Congratulations to recent MFA in Creative Writing alumni Nick Comilla and Brooke Ellsworth, whose debut books have been selected for publication!
Brooke Ellsworth's first full-length poetry collection, Serenade, is forthcoming from Octopus Books in 2017. She is also author of the chapbooks, Thrown (The New Megaphone, 2014), and Mud (dancing girl press, 2015). She is currently based out of Peekskill, NY and works at Parsons School of Design.
Nick Comilla received his MFA in Poetry and Fiction from The New School in 2014. He has previously published work in Lambda Literary, Assaracus, Poetry is Dead magazine and elsewhere. His debut novel, Ghosts of Montreal, is forthcoming from Arsenal Pulp Press in fall 2016.
Bloof Books (edited by '02 poetry alumni Shanna Compton) has announced their fall titles:
Sharon Mesmer, Greetings from My Girlie Leisure Place
Jennifer L. Knox, Days of Shame & Failure
Alyssa Lynee, Knotted
A descendant of Mirov’s previous collections, “Collected Ghost” (H_NGM_N Books, 2009), “Ghost Machine” (Caketrain, 2010), ghost machines utilizes the tools of its predecessors, but in new ways—further blurring the line between poem & examination, poem & specter.
Kearney writes, “Reading ghost machines, I am reminded of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, J Dilla’s Donuts, or DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing.... In these sonic works, archives reanimate into loop driven compositions that stave off endings. Refrain riddles these poems, deepening echoes that re-orient and destabilize. “A frozen lung tree”—a persistently repeated phrase, is an anatomical metaphor, an abstracted image of networks, part of a grotesque arbor—but in all cases, unable to provide air, the tree’s vital fruit. Yet, these poems refuse stasis, the repetitions shuffle in interval, adding new fragments from Rilke, Pound, Borges, and a video gaming manual, gently accumulating new possibilities."
Mirov is the author of Hider Roser (Octopus Books, 2012), and Ghost Machine (Caketrain, 2010) which was selected for publication by Michael Burkard, and chosen as one of the best books of poetry in 2010 for Believer Magazine's Reader Survey. He is also the author of the chapbooks My Hologram Chamber is Surrounded by Miles of Snow (YESYES, 2011), Vortexts (SUPERMACHINE, 2011), I is to Vorticism (New Michigan Press, 2010), and Collected Ghost (H_NGM_N, 2010). He is a founding editor of PEN America's Poetry Series, and an editor-at-large for LIT Magazine. He grew up in Northern California and lives in Oakland.
By Creative Writing at The New School / in Faculty, Poetry, TNS Lit Scene / September 29, 2015
Creative Writing continues its partnership with the Academy of American Poets this year by hosting their annual Poets Forum. The Poets Forum brings together the Chancellors of the academy, a group of diverse, acclaimed poets, for readings and conversations on the state of the art. Events hosted by The New School include A Reading by Marie Howe & Lecture by Joy Harjo on Friday, October 9th, and Chancellor Conversations, a series of discussions on poetics and culture on Saturday, October 10.
The culminating event of this year's Poets Forum is the American Poets Magazine launch party. American Poets is published biannually and features original work by contemporary poets. The fall/winter 2015 issue features our own Elaine Equi, faculty member in the MFA in Creative Writing program. Equi has just published her 13th poetry collection, Sentences and Rain, with Coffee House Press. Equi will join fellow readers Sjohnna McCray, 2015 Walt Whitman Award Winner, and Camille Rankine.
The American Poets launch party will take place on Saturday, October 10th at 7:00pm. The event will be held in Wollman Hall, 65 W. 11th Street, 5th floor, and is free and open to all. A public reception will follow the reading.
Mariam Zafar, MFA Poetry '15 alum and winner of this year's Paul Violi Prize in Poetry, sits down with current MFA student Sam O'Hana to discuss experimentation, humor, traditional and contemporary texts.
"Poetry is an arrangement of sorts, like pouring texts, languages, ideas, and research into a beaker and distilling it to a concentrated representation of one’s self.”
Read "Arrangements" here.
The New York City Poetry Festival returns to Governors Island this year on July 25th & 26th. Founded by MFA in Creative Writing alumni Stephanie Berger, '08, and Nicholas Adamski, '07, the festival will celebrate its fifth anniversary.
The NYC Poetry Festival seeks to "liberate poets and their work from the dark corners of bars, bookstores, and coffee shops and their halogen-lit college campuses, and to bring together as many NYC poets as possible, in the bright light of day, to meet, mingle, and collaborate," as per their mission statement.
This year the festival boasts 22 New School alumni poets, including: Liz Axelrod, Lisa Marie Basile, Jackie Clark, Gregory Crosby, John Deming, Gabriel Don, Brooke Ellsworth, Isaac Fornarola, Thomas Fucaloro, Seth Graves, Atoosa Grey, Lauren Hunter, Linda Kleinbub, Roberto Montes, Heeyen Park, Ali Power, Lorraine Schein, Amanda Smeltz, Jess Smith, Edwin Torres, Melinda Wilson, and Micah Zevin.
Find the complete schedule and list of participants here.
Kickstart your writing this summer at The New School! These creative writing workshops are designed to get students producing high-quality writing in short order. Classes begin the first week of June and run through the end of July, either on campus in Greenwich Village or online. Registration for these and other courses is open now at newschool.edu/ce:
Pick Up Your Pens: Kickstart Your Writing Routine
On campus with Jessie Sholl
Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 2 - July 21
Writing is largely a matter of habit (to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor), yet it’s not always easy to maintain a consistent writing practice. This course offers a supportive push for writers of all levels toward creating and cementing that habit. For both fiction and nonfiction writers, and at any stage of a project—from facing a blank page to a completing a draft of a story—we’ll use exercises, writing prompts, and a constructive critiquing process to improve our writing practices as well as our work.While the focus is on loosening up and kick-starting our creativity, the exercises in this course connect to and explore important features of both fiction and nonfiction writing—including description, voice, character, plot, and revision—as well as ways to apply them to current and future projects. We also read pieces by acclaimed writers about process. By the end of the course, each student has a good start on a new piece or have a clear direction in which to take a piece they’d already begun—and have a solid foundation for a regular writing practice.
