Friday, October 21, 2016

Kaia Sand, A Tale of Magicians who Puffed Up Money that Lost its Puff

the president probably talks to someone every day
sometimes his lips are moving, but our volume’s too low
sometimes his voice is a tenth the volume of mine
sometimes his voice trembles inside my ten voices
sometimes his ten words devalue the currency
sometimes we promise
sometimes someone looks into someone’s eyes for truth
sometimes we think we see it
in someone’s ten coughs, tuberculosis is passed from cot to cot
sometimes ten walls separate me from two people making one decision (“The President Probably Talks”)

Portland, Oregon poet and activist Kaia Sand’s latest is A Tale of Magicians who Puffed Up Money that Lost its Puff (Kāne’ohe HI: Tinfish Press, 2016), a collection constructed as a kind of collage of formal considerations, from sequences built out of incredibly dense stand-alone lines, protest songs and more expansive theatrical scrips to shorter, more traditional lyrics, all of which work to explore a variety of political and social concerns, from oil spills, the lottery, American politics, the mortgage crisis and the abuses of the big banks, to poverty, nuclear stockpiling and looming environmental disasters. Sand’s poems document as much as they resist, working to reinforce the strength of the community against systematic abuses far too often built into the structures of those systems created to protect. “Where is anonymity within a public document—,” she writes, in the second poem of her “Air the Fire A Triptych.” In the third and final poem, she writes: “In the bright threat of attention / the surefire glare of recognition / you became a public person / mindful of those who live / downriver and downwind / from the malice of power [.]” The politics of her writing is clearly overt, sharing a social and political element of what the poem can accomplish alongside an increasing list of poets up and down the Pacific, from Stephen Collis, Christine Leclerc and Cecily Nicholson to Juliana Spahr and David Lau, among so many others. At the end of the collection, she includes extensive notes, her “Notes on the Lives of Some Poems Thus Far,” offering that “A poem might be read as though it has a ‘long biography,’ accruing meaning through shifting contexts, Peter Middleton suggests in his book Distant Reading; I have taken this notion to heart as a writer with an interest in recasting poems. The following notes attend to the publication histories of the poems as well as performance, material, and social histories. In some cases, I include brief political contexts, with the hope that some poems might carry contexts forward, like burrs caught in fur. I document various iterations of these poems on my website:

“Beware the fury of the financier,” she writes, to open the final poem in the collection, “Beware the Fury,” “rote fury, puffy money, bankers who bank / on diverted attention. Divested / power.” In the five-poem “Deep Water Horizon Ledger,” for example, she writes of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on increasingly blackened pages, opening with the poem “At Least Five Gallons Per Second” to “At Least Twenty Gallons Per Second,” etcetera, writing that “In the time it takes me to say this, at least 160 gallons of oil will have gushed out / of the Deepwater Horizon site. / And now 200 / And now 240 / And now 280 / And now 320 gallons of oil [.]” Her notes explain further, writing that “During the months of May & June 2010, I performed this poem on a walk I led in North Portland as well as at a poetry reading in Director Park in downtown Portland, and it was published on PoMotion Poetry and Poets for Living Water. The poem served as breaking news, my up-to-the-minute (more or less) accounting of the oil spill. Pocket Notes (Fall 2012) published the notes I jotted toward the poem’s postscript.” What makes her collection so engaging is the way she plays with form even through such serious subject matter, and how she documents while also managing to uphold the immediacy, even urgency, of a series of events that have not simply unfolded, but continue to unfold. Hers is a series of documents on the constantly-changing world as it currently stands, right there on the precipice.

Magician taps wand against mortgage.

and who knew who owned what anymore.

And really, who knows who owns what anymore, now that the banks are trying to grab back those millions of houses. The banks have to grab them whole, not doors to some houses and shutters to others, but since that’s how they owned them, or sold them through those collatorized debt obligations, it’s all rather confusing. And now the paperwork is fluttering, fortune cookie flimsy, and some banks hired some people to sign names rapid-fire to papers foreclosing on the houses, without reading all the words and the phrases, and it’s all rather dodgy and shoddy and shammy.

