Monday, October 31, 2011

An Interview with Rose McLarney

An Interview with Rose McLarney
by Justin Bigos

Justin Bigos: Rose, there are many things to admire in your forthcoming, first book of poems, The Always Broken Plates of Mountains. The book contains voices, and yet I sense a voice; stories, and yet I sense a story. You have a poem titled “Ars Poetica,” and another titled “Poet,”but there are many poems in this collection that could stand for the whole, the way a leaf of a fern looks like a fern. It’s a big question, but can you talk a bit about how you see these poems speaking to each other? And how did that help you arrange them into the pages of a book?

Rose McLarney: These are my ambitions for The Always Broken Plates of Mountains: A cast of speakers, like a chorus, express the thoughts of people who share a rural background and landscape. The landscape is more than the physical setting in the Appalachian mountains—it’s an atmosphere created by weaving together stories of both personal and larger cultural loss. The poems are not only about romantic love, but perhaps more significantly, about faithfulness to place. Though the perspective in this sequence varies, the poems are united by a characteristic voice. The voices are alike in that they are understated and musical, with tendencies to defer and deflect, as were the voices around me as I grew up. The voices are also united because they speak of love and loss, experiences that are so utterly un-unique that perhaps the only way they can be interesting is to use them as points of commonality.

At least that’s what I hope happens in the book. A significant time for me as a writer was a morning when I was shuffling through my many poems and began to think that they weren’t necessarily redundant because they addressed the same themes, or necessarily at odds because their speakers were different, but that they could work together. Now, reading and writing poems in series and sequences is a kind of acknowledgment that, though poetry can look so concise and definitive, you can’t express a thing well enough all that quickly or easily. Or I can’t. Sequences give me a chance to make the admission that I may never articulate what I want to completely, yet show my continuing best efforts.

Of course, while series allow me to try out different iterations of an idea, they are also limiting. A number of the poems I write just wouldn’t fit in this book. (For instance, some of my greatest pleasures are rather exotic cooking and experimental music and those subjects have no home in The Always Broken Plates of Mountains.) I’m well into working on my second book and, for it, I am trying to write distinctly different poems about another country, another continent, from another point of view, and there will be poems that won’t find company in this collection either.

In answer to your question about how the poems are arranged in the book, they are grouped by and progress through an arc of tones (though nothing as neat as a plot triangle). My intention was for the book to feel as if it resolved—even if the resolution at which it arrives is a message about disappearing, keeping quiet, being still. (Those may be some of the predominant messages I got from mountain culture. I don’t want to romanticize it. Of course, that instruction in humility may have also prepared me to inhabit personas.)

JB: I admire the various qualities of imagery in the book. In your poem “At the Mountain State Fair,” you write, “Rides are lighting up the night,/ shaking people and making them shriek.” The imagery resides in the music of the lines: the long i sounds in the first line, which rises in pitch—suddenly shaken by the long a and sh-sounds and jerky rhythm in the second line. You’ve managed to create the sense of a roller coaster in only two lines. In another poem you write the indelible image of bridesmaids climbing a silo to line “the steel tower/ with fuchsia, powder pink, red, and orange satin.” The image is striking in its colorful juxtaposition. How do poems let you know if they require different qualities of image? Are you mostly listening to the lines or seeing what they summon?

RM: My ideas tend to originate from images. Every night, I make myself write one image from the day in a notebook. The notebook is in no way a journal—you could read it and have absolutely no ideas of the events that had occurred. But the notes give me something to search through for commonalities, and allow me to start poems from a concrete, grounded source.

Only after I’ve got a sense of what I want the poem to say do I let sound drive it. I don’t turn to sound as a source until later because, as much as I am drawn to music, I understand it less and coherence and clarity are big concerns of mine. Yet, sound is essential—and I’m appreciative that you noted it in your analysis—because it is often what lets writing achieve some sort of transcendence, something I didn’t expect, and it is what can save my poems from being overly rational arguments or simplistic equations of image and meaning.

JB: One of the recurring concerns in the book is story. Story is often associated with the South, and your poems both embrace and toy with that association. In your poem, “They Said It Was Too Late,” you write of meeting a man “who told the kind of stories/ I wanted to hear.” In “Jubilation, Then,” the speaker says, “Once, stories . . . were like explosions of elderberries.” And in “Disclaimer,” the speaker mentions a place called “Lover’s Leap,” named for a Cherokee girl who killed herself out of love, but actually is just a place where “a coon hunter” fell over—and lived. The final stanza of the poem: “and you can see why they tell the story/ the way they do,/ and why I prefer their stories.” While the poems embrace story, as it is connected to place, the speakers seem to understand that story is ultimately a fiction, a work of art—and therefore to be savored. How much is your book a defense of story, in the Southern tradition—if it is such, and if there is such—and how much of this is just Rose McLarney being Rose McLarney?

RM: While I value the way poetry can stay in a moment and I have never been particularly interested in what happens—in events, in action, in change, in leaving—I am interested in story in the sense that I am interested in how the manner of telling makes the meaning. We all know that eyewitness accounts are not dependable evidence, that any two people’s memories of events and exchanges differ. So, whether it’s about a region or a relationship, when you choose to tell a story with nostalgia or condescension or another tone, you are making the history it will survive as longer than whatever the actuality was. If you can stand the story-teller role, there’s a way in which what you know well never is really lost.

The poem you mentioned earlier, my “Ars Poetica,” is not literally my story, which should give you an idea of how thoroughly I take advantage of personas. The speaker’s rarely Rose McLarney. I’m not all that fascinating and I worry about being liked too much. That’s why I am constantly espousing the idea to my students that what could really be most liberating in writing poems is not confessing their autobiographical secrets but becoming someone else.

Perhaps even worse than that for my students, if they misapply my writing advice to their personal lives, is my suggestion that there are truths truer than the truth. To elaborate on what any fiction writer knows: While the chalk mine in “Ars Poetica” might have been a couple counties away from the school I attended, or a man’s diction was not quite so refined, if it is the image of that stripped mountain or the summation of his words that best and most economically illustrates what I want the reader to register, isn’t the altered version the more accurate?

All that said, the poems are representative of, emblematic of, and indebted to direct experience of the landscape and culture in which I live.


Read the rest of the interview here!

