Aug 28 2015

Three Mini Reviews for Three Mini Chapbooks of Poetry

I picked up each of these little books after being present at a reading by the authors, each of whom is a great performer with a unique and powerful voice. If you have the chance to catch them at any one of the many poetry events around the San Francisco bay area, I highly recommend you go have a listen.

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House and Home

by Jaz Sufi

Hand made with a string binding, House and Home is a gift of words, expressing raw wounds of body and heart, mind and soul. The poems explore love and its failures. They address the lives of women, revealing how they are damaged, while revealing a strength that allows them to reclaim their own power. What a gorgeous little collection.

Poetry is not the ship.
Poetry is not the captain.
Life is a constant storm, and poetry
is what we make of the wreckage,
what we cling to alone in the ocean.

— from “Better a Blacksmith Than a Writer, a Carpenter Than a Poet”

Jaz Sufi is a poet, a Bay Area native, and the slammaster of the Berkeley Slam, the longest running poetry slam in California.

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Reflections

by Jocelyn Deona De Leon
2005

Although only about the size of my hand, I don’t know if I can quite call Reflections mini at 62 pages.This collection is introspective and soulful, alternating between diary entries exploring and reflecting the author’s emotional space to individual poems sending messages to the world. These poems call upon the reader to ground themselves in the present moment, to look inside themselves, and to feel the world deeply.

moments flutter by like
butterfly wings slowly
floating you away from me.

i cannot catch you
because your freedom is exquisite.
it is the most explicit reminder that
the only way to love free is
to free love.

— from “Complicated Simplicity”

Jocelyn Deona de Leon writes poetry inspired by her Pilipino ancestral heritage and reflecting on experience through the eyes of love (see bio). She has toured nationally, sharing her words and energy with youth at various elementary, high school, and college campuses.

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Highku: 4 & 20 Poems About Marijuana

by Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco
Lucky Bastard Press, 2015

I don’t smoke, so normally I wouldn’t be interested in a book of poetry about pot. But when I saw this tiny, adorable little book, I couldn’t help but pick it up. The poems inside follow the traditional haiku 5-7-5 syllable format. Each tiny poem contains a single thought, some witty, some perceptive. A fun little read.

Nixon’s solution
for Vietnam protesters:
Arrest them for pot

Brennan ‘B Deep’ DeFrisco likes words and the way they move. He is an organizer and performer at the Berkeley Poetry Slam and will represent them for the second time in the upcoming 2015 National Poetry Slam. He is a co-founder of Lucky Bastard Press.


Aug 24 2015

Watching and Reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, the story of two very different and contrary magician who bring magic back to England in the early 1800s, years ago. It blew me away with its wit and complex magical world building, mixing actually historical events with invented ones. So, of course, I was unable to contain my squee when I learned that the BBC was going to make a mini-series of the book. The trailers were fantastic, which just added to my glee.

I gathered together with friends over a series of Saturday nights to watch. I was not disappointed.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

One of the most important things for me was that the adaptation capture the qualities of the two main characters — Strange and Norrell — both intelligent, flawed and arrogant in their own way. Eddie Marsan is particularly fantastic Norrell, capturing the shrinking, shrewd, hoarding qualities of the character. Sometimes he appears rat-like in his fussy white wig, which is exactly how I imagined the character. Bertie Carvel is also wonderful in his role as Strange, revealing the arrogance and flightiness behind the handsome face and charm.

There are also a ton of side characters from the book and the mini-series does a good job of trying to cover them all and tell each of their stories despite the limitations of TV screen time. Not every portrayal was perfect (Childermass could have been more foreboding and the Gentleman with the thistledown hair could have hair that was more like thistledown), but most were handled well.

Strange on the King's Roads

Strange on the King’s Roads.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is a rather large book (800+ pages if I remember correctly) representing a story that spans many years and, thus, it must have been a difficult book to adapt. Although the mini-series was seven episodes long, I could easily imagine a version that was ten or more episodes long and that’s without including all the footnotes with additional stories that could never make it on screen.