On Location: Writing from Art at The Met
On campus and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with Star Black
Mondays through Thursdays, June 1 - June 11
11:00am - 4:00pm
New York City has a long tradition of artistic exchange and collaboration between writers and painters and of exchange between writing and the visual arts. Kenneth Koch and Larry Rivers, John Ashbery and Jane Freilicher, and James Schuyler and Fairfield Porter were close friends and collaborators. Derek Walcott and e. e. cummings both painted and wrote, and photographers like Rudy Burckhardt documented friends creating art in their studios The class splits its time between The New School, where we share our writing, and the city’s preeminent art museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Students meet at The New School from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., break for lunch, and reconvene on the steps of The Metropolitan Museum of Art at 2:00 p.m. We spend the remaining time exploring its collections and writing flash fiction and “ekphrastic” poems, prose poems, and flash fiction responding to art. We spend the first week writing in The Met’s European Painting Galleries, Sculpture Courts, Medieval Art and Armor Collection, and Costume Institute. The second week is devoted to writing in the 20th Century Wing, Contemporary Art and Photography Galleries, Asian and Islamic wings, Rooftop Outdoor Projects, and Egyptian Collections. On the final Thursday of the course, the class visits and writes at the nearby Neue Galerie, located at Fifth Avenue and 86th Street, then enjoys a picnic and an outdoor reading in Central Park.
Advanced Fiction Writing: Revise and Polish
On campus with John Reed
Tuesdays and Thursdays, June 2 - July 21
8:00pm - 9:50pm
The workshop is an opportunity for writers to speed their creative and technical maturation. This course is for students who are beyond introductory courses and are ready to take their writing to a higher level. Workshop time is dedicated primarily to student work; assignments look toward and initiate tasks commonly encountered by aspiring writers. The intention of the course is to help individuals prepare themselves and their work for the next phase of their vocation, be it approaching editors, agents, and literary journals or applying to graduate schools. These subjects are addressed realistically and reasonably, with the quality of the writing always foremost on the agenda.
From Silence to Poem
Online with Richard Tayson
June 1 - July 31
Beginning and advanced writers work on dismantling silences in their lives and generating poems from personal experience. We work in a safe, functional community to open hidden places within ourselves. The heretical Gospel According to Thomas says, "If you do not bring forth that which is within you, that which is within you will destroy you. If you bring forth that which is within you, that which is within you will save you." This notion informs our work together, enabling the writer to follow the poem's impulse in order to break old habits and write something challenging and difficult.
Questions? Don't hesitate to contact Creative Writing at The New School:
writingprogram@ newschool.edu | 212.229.5611
Learn more about continuing, undergraduate, and graduate writing programs at The New School: newschool.edu/writing
A new episode of Audiograph, the podcast series of the The New School's MFA in Creative Writing program, features a second installment of readings by New School MFA faculty members and alumni. The results of a three-day marathon bring us David Lehman, Sara Lippmann, Lori Lynn Turner, Gregory Collins, Dale Peck, Sarah Weeks, and Hettie Jones reading from their own work and speaking to The New School and NYC writing experience and life.
The Audiograph series, produced by MFA alum Luke Wiget, broadcasts digital audio about the people, publications, and events of Writing at The New School. This special edition of the podcast was produced in conjunction with MFA alumni Luke Wiget and Sam Farahmand's drDOCTOR podcast series. You can find drDOCTOR on iTunes at drDOCTOR, online at drdoctordrdoctor.com, and on Twitter @drDOCTORdrDR.
The fifth annual Paul Violi Prize in Poetry has been awarded to New School MFA in Creative Writing student Mariam Zafar. The second-place winner is Timothy Baker, and honorable mention goes to Zachary Lutz. Each will receive a cash prize and be recognized at the MFA in Creative Writing commencement ceremony.The prize, which is awarded annually to a second-year MFA Poetry candidate, was founded in 2011 in remembrance of Paul Violi. Violi was not only an esteemed and influential poet but a dedicated and caring teacher. He taught at The New School for many years before his passing in 2011. The Paul Violi Prize was established by Violi’s friends and family, who raised funds for an annual poetry award to be given to exceptional students in his honor.
Mariam Zafar is a Pakistani-American writer pursuing her MFA in Poetry at The New School. A desert dweller at heart, she writes between Miami, Dubai, and New York City. Her poetry is forthcoming in Bird's Thumb and The Ink & Code. When she's not working on her collection of poems, you will find her scavenging for the best cup of chai in town.
Tim Baker is an MFA candidate in Poetry at The New School based in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in the Coachella Review and A Clean, Well-Lighted Place, and his prose work has appeared in articles for Newsweek Special Editions, TV Guide, and CBS Watch!, among other publications. He is a graduate of Hunter College of the City University of New York.
And here's a handy PDF of just the writing courses: CEWritingFlierSummer2015v2
Writing at the New School offers Continuing Education courses in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, dramatic writing, journalism, writing for children and special topics. Our short form students go on to publish articles with national newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times to Cosmopolitan to Vice. A great many of our long-form students have gone on to sell books to large and small publishers. In 2013, our students, alumni and faculty published over 35 books; in 2014, over 40. Our authorial successes include some of the biggest names in writing: Mario Puzzo to Jack Kerouac to Madeleine L’Engle. And our faculty is made up of an exciting array of contemporary authors who are also dedicated teachers.