C. Dale Young's TORN in the Bellevue Literary Review

Poetry and Medicine:
Reviewed by Jason Schneiderman

C. Dale Young [...] takes his time. A reader might be forgiven for thinking that a man who practices radiation oncology full time while teaching poetry in a graduate program, and working as poetry editor of the New England Review would be rushed. However, each of his stories unfolds slowly, and while he may loop back to adjust a detail, his narratives move resolutely forward. The main subject of the book is the loss of faith—in the Church, in love, in the body, in America, in mentors. The book is about how to move forward in the face of betrayed trust. What saves Young is his sense of awe. He asks to see the branching scars of a man hit by lightning out of intrigue, not medical necessity. Young embraces tenderness in the absence of faith, a quality he meditates about beautifully:

Tenderness? How do you
define that? I define it this way: the care to address
another’s concerns with the same exacting care one expects
for himself. And this is dark. It has always been dark. (58)

Young’s vision is bodily. He knows that to open the body is to find blood and guts. He can never lose the knowledge of what we are made of.

It may mark me as naïve, but I found the racism of his training shocking. In one poem, a doctor quizzes him “in plain sight, in front of all the nurses, the residents, / the interns, the clerks, the other students. She wanted / you to answer incorrectly, wanted to shame you” (70). But even after he passes the test, her cruelty trumps his success:

she announced to everyone that you were the best
minority student she had ever had. And you took it.
You wanted to be like a duck, to let it all wash off of you.

But even in that praise, there was venom. Even in praise,
she found a way to shame you, single you out. And you hid
behind correct answers. But now you must make it personal.(71)

For Young, there is a sense that poetry is a form of redemption, which he needs more than ever, now that salvation is off limits. Poetry replaces faith, for it too can bring structure to a chaotic world in need of order and meaning.

In a sequence of poems about religion, Young addresses God as both visceral and intimate, calling to mind Carl Phillips or Jack Gilbert. In one poem, Young finds himself sinking into a sea of men, in violation of Catholic edict, but also because of it. In Young’s sense of sin, one feels that “formal feeling” of baroque sorrow that points backward to frenzied pleasure.

… In every man, God
had placed himself. In every man, I sought

to touch that God. Silly, I know. Silly.
What I wanted then was to break God’s heart—
I wanted him to snap my neck, break my back. (35-36)

The thrill of Young’s work (paradoxically) is that it takes place in slow motion. The collision is set in motion early in the poem, and inexorably, the impact approaches. The endings of his poems are devastating precisely because they have been coming for so long. He makes us wait, but always delivers. As he says of God: “He lifts me up/ to remind me of my foolish fear of heights” (38).

Poetry has never exactly been the province of the happy. Since the advent of writing, the poet has been a malcontent, a surly outsider wondering why things can’t go her way. Sappho may be the Queen of Lesbia, but she still can’t make that girl love her. James Merrill may have been born with a silver spoon the size of an oar, but he still can’t reassemble the jigsaw of his broken home. So it ought not to be surprising that the poetry of these healers would express such frustration with the medical establishment. But it is surprising to realize how consistent their complaints are about the arrogance of doctors, of the cruelty in placing the profession before the patient, of the need for humility when our culture can only value boasting.

In the title poem “Torn,” Young’s attending sends him to “stitch up the faggot”—and though “told to spend less than 20 minutes, I sat there / for over an hour closing the wound so that each edge / met its opposing match” (85). In the end, what it is needed is time; what is needed is kindness; what is needed is skill.


Jason Schneiderman is the author of the poetry collections Sublimation Point and Striking Surface.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Donate to the Asian American Writers Workshop Project on Kickstarter to Win a Private Workshop with Monica Youn!

Support PAGE TURNER: Asian American Literary Festival on October 29, 2011 and choose from a collection of rewards that highlight the breadth and depth of Asian American talent. Among other prizes offered to donors, you can win a 1-hour private poetry workshop with Ignatz author (Four Way Books, 2010) and National Book Award Finalist Monica Youn!

Click here to read more about the project or to donate. And don't forget to come by the Asian American Writers Workshop on Friday, November 4 at 7pm to hear Monica read with fellow Four Way Books authors Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan and Brooklyn Poet Laureate Tina Chang! 110-112 W. 27th Street, Sixth Floor (buzzer 600), $5 Suggested Donation

Monica Youn, the author of Ignatz (Four Way Books, 2010) and Barter (Graywolf, 2003), lives in New York, where she is an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, focusing on election law issues. Her political commentary has appeared in Slate, Roll Call, and The Huffington Post. She has taught creative writing at Columbia University and Pratt Institute. For her work on Ignatz, she has been awarded the Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, and residencies from the MacDowell Colony, the Corporation of Yaddo, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

"It's No Contest" - New Four Way Books Submission Opportunity for Emerging NYC Poets

Dear New York City Emerging Poets (5 borroughs):

Please consider submitting your first or second poetry collection to us through our new "It's No Contest" Program.

We will read your manuscript with a mind to selecting it for publication until December 15, 2011.

FWB editors hope to find one or more manuscripts to publish between fall 2012-2013.
Your manuscript should be comprised of 40-80 pages of text.
Please include a cover page with your name and contact info. You must live in NYC.
You may also include an acknowledgments page and a bio if you'd like.
The manuscript should be emailed to until December 15, 2011.
Please email your manuscript in word, rtf, or as a pdf. IF we cannot open it, we will get in touch with you.

This is a new opportunity for emerging NYC poets and we hope to continue the program.
Stay in touch with FWB for future developments through our website, emails, Facebook, and Twitter.

The Courier Journal Reviews BAD DAUGHTER by Sarah Gorham

by Dominic Russ

Disarming as it is honest, Bad Daughter — like the unruly child the title suggests — refuses to stay seated as it makes a mess of the dinner table. With pluck and tenderness, Sarah Gorham’s fourth collection of poems pulls back the veneer of American family life and feels out the complicated layers of satisfaction and disappointment hidden within the procreative imperatives that drive one generation into the next. Parents who lovingly watch their sons and daughters become parents of their own, inevitably stand vis-à-vis with their own posterity as they contemplate the faces of their children and grandchildren, no matter how adorably plump their cheeks may be. Likewise, despite the best intentions, the birth of every child launches each parent into unknown trajectories of love and despair, of fear and comfort. The traits we loathe in ourselves often find reincarnation in our onetime darlings, leading mom and dad to relive their childhoods through the lens of their children and re-evaluate the adults they’ve become. Though this often makes us more keen (and perhaps forgiving of our parents’ faults), ultimately the child the parent once led into the world leads them out of it.

