Thursday, July 28, 2011

An Interview with Paul Lisicky

Ryan Holden interviews Paul Lisicky about his forthcoming book, Unbuilt Projects (Four Way Books, 2012):

The title of the collection seems to offer an ironic take on how some might perceive flash fiction pieces. Was this a conscious gesture on your part? Did the title become apparent as you were working on the individual pieces in the collection?

The title was a happy accident. I was at a museum in Miami; there was a show for a prominent midcentury architect, and I saw the title “unbuilt projects” below some renderings on the wall. It seemed fascinating and poignant to me that the architect’s best buildings were never realized. (I wrote about one of those in the piece “Modernism.”) The metaphor stood for so many things relevant to my book--not just the form, but the mind of the mother, who’s in the process of losing her memory. I liked the way that title talked back to Famous Builder, my second book. The pieces in that manuscript are fuller, more narrative, while any number of the Unbuilt Projects pieces play with disjunction, leap, gap, tone shifts. You might say the unbuilt.

Some of the pieces, especially “Mothers in the Trees,” reminded me of the way myths were presented in some of my childhood books. How did you cultivate that mythic feel in your stories? How strong is the influence of fable in your collection? Were there particular mythologies (or individual stories) that had strongest influence?

I’d never let the mythic element into my previous books, but you can feel it try to nudge its way in. Just about all the pieces were written during the time of my mother’s last illness; dementia tore up everything I thought I knew about narrative, truth, character, identity. The mythic seemed to be truer to how I experienced consciousness then. I wasn’t a big reader as a young kid, so I can’t attribute that impulse to being influenced by any specific narratives. But I remember being taken with pictures of animals, plants, trees, water, turbulent weather. The cover of the book is actually taken from my favorite childhood picture book.

Many of the pieces include a relationship between mother and son that draws upon the array of emotions churning between them throughout their lifetimes. It is tempting to read the mother and son as the same throughout the collection. Would that be reading too much into it? Or was that a guiding intention?

In one sense, the mother and the son are the same from piece to piece. They have the same bodies, same faces, similar speech patterns. In another sense, they're not the same, especially when the mother's interior reality shifts from minute to minute. That sense of flux can't help but shape the speaker's sense of himself, and the ground he walks on. Can the book have it both ways? I hope so.

This collection often undercuts nostalgia. How much focus did you put on the perspective shift between childhood and adulthood as you were working?

The speaker's sense of time is fluid; childhood and adulthood aren't exactly distinct from one another. The past infiltrates the present and the present anticipates the future. Time is all mixed up; it's shadowed, impure. The book is wary of a nostalgic point of view, because nostalgia thinks of the past as something containable, separate, inevitably preferable to the present. The idealization of the past strikes the speaker as troublesome. It prevents us from seeing the world in front of us, ahead of us.

There’s a good mix of humorous stories and stories that take a more serious position; they are interspersed throughout the book. How did you decide on the order of your collection? How do the humorous stories inform the more serious pieces and vice versa?

I’m glad to hear that you think some of the stories are funny. I’m not sure I’m the best judge as to which pieces are humorous and which aren’t. I often think my funniest lines are heard as stark and grave when I give a reading. Then people will laugh and laugh when I think I’m being deadly serious. Humor is such a subjective thing--who knows what it is?--but I always take it as a compliment when people respond physically to my work. I think of laughter as recognition, assent. As to the structure of the manuscript, I want the pieces to form an extended conversation. It’s often the case that the piece following the piece in question will contradict the argument of the original piece, and I think there’s something inherently funny about that.

* * *

RYAN HOLDEN received his MFA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. His poems have been recently published in Country Dog Review, ditch, and Ampersand Review. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011 by the Hobble Creek Review.

PAUL LISICKY is the author of Lawnboy, Famous Builder, and the forthcoming books The Burning House (2011) and Unbuilt Projects (2012). His work has appeared in Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, StoryQuarterly, The Seattle Review, Five Points, Subtropics, Gulf Coast, and many other anthologies and magazines. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he’s the recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the James Michener/Copernicus Society, the Henfield Foundation, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, where he was twice a fellow. He lives in New York City and Springs, New York, and has taught in the graduate writing programs at Cornell University, Rutgers-Newark, and Sarah Lawrence College. He currently teaches at NYU.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On the Other Side, Blue Reviewed in SF Chronicle

Review by Stephen Burt

If you want a more extroverted new poet, one closer to memoir than to photography, try Collier Nogues' debut, On the Other Side, Blue (Four Way; 66 pages; $15.95). Most of Nogues' pages react to the death of her mother; most of the rest speak to or about other people - extended family, failed romantic partners ("The Greyhound Bus Break-Up"), a friend's deceased father, "Cousin Charles," and the man who would become her husband (they're engaged by the end of the book). Nogues covers familiar landmarks of modern mourning: the hospital, the funeral, the awkward, belated scattering of ashes. But her poems, sentence by sentence, are much stranger, hence truer, than summary implies: She shows us quirks, ironies, bits that we cannot expect.