Additionally, Creative Writing at The New School offers an internationally renowned Master of Fine Arts, and a Summer Writers Colony, open to both degree students of the School of Undergraduate Studies and Continuing Education students.
Register online or by telephone:
In the wake of the announcement that MFA in Creative Writing alum Roberto Montes’ first poetry collection, I Don’t Know Do You, has been named a Finalist for the Publishing Triangle’s 2014 Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, Roberto and MFA '13 alum Brooke Ellsworth traded some thoughts on his early interest in fiction, bewilderment as subject matter, bewilderment as process, and the tenacity of bewilderment. Likewise, of this collection Nick Sturm writes: “The not knowing of I Don’t Know Do You is the affirmative uncertainty of a book whose joyous looking is bound to a glowing pain.” I Don’t Know Do You was also named one of the best books of 2014 by NPR.
Brooke Ellsworth: When did you first start writing poetry?
Roberto Montes: I began to write poetry in earnest in college after taking an Intro to Poetry workshop, taught by Rebecca Morgan Frank, on a whim. I discovered fairly quickly that everything I liked about writing (I had enrolled in college under the impression I was a fiction writer) was better suited for poetry than stories.
BE: What about your stories made them “better suited for poetry"?
RM: In my fiction workshop I kept receiving critiques that took me to task for not developing characters, not making characters realistic, or not establishing plot lines that made sense, and just generally being a terrible fiction writer. What I aimed for when writing stories was much easier to approximate in poems. What I was aiming for is somewhat hard to say, but it is something like an acceptance of the feeling of constant bewilderment. After a semester or two, I stopped caring about stories entirely and decided that I would pursue a poetry thesis instead of a fiction one.
BE: Would you say this focus on “bewilderment” has persisted in your writing and carries into I Don’t Know Do You (IDKDY)? Or did that feeling somehow end or morph into other concerns?
RM: Bewilderment is a focus of my life in general so I suspect it carries into anything I write, and IDKDY is especially rooted in bewilderment (as the title suggests). I was interested in the ability of language—through rhythm, texture, and rhetoric—to affect a kind of authority in a way that obviates the need to justify itself. Political language and economic language is especially interesting to me in that regard, and I kept returning to tropes of both. Where language breaks down in spite of itself is where the real pleasure of writing poetry comes from.
BE: If poetry is where a language of economy and politics “breaks down in spite of itself,” do you see this language resisting poetry? Your poem, “The Poet Speaks of Beauty”—I see this poem as inhabiting that pressure in and between the politicized and the aestheticized, or the pressure engendered by the assumption of their separateness (“consensus is never beautiful”).
RM: I would like to clarify that I frame the breaking down of language as poetry, as opposed to the mechanism that gets us to poetry. Language is inherently authoritative to an extent (naming is probably the most powerful action a person has over something) but political and financial rhetoric seems an especially desperate tool to convince others of the speaker’s (and the language's) innocuousness. Because of this, you get a somewhat more colorful fight out of the lines. This is not to say that the language of politics and finance is the only thing worth breaking into, however. There is still, after all, an authority to be tested in “generic” lines like, “There was a tree I saw”.
BE: There is definitely an evocation of this rhetoric throughout IDKDY. This is interesting considering your preoccupation with bewilderment, because these poems are driven by conviction (“In this way I am already presidential”). To change the subject (or maybe talk about a different bewilderment / tenacity dynamic): I was wondering if you could talk a little about the process of putting together IDKDY? Did you do most of your writing while working on your MFA at The New School?
RM: I wrote 95% of the manuscript during my time in the MFA program at The New School. “Putting together” accurately describes the process, I think. I laid my printed poems out on the floor and tried to make sense of the flow of the book. The process was like gathering villages together and convincing them that they are one nation. They share a culture and a language but each poem has its own context and resources which can make for some difficult diplomacy. I’m happy that after a while the order began to come about organically. When you’re not writing poems with the thought that they might one day be collected in a book it can make for some interesting poetry but some difficult collections.
BE: The heft of IDKDY is composed of 2 poem sequences, the “One Way to Be a Person Is...” poems and the “Love Poems for..." Were these poems originally written in sequence? Was there a moment in writing and workshopping that you started to gain perspective on broader strokes throughout the manuscript?
RM: Yes, the poems largely came from sequences. It is rare for me to write a one-off poem. Usually, I stumble upon a particular logic or flow that interests me and I experiment with it until it exhausts itself. I remember being concerned that while the poems in the sequences were obviously related to each other, there was not enough of them to justify their own full-length collection. I wasn't sure how well a manuscript could hold together if it was comprised of three different sections of similar poems, or if it was comprised of poems that were mostly unrelated. Reading (New School MFA alum '07) Amy Lawless’s wonderful book My Dead helped assuage those fears in my thesis semester as I saw that sequences are capable of flowing into one another without too much disruption if you make an effort.
BE: If you could, in turn, help assuage any fears of the poets currently working on their thesis, is there any advice you wish someone had given you?
RM: A lot of MFA programs educate students on how to get published, but few let you know what to do once you are published. I was infinitely lucky to have Mark Bibbins as a thesis adviser, as he was gracious enough to loan his time and expertise in walking me through the various crises that accompany the book publication process. The important thing is not let the crises (and successes) ruin you or your work. Which can happen if you let it.
The Publishing Triangle Awards will be held at The New School's Auditorium at 66 W. 12th Street on Thursday, April 23rd at 7:00pm. The Publishing Triangle will present the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction, the Randy Shilts Award for Gay Nonfiction, the Audre Lorde Award for Lesbian Poetry, the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry, and the Edmund White Award for Debut Fiction. The Publishing Triangle partners with the Ferro-Grumley Literary Awards to present the Ferro-Grumley Award for Fiction. The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Leadership Award will also presented. The Publishing Triangle Awards are free and open to all, with a public reception to follow the ceremony.