Really, stay tuned to that story, which is still being written,

Thursday, October 20, 2016

12 or 20 (small press) questions with Peter Vanderberg on Ghostbird Press

Peter Vanderberg is the founding editor of Ghostbird Press.  He served in the US Navy from 1999 – 2003 and received a MFA from CUNY Queens College.  His work has appeared in several journals including Mud Season Review, CURA and LUMINA, and his chapbook Crossing Pleasant Lake has recently been published by Red Bird Press.  He teaches at St. John’s Preparatory School and Hofstra University.

Ghostbird Press is a small chapbook press that publishes poetry, fiction, non-fiction, translation and cross-genre works, actively seeking new and underrepresented voices.  Our books are each a collaboration of both writing and visual art.  The words aren't illustrated, the images aren't explained.  Word and image coexist to increase your chances of epiphany.

Please check out our books at  If you are a writer yourself, send us your work.  With any luck, one day we will meet at a reading or launch party or backyard BBQ.

1 – When did Ghostbird Press first start? How have your original goals as a publisher shifted since you started, if at all? And what have you learned through the process?
Ghostbird Press began in 2011 after my grandfather's passing.  Starting a small press was something I had thought of since attending the CUNY Chapbook Festival in 2006 while at CUNY Queens College for my MFA.  I was so inspired by all the small publishers there, making things, often with their own hands, that would bring writing to life in the real, physical world.  I loved writing, but I also loved the idea of making things, of doing the work of publishing.  My grandfather had started his own business after World War II and his work ethic has always been a guide for me.  After he died it just seemed like the time to get going with my own small venture.

The goals for the press haven't changed much.  I have reigned in my expectations a bit as I continue to balance Family - Writing - Teaching - Publishing.  But I still read submissions and work with authors that I love and publish 3 - 4 chapbooks a year.  One change:  we just put out our first comic book, so now that's happening.

2 – What first brought you to publishing?
Again, it was really the CUNY Chapbook Fest that made it seem possible for me to try publishing.  The small press editors and publishers there exuded an energy and optimism that was infectious.  I fell in love with the idea of engaging with literature on that very real and personal level, while also building the community that grows from a small press through events and of course books.

3 – What do you consider the role and responsibilities, if any, of small publishing?
I believe small presses are in a unique position to try new things regardless of market / industry norms.  Of course we should be aware of the industry and its workings, but I love that I can sign an author that is totally unknown, who is writing very different, risky stuff, and I don't really worry about the profit margin.  The questions is simply: do I believe in this work?  I also think small presses, maybe all presses, have a responsibility to seek underrepresented voices and stories.  For example, I'm actively seeking an American Indian writer.  I want to read those poems, stories, perspectives.  I don't see enough of that.

4 – What do you see your press doing that no one else is?
Ghostbird Press is committed to the visual arts as well as the literary.  Each book we publish has an original cover and several internal images that are made by a single artist.  My main artists are my two brothers James and Paul, I have a certain commitment to them, but I am open to others and we did produce a book by a writer whose wife did the cover and internal art (eco-logic of the word lamb, Roger Sedarat). 

5 – What do you see as the most effective way to get new chapbooks out into the world?
To be honest I'm still trying to figure that out.  I use social media, but I'm not really into Facebook.  I do love twitter for some reason.  My favorite way is through events.  Each year we host a launch party for several authors.  I love how that builds the community because folks come out for one author, but they meet the others as well.  Going to readings and book fairs is great too, because again, you actually shake hands with people, hand them a book, converse about art and writing.  There's nothing better for me.