The writers did an excellent job distilling as much of the plot as possible, merging scenes and characters in some places, removing others where they needed to, while maintaining the clarity of the storyline as much as possible. Of all the seven episodes, I was only confused once when several story points were tightened up into a ten minute span (or so). I noticed they changed Strange’s character and his relationship to his wife some, making him a more romantic figure and their story more of a romance than the book portrayed. I suppose this makes sense, as it makes Strange more sympathetic and the magicians more heroic during the final battle.

The changes didn’t bother me, partly because it had been so long since I read the book I didn’t remember many of the details. But even so, any annoyances would have been minor, as on the whole watching Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell was great fun.

(Although one of my favorite moments in watching was listening to my friend rant about the absurdity of men’s pants in that time period. I wish I could remember half of the things she said, so I could quote them here.)


“Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. “I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, “but a gentleman never would.”

Of course, as soon as I finished the mini-series, I knew I needed to reread the book so that I could become reacquainted with all that I had forgotten and was left out of the mini-series — most notably the footnotes. So, I listened to the novel on the audio book performed by Simon Prebble, who was fantastic.

There is SOOOOOO much that the mini-series left out (one of my favorite footnotes was the story of the statue of the Virgin Mary brought to life to catch a murderer). The story is rich with humor and interesting side stories. Stephen Black’s character in particular is much fuller and more interesting in the novel, as he is a well educated black man, working as a servant in a country that will never see him as anything more than a novelty. There are also subtle and not-so-subtle references the uncomfortable restrictions of women’s roles.

Clarke has created an amazingly rich historical world, full of imaginary books and complex magical histories, poetry and prophecies. I was dazzled all over again by how great her writing and wit and storytelling is. Although the miniseries is fun and wonderful and everything it should be, it’s nothing to the extent of awesome that is the book (no surprise, I’m sure, to most readers). This is to say, if you haven’t read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell yet, you most definitely should.

“There is nothing else in magic but the wild thought of the bird as it casts itself into the void. There is no creature upon the earth with such potential for magic. Even the least of them may fly straight out of this world and come by chance to the Other Lands. Where does the wind come from that blows upon your face, that fans the pages of your book? Where the harum-scarum magic of small wild creatures meets the magic of Man, where the language of the wind and the rain and the trees can be understood, there we will find the Raven King.”

__________


Aug 24 2015

Titles are hard, I find, so here’s my weekly update…

Most of my week has been spent getting back into the groove after my trip to Anchorage. Coming home always makes me want to relook at where I’m at, at my clutter, at my day to day events. I’m wanting to declutter and clean out my space again, although I haven’t felt as though I’ve made much progress with that in recent attempts.

Friday night, I gathered together with the Writing Gang and talked life and words. I got some good feedback on my most recently edited chapter/poem of the novel in poems.

Sunday my mom, sister, and I took a day trip up to Sacramento for a cousin’s baby shower. New family members, yay!

What I’m Reading

I’m a dozen pages in to The Reader by Bernhard Shlink and I’m rather bored. Neither the language, characters, or the story are grabbing me. I’ll give it a little more time, but I’m guessing this one is not going to work out for me.

However, I’m loving The 2013 Rhysling Anthology, which it’s only taken me two years to get around to reading.

Giveaway! Just a reminder that there is only a week left to sign up for my The Walls Around Us giveaway.

What I’m Writing

Most of my writing progress has been in the form of ongoing work on some collaborative poetry with Laura Madeline Wiseman, which has been an amazing experience so far. It’s been humbling and rewarding, as each of us has to learn to give up some control of how the poem will develop and turn out. Some of our darlings get killed along the way, only to be replaced by something different and darling in its own right. We’ve finished one poem so far and are toying with some sestinas. Such fun.

Getting ready for the Writing Gang meeting meant I had to whip together a new draft for chapter/poem three of the novel in poems — a good thing, since progress petered out on that one. I’ve also been making edits on a few other poems in the hopes of submitting them soon.

Goal(s) for this week: Finish and submit a selection of poem(s).