Roberto Montes is the author of I Don't Know Do You (Ampersand Books, 2014), one of NPR's Best Books of 2014, and a Finalist for the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry from The Publishing Triangle. His chapbook, How to Be Sincere In Your Poetry Workshop, is available online through Nap University. His poems appear in Coconut Magazine, Apogee Journal, The Atlas Review, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. Find him online at robertomontes.com, and on Twitter @RobertoGMontes.
Brooke Ellsworth is the author of the newly published chapbook MUD (dancing girl press, 2015), and the chapbook Thrown: A Translation (New Megaphone, 2014). She has poems in or forthcoming in Coconut, jubilat, The Volta and inter|rupture. She currently lives in Queens, NY. Find her online at brookeellsworth.tumblr.com, and on Twitter at @HellsBellsworth.
New Audiograph Episode: Rebecca Reilly, New School MFA alum and author of the poetic autobiography, Repetition (Four Way Books), is joined by acclaimed author Maggie Nelson, whose new nonfiction book, The Argonauts, will be published in May by Graywolf Press. The event, hosted by MFA faculty member and alum Mark Bibbins, took place at The New School on Monday, March 9.
Mark Bibbins and Kathleen Ossip, MFA poetry alumni and current faculty of the Writing Program, read from their latest collections in a Poetry Forum on December 10, 2014.
Mark Bibbins' They're Don't Kill You Because They're Hungry, They Kill You Because They're Full was published by Copper Canyon in 2014 and selected as a Best Book of 2014 by the Academy of American Poets, Publisher's Weekly, and Coldfront Magazine.
Kathleen Ossip's new collection The Do-Over is out this week from Sarabande Books. Ossip's "Elegies" from the collection were originally published in Poetry magazine and featured in The Best American Magazine Writing 2014.
Updated 2/20/15: MFA student Danielle Chin profiled this event over at the Best American Poetry Blog:
On February 11th, over a hundred colleagues, family, friends, former students, and admirers gathered in Wollman Hall at The New School to celebrate the poetry of the late Paul Violi and to launch a posthumous collection of his poems, Selected Poems 1970-2007 (Ginko Press, 2014), edited by Violi’s lifelong friends, authors Charles North and Tony Towle. Violi, who died in April 2011, had published a dozen collections of poetry, including Overnight(Hanging Loose Press, 2007), Breakers: New and Selected Poems (Coffee House Press, 2000), In Baltic Circles(Kulchur Press, 1973), and Waterworks (Toothpaste Press, 1972). During his lifetime, he had been internationally anthologized and awarded numerous honors and grants, including two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, a John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award, and The Morton Dauwen Zabel Award.
Visit the Best American Poetry blog for the full story.
The MFA in Creative Writing Program at The New School will host A Tribute to Paul Violi on Wednesday, February 11th. The event features a book launch and reading of Paul Violi’s Selected Poems: 1970-2007 (Gingko Press), edited by Charles North and Tony Towle.
David Lehman will join Charles North and Tony Towle, editors of the Selected Poems, in reading from the new book, along with co-host Laura Cronk. The winners of the first four Paul Violi poetry competitions – Alex Crowley, Justin Sherwood, Alexandra Bennett, and Carson Donnelly – will also read, with a public reception to follow. The Paul Violi Prize in Poetry is given annually to a second-year poetry student in The New School’s graduate writing program.
Paul Violi, one of the major New York School poets of his generation, was celebrated for his inventive wit, his ability to find the poetic resonance of non-poetic language, his deadpan and his ability to get serious ideas across without didactic earnestness. An inspiring poet and beloved instructor, he wrote more than a dozen collections of poetry, including Waterworks (1972); In Baltic Circles (1973, 2011); Harmatan (1977), which was based on his experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria; the groundbreaking Splurge (1982); Likewise (1988); The Curious Builder (1993); Breakers: Selected Poems (2000); and Overnight (2007).
Violi received the John Ciardi Lifetime Achievement Award in Poetry, the American Academy of Arts and Letters Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation. He taught at New York University and Columbia University. At the time of his death in April 2011, he was a long-time faculty member in the New School’s graduate writing program.
A Tribute to Paul Violi
Wednesday, February 11, 6:30pm
65 W. 11th Street, Wollman Hall (5th floor)
Free and open to all
Stephanie Berger and Nicholas Adamski, graduates of the MFA program at The New School, founded The Poetry Society of New York in 2007 around the time they completed their MFAs. Among their initiatives is The Poetry Brothel, an event series that presents poets as high courtesans who perform their poetry in private readings while in character. They also run The New York City Poetry Festival, which occurs every summer on Governor’s Island, a free event bringing together around 250 poets to read their work to a diverse audience.
Christina Shideler, a current MFA student in Poetry at The New School, recently caught up with Stephanie and Nicholas. She also produced three “Live Poetry Videos” with faculty member John Reed, catching the poet/performers at the The Poetry Brothel of November 23, 2014.
CS: Many of your projects (The Poetry Brothel, The New York City Poetry Festival, The Typewriter Project) seem to be about bringing poetry out of its insular landscape and into the larger world. Do you agree? Why is this important to you?
Nicholas: Yes! Poetry is a beautiful and vital part of culture whether the wider culture knows it or not. Our projects seek to help the public develop a new understanding of, and relationship to, this form of expression that we love so much. We’ve found that many of the people who attend our events have had their perception of poetry colored in either dull or obliquely negative tones, whether by an unenthusiastic or unskilled teacher early in life or simply by the commonly held perception that poetry is boring or outdated. The first tenet we build into our mission statement was “to never be boring,” but as we’ve grown so has our mission. We quickly realized it wasn’t enough to simply prevent our audience from feeling bored or trapped, we want to engage them, inspire them, and ultimately reinvent their experience, perception, and desire for poetry in their life. What we are engaged in now is a complete rebranding and reeducation campaign for poetry in the culture at large.