6 – How involved an editor are you? Do you dig deep into line edits, or do you prefer more of a light touch?
I prefer not to touch the writer's work.  At most, if I think something is amiss, I'll just ask why a certain decision was made and as long as there is intent there, I go with it.  Working the internal art into the manuscript is a more involved process because I want the writer to be happy with their book so we discuss image choice and placement more in depth.  I'm a writer as well as a publisher and every word and punctuation mark of my own work has a reason behind it.  I'd hate to have my work accepted on condition so I don't do that to my authors either. 

7 – How do your books and broadsides get distributed? What are your usual print runs?
We distribute through our website sales and some local book stores.  Of course readings and events as well.  We use print on demand services so I'll usually print out 50 initial copies for the author's copies and our own events, but the books do not go out of print.

8 – How many other people are involved with editing or production? Do you work with other editors, and if so, how effective do you find it? What are the benefits, drawbacks?
Nope.  I'm the guy.  Just me.  Again, I work with the artist and author, but final decisions are made by me.  I'm a despot. 

9– How has being an editor/publisher changed the way you think about your own writing?
I can't say as it has changed my writing in any real way, but it has helped me to be more confident in submitting to journals and small presses.  I have an inside perspective into how the publishing world works, so I feel less intimidated by other small presses.  I' also less depressed by rejections - I don't take them personally anymore.  It still disappoints me to be turned away by a press I admire and want to work with, but I know they are receiving many many submissions and that mine just isn't right at that moment.  I hope those writers that I don't accept know that.  I'm also less begrudging of submission fees.  They are so essential to keeping a small press alive.  I think of fees as my donation to a worthy cause. 

10– How do you approach the idea of publishing your own writing? Some, such as Gary Geddes when he still ran Cormorant, refused such, yet various Coach House Press’ editors had titles during their tenures as editors for the press, including Victor Coleman and bpNichol. What do you think of the arguments for or against, or do you see the whole question as irrelevant?
I have mixed feelings.  The first book I put out was a collaboration between myself and my brother James and I treated it as a kind of experiment to see if I really wanted to try publishing.  I loved making that book and am very proud of it, but I'm not sure I would put out my own work through Ghostbird again anytime soon.  I very well might do so in the future though.  I guess my feeling is that it's fine as long as it isn't the prime focus of the press. 

11– How do you see Ghostbird Press evolving?
I have a dream of taking on a partner, but I have zero budget for that right now.  I'd like to partner with another institution, maybe a museum or university.  And some day I'd like to develop a reading series for our authors beyond the launch party. 

12– What, as a publisher, are you most proud of accomplishing? What do you think people have overlooked about your publications? What is your biggest frustration?
I'm very proud of the writers we have published - their work is all brilliant.  I love how the visual art converses with the written word.  My biggest frustration right now is that I'm having a tough time getting our books reviewed.  I'd like to see what they think.

13– Who were your early publishing models when starting out?
One of the first chapbook presses that I admired was Flying Guillotine Press.  Their books are hand made genius.  I've always admired H-NGM-N press.  I think Nate Pritts is doing great work over there.  And I love all the strange little publications that Greying Ghost puts out.  I'm certainly in awe of larger literary presses: BOA editions, Alice James, Tupelo, Copper Canyon, but I love the little guys too, the ones that are making books solely for the love.

14– How does Ghostbird Press work to engage with your immediate literary community, and community at large? What journals or presses do you see Ghostbird Press in dialogue with? How important do you see those dialogues, those conversations?
We are still a young press, but I see us in dialogue with the local NYC chapbook scene.  Specifically, there is a growing and vibrant literary movement in Queens which I'd love to be more engaged with.  Queens keeps it real in so many ways and I see that in the writers groups and publications that come out of Queens.  I'm a Queens College MFA alum too, so I'm always looking for ways to be a part of that amazing community. 

On the other hand I do feel like there are presses and journals beyond NYC that I feel a kindred spirit with - Mud Season Review in Burlington VT is so cool, and H-NGM-N is, I believe, physically located in upstate NY.  I admire many small presses but I'm not sure I would assume to be in conversation with them.  Wouldn't they need to talk back for a conversation to unfold?