From poem to poem, Gorham’s latest collection deftly assumes multiple perspectives as it tackles life as a parent, child, wife and grandmother. True, critics often avoid point of view in the lingo we apply to poetry, but it’s precisely her employment of point of view that allows this collection to permeate generations and peek into every room of the household. From the lulling, nursery-rhyme cadences of “Our House” to the phone call tandem of “Passeggiata” that traces the growing estrangement between a mother and a daughter away at school, the author carves out a full family spectrum. Fathers and husbands work their way in too, as the narrator of “Dusk” discovers revitalization in an aging marriage with these touching lines:

“We touch each other’s faces in the dark
the reason floats up slow —
why we married so long ago.”

Though unflinching and astute in her observation of family dynamics, Gorham never misses the opportunity to make us laugh. Yes, nature can be cruel with all kinds of hazards and accidents — some as charming as the evasions of a child to escape blame for a needle stuck in her foot, others leading to the surgeon’s table after a crash on a country road — but still the author reminds us to keep our humor as she slips the occasional laugh-out-loud jab. Lines like: “When we were bad, we were extravagant / Like cruise ships through a canal” and “Memory is a ditzy court reporter” chuckle alongside such playful interrogations as “Is it progress if a cannibal uses a fork?” and the more cryptic “What is progress but a deer chased through the forest / by Slovakian curses?”

Perhaps the most arresting feature of this collection arrives through Gorham’s uncanny ability to match the physical to the psychological through an exact appropriation of unforgettable details. In Bad Daughter these correlatives achieve a sort of sentient clarity as the author somehow sneaks the ephemeral into the tangible, the transcendental into the concrete: the blossom of a small girl’s hair sinking into a bath tightens into a mother’s and daughter’s teeth that match up like a zipper; the way a grandmother must slake her appetite to procreate (a newborn — the author reminds us — is a drug) upon something equally large and impassive, such as the Jungfrau peak in the Alps.

In the end, Bad Daughter manages to guide the reader through the ambiguities of family life, leaving us fuller and wiser when all the pages have been turned and we return to our own households.

Gorham lives in Louisville with her husband, author Jeff Skinner, and is the editor-in-chief of Sarabande Books.

The Common Issue 2 Launch - ft. Daniel Tobin, Katia Kapovich, Philip Nikolayev and Jennifer Acker

10/28/2011 @ 7:00 pm

Join three stellar poets and Editor Jennifer Acker as they launch the second issue of local literary magazine The Common. Dedicated to highlighting short stories, poetry and essays with a strong sense of place, The Common serves as a local mixing-ground for ideas. Their second issue features work by Daniel Tobin, Katia Kapovich, Philip Nikolayev, Major Jackson, Ilan Stavans, and more.

279 Harvard Street
Coolidge Corner
Brookline, Massachusetts
United States

BEAR, DIAMONDS AND CRANE by Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan is the October Selection of The Rumpus Poetry Book Club

Why I Chose Bear, Diamonds and Crane

Rumpus Poetry Club Board Member Camille T. Dungy on why she chose Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s Bear, Diamonds and Crane as the October selection of The Rumpus Poetry Book Club:

Out of the deepest
wound, a new bloom, black ink on
beige flower petals.

“The Gift of Inheritance”

The long and the short of it: That’s why I chose Bear, Diamonds and Crane.

I appreciate the moments of distillation in Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s latest book.[1] The poems tell stories of displacement and connection. They reach deep into history but feel very much of the now. They tell incredibly personal stories, but they reveal the communal connections between her own experiences and so many others’.[2] There are poems about war between nations, between neighbors, within families, within the self. There are poems in which women fight their own bodies, using food, drugs, denial to protest the realities of their own flesh.[3] There are haiku, and lists, and fat chunky columns of text over two pages long.[4] Kageyama-Ramakrishnan moves from the misty world of poetic nuance to the direct confrontation of dramatic narrative and just as quickly back again.[5] The constant disorientation and reorientation is part of the wonder of this book. [6] Out of her deepest wounds, poems.[7]


[1] I also like the way she’s not afraid to stretch into ideas, and how she lingers on one loss for a while, as if she knows that the totality of loss can’t be confined to one meditation.

[2] I am particularly interested in the ways that Kageyama-Ramakrishnan made the disclosure of Japanese, Japanese-American, and Indian cultural histories part of the fabric of her poems. The texture of so many of the pieces depends on descriptions of lives fully lived. The cultural and historical details I’ve just mentioned are as much a part of the descriptions of these lives as are her sensory details: her colors, her tastes, her sounds.

[3] Then there are the poems of desperate desire to hold onto the body. Poems that confront the terrible consequences of a body fighting itself.

[4] It is as if the poems are formally working against the confines of the body. As if they are warring with themselves and each other to decide what sort of body would best hold the poet/spirit.

[5] Frequently, her thoughts seem to overflow beyond the confines of the poems. The notes section of Bear, Diamonds and Crane grows into an integral part of the book. In reading it, I sense even more the enormity of history and emotion Kageyama-Ramakrishnan is tackling in these poems.

[6] That connotative pun was not originally intended, but I will keep it now that it is written because it seems of a piece with the concerns of this book.

[7] We who read the poems experience both direct and indirect reenactments of the processes by which she came to bear these wounds.

OF GODS & STRANGERS by Tina Chang Reviewed in Publishers Weekly

Of Gods & Strangers
Tina Chang. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (100p) ISBN 978-1-935536-17-8

Chang’s high-intensity second collection tracks her needs, desires, and disappointments and her quest to fit them into a trans-Pacific history: one notable series sets her inner life beside that of the Empress Dowager, the last imperial ruler of China, who died in 1908. The dowager poems, scattered throughout the book, sometimes portray the poet as empress, or create a study in contrasts between two household roles, two nations, two intricate webs of needs: “How the past/ holds onto us with its short leash/ and yelping,” Chang writes; “existence is a small/ lit match hurled toward you./ You dodge it and smell smoke.” Chang’s portrayals of modern life tend toward bright colors, strong statements, and can be cartoonish: “An urge for urgency, my soul hangs like a puppet,/ knocks between my lungs, bends to the song of the sister/ peach tree: Love me when all the ripe clusters drop.” Chang sets poems in postearthquake Haiti, in Sri Lanka after civil war. Traveling, reading the news, Chang’s persona also goes out to the clubs. Yet what stands out most are her looks back at history: “The Empress Dowager Contemplates Her Lineage,” “The Empress Dreams After a Poisoned Meal.” (Oct.)