CS: The death of poetry’s audience is much discussed. Did you ever believe in the concept of a narrow audience for poetry? Has your view of poetry’s audience and accessibility changed?
Nicholas: Poetry’s audience isn’t dead, they are just sleeping or, more likely, more engaged by other media or even by other forms of poetry not commonly recognized by the established poetry community. Song writing is a form of poetry and the music industry, despite being itself in a transitional period, remains wildly popular and lucrative. But that may be a different argument all together. What we have found is that the people who come to our shows, many of whom have never been to poetry event in their lives are always engaged, often moved, and sometimes even inspired to pursue poetry on their own. We know this because they tell us. I would say it’s not poetry’s audience that has narrowed but rather its delivery system. The poet’s role in society, the place of poetry on the page, and the cultural space given to the public poetry reading, event, or presentation may be as diminished as it has been in centuries, we would ask is that the fault of the audience or the artist? More poetry is being written today than ever in the history of the art form, more people are engaged, and our experience has shown us that more people are hungry for the unique connection and intimacy offered by poetry than we could have ever imagined. The Poetry Brothel is specifically designed to allow us to reach out to previously unengaged portions of the population and to give them an experience of poetry, and art in general, beyond anything they have ever considered possible. We are doing everything in our power to increase poetry’s cultural capital, one paying costumer at a time.
CS: You are both graduates of The New School. Did these ideas form while you were students? If so, how did The New School community inform or help these come into being?
Stephanie: These ideas did form while we at the New School, and they have developed through the work we have done over the years. I think the New School provides an incredibly supportive environment when it comes to experimentation and thinking “outside the box.” All of the professors provide very different perspectives, and there isn’t one overarching aesthetic guiding the program. There is a lot of freedom, a lot of collaboration between students, a lot of getting drunk with your professors, and a general atmosphere of camaraderie and congeniality, rather than the competitive spirit that plagues many graduate programs in the arts. Jennifer Michael Hecht’s class on Philosophy and Poetry was particularly influential to us. She forced us to take a historical perspective on poetry — what it is, what it does, what it means — and its place in our culture. But I think living in New York and experiencing the poetry community that existed at that time was the main catalyst that gave rise The Poetry Brothel. I really wanted to create a new kind of poetry performance, a more intimate and vulnerable way of delivering poetry to people that was also empowering and literally enriching for the poets. And the original cast was largely made up of our fellow New School classmates. The New School poetry community’s enthusiasm for the project was really crucial in getting it off the ground.
CS: At what point did it go from being a concept to a reality? In other words, what was the moment or event where you thought “wow this is really happening” with respect to either the brothel or the festival?
Nicholas: Everything Stephanie and I have ever done together started with a few drinks we had one night at Cafe Loup. She had dreamt up The Poetry Brothel and was starting to put out feelers for collaborators. She approached Maggie Wells and Maggie suggested she talk to me. Within minutes I knew that The Poetry Brothel was really going to happen, and I had a feeling it was going to happen in a big way. That night I wrote Stephanie an email telling her how terrified I was of the idea of giving private, one-on-one readings to strangers, and to ask them for money on top of it, I was horrified, however, I went on, I was significantly more fearful of how I would feel five years in the future when The Poetry Brothel was an international movement changing the way people experienced, perceived, and valued poetry.
A few days before our first event at the Living Theater, the Village Voice ran a full page article previewing the event. That felt very real. When the Living Theater canceled our event because the write up suggested we might be drinking whiskey I knew that we were going to be around for a long time and that this project was going to get a lot of attention. The night of our first brothel we started out protesting the Living Theater in a beautiful New York snowstorm and ended with a little refuge show in the back of The Mudd Lounge, an old techno club in the East Village. I couldn't have dreamt up a more perfect launch for such a renegade idea. To date Stephanie and I have done over a 130 shows in five countries, we have chapters in eleven countries, with more opening every few months, it’s almost mystifying how much it has already grown and how many people are excited to be a part of breathing life into the concept. After we had the Poetry Brothel up and running everything we've ever dreamt up felt more inevitable than anything. With the Festival it was just a matter of finding the location, we always knew once we had that we would have a festival. We've dreamt up a host of other ventures and while they haven't all been as successful as the Brothel and the Festival they've all come into being, when you work with a person like Stephanie Berger things just get finished, she more driven than any person I've ever met.
CS: By blending sexuality, poetry, and money, The Poetry Brothel is a political undertaking. Was this intended? If so, what message did you want to convey?
Stephanie: This was definitely intended. However, rather than conveying a particular message, our goal with it is more to create questions and provoke a discussion. In fact, the private poetry readings are literally vehicles for intimate conversation about poetry. The Poetry Brothel has in some ways essentially been a giant experiment designed to find out what a poem is worth and what poets are worth as human beings with bodies in our culture today.
CS: With The Poetry Brothel, do you see yourselves as providing a blueprint/example for new ways for working poets to help make a living through performance?
Stephanie: Absolutely. The Poetry Brothel explores and responds to the tendency of poets to systematically undervalue themselves inside the creative marketplace. Our events try to provide a fun and intimate means of confirming for writers and audience alike the literal monetary value of such work. One of our hopes for The Poetry Brothel is that through each event, we will teach our audience slowly but surely to place a higher and higher value upon poetry. Poetry is inherently intimate. And intimacy is incredibly valuable! People pay for it. Many of our “poetry whores” have gone on to create other projects that sell poetry not in similar ways exactly, but through the human desire for intimacy and connecting with others.
