Such a beautiful talent, mind, and person. We love you!
Sarena Ulibarri Takes First Place in Graduate Fiction for the Thompson Awards at the Center for the American West!
Major congratulations, Sarena! (Might the Swag mention she’s won this for the second time in a row?)
Cathy Wagner’s Macular Hole is a direct and powerful book that deals with a specific set of recurring, generative themes, including: sexual activity, fertility, and childbirth; the frustrations and guilt that raising and caring for a child can produce; the value of the self, specifically as an object/commodity of trade-value; and God and the ways in which God affects the self and causes specific types of self-evaluation. While considering how to craft a poetic response to Wagner’s work, I was also reading Jack Spicer’s After Lorca and Vancouver Lectures, in which he describes the poet as primarily a recipient of dictation from sources outside of his or her conscious mind. Spicer famously creates extended metaphors around this act of transcription; he describes the poet as a radio set receiving foreign signals and as someone who is spoken to by Martians and who records their words.
I attempted (with some small degree of success) to follow Spicer’s method of composition via removing the ego while writing, abandoning any specific plan for what a poem should be “about,” and merely receiving lines as they came into my mind. To do this, I “wrote through” two of Wagner’s poems, by responding to each line of her verse with one of my own. Consequently, I kept the line count in my poems the same as in Wagner’s poems and maintained a similar line length. Other than that, I placed no restrictions (formal or thematic) on my work, but tried to keep my ego / self / ideas out of the way and merely transcribe lines that I received. It turns out that this is a pretty difficult way to write; I’m guessing Spicer would say that my poems have too much of myself and my thoughts in them.
Sounding Out / Inventing
Eat your consequences
Chosen touching a touch which is a
Plant, a tongue, merciless.
The body is weak and hidden but the mind is
Weak. It is a dog; it laps. A book
Made of “you” combs the sea—
Then turn, start again
does tremble and sway per sea-
a hack, the same stiff
line as holds
up octopus arms,
I’ll take in the whole thing.
How do we love the
squid, the ink, arms, the
saccharine harmfish which I touch on
its little mouth.
Same sound as makes the whale, same sound as
makes the sea beast.
The bile-fish triumphs; it
through fire and whose fire
then calls through to thrive.
Fish was flicking earth’s bones and earth was
done, abrupt. Another method.
by Adrian Sobol
For years, I’ve been told poetry is akin to abstract art. This analogy has always troubled me somewhat, as my experiences of looking at, say, a Rothko never approximate my time reading a poetry collection. The two mediums aren’t really analogous, and despite the efforts of the New York School, they are still very much separate in the art world. The critical experiential difference, I’ve realized, occurs at the level of scale. The reason Rothko’s paintings (when seen in museums) can subdue me is that they take up entire walls. They inhabit my field of vision completely. A poem on the page can’t quite achieve the sublimity nor the immediacy of that enormous canvas.
Reading a poetry collection requires effort. It requires language comprehension, connection, and most of all, time—none of which are required when looking at a piece of visual art. Now to achieve a congruous effect in a poem as the Rothko, one needs something beyond the page. It requires the poet. It requires the poet to be invested in her work. It requires the poet to perform.
I’ve noticed this is a concept not lost on politically-engaged poets. Most likely, this is an effect of said engagement; politics is an arena that requires a level of connection for any successful outcome. This year, I heard Hoa Nguyen make the case that a proper reading will reveal in a poem things the page cannot. Stacey Waite and Tim Jones-Yelvington made arguments for the necessity of performance. Jones-Yelvington wholly embraces the concept of performance— he read in full drag. For Waite, performance allows poetry, which can reside obtusely on the page, to make its way to an audience. To affect them. Waite’s argument is performance makes the work available to people who may have no interest in the writing whatsoever. One may never pick up a book of poetry for several reasons (the fact that a book jacket contains the word “poetry” may even be a hindrance), but if one sits at a performance, the work should be unavoidable. It should bring the poetry to the audience.