BAD DAUGHTER by Sarah Gorham Reviewed in Publishers Weekly

Bad Daughter
Sarah Gorham. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (84p) ISBN 978-1-935536-16-1

The clear-eyed poems of Sarabande Books publisher Gorham’s fourth collection of poems charts the sometimes transcendent, sometimes terrifying, often uneasy spaces that open between mothers and daughters who then become mothers themselves. “The baby is a drug, for she makes us hungry and delirious,” opens one poem that celebrates the at-times intoxicating bliss of motherhood, while another insists on a sort of opposite: “When your daughter matures, the tree must be sacrificed./ A phoenix will alight there/ only when the queen steps down.// You must step down.” The ingenious “Scaffold for a Sonnet” makes a mighty leap between the soft, clean-your-room scolding of “Your clothes/ spread across the floor.// Good citizens—/hang them/ by their shoulders” and “a rose/ fastened/ to a lattice// arrests the sun.” More quotidian connections join a mother and her grown daughter: “There’s always the mail. And the cell phone, like a human cobweb.” Finally, it’s the daughter who leads the mother deeper into these poems, which can also inhabit a dream space that only the bond between a parent and child makes visible, where, “If you follow the dog into slumber,/ you’ll find an oval of grass” and “I hold my daughter’s hair like a dog’s lead./ ‘Now you follow me,’ she cries.” (Oct.)

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Conversation with Poet Sydney Lea in the Iron Horse Literary Review

A Conversation with Poet Sydney Lea

Poet Sydney Lea visited the campus of Texas Tech University on September 22, 2011. A few hours before his reading that evening, Lea was kind enough to answer questions from students and faculty. What follows is an excerpt from that conversation.

Q: Why would a guy have a truck full of stunks? [laughter] You don’t quite get at it in the poem, which I think is beside the point, but I still ponder it and ponder it to this day. [The poem in question is titled “Fathomless” and appears online here.]

A: Well, I think the point of the poem is, “Why?” I don’t have an answer, that’s the thing. Quite a long time ago I walked into a little general store, and it smelled like every skunk in Vermont lived there. I couldn’t figure it out, but then I traced it to an individual who was walking around and smelled like he had taken a bath in skunk spray. Then when I went out into the parking lot, I noticed he had all these dead skunks—I say in the poem it was in a truck, but it was actually a Bronco. And I felt like somebody should’ve spoken up, said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

But I didn’t, and nobody else did either. I felt bad for the couple of old women, whom I knew, who ran that store, you know, both of them eighty or so. They were too polite to say anything, but clearly it was gonna be a long time before people walked in there without saying, “What the hell? Did you have a skunk under the house or something?”

And then, ten years later, I just happened to smell a skunk, and I thought of that and I began pondering why, but I don’t think the poem answers the question. . . . I don’t know why.

Q: I guess I’ll ask the real question I want to get at, considering that poem and maybe some of just your general aesthetic. There seems to be a lot of restraint in that poem, because you’ve just juxtaposed the death of your brother with this horrid experience that happens at the same time. That smell recalls all this stuff, and you refrain from trying to figure out how these two things are connected, other than by the smell. Can you talk about how, in your work and in the stuff that you like to read and in other poetry that’s out there, how you think restraint works, and how it should work?

A: That’s a good question. I remember way back in the seventies, I applied for an NEA fellowship, and in those days you could write in and get a report—I didn’t get one [a fellowship], and so I wanted to know, and I read several critiques, and you know, [feigning arrogance] obviously they were crazy, stupid. But there was one that said, “Trivial subject matter. Verbose treatment.” So I think he was twitting me (or she) for not being sufficiently restrained. I thought you were going to ask a different kind of question . . . but since you didn’t, I’m going to try and address that. [laughter]

Q: You can answer the other one. [more laughter]

A: No, um . . . [sighs]. I don’t know that I would have an answer, that I can draw a line in the sand and say, “You go too far, you’re not being restrained enough.” In fact, and I’ve quoted this sometimes in workshops with my own students, I remember that an early mentor of mine (speaking of not always being completely restrained) was Richard Hugo, and he invited me to send him some poems, one at a time over a period of time in the early eighties. I think I had one book out, but I’d been working on another one. I sent him a poem and I said, “I’m afraid that it might be corny.” You know, I might have gone too far. And he wrote to me back, and he said, “If you’re not risking being corny then you’re really not in the ballgame at all.”

So it’s a matter of stepping up to that line. The things that we call “corny” are just too much of a genuine thing, right? An overstatement of things that are genuine enough, or else they wouldn’t have fallen into the great sort of poet-well of sentimentality.

But as to when you know that is, I still trust my wife. She’s the only person I show my work to now, and she’s pretty good at detecting that line. She’s the kind of critic I want, because she’s very literate but she’s not literary. She’s good at detecting that and saying, “You’re just going over the top here, you’ve already made that clear.” And the other thing she’s good at detecting is when I’m just sort of faking it. She has her own little series of marginal comments—you know, most editorial comments are like stet or del or whatever, maybe a little carat—she’s got one that’s NASG, which is New Age Sensitive Guy, which means I’m faking a little bit. She says, “I know you well enough, you’re not that good. Come on!” [laughter]

But I’m very reliant on her, and particularly in that way, because I think in my case, I’ve got one of these sort of all-you-can-eat personalities. I’m inclined at times [to fake it]—I hope less as I’ve gotten older; I think I’ve learned a little the matter of restraint. I think it’s often a matter of learning to trust yourself, you know, that what you’ve observed and what you’ve rendered and what you’ve said is adequate, that it doesn’t need to be expounded upon so that the reader will get it.

And I know that myself, in teaching especially beginning writers, one of the more common things I will see is that urge to explain. Especially at the end of the poem, when everything has been made perfectly clear. It’s what I call the Arthur Miller ending, you know, when you watch the play and everything’s perfectly clear, [at the end] there’s a character who comes on stage and tells you what it was all about. And there’s a curious way in which, as a reader, I feel condescended to. It’s like, “You thought I was so damn dumb that I didn’t know this, so you had to put in all this extra explanation.”

But I think—I hope—the capacity to say enough and not too much is something that, like anything else . . . anything you do for a long time seriously and regularly is something you get better at, whether it’s shooting baskets or writing poems. . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

New Review of In a Beautiful Country in Mixer!