CS: Does constantly performing your poetry mean you’re constantly compelled to revise?
Nicholas: The private readings we give at the Brothel offer a unique experience and opportunity for revision. When I read to a stranger one-on-one, his or her attention is palpable. I try to maintain eye contact as much as possible though some people simply can’t look at a person who is giving them a private poetry reading but even if we’re not gazing into each other’s eyes I can still feel it when a line falls flat, or when I lose someone, with language trying to be too clever or evasive, with images that just don’t quite connect. The audience of one is an honest one, often whether or not that is the intention. Another beautiful thing about these interactions is that our customers are often people who don’t write poetry or go to poetry readings all that often, they are mostly people who just thought the event sounded fun. They are always genuine and kind and open to the experience and always deeply appreciative of our efforts even if they don’t really “get it,” after spending so much time in workshops and bouncing things off of other writers it is beyond refreshing to get such visceral feedback. That is not to say that I am constantly changing lines in my poems to keep poetry brothel patrons from getting bored or lost in a poem, I still believe in making them work for it, but I certainly drop or add a line and fine tune old and new poems all the time based on the shape some one's eyes take when they hear it or how and when their heads tilt, or why someone I’ve just met slides forward in the seat, leans in, trying to catch every single word.
CS: Especially for the Poetry Festival, I imagine there is a lot of persistence and persuasion necessary to come by sponsors and venues. Did you come from backgrounds where these skills had already been used or did launching these ventures force you to learn them?
Stephanie: We certainly had almost no experience in event production, marketing, PR, or fundraising when we first started hosting events. Nick has a degree in Political Science and Poetry. I have degrees in Philosophy, Film Theory, and Poetry. Neither of us was trained in any halfway practical skill! However, Nicholas did work as an interior decorator, which has helped us tremendously, and we’ve both always been peripherally involved in theatre and attended parties, festivals, and other celebratory events with great interest. But most importantly I think that Nick and I are just entrepreneurial by nature. We’re critical and motivated people who look at the culture, at the marketplace, search out the holes, and find ways to fill them. We’re totally self-taught for the most part. If I don’t know how to do something, I ask a friend who does, or I watch a YouTube video. And being personable helps a lot in approaching venues and sponsors.
CS: How do you see The New York City Poetry Festival as different from other poetry festivals or literary events?
Nicholas: The thing that sets the festival apart is its inclusiveness, its atmosphere, and its ethos. The festival operates on an open call system. Any NYC poetry group, organization, or publication is invited to participate. It’s first-come, first-serve. The whole idea behind the festival is to bring the city’s entire poetry community together for a big two-day party. We love that our three stages are all exactly the same. We love that a tiny poetry collective from Queens can perform on the same stage as poets curated by Poet’s House, followed by some high school students from Staten Island, followed by a slam group from The Nuyorican. We also love that the festival is outside on Governor’s Island. The fact that a festival designed to bring all of the various NYC poetry enclaves together in one place happens on an island in the harbor, that you have to take a boat the get there, that it is removed from any one borough, taken out of the context of a particular university, coffee shop, or bar, that people can bring blankets and sit on the ground, feel the sun on their faces and hear the wind blowing through the wide leaves on the London Plane trees that ring Colonel’s Row is a deliberate and absolutely fundamental component of the vision we had for this gathering.
CS: What has been the most surprising thing about undertaking these events?
Stephanie: I think the most surprising thing about The Poetry Brothel specifically has been the sheer size and scope to which the project has grown. It was initially just an idea. It was a little spark of a vision. Now there are more than fifteen functional poetry brothel branches in cities throughout North America, South America, and Europe. I couldn’t have imagined how big the community that is working on this project has gotten. It feels like I have a family scattered all over the world, which has been a delightful revelation.
CS: If you could give advice to anyone looking to start something in the literary scene—be it a magazine, reading series, or other event—what would you say?
Stephanie: I guess I would ask, “What makes your project necessary? What need is it filling? Which problem is it pointing to?” There are countless magazines, small presses, and reading series that feature a particular poet’s friends and favorites, but that usually isn’t enough to sustain the project. Projects with legs tend to provide answers to cultural questions, solutions to poetry problems, or they cause a lot more trouble. Sometimes the best projects destabilize a problematic framework that we took for granted or ignored. Instead of “What is it?” I’d ask, “What is your project doing?”
Stephanie Berger is the Executive Director of The Poetry Society of New York and co-creator with Nicholas Adamski of The Poetry Brothel, The New York City Poetry Festival, and The Typewriter Project. She is the author of In the Madame's Hat Box (Dancing Girl Press, 2011) and translator of The Grey Bird: Thirteen Emoji Poems in Translation (Coconut Books, 2014). Stephanie’s poetry and translations have appeared in The Volta, Fence, Hyperallergic, THEThe Poetry, Electric Pumas, Elephant Journal, Bat City Review, Poetry Crush, and Styleite, among other publications, and they have been reviewed in Diagram, Dazed Digital, Refinery 29, Bustle Magazine, Bookish, and several other media outlets. Other honors include a 2015 &NOW Writing Award and grants from Fractured Atlas and The Casement Fund. Stephanie earned a BA in Philosophy and Critical Studies (Film) at the University of Southern California, received an MFA in Poetry from the New School, and has taught in the English Department at Pace University and Berkeley College.
Nicholas Adamski was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio. After living abroad in Italy and India, Adamski turned his focus to New York City, where he moved in 2005 to pursue an MFA at The New School University where he met his business partner, Stephanie Berger.
Christina Shideler is an MFA student in poetry at The New School. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, The Ink and Code and The Inquisitive Eater. She is currently working on a hybrid genre book analyzing the cultural history of anxiety titled A Taxonomy of Panic.