15– Do you hold regular or occasional readings or launches? How important do you see public readings and other events?
As mentioned, we host an annual book launch and that is my favorite way to engage with the public.  I think public events are the best way for people to get to know us and to create real relationships with venues, writers and readers.  I love the internets as much as the next guy, but I prefer to shake hands with people. 

16– How do you utilize the internet, if at all, to further your goals?
Our website is our prime means of outreach - it's our storefront, though I'd love to have an actual storefront someday...add that to the dreams list above.  The internet is really essential to all aspects of the press from receiving and replying to submissions, to editorial work, to the proof process and's all on the web.  If they turn off that internet switch, I guess I'll put up a table and sign on my front lawn on nice days.  That could actually be fun.

17– Do you take submissions? If so, what aren’t you looking for?
We are always open for submissions.  We are not looking for bad poetry.

18– Tell me about three of your most recent titles, and why they’re special.
Resplendent Slug by Kimiko Hahn, is a collection of poems inspired by natural biology, particularly animals that glow.  But Kimiko Hahn has such a talent for weaving the strange and very real world of science with the stranger and arguably more real worlds of being a woman, a mother and a lover.  her work is full of loss and passion and the striking beauty that only she can communicate.  The drawings that accompany these poems blur the lines between the real and the abstract and in so doing, illuminate the text. 

Eco-Logic of the word lamb by Roger Sedarat is a translation / imitation of Virgil's Eclogues.  Roger Sedarat does not attempt another verse translation here, rather, he offers his Eco-Logic: born of the Eclogues, but every bit as grounded in contemporary experience / culture as Virgil's text was over 2,000 years ago.  Janette Afsharian's images are powerful and symbolic as tarot cards and their interplay with the text deepens the reader's experience. 

For My Son, A Kind Of Prayer by Richard Jeffrey Newman takes for its inspiration the totality of fatherhood.  All of the anguish, fear, strength, passion and vulnerability of being a husband and father are expressed here in such honest and beautiful ways.  I gave this book to my own father for Father's Day last year, so it has my endorsement as publisher, father and son. 

They are all so special I can't even count the ways - please get a copy for yourself and see what's so great about them!

12 or 20 (small press) questions;

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Melissa Dickey, Dragons

the toddler chews a pacifier as a joke
hides his face as a joke

he does not yet read
or understand the sadness of others

when you saw your old friend and she spoke so thickly
you thought maybe her teeth were falling out

as her mother’s had
but she was just hiding her braces

I’ve stopped smiling, she said
the toys play samples

of Beethoven as if that
helps but he doesn’t care

he’ll dance to anything
for now (“Notational Domestic”)

Western Massachusetts poet and trained birth doula Melissa Dickey’s second poetry title, after The Lily Will (Rescue Press, 2011), is Dragons (Rescue Press, 2016), a book focused on her immediate domestic, including the birth of her child and those first few weeks that turn into months that turn into years. Perhaps it is my own shift over the past few years, but I’m heartened to see that writing on the ‘domestic’ is being taken more seriously these days, by writers and readers both. Dickey’s poems exist in a long line of incredibly powerful work by poets (who are also mothers) composing on the miraculous, mundane and dark elements of household and children, such as Rachel Zucker (another poet also trained as a doula), Alice Notley, Hoa Nguyen, Bernadette Mayer, Pattie McCarthy and Julie Carr (there are also plenty of male poets writing similar works), as Dickey writes to open the first section, “Daybook”:

For the first two years I didn’t tell her that I loved her. As if saying made it a thing to be questioned, evaluated—to say nothing was better. (The day she was born, they put the needle in her spine.)

Or, further on, the entirety of the short poem “The Day,” that reads:

A mother, again.
Newborn sleepy scent,
jello limbs. Blood
in the trash I
hide. Strange interior
muscles mark me.

