. If you like good southern stories, great poetry, and a big dash of charisma, you won’t want to miss his show. Finally, I’m also really excited about our Best New Stories of the South short story competition. There’s been so many great fiction voices coming from the south recently, and we’re dying to publish a great book of southern fiction. Wesley Fairman, our fantastic fiction editor for Sawmill Magazine (our free, online publication designed by Shawn Coots for great, mobile reading), is heading up the charge and submissions will open just after the new year. You can find out more about all of the above by joining us on Facebook or by visiting our website.

KLL: This summer Typecast hosted the Natural Habitat reading series at Quills Coffee on the UofL campus. Aside from former Guggenheim fellow and KY native Maurice Manning, the series also featured established and up-and-coming locals. Do you plan for this series to continue? Have any readers been selected for next year that we should be excited about?

JW: Last summer was actually our second year collaborating with Quills on a summer reading series. The first year we held them at the Bardstown Rd. location and invited writers from all over the US. This year, we really wanted to celebrate what’s great about Kentucky, as well as a new location for Quills. I adore the series, and we were lucky to have such amazing talent agree to visit our stage. Two years ago, there was maybe half the number of readings in Louisville, and almost none in the summer, which is why we decided to do something to keep the local community engaged during that time. But today, it’s clear that the number of readings are on the rise (a very wonderful development). If there’s a need for us to keep doing it, I’m sure we will, but if others are doing covering that terrain adequately, I can’t say that we will continue. We have so many events in any given year that even without a set reading series you’ll see us around town. We’re building up our partnerships with other local businesses to produce events unlike anything we’ve ever done before, and I think that’s primarily where our energies are focused for the next year. But yes, people have been asking what will happen to Natural Habitat, so if the community wants it back, we’ll be happy to give the people what they want!

KLL: Continuing with Typecast’s community involvement, you and your staff were also an integral part of the first Writer’s Block festival (along with Louisville Literary Arts, proprietors of the InKY reading series). Please tell us, if you can, a bit about that experience and other ways Typecast Publishing is involved in the literary community.

JW: Up until this year, I was on the board of LLA, and for some time we had been going round and round about this idea of producing some kind of larger, festival-like event. At the same time, there were many exciting publishing enterprises, both new and old, in and around the Louisville area and I knew if there was some kind of local print fair like you have in many other cities, it would be exciting for all of us who like to make books, magazines, zines, etc. I can be pushy as hell when I want something, so I proposed to LLA that we produce The Writer’s Block Festival as both a print fair and literary festival. LLA gave it the green light, and working with Lynnell Edwards and the rest of the board, we were able to pull off last year’s fest. It was gratifying to see it come to light, but I’ll be honest, the amount of work meant I had to sacrifice a lot of my own energy that needed to go into Typecast. I made a difficult decision to resign from the board this year, as well as the festival committee, but I’m happy to say that Typecast still donates design work and technical support for this year’s festival, and we will be among the vendors at the print fair. We’re also teaming up with Garage Bar for an after after party, to kick back with everyone at the end of a long day, as well as host the local launch of our current poetry title, This is What They Say, by M. Bartley Seigel. Seigel’s poems are songs of the rust belt through and through, and he’s coming all the way from Michigan, where he edits [PANK] magazine, in order to participate in the festival and the party at Garage. Anis Mojgani, the keynote for the year’s festival, appeared in our last issue of The Lumberyard, so I’m excited to be introducing this true powerhouse. He’ll also be on hand at the after party for folks to meet and talk with.

We’re deeply involved and committed to this region, and we never shy away from our southern roots. Despite lots of advice early on to behave to the contrary, I have found this to be one of the keys to our success. Even when I’m in NYC, folks seem excited about the level of creativity coming from this region (perhaps because their own misinformed bias about the south makes evidence of the strong arts community here a happy “discovery”). Many of the ways we’re involved I’ve already outlined, but we’ve got lots of tricks up our sleeves in the coming year, so I hope people will feel welcome to connect with us. My goal with Typecast was always to produce books not just for academia, but books that invited my people, the people I knew growing up in that lumber supply store, to engage with poetry and great books again. You can’t do that without maintaining an intimate relationship with the actual community you hope to reach. We hope any time you interact with Typecast, you leave feeling like you were served a proper dose of southern hospitality and inspiration.

Jen Woods is indeed hospitable, she even added her own hyperlinks, which saves me a ton of time. Small gestures like that and volunteering her time and expertise even when she’s already stretched thin on time and energy shows the southern stuff she’s made of. Head down to the Writer’s Block Festival Saturday Oct. 13 (@the Green Building, 732 E. Market) and check out Typecast Publishing’s table at the print fair. Jen Woods will be happy to extend you her best Kentucky welcome and sell you some completely unique, beautiful books.