Review: In a Beautiful Country, by Kevin Prufer
by Allison Harden Moen
Mixer Blog

As the blue and white pills spilled on the cover suggest, Kevin Prufer’s fourth collection of poetry, In a Beautiful Country, is reminiscent of a self-medicated half-drunken dream. As such, it acts as the aperitif to National Anthem: the former is sober enough to mourn the loss of a society, whereas the latter whispers from the daze of one too far gone.

Immediately in the first two stanzas of the title poem, Prufer lures readers into his world of resignation, subverting expectations of beauty and love into what reads like a twisted advice column:

A good way to fall in love

is to turn off the headlights

and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love

is to say they are only mints

and swallow them with a strong drink.

Perhaps, herein is where Prufer’s greatest strength lies: by revealing the darkness underneath the “good” surface. In this “beautiful” country, falling in love equals committing suicide; love is violent like “broken glass” and is likened to scissors. In this poem and throughout, Prufer shatters images of the loving, darling and angelic, and tosses them like broken shards of glass to be crushed under the feet of their traditional definitions.

Similarly, in “Love Poem,” Prufer exhibits anything but the traditional idea of love. The speaker woos his love by describing the bomb he’s making, warning his love to be “careful of when it decays, careful, it may implode.” The theme of destructive love also reappears in Prufer’s series of “Ars Poetica” poems exploring the philosophy of his art.

Readers of his previous collections shouldn’t be surprised to see he includes a series of “Ars Poetica,” this time devoting six pages to the topic. In the first poem of the series, Prufer employs a metered form, which is rather ironic considering the majority of his work doesn’t take on such constraints. This iambic tetrameter poem speaks of how art is birthed out of destruction: a bomb blows up a barn and makes the speaker think of art. The barn burns, and a poem rises from the cinders. The speaker thanks the “kindly God” who “tore the town apart” for the sake of the art that resulted. Perhaps in the following lines, Prufer most clearly sums up his aesthetic, and the theme of In a Beautiful Country altogether:

The artist’s mind does well

to look on human ill

and find in it

some beauty.

Turn the page, and the second “Ars Poetica” is less straightforward. In this landscape, a phone rings, and a brand new poem appears out of the first snow of spring. Finally, in “Four Artes Poetica,” Prufer uses four visceral snapshots to represent his art — each taking place in an empty yard. In the first, art is a blind eye “bloodshot and enraged” inside the center of an onion. In the second, it is personified as a heart “like a giant insect / in a cage” that devours squares of pages. In the third, it is a butterfly dissected. In the fourth scene, the yard becomes blank like an empty page, and out of this emptiness “a little ink pulsed out.” It is a trapped art, but it survives nonetheless.

Formwise, Prufer maintains his signature, somewhat rambling free verse couplets primarily throughout. Yet herein also lies his greatest weakness: his inability to know quite where to end. A handful of poems, particularly “Love Poem” and “In Some Parts of the Movie We’re Comrades,” seem perfectly complete after the first page, only to continue on with a stanza beginning with “then …” or a second page of continuing exposition. The overall effect isn’t completely lost, just watered down a bit.

Consequently, Prufer manipulates page breaks to his advantage with a great deal of skill in the striking “Burial Hymn in Winter,” one of the collection’s strongest poems. Here, after the en dash on the bottom of the page, I wanted to read more but found a blank page.

Prufer also sprinkles in a few metered pieces, such as “Cartoon Featurette,” written in ballad stanzas; “What I Gave to the 20th Century,” a hybrid-style sonnet based in a Petrarchan-type rhyme scheme; and “The 20th Century,” also a hybrid sonnet with a Shakespearean rhyme scheme, showcasing his ability to utilize metered verse just as effectively as free verse.

Finally, in the concluding poem, “Postscript,” Prufer ties the collection together in a matter-of-fact fashion, cataloging the previous 109 pages like items on a grocery list:

Here is my receipt for the paper

Thank you. It snowed the whole way to the store,

which was crowded with secretaries. Thank you

for reimbursing me for my expenses.

It is as if Prufer is stating to readers: here is my best attempt to create beauty, take it or leave it. Though the world from which his poetry arises is falling apart, balancing on an ever-spinning wagon wheel, Kevin Prufer manages to do just that — and give it wings.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kevin Prufer Readings: Tonight and Monday 10/24!

Thursday, October 20
Cleveland, Ohio. John Carroll University. 7:00pm. Rodman Hall, Room A. With Wayne Miller.

Monday, October 24
Louisville, KY. The Sarabande Books Reading Series. 7:30PM. 21C Museum Hotel, 700 West Main Street. With Nicole Cooley.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Monica Youn Reads Oct 23 at Unnameable Books in Brooklyn

Oct 23, 2011 7:00pm-9:00pm
John Haskell! Monica Youn! Matthew Derby! Camden Joy! Lonely Christopher!

Unnameable Books
600 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238-3803

John Haskell is the author of a pair of novels, most recently Out of My Skin (FSG) about the spiritual journey of a Steve Martin impersonator and the collection of short stories, I'm Not Jackson Pollock. His work has been praised by Nick Cave, A.M. Homes, Geoff Dyer and Ben Marcus.

Monica Youn is the author of the National Book Award finalist Ignatz, a collection of poetry themed around George Herriman's Krazy Kat comic strips series, which ran from 1913 to 1944 and featured a love triangle between a police officer dog, a good-hearted cat and an anarchist mouse. She is also the author of Barter and active as a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice and has appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews.

Matthew Derby is the author of Super Flat Times: Stories (Back Bay Books, 2003). His writing has appeared in Fence, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, and The Believer, where he served in various editing capacities from 2003 to 2007.

Tom Adelman / Camden Joy - Tom Adelman is the author of a pair of unusual, thoughtful, literate baseball books, including the best-selling Long Ball about the 1975 World Series. Under the pseudonym Camden Joy, he wrote five books that transformed his obsession with rock music into novels and rants about figures, including Frank Black, Liz Phair, David Lowery of Camper Van Beethoven, The Eagles and Al Green. These beautifully hand-printed books presaged the Continuum’s 33 1/3 series. His work has been praised by Dave Eggers, Jonathon Lethem and Dennis Cooper. He will perform a series of songs from his recently released concept album about the government's presidential coin program.