Sometimes she does it with simple observation: "Lawn chairs in the shallows, parked there, almost lap-deep;/ their aluminum legs filled with water, so the sand is rocking them." Sometimes she does it with a shocking slogan, as in "Portrait of Your Grandmother With Alzheimer's" "The past// won't kill itself, the present has to snap its neck/ and you are the present's emissary." Her love life, too, invites sour ironies: "we're dating, which means another month of asking if we're having fun." "Long Weekend," addressed to an old friend, begins with two shocks: "No one loves me like your mother, now my mother's gone./ A beer an hour ought to hold me."

Nogues' life, her quips and declarations say, has been good to her, and good for her, and yet the deaths around her once made all of it faintly bitter, and faintly absurd. Nogues (who teaches at UC Irvine) gets her effects from her syntax and tone, not from sound; her long-lined, halting poetry never quite sings. It offers, instead, sentences and memories you might share with a hard-to-please friend, reflections you may also, someday, need.

Read more here.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Bloomsbury Review: In a Beautiful Country

In a Beautiful Country, by Kevin Prufer

Kevin Prufer is one of our best poets from the younger generation who still believe in the pure power of the lyric, the rhythm, and the force of the voice. His poetry sheers the top off any fancy notions of restless form to reveal simply what is crucial in poetic experiences where language sings off the page. Poems such as “Transparent Cities,” “Little Paper Sacrifice,” and “In a Beautiful Country” speak to an audience who understands what great poetry does. This is one of the best books of 2011:Kevin Prufer’s poems dwell in a world that spins off into many dimensions where writer and reader meet in the magic of poetry.

--The Bloomsbury Review, Vol 31/Issue 1, 2011

Hayden's Ferry Review: The Nervous Filaments by David Dodd Lee

Book Review: The Nervous Filaments by David Dodd Lee
Review by Debrah Lechner

Who needs Vermeer?

All that standing around in filtered light with no job.

A hundred days later

egg salad with pepper on white bread

These are the first lines of “Wildlife,” one of the poems in David Dodd Lee’s The Nervous Filaments. Who hasn’t known, or been, the individual described in these few spare lines? Lee’s view of personal relationships is not in any aspect sentimental, but it can be melancholy and tender, as in these lines from “Romantic.”

and the weather inside you

the graham crackers the blue jay flips and eats

after all that’s your head in the window

looking out

through rain
through snow

lonely lonely

One of the new jobs we have is dating

In the intelligence, wit, and urgent imagery that David Dodd Lee employs, there is a great deal of pure sensory impact to enjoy, but the portraiture and meditation on what human relationships mean, their transitory nature and permanent impact, is what stands out for me. Very few writers capture that moment where the ephemeral moment and the perpetual experience meet, and that packs a wallop of an emotional blow, however carefully the tone is kept objective, even removed and wry. Perhaps it’s all the more powerful for that. Again, from “Romantic:”

driving with Kim

the way the flakes dimpled
the surface of the cups of our hot chocolate

they shredded the moon again she said about the falling snow

David Dodd Lee is the author of six books of poetry, and is also a fiction writer. He is the publisher of Half Moon Bay chapbooks. Many of his poems can be found online, and your copy of The Nervous Filaments can be found on Amazon here, as well as with other vendors.

Observable Readings: September 6 featuring Debra Allbery and Stephanie Schlaifer

Poets Debra Allbery and Stephanie Schlaifer Usher In 2011-2012 Observable Readings Series on Sept. 6 at the Schlafly Bottleworks

Debra Allbery grew up halfway between Lancaster, OH, where she was born, and Athens, OH, where there's the University, in a town called Enterprise, which just happens to be a very Sherwood Anderson territory-Enterprise was the basis of his novel Winesburg, Ohio. Schooled at Denison University and the College of Wooster, Allbery received her MFA from the University of Iowa, where she studied with Larry Levis, and did further graduate work at the University of Virginia, connecting there with Charles Wright. In 1989 she was the Discovery/The Nation winner, and she won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize for her first book, Walking Distance (1991). She's also the recipient of two NEA fellowships, two fellowships from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, and a Hawthornden fellowship. She's been a writer-in-residence at Phillips Exeter Academy, Interlochen Arts Academy, and a teacher at Dickinson College and the University of Michigan. Now the director of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she lives near Asheville, NC. Her second book, just out from Four Way Books, is Fimbul-Winter.

Surely it was Levis who contributed to Allbery's extraordinarily rich sense of the pastoral, as a literary mode, a mode of "this space which is like | room for error" (italics in the original). In the spaces of abrupt shift, of discontinuity, in the ballad's narrative point of view, in the American song's spaces of allegorical excitement, when we're not sure if it's Arthurian England or a construction site, Debra Allbery has found her Walking Distance, a buzz in which the aspects of desire or recognition are caught out, electric. She has had the sense from the first to go into her sources, whether these are Sherwood Anderson's Enterprise, OH, or Levis' rootless demimonde of all-but abandoned public spaces. In Fimbul-Winter, it is again the rootless "weird" of that space opened in the poem between image, music, and lyric choice. This is Allbery's world, and while it finds itself on native literary grounds, it also discovers something uncanny in that world's other-the author's own experience, and suffering.