Linky Goodness

  • The Creative Apocalypse That Wasn’t by Steven Johnson – “The dystopian scenario, after all, isn’t about the death of the record business or Hollywood; it’s about the death of music or movies. As a society, what we most want to ensure is that the artists can prosper — not the record labels or studios or publishing conglomerates, but the writers, musicians, directors and actors themselves. Their financial fate turns out to be much harder to measure, but I endeavored to try.”
  • What is Literary Activism? by Amy King – “Part of working towards understanding and attempting more pluralistic or consciously inclusive approaches to such matters means I have for quite a while been working on recognizing my own privilege, and therefore have also become aware of my limited perspective and understanding. I realized I would never have to face some of the situations, microagressions, suppressions and oppressions other writers explicated in a poetics…”

Aug 21 2015

Poet Spotlight: Kristina Marie Darling on Mapping Heartbreak

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose. Her writing has been described by literary critics as “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” and “complex.” She has been awarded with a number of fellowships and grants by both U.S. and overseas universities, institutes, and organizations. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University. Here, Kristina shares a bit about her latest collection of poetry, hybrid art forms, and the act of writing as catharsis.

Kristina Marie Darling

Your most recent book of poetry is Failure Lyric. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.

Failure Lyric began as a series of erasures. I took a black marker to my four year correspondence with a male writer, who, out of respect for his work, will remain unnamed. What started out as an act of destruction became generative, since the hybrid prose pieces ultimately grew out of the erasures at the beginning and end of the book. Once I had erased every last email, note, and inscription, I started to write flash essays, which map my heartbreak and all of the unexpected places it brought me to: Saint Louis, Iowa, Burlington, and the now infamous Dallas/Fort Worth airport. So my initial attempts to destroy artifacts of the relationship became a documentary project, charting the crazy orbits that grief set me on.

The collection features mainly prose poems that unfold in a single story. Did you have a specific story you wanted to tell when you began writing? Or did the story evolve into being as you added individual poems together?

That’s a great question. I definitely discovered the story as I wrote. The book began as mere catharsis, an attempt to move past the end of the end of a relationship. With that said, I didn’t expect the artifacts of loss, and my own grief, to inspire me to write at all. I didn’t expect anything to come of the erasures except peace of mind maybe, or a good night’s sleep. Then I couldn’t stop writing. As the book began to take shape, the order was very close to the chronological order in which the poems were written. My grief became something concrete, a ledger of sorts, which will never be completely finished.

Some of your work has been described as hybrid prose. How would you define hybrid prose? Would the prose poems in Failure Lyric fall under this definition? How do you decide which form to use when you approach a new piece of poetry or prose?

While there are many different definitions of hybridity circulating within the literary community, I would define hybrid as a text that uses the resources of more than one genre. This can range from combinations of essay and poetry to hybrids of poetry and visual art, poetry and fiction, or even poetry and the dramatic arts. When deciding which form to use for a piece of poetry or prose, I usually consider the expectations the reader will bring to the text. Even more importantly, how can I undermine those readerly expectations? I see form as an opportunity to purposefully mislead the reader, offering them moments of beauty where they likely wouldn’t expect to find them.

Failure Lyric explores themes of loss, isolation, and miscommunication. Are these themes that have appeared in other work you’ve done? If not what are the sorts of themes or imagery you often find yourself returning to?

Absolutely! I see myself as a poet who works primarily within the tradition of the love lyric, so loss, isolation, and miscommunication are themes that seem unavoidable, I mean, if a love poem is to be honest. I’m interested in not only engaging the rich history of the love lyric, which includes canonical figures like Petrarch, and contemporary writers like Joanna Klink, but also expanding what is possible within it, allowing what once was a predominantly male literary heritage to encompass feminist critiques of form, genre, and the gender politics surrounding language.

You have published more than twenty books and chapbooks, what advice can you give other poets about putting together a collection?

The best advice I can give is to listen to your poems. Many writers start out with a preconceived idea of what their collection should or ought to be. For instance, I’ve heard many of my poet friends say that in order to win a contest, a poetry book should be 65 pages and contain three sections, organized by theme. This will do you no good if the structure doesn’t fit the work. As a writer working with hybrid and experimental forms, I’ve been surprised and delighted by how open-minded readers often are, and how open they are to writers who want to re-envision received ideas about how literary texts unfold.