Wonderfully small and charming, Dickey’s poems articulate moments over longer, extended narratives, from the short lyric poem to the lyric fragment accumulating into sequences, and her sequences move delicately from moment to moment, point to point. Given her short, staccato lines, her use of the poetic “Daybook” (the title of one of her poem/sections) as well as attentiveness to the domestic, her work is reminiscent of the late American poet Robert Creeley, a poet who deeply articulated the small moments of the immediate over his entire career.. There is such a physicality to her poems; an immediacy and an intimacy and a precision that requires slowness, even a deep attention. Hers is an attentiveness to moments so often passed over, unspoken or otherwise unexplored, for what can’t help but be, at first, an incredibly powerful and foreign space:

Closed my skirt with a butterfly pin, hung shoes on the clothesline. Lemon tree. Mortar, brick. In the photo, a goat’s teats dangle, bell collar around the neck. Why does pregnancy look so pathetic. And this man, a tree the way he stands. Basil grown from dusty ground. The wall that seems to ripple, bulge. How much am I censored, how much predetermined. What kind of what is hanging, how. (“Daybook”)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Jennifer Zilm

Jennifer Zilm is the author of Waiting Room (BookThug, 2016) which was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She also wrote the chapbooks October Notebook (dancing girl press, 2015) and The whole and broken yellows (Frog Hollow Press, 2013). A second collection is forthcoming in 2018 from Guernica Editions. She lives in Vancouver where she works in libraries and social housing.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first chapbook was called The Whole and Broken Yellows and came out with Frog Hollow Press in late 2013. After it came out I did a flurry of readings; this felt like exposure therapy that really helped me with performance anxiety. So that really changed me. Waiting Room contains some of the same poems as that chapbook but the poems in common are arranged in such a way that I hope they can be understood in a different context. Knowing the book was going to come out, I didn't read any of the poems in the book from summer 2014 to the book's release this spring. I was afraid I would burn out on the poems. What has happened as I've begun to read them again is I have begun to see the different ways the book can be presented and accessed, this has allowed me to understand the poetry better. The book itself also had a strange ripple through my personal life. 

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I started writing poetry when I was, yes it's true, a teenage girl. Right around the same time I started to play truth or dare. Lately, I have been thinking that these two things are related though I'm not sure exactly how other than that the truth is the dare and poetry to me seems the best means of expressing that.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
All of the above. I sometimes think poems come fully made but then I will look back at old notebooks and think "have I actually been writing this poem for years?" I had an experience where I wrote a sestina at the beginning of 2014 and it felt as though it was just channeled and I felt like a mystic poet. But then I went back and realized I'd actually been writing towards the poem for a really long time.

In terms of note taking, I have a couple of notebooks on the go at a time. I have one that is a general notebook and which is a "commonplace"-- quotes from books etc.

I wrote Waiting Room very quickly. The core of the book was written between January-June 2013, the longer erasure that is in the second section was written in the Fall of that year. I kept saying that the entire book was written in 2013, but I went back to my notebooks recently and realized that one of the poems was written in the Winter of 2014. So it’s interesting to watch the narratives one creates about how a book or a piece was written.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
I usually work on two projects. Waiting Room was definitely a project, and a book from the very beginning but it began with one poem (Spiritual Media) and then all of the project started to unfurl from that point and I began to sort of see how each poem I was writing would relate to the manuscript. However, at the same time I was working on other poems that seemed more "stand alone" and which I then sort of wove into a more disparate collection that I worked on over the summer of 2013 and then into 2014. That collection—which is tentatively called Ephemera and which is coming out with Guernica Editions in 2018—has poems written both before and after Waiting Room and organizing it was far more challenging. A lot more poems were cut and I changed the ordering a great deal. Eventually I made a map where I tried to see the direction the poems were making. I paid attention to nouns and keywords so I could articulate what the manuscript was "about".  Then I had a very intuitive friend read over it and she sort of redrew the map for me.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
They have become a part. Much of Waiting Room was written at the time when I began to do public readings. It made me pay closer attention to sonics and to line breaks. In my first public reading I remember having this moment where I felt "oh this is another way of getting to know this poem". The idea that I would be reading a poem in front of people seems so terrifying that the only way I can really do it is by pretending that the world is ending. So since I've started doing it I feel as though I am living in a state of realized eschatology. Which is fun.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I want to say something grandiose like "how should a person be?" but I can't think of anything or how can words take down late capitalism, but I can’t think of anything.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
It's good to have people who think about words a lot. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I find it very helpful. Even the idea of having a reader in my head as I write helps me.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
My mentor Jen Currin, when I was beginning to write Waiting Room, told me I needed to "get messy."