Stephanie Schlaifer, originally from Atlanta, GA, works in St. Louis as an artist and freelance editor. She holds a BFA in sculpture and BA in English literature from Washington University in St. Louis (1999) and an MFA in poetry from the Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa (2003). Schlaifer's poems are informed by travel, and by social class. She is interested in the way that the cut-in landscape, in the body, and in familial position-shapes the lyric, ironically positioned narrative voice with affiliations in painting, photography, and children's verse.

As editor-designer of Delmar, she was responsible for its eleventh, and last, issue. Her own work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Verse, Chicago Review, Colorado Review, Sugar House Review, and Fence, among other journals. A manuscript, Clarkson St. Polaroids, was a semi-finalist for the Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prize from The University of Wisconsin Press, and a finalist for the 2010 Beatrice Hawley Award from Alice James Books. Schlaifer is a combative Boggler and a compulsive baker; it is rumored that two men once arm-wrestled each other to death for the last slice of her pecan pie. She is currently working on a book of poems about historical weather events and a collection of children's books in verse.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rumpus reviews TORN

Even More Taboo Than Love

C. Dale Young uses this third book to address injustices, the divisions caused by pain, prejudice, and a fractured spirit.

I have been trying to pinpoint exactly what made me so much more alert and yes, affectionate towards C. Dale Young’s third book, Torn, and its charms, compared to his first two books. I have always thought of him as an accomplished and intelligent writer (full disclosure: AND I’ve been reading his blog for years, not just his poetry,) but the tone and language of this third book seemed more welcoming to me – more casual, relaxed, looser somehow. The sense of humor is dark, perhaps, but prominent throughout the collection that is at the same time serious in its subjects and intents. His meditations on his Catholic faith and his training in medicine are especially interesting. The title poem, “Torn,” the last in the book, a familiar enough story of violence that Young examines from the viewpoint of caretaker of both the victim and the criminal, is worth the cost of admission all by itself. When I heard the poem out loud, I felt I had been punched in the chest. In a good way. [...] Read more here!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In a Beautiful Country Reviewed in the California Journal of Poetics

Reviewed by M. Zobel.

Kevin Prufer’s fifth collection of poetry, In a Beautiful Country, depicts a startling landscape that is eroded by war, violence, grief, and alienation. Prufer populates this landscape with a variety of voices–a merciless God, a grieving son, a war veteran, and speakers alternately buried alive and witnessing decay. The wide vocal and thematic scope of this collection speak to Prufer’s breadth of vision, something he addresses directly in the poem “Distant Strangers” when he urges the reader, “Take a catalog, if you’d like, / though the color reproductions / can’t quite capture / the scope of my enormous project.” The enormity of his project does not startle the reader as much as the moments when Prufer transforms familiar images into unsettling starkness. In his country of charred trees, falling angels, missiles and bombs, and perpetual snowstorms, “boys idle in pick-ups / while a spring rain dots their windshields / with a million tiny bombs.” Over the course of the book, the poems themselves become the angels that “crashed through the trees, / so the yard was a scatter / of bent, failing bodies.”

At the center of Prufer’s honest observation of contemporary American society lies the image of falling, a motion both literal and figurative ...

Book Trailer for Sarah Gorham's Forthcoming BAD DAUGHTER

Friday, July 15, 2011

Review of TORN in NY Times Book Review

NYTBR by Jeff Gordinier:

Young’s poems are so fierce and serrated. Like William Carlos Williams, Young is both a poet and a doctor. Those two practices converge with harrowing force in the title poem, “Torn,” an emergency-room account of a young man who’s been beaten and knifed in a gay-bashing incident:

". . . I sat there
for over an hour closing the wound so that each edge
met its opposing match. I wanted him
to be beautiful again."

The poem takes a striking turn at the end, a turn that hints at the kind of hard insight Young surely has access to through his medical work. You can’t help wishing for more of that — and for more of the friction between religion and erotic longing that you find in a poem like “Nature."

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Review of TORN in r.kv.r.y.

In TORN, C. Dale Young’s most recent book of poetry, he continues to explore the themes of human frailty, both physical and spiritual, of love and passion, and of tenderness and cruelty.

The poems in this collection beautifully express the irony of the human craving for precision and accuracy—particularly in the field of medicine and in the realm of love—and the unfortunate and inherent fallibility of both. Often Young employs repetition of a word or a phrase, guiding the reader toward understanding by modifying the context each time the word or phrase appears. This repetition also serves to deliver a sense of urgency to the cadence of the poem and the meaning of the whole.