What is the favorite thing you’ve written or published so far? Why?

Definitely X Marks the Dress: A Registry, my first collaboration with Carol Guess. I say this because working with someone whose writing I so admired pushed me to be my best. I also learned so much from Carol about how to structure a narrative, how different voices can work together within the same collection, and how to create layer upon layer within a manuscript. And it was fun to work on! The great thing about collaborations is that you never know what’s around the corner, so you’re constantly being surprised and delighted by what your collaborator sends you.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve been reading Saints of Hysteria, an anthology of collaborative poetry that covers over fifty years, as well as Melissa Kwansy’s prose poem collection, Pictograph. Additionally, I just finished Lindsey Drager’s The Sorrow Proper, which came to me as a review copy.  Who knew that a review copy could change my life?  Ms. Drager’s collection is literally the best novel I’ve read in years.

Name one poet no one knows but should.

Erin Bertram!  She has several chapbooks, including a few from Dancing Girl Press, and I’m just waiting for her book to come out so that I can place the first pre-order.

Do you feel community is important as a writer? How do you stay connected?

Most definitely!  I believe that all of poetry is conversation, so it’s difficult to have poetry without a sense of community.  For me, the best poems respond to, engage, and interrogate work by the writers that came before them, so poetry is definitely an exchange, a dialogue.  And this is the best part of writing, seeing others respond to, appropriate, and recast your work in ways that you had never imagined.

What can the world expect from you in the future?

I’m currently working on two very different collaborations.  The first one is a manuscript I’ve been working on with John Gallaher, a poet whose work I’ve always admired.  We started writing poems about landscape back in March, but it didn’t take long for many of the pieces to become ghost stories.  With that in mind, the project is tentatively titled GHOST / LANDSCAPE.

The second collaboration is a project that I’ve been working on with a visual artist, Kristin Giordano, called “The Ghosts of Birds.” For this manuscript, I’m writing poems in response to Kristin’s stunning photographs of the ghostly bones of tiny birds found on the Long Beach peninsula in Washington state.  Kristin and I met at Willapa Bay AiR, and artist residency in Oysterville, have been collaborating ever since.  I’m excited to see both of the projects unfold!


Aug 19 2015

Book Review: Rupetta by Nike Sulway

“History was an art form — the delicate, dangerous art of creating the past.”

Science fiction writers have long used visions of animatronic machines and robots to questions the nature of humanity and god and to explore what constitutes a soul. In this beautiful and strange alternate history, N.A. Sulway performs a similar exploration while also taking into consideration how history is shaped and how the creation of history through carefully selected “facts” or stories shapes a society.

Rupetta is an animatronic object, constructed in the 1600s by a young French woman out of brass gears and cogs and leather fittings to resemble a human being. She shares souls and consciousness with the women who wynd her. As Rupetta recounts her own story, in which she witnesses centuries, from her creation to the formation of a new society with her image at its center, she reveals the ways she has been loved, hated, and used by the women she is bound to, as well as the ways she herself has loved.

Alternating with her own story is Henri’s tale, a young woman living in the “present” day society formed out of the devotion to the Fourfold Rupettan Law — “Life is Death. The Earth is a Grave. The Body is a Machine for Dying. Knowledge is the Path to Imortality.” Henri longs to be a historian of the Penitent order and to give up her human heart for a mechanical one that would extend her life. In her researches on the Salt Lake Witches, she uncovers a hidden secret that could shake the stability of the current societal order.

This was a strange and wonderful read with beautiful language. I loved the varying relationships between each of these women, based on kindness, love, friendship, and trust, as well as pain, betrayal, and anger. At it’s core this is a love story interweaved with the histories that shape society and the intellectual rebellions that threaten to undo it.

The hardback edition is out of print and expensive to purchase, but I recommend picking up a digital copy.

Don’t Forget that I am running a giveaway for The Walls Around Us. Just comment on the post by August 31 to enter.