The Summer Writers Colony at The New School is an intensive three-week creative writing program in which students share and critique one another's ongoing projects in a daily writing workshop moderated by a member of university's distinguished faculty. In the evenings, literary salons bring notable writers into conversation with the students and faculty of the colony. The three-session salons consist of two days of instructor-led study of the selected text, followed by an author appearance on the third and final day of the salon.
Writing at The New School is excited to announce the literary salon visiting writers for the Summer Writers Colony 2015:
Jericho Brown is the author of the poetry collection The New Testament. Brown is the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the National Endowment for the Arts. His poems have appeared in The Nation, The New Republic, The New Yorker, The Best American Poetry, and Nikki Giovanni's 100 Best African American Poems. His first book of poems, Please, was published by Western Michigan University Press in 2008.
Nathan Englander is the author of the story collections What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank and For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, as well as the novel The Ministry of Special Cases. He was the 2012 recipient of the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award and a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for What We Talk About. In 2012, Englander's play The Twenty-Seventh Man premiered at The Public Theater, and his translation New American Haggadah (edited by Jonathan Safran Foer) was published by Little Brown. He also co-translated Etgar Keret's Suddenly A Knock at the Door published by FSG.
Leslie Jamison is the author of The Empathy Exams, a critically-acclaimed collection of essays that won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, as well as the novel The Gin Closet. Jamison's work has appeared in places like Harper's, Oxford American, A Public Space, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Believer. She is a columnist for the New York Times Book Review, and is currently finishing a doctoral dissertation at Yale about addiction narratives.
Dorothea Lasky's fourth poetry collection, ROME, was published by Liveright/W.W. Norton in 2014. Her previous poetry collections include Thunderbird, Black Life, and AWE. She's also written several chapbooks, including Poetry is Not a Project (Ugly Ducking Presse, 2010). Lasky's writing has appeared in POETRY, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Atlantic, and Boston Review, among other places. She is a co-editor of Open the Door: How to Excite Young People About Poetry.
Brando Skyhorse is the author of the memoir Take This Man. His debut novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, received the 2011 PEN/Hemingway Award and the Sue Kaufman Award for First Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Skyhorse has been awarded fellowships at Ucross and Can Serrat, Spain. Skyhorse is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine. He is the 2014 Jenny McKean Moore Writer-In-Washington at George Washington University.
Justin Torres is the author of the critically acclaimed novel We the Animals. Torres has published short fiction in The New Yorker, Harper's, Granta, Tin House, The Washington Post, Glimmer Train, Flaunt, and other publications, as well as non-fiction pieces in publications like The Guardian and The Advocate. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and most recently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. The National Book Foundation named him one of 2012's 5 Under 35.
Students registered for the Summer Writers Colony gain entry to each of these literary salons. Noncredit students may also register for individual salons outside of the Summer Writers Colony program. For more information about the Summer Writers Colony and Continuing Education at The New School, visit our website.
In Amira Thoron’s first book, For My Father, the reader is transported to the poet’s childhood in Cairo and Martha’s Vineyard. The poet, with sparse and graceful lines, remembers her father, who died while she was still young, and her often difficult interactions with her paternal grandmother. The collection is a haunting impression of a man whose absence loomed large. Thoron graduated from The New School’s MFA poetry program in 2006. Over a series of emails, we discussed her family, her influences, and her body of work.
Tolly Wright: Your first poetry collection For My Father beautifully combines personal early memories with feelings of familial loss and distance. Were there any other poets or collections of poetry that influenced you in your decision to tackle memoir in this form?
Amira Thoron: I thought I was writing individual poems until the end of my first semester in The New School MFA program when my professor, Laurie Sheck, suggested that perhaps I was writing a sequence. It had never actually occurred to me that the poems were connected! To me, the poems were an articulation of recurring images, sensations, and associations that existed inside my head. They weren’t exactly memories but neither were they dreams. They were more like interpretations of the present while still feeling a past that either belonged to me or to someone else. The work moved closer to memoir the following semester when another professor, Fanny Howe, suggested I read essays about elegies, specifically Peter Sack’s book The English Elegy: Studies in the Genre from Spenser to Yeats.
That same semester in my literature class with Maggie Nelson, I read Lorine Niedecker’s magnificent poem, “Paean to Place,” which Niedecker described as “a longish poem which is a kind of In Memoriam of my father and mother and the place I’ve never seemed to really get away from.” In reading Niedecker I felt I had found a kindred spirit with similar passions and loves, one who had achieved something with language that I very much wanted to accomplish as well.
Another influence, which was more like a North Star of purpose or feeling, was Lemon Anderson”s one man show, County of Kings, in which he combines prose and rap/poetry to create an incredibly moving memoir where poetry literally saves his life. I’ve seen his play perhaps three times in various incarnations over the years. In writing For My Father I thought a lot about his play; I wanted my readers when they finished my book to feel the way I felt at the end of each of his performances.
In the midst of the intensity of writing when I really needed friends for guidance and encouragement I found them in Robert Lowell’s Life Studies, Allen Ginsberg’s Kaddish, and Anne Carson’s Knox. Carson led me to Catullus and the different translations of his poem “101” including hers. I also re-read Sophocles’ Antigone, which I hadn’t read since eleventh grade. The play helped me understand why my need to create these poems felt so visceral and intense. In writing For My Father I was performing my own burial rites.
TW: What were the biggest challenges and rewards that came with choosing such a personal subject matter for your first book?
AT: The early feedback for the manuscript was that there wasn’t enough about the father—a comment that stumped me for a couple of years! I knew it was correct because I had all these half poems about the father which I felt sure were holding a place for something more but I couldn’t figure out how to write about a father I couldn’t remember and whose only form was absence and empty space.