Lonely Christopher is an American poet, fiction writer, dramatist, and filmmaker. He is the author of the poetry volume Into (with Christopher Sweeney and Robert Snyderman) and the fiction collection The Mechanics of Homosexual Intercourse from Little House on the Bowery, Dennis Cooper's imprint on Akashic. Currently he is directing his first feature length film, MOM, which he also wrote. His latest chapbook, Poems in June, is newly released from The Corresponding Society.

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Frost's Footsteps: Sydney Lea in the Burlington Free Press

by Sandy Pollak

It was the mid-1970s, and Sydney Lea was an English professor at Dartmouth, bound by the cliche of the tenure track: publish or perish. He pulled out of hiding his dissertation, in hopes of finding within it the seeds of an article or two he could write to meet the academic requirements.

"In those days, you didn't need to publish a book no one would read," Lea said. "But a couple of articles no one would read."

When he opened the document he had written to earn his Ph.D. in comparative literature at Yale, "it was like looking into an abyss," Lea said.

"I spoke aloud," Lea recalled last week. "I said, 'I don't want to do this when I grow up."

He was 34.

Instead, Lea wanted to write poetry. He had had written some verse years earlier - the standard "break-up with your girlfriend poetry that we all do, and hope will disappear into the great void."

Nonetheless, staring into the abyss of his past scholarship, Lea recognized he wanted to write.

"I decided to let the chips fall where they might, and where they would," Lea said.

Last month, the chips fell in a big and wholly unexpected way for Lea: Gov. Peter Shumlin named Lea poet laureate of Vermont.

Lea, 68, who lives in Newbury, will formally assume his position Nov. 4 at a ceremony at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier. He succeeds Ruth Stone of Ripton and will become the seventh poet to hold the title that first belonged to Robert Frost.

"It never occurred to me that I'd be on the list," Lea said. "I could think of at least half a dozen people to which it could go," he said. "I have to say that if I had thought about it, I find it more gratifying than I would've thought.

"I really love Vermont. I love just about all the things about it. To get that kind of ratification, it feels right. I've been writing the right kinds of things for my locale, and to have it acknowledged is very gratifying."

Lea is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including the 2011 collection, "Young of the Year" (Four Way Books). He has four books in the works, including the planned 2013 publication of "I Was Thinking of Beauty." [...]

Read the rest of the article here.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Collier Nogues to read at UCI Bookstore Author Series

Collier Nogues and Ryan Ridge

Wednesday, Oct 19, 2011
The UCI Bookstore

210-B Student Center
Irvine, CA 92697-1550

Free and open to the public
Refreshments will be served

Collier Nogues’ eye opening work, On the Other Side, Blue, explores the human relationships everyone has with death, family, place, landscape, history, love, and marriage—all brought together by one of the most natural human emotions, grief. Nogues directly takes on each subject, with vivid true-life stories from her own experiences and then incorporates her superb writing style to enhance the story. Beautifully, this allows her to be both a participant in and an observer of the act mourning, identifying similarities and variations in the ways grief encompasses a full range of emotions.

A UCI lecturer, Collier Nogues grew up in the Texas Hill Country and on Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan. She completed her MFA at UCI in 2008. Since then, she has been writing and teaching in Oregon as well as in Southern California.


UCI Lecturer Ryan Ridge’s edgy novel, Hunters & Gamblers, is perfect for any reader looking for a dark, humorous story about people just trying to find their way in life. Exploring a broad array of characters, from an ammo-less infantry drummer to a bleeding medic, and everything in between, this novel keeps readers engaged at all levels and challenges them to keep up with this epic tale of misfits. Ultimately, the characters reach a desperate end where revelations are plentiful. Ridge, with his clever, dark and cynical writing, has created his own unique and masterful style that adds a sense of refreshing originality.

Ryan Ridge is an acclaimed author with a talent for fiction that has been fully employed in his new novel, Hunters & Gamblers. He currently teaches at the University of California, Irvine.

Contact for more info

Thursday, October 6, 2011

New Tumblr Site for the Silent Auction!

Visit our new Tumblr site for next week's silent auction for photos of some of the items you can bid on or purchase!

Come bid on tickets for the 2012 US Open (Tennis); cupcakes from Coquette Bakery; a tour of Central Park with Justin Martin, author of GENIUS OF PLACE: The Life of Frederick Law Olmstead; a tour of Rockefeller Center with Daniel Okrent, author of GREAT FORTUNE: the Epic of Rockefeller Center; a personal training session; a cookie decorating class; a Vermont retreat; buy an antique watch watch or a designer hat, or a number of fun gift certifcates to places like Trader Joe's, Freshdirect, Tribeca Grill, or BIRD boutique in Brooklyn; and more!

Tuesday, October 11 at 58 West 10 St. in NYC at 6pm

And don't forget to purchase your tickets here or at the door.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Joel Brouwer to Read at The Poetry Project

Monday, October 10, 2011
8:00 pm
131 East 10th Street
New York, NY

Abraham Smith’s poetry collections are Whim Man Mammon (Action Books, 2007) and Hank (Action Books, 2010). Summers, he’s farmhand for Hawks’ Highland Farm, Ladysmith, WI; falls, winters, and springs, he is Instructor of English at University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL.

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, poet Joel Brouwer is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and Syracuse University. Brouwer is the author of several collections of poetry, including And So (Four Way Books, 2009); Centuries (Four Way Books, 2003), a National Book Critics Circle Notable Book; and Exactly What Happened (1999), winner of the Larry Levis Reading Prize from Virginia Commonwealth University. He has also published several chapbooks. Brouwer has been awarded fellowships from the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His essays and book reviews have appeared widely, including in AGNI, the Boston Review, the Harvard Review, and the New York Times Book Review. He has taught at Southern Illinois University and the University of Alabama. He lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Brooklyn Rail Interview w/ Tina Chang!

David St.-Lascaux, poet and contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail, sat down to talk with Tina Chang, the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, whose new collection, Of Gods and Strangers, is slated for release in the Fall of 2011 by Four Way Books.

David St.-Lascaux (Rail): In the initial "Slumber" stave of "Episodes," you wrote:

I always find myself back
in the Dust Room where
my face is broken in the reflection
of fine porcelain. I have so many
white dresses I will soil for no good
occasion. Common things
call to me: crickets, at night black ducks
drowning in the weeds.
There is nothing complicated about this
except sleep walks to lie down
in the shape of my body.
Lewis Carroll wrote at the end of "Life is But a Dream":

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

My first impression of Of Gods and Strangers was that it is essentially oneiric: that its author is recording ornate dreams, sleepwalking, or hallucinating a Ouija board doppelgänger (the Empress). What's happening here? How was Gods invented?