The word “metaphor” comes from the Greek meaning “a carrying over.” Performance should do the work of metaphor. The poet must carry her work across, out from the page, out past the podium, to the audience. There are limits of course: timing, attention spans, acoustics, etc. The nuance of a poem simply doesn’t translate in a minute or two. Instead, a reading should induce blunt force trauma. One cannot explore a poem at a reading in the same way one can at home or in a classroom. Poetry’s already trying to play with language outside the confines of syntax and narrative, so it’s a lot to ask of an audience that may not know how you break the rules to follow along. The reading is not a place to “get” a poem. It’s a place to experience it through a cocktail of voice, body, and language. To focus strictly on the words at a reading is to deny the materiality of the situation.
Jones-Yelvington commented after his reading that he’s interested in art that’s not meant to last. It flares up and disappears. The reading is a space where poetry can do just that. It exists only as long as the poet commands the floor and our attention. To do that properly, a poet must engage. She must communicate with the audience. Come alive with the poem. This is not to say that poets need to become late-career Pacinos, howling every line to the rafters for emphasis. A quiet poem should be quiet. A funny line should be delivered with Louis CK precision. Learn cadences. Learn which poems are better read aloud and which are better left to the page (there is, in fact, a difference).
I tell my students to read their poems as if they’re in love with them. This means knowing the poem intimately and that takes time. It takes practice. Maybe writers need to cut their teeth with standup at open mics and comedy clubs. Bombing night after night will at least show how easily an audience can give up on you if you don’t try to meet them halfway.
Stephen Graham Jones Required His MFAs to Publish a Story in his Graduate Fiction Workshop, and These are the Results!
MFA students in Stephen Graham Jones’ fiction workshop this semester had the following acceptances and publications:
Bird Marathe’s “Hello my new friend, I hope” won the Gertrude Stein Award in Fiction, 3rd place, and is forthcoming in The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review
Vanessa Villarreal’s “The Palace of Waiting Rooms” is forthcoming in NANO Fiction
Mark Jaskowski’s “Why I Never Finished Stephen King’s The Stand” came out with NIB Magazine
Sarena Ulibarri had stories accepted at Birkensnake, Used Gravitrons, and in the forthcoming anthology Whispers From the Abyss
Kit Kieling’s “Pronatalism” is forthcoming in Eunoia Review
Bruce Lin has a story forthcoming in 365 Tomorrows
Gena Goodman has a story forthcoming in PANK
Logan Priess also had a story accepted for a forthcoming Eunoia Review
Tanner Hadfield has a story forthcoming in Washington Square Review
Courtney Morgan’s story, “A Wing Unfolds In the Dark” is forthcoming from Pleiades!
"Meredith, Are You Still in the Holy City?" A Poem by Caroline Davidson in GulfStream Literary Magazine!
I want to tell you about this dryness, this unfamiliar overture. Fleets do not land here. Lakes are locked and no one will meet me in this basement. It throbs. Far from the har…
Rejection Sucks And Then You Die: How To Take A Dear Sad Sack Letter (and Shove It) - The Rumpus.net
“Some rejections are just form letters, written with a bored affect in which you imagine the sender cutting and pasting a tight piece of coal into the body of the email, then yawning, then hitting send. And he’s probably 22, and that fact alone is grounds for (legal) (or clinical) indignation. You consider the havoc you could spend on his (probably) sexless, pathetic form. You could slice him to confetti, eat him for breakfast, mix so many metaphors that he wouldn’t know what hit him, the little douche bag. You plot revenge, in which you appear in his office door in a fetching dress and say something like, “Do you even know who I am?” You’ll clutch your scorned manuscript and wave it under his pimply nose, “You’ll pay for this, intern!” But still, SEND, and he has you withering.”
Milan-based luxury brand Prada is teaming up with Italian publisher Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore for a new international writing contest called Prada Journal.
Someone had to say it. Blog post by Adrian Sobol!
Or The Swag will cunt punt you.