I heard the poet Lissa Wolsak speak on a panel once and she said "I honor the process, even if it seems daft." That is a mantra.

Some other gems that have resonated: "It's not a good idea to apologize for things you're not really sorry for" (this is in Waiting Room). "Think of each line as a poem in itself." 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical/academic prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
I worked for a long time on a dissertation about gender, angels and prayer in Second Temple Judaism. I found that the psychic space required for that type of work left little room for poetry. Often I found it hard to give the elevator speech about "what are your research interests" (asked by senior academics) or "what is your thesis about" (asked by people outside the discipline). I found that after I had decided not to finish the dissertation, I actually had about 100 pages of material I could work with. Two erasures in Waiting Room ("Dead Sea Scrolls" "Post-doctoral, fellowship: the Wedding Ceremony") were actually built from the dissertation and seem as though they are the answers to those two questions. So, I like to believe I am writing poetry even when I am not actually writing it, but anytime I am writing anything down.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I try to read/write first thing in the morning. If I have time at home, I will do it there. If not I will do it in transit. I am a great fan of writing in contained, trapped spaces. So the bus is really one of my favourite places to write.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
See above! I tend to get on a bus with a book and a notebook and some music. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Burning leaves.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All of them. There are ekphrastic poems in my book about visual art and the cut and paste collage (art therapy style) really helps me with my writing process. And of course, probably would never have wanted to write poetry if I hadn’t heard Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Volume 2 when I was five years old being driven from Greater Vancouver to Northern B.C. and heard Dylan says “10,000 miles in mouth of graveyard.” So music is important. I am also inspired by documentaries (especially ones that have a collage like atmosphere) and the news. I watched the CNN Series “Crimes of the Century” and I felt like it was speaking to me.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Where to begin? Much that has been written or translated by Anne CarsonNox (which I used a lot in my chapbook October Notebook) and the Euripides translations Grief LessonsMy Life by Lyn Hejinian; the original V.C. Andrews titles (Flowers in the Attic etc.) but only the editions which have the peep hole covers; bpNichol's Selected OrgansMaggie Nelson's Bluets; Proust’s In Search of Lost Timeparts of the Gospels (the healing of the blind man in Mark and John is referred to several times in Waiting Room; the Dead Sea Scrolls Thanksgiving Hymns; the Book of Genesis; Northrop Frye's The Bible and LiteratureJack GilbertIrving Layton (I read him when I was 14 and his syntax still stays with me); Jen Currin.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Learn Arabic.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
In my next life I'd like to be a gospel singer or an outlaw country singer/song writer. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I'm uncertain. I suspect you hear things when you're very young and just fasten on to them. Someone said "Jennifer is very verbal" when I was a baby and it probably just stuck. Reading is one of the first skills one learns so if you’re good at it maybe it’s good to stick with it.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I read Maggie Nelson's Bluets at the exact moment when I needed to read it. The last great film was Adam Curtis’ Century of the Self

20 - What are you currently working on?
A manuscript that is sort of In Search of Lost Time but set in the housing projects of Surrey, B.C. (mixed poetry/prose), a book of poems called Charismatic Megafauna, Research Questions and Crimes of the Century. I’m also thinking about a project that is going to be poems based on the spoken introduction to various classic country songs on my iPod. I'm calling it Country and the first section will just be Johnny Cash's various intros to I Still Miss Someone.