Tina Chang: It's such a beautiful introduction to use that for the book. I have to admit that this is the first time that I'm talking about the book. It seems rather dreamlike to be talking to you, another person outside of myself, about it. So much happens in the imagination of the writer as they're making a book. This the first time I am giving order to the whole process of what I was going through as I was writing.

I use the word doppelgänger and it's exactly what I was thinking about. I was thinking about the Empress Dowager (all of this was written after 9/11) and I couldn't help but feel like I was in a dreamlike state after that happened. Right after 9/11 at first I think there was a sense of powerlessness, in fact I actually just wrote about it for a Brooklyn paper as I was reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. My immediate reaction was that I stopped writing for a while. I became very silent. I felt a huge sense of powerlessness. I always thought that phrase "habit strong" affects all people, that I could change your world with my words. It was why I became a poet to begin with, and then after 9/11 I thought: What are the reasons for all of my words? What can I really say about my world, my situation, g*d? If I wanted to say anything about g*d, is that the core of all conflict in the world or is it people's interpretation of g*d that offers the conflict, or the wrong interpretation of g*d? And are there wrong interpretations of g*d?

I wasn't able to answer those questions, so I felt deeply powerless in my endeavors and I became silent for a long time. It wasn't until I had co-edited an anthology called Language for a New Century [ed.: with Nathalie Handal and Ravi Shankar] that I began to discover these incredibly strong voices from around the world, and at the same time I was doing research on the Empress Dowager of China. Now here is a person suddenly I could connect to, and why was this? She wasn't only a doppelgänger: she was a ghost to me, an alter ego; she was all of these things to me. Here was this woman in a time when women were supposed to be powerless and lifeless. She was a very powerful figure during that time period. She was an unknown peasant who came into power because of her wiles—some people say because of her manipulation, and because of her power she rose to a point where she was ruling China. And it was through this doppelgänger that I thought I had a hook; I could attach myself to her, and through her I felt that I could gain this power, this power to write again.

In fact many of the poems in regard to the Empress are persona poems: they're not written as me. I was living my life through her. I began to slowly gain my power back again. And talking about it feels emotional especially with the passing of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. It was about the fall of myself as a writer and a poet, and then regaining that power through this figure in time. You reference this idea of dreams, and I use this image of the dress to stand in for a figure or shape. I say that we inhabit these bodies, and inasmuch as can inhabit them we can let them grow. Who are we here in this lifetime? Our lives can pass so very quickly! What are we doing here at this moment of time? What is our purpose? All of these things are called into question in this book. I wouldn't use the word therapeutic, but it did assist me in gaining my voice back, once again.

Rail: In "The Full Faces of Dogs are Barking," You write:

… The last thing
to do was fall asleep, the body so spent, it lay
in exhaustion like a flat tire. That felt like truth
but it was more threatening. I once saw a dying horse

The cognitive scientist Steven Pinker identified five markers for morality in "The Moral Instinct" in the New York Times. Remarkably, no one [surveyed] identified truth as a moral value. Why do you think that is, and what is the importance of truth in your poetry?

Chang: Something that was really affecting me at the time on a personal level was the sense of truth and what the truth is. The word truth pops up in many of my poems. At the time, I was being untruthful about my entire life. I felt like I was living many different lives, and not telling the truth to totally different people, and I think it was to keep up an end of myself. Writing this book allowed me to shed the notion of the façade, so masks come up a lot in relation to the truth.

I was trying to explore what truth was. Even now when I talk to my students in class I always say truths are separate from one another. And in this lifetime, we need to find ways to have our truths compromised. Everyone's own sense of truth was conflicted with each other's around the time of 9/11. Everyone's interpretations of either the Bible or the Quran; at the moment when they're sitting there with the text, they think, this text in front of me is the truth, and I will follow that truth to the end. And I thought "If that is truth, then I don't think I can follow it." I had to go out on this journey to discover what that is, and by the end of it I found it was something personal. The closest I could get to truth was what I was writing in my poems. Writing this book is the most truthful I've been in the last ten years. The entire book is not about sex or intimacy: it's about the interplay between truth and g*d, or truth and g*d in relationship to what intimacy is—our relationships to one another. In regard to truth, it becomes eventually a personal interpretation, almost on the same level as prayer. Everyone's relationship to it is singular, internal and different from another's.

Read the rest of this wonderful interview here, at The Brooklyn Rail.

Sydney Lea Featured in Valley News

In Select Company
By Nicola Smith
Valley News Staff Writer

When he was in early 30s, poet and essayist Sydney Lea was on the long march toward an academic career. He'd received both a bachelor's degree and a doctorate from Yale, writing his comparative literature dissertation on 19th-century supernatural fiction. He had an appointment at Dartmouth, teaching freshmen English composition, and giving classes on the American novel and English romantic poetry. So far, so good.

But, Lea recalled in an interview at his Newbury, Vt., home, something in him chafed at committing himself to the path he'd set himself on. And while reviewing what he calls his “inscrutable dissertation, inscrutable even to its author,” he had an epiphany.

“I looked at that scholarship of mine when I was in the vaults of Baker Library and said, this is not what I want to do when I grow up.” He was 34 at the time.

Now 68, Lea can savor the road taken. His career has embraced poetry, fiction and essays, with works published in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The New Republic, Sports Illustrated and Gray's Sporting Journal. He founded The New England Review in 1977. His 2000 book of poems Pursuit of a Wound was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. And now he has been awarded a post that represents, if not a final accolade, then at least a singular flourish.

On Nov. 4, in a ceremony at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Montpelier, Lea will take on the role of Vermont Poet Laureate with Gov. Peter Shumlin in attendance. It comes with a stipend of sorts: $1,000 for the four years. But money isn't the point.

“I'm really honored,” said Lea, a burly, bearded man who seems, initially, uncomfortable talking about himself, but who warms to the idea of talking about writing, writers and the pleasures of reading. He sits on a porch on the back of the home he shares with Robin Barone, his wife of 28 years, and gazes searchingly at the trees that surround the property, as if they might yield answers.

“I never imagined I'd have this honor, but if I had, I would never have imagined it would gratify me as much as it does. I knew I had been nominated, but it had never occurred to me I'd be the one,” he said.

It is an honor that has been accorded to a select few, beginning with the appointment of Robert Frost, who served from 1961 until 1963. After a gap of 26 years, then-Gov. Madeline Kunin resurrected the position in 1989, naming Galway Kinnell to the four-year post. Since then, it has been held by Louise Gluck, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Grace Paley and current Poet Laureate Ruth Stone. The criteria are these: A poet must have a long association with Vermont, amassed a respected, critically acclaimed body of work and consistently show excellence in her or his work.

The Advisory Committee that made the selection cited Lea's poetry for its “dramatic intensity, narrative momentum, and musicality,” and praised his “extraordinarily evocative descriptions of Northern New England's landscapes, animal and plant life and the seasonal panorama.”

Of his work, poet Cleopatra Mathis, who teaches at Dartmouth College, wrote by email, “His love for both the land and the people of New England is unsurpassed by any other poet I can think of writing now. Like Frost, he lives the present through the past, elegiac and elegant and yet conversational and idiomatic.”

Lea began writing poetry when he was a teenager growing up in suburban Philadelphia. These poems addressed themselves to, he said, the usual kind of adolescent angst, like break-ups with girlfriends. He didn't begin to seriously engage with the idea of poetry as an avocation until after college, but even then it seemed unobtainable.

“It never occurred to me to apply to MFA programs,” he said. “I thought to have a career as a writer involved some secret that people weren't telling me.” As a younger man, he said, he was not accustomed to thinking highly of himself. “I used to be unduly fearful of not making a good impression,” he said. A former professor once described him as being both “volatile and shy.”

But writing poetry felt natural to him. “I really did feel some confidence. Even when I was suffering rejections, as I still do, I thought I knew what I was doing.”

Even so, it took some time to find his natural voice, a voice that echoed out of the woods and fields and rivers of Northern New England. Here he formed a spiritual kinship with the woodsmen and women who logged and hunted in its forests, and gathered at night around campfires or in bars to drink, smoke and tell stories. This was the New England he'd first experienced when his father took him at age 9 on a canoe trip in northern Maine, a vast, remote and wild place as far from suburban America, and what Lea calls the “plastic octopus” of strip malls, gas stations and car dealerships, as you can imagine.

In 1963, his family bought a camp in Washington County in northernmost Maine, on the border with New Brunswick. He has returned every year since, along with his family and children, and now grandchildren, and is active with forest conservation there. He has also pursued a lifelong interest in hunting and fishing, a passion picked up as a boy at his grandfather's farm in Pennsylvania and nourished with a steady diet of Field & Stream and the works of, among others, the turn-of-the-century naturalist Ernest Thompson Seton, who wrote scores of books, including Wild Animals I Have Known.

“I am old enough that I knew older men and women in Northern New England who came before the age of power tools, and they were fabulous raconteurs,” Lea said. “I just loved their voices, the last true woodsmen and women.”

Uninterested in trying to mimic their actual speech patterns through dialect, which can often sound forced or patronizing (unless, Lea said, you happen to be a genius like Mark Twain), he aimed instead for “capturing something of the lilt of their voices in poetry.”

It is their stories, and the stories of the farmers and anglers around him, that fuel his poetry. This has led him to be designated by some as a “regional” poet. But one of the compensations of getting older, he observed, is realizing that he doesn't have to be universally liked to be happy or to succeed and that he can write what he wants to write, not what others might expect or urge him to do.

“If you start writing to someone else's expectations, you don't do very well. I was writing what I was meant to write,” he said.

As Poet Laureate, Lea, who has also taught at Middlebury College and returned to Dartmouth to teach in the MALS program (he's now retired from that), intends to go out to the state libraries to read. When he found out he'd been named to the position, he went to the Vermont Library Association and printed out a long listing of the libraries in the state. There are, he said, some 330 in all, which, for a population of 600,000, is, he said, “amazing.” He has sent out query letters to the libraries, asking if he can come speak.

“The more remote or unlikely the library, the happier I'll be,” he said.

He has read at Lions Clubs and fish and game clubs and, just last week, at colleges in Texas and a writers' workshop in Dallas, an experience that he enjoyed up until the moment the audience was unhappily riveted by what sounded to Lea like 20 rounds of small arms fire outside. The quiet stretches of the Upper Valley look pretty good to him, for that and numerous other reasons, as they have for the 43 years he's lived here.

Among Lea's reasons for picking libraries as his brief, apart from his interest in literacy, is that he wants to dispel the idea that modern poetry is the province of the academy and the intellectual elite. “I'd like to think that people not affiliated with the choir can understand what I do,” he said. “I think there are a lot of people who have shied away from poetry because it's too baffling. The problem can be sometimes be on the other side of the desk.”

Look at Frost, he said. “H was an unusual genius. Everybody can get something from him. You can't get it all but you can get a lot. He's not obscure.” Equally, Lea rejects “the notion that poets are more sensitive than other people. That's arrogance of the worst kind. Going in there with a little bit of humility never hurt anybody. The payoff for humility is you get to know people a little bit better.”

Although he'd undoubtedly demur at the comparison even while acknowledging the influence, Lea has established himself as one of the heirs to Robert Frost, writing narrative poems that are conversational, with all the revealing slips, affectations and elisions of speech. They stand alone on the page as little sculptures but achieve their full weight when spoken aloud. Most poems do, of course, but it's in the patterns of how people talk that Lea records the characteristics of an era, a region and a country.

In his poem "The Plainville Testament," published in his 1996 collection To the Bone, which was a co-winner of the 1998 Poet's Prize, Lea recounts a very New England tale of an old man Billy Fields who confides to his lawyer the truth about a dark incident in his past. Accused of letting a younger man die of severe injuries without getting him help, the old man rambles on in a haze of explanation and self-justification. The lawyer lets him spill forth and afterwards jots down what he heard. The lawyer writes “to hear the voice of Billy, to watch the landscape quicken as I listen.”

At poem's end, the lawyer sums up the principles that keep him listening and writing. They're sentiments that seem to epitomize Lea as well.

Tonight, recording this for you and you

--outsider, native, woman, or child--

but mostly for myself, as I've confessed,

I'll lie here with my story, cool, a while.

A little time, while the moon plays on The Bald Man,

I'll hold to it, and you can judge the rest.

Nicola Smith can be reached at