The hardest part of writing was delving straight into that empty space and being willing to stay there long enough to not only observe and pay attention but to actually embody the different states of being that I found there. I would get incredibly sleepy and/or find myself obsessively checking email—anything just to escape! It was also difficult, both technically and emotionally, to assign language to what was unconscious, unformed, or had never been spoken. I had to be patient and persistent. I often felt like some tiny creeping thing inching its way across the floor. Days and days of work might yield what felt like a quarter of an inch of progress. It was slow torture.
As for the rewards—I didn’t realize that in writing and constructing this book that I would create such a real and tangible relationship with my father. I loved how in each poem I got to fully embody and articulate all the different parts of my longing for him—the love, the fury, the desperation, the fantasies. Even though the relationship as articulated in the poems is one way, during the actual creation process I experienced an exchange with him that was deeply intimate and tender. In order to speak him, I had to conjure him and what I found, even in the midst of my most anguished poems, was a deep sympathy and an abiding love. I don’t know if what I experienced came from my imagination, an unconscious memory, or even from some deeper, more mysterious place. The result was still love and an understanding that I had always been loved and, despite how I might have felt as a child, I was never, ever alone.
TW: Many of the pieces capture a particular moment like an out-of-focus photograph—you sharing a piece of gum with your father, gardening with your grandmother, looking at condolence letters. These moments are clear, but their surroundings blur around the edges. The tactile nature of these scenes though is particularly vivid. While writing the poems were you able to physically hold some of the objects mentioned and visit the locations, or did you rely more on your own memory?
AT: I am very lucky that the same house where my father summered as a teenager and where I spent summers as a child with my grandmother still exists and is very much an active part of our extended family. The house is not haunted but we all feel the past flow through us. Many of the objects though slightly changed are still there, still growing, still in use. Oddly, the mind plays tricks—I sometimes experience things as they were even though elements are gone. In rehabilitating a part of my grandparents’ garden, I literally could not see that a large section was no longer a vast swathe of daylilies but a mess of brambles and weeds! I actually cried when we dug up the mess to plant grass instead.
As for the locations in Cairo: I was able to visit my father’s grave at the American Cemetery in Old Cairo but the apartment along the Nile where I lived with my parents my first few years is lost to me.
TW: Were you able to speak to others who personally knew your father or grandmother while you were working on this book, or did you worry about your own memories being affected by other’s recollections?
AT: I spoke to many people who knew my father but not to all that I could have. I found myself reluctant to follow through on leads. I didn’t really want to know him as a man with strengths and weaknesses. What I wanted was evidence—that I was his daughter, that I belonged to him, and that he loved me.
I spoke at length and very honestly over several years with a friend of my grandmother’s. I am so grateful for how her compassionate and balanced point of view about my grandmother allowed me to fully explore all the elements of that very complicated relationship.
TW: One poem begins: “The place where I once knew you/ derelict/ obscured.” The father of these poems is frequently being obscured, whether it is by a newspaper hiding his face or his name redacted from personal letters. I found this latter example particularly effective—so much of a person’s identity seems to be connected to his or her name. Could you speak to the choice to withhold your father’s name from the letters?
AT: Revealing his name felt too intimate, too private somehow, and also too particular. The poem portrays one person’s experience of loss. It is very specific and anchored in fact. However, the speaker’s feelings and the questions she asks I feel sure are universal. At one point, for the final page, I chose a single photograph of my father and me. As an ending, it was sentimental; it packed an emotional punch but ultimately it was wrong because it closed the poem down and made it about me only and not the more universal story of a soul’s journey through grief.
And also, if I’m honest, a part of holding back was due to a quality of possessiveness which both speaker and writer share—“I have revealed everything, this one thing I will not share. His name belongs to me.” I tried to show in the relationship with the grandmother that the speaker was also culpable, that she too withheld love, and carried violence within her. The speaker comes from a long line of women who will not speak. Perhaps withholding her father’s name is a vestige of that character trait? Sister Wendy Beckett writes, “There is an enormous tenderness in calling on someone we love by name”—as the writer and the daughter of a man who died, I wanted to preserve some of the intimacy and tenderness for myself. How could I give away his name, a name I rarely ever said out loud even to myself?
TW: I began to cherish the old letters used throughout the book for their possible insights into the deceased father who permeates each moment. Yet, the clues gathered from these letters, without their context, seemed to obscure the man even further. As you read letters from and about your father did you experience these feelings as well? How did you choose the letters to include?
AT: The letters didn’t clarify him for me either but they did prove his existence. As a child, I was never sure he was real since my memories were so vague and fleeting. The most powerful letter, the one that meant the most to me, was a packet of poems he wrote to a friend in his early twenties. Finally, I held a clue, a connection that was both meaningful and tangible. Another favorite letter was written to my grandmother from the nurse who was with him when he died. I very much wanted to include it but it didn’t seem to suit the over arching tale. Its story belongs in some other place.
TW: The poems that were written completely in italics had a particular cinematic quality. Why did you choose to change the font for these poems?
AT: I listened to a lot of music as I wrote and was interested in how instruments and certain melodic phrases repeat, call back and forth, and play simultaneously. Was there a way to achieve this same quality or effect in a poem? I wanted to convey the experience of two separate consciousnesses existing simultaneously. I wondered what it would be like if the girl’s incantations and desperate desires could actually conjure the dead and also if there was a wise, all-seeing and compassionate entity that was both with the girl and part of the girl—she just didn’t know it yet. The italics are the embodiment of these suppositions, these possibilities.
TW: For your next collection do you plan to stick with memoir or change the subject matter?
AT: I think I will always be interested in memory and how the past and present lay over each other and exist simultaneously. I had to write For My Father. I was completely compelled and driven. Now that it’s over, I’m a bit at loose ends. The experience of writing it was like an incredible love affair and I was devastated when it was over. For now, it’s about getting back to my desk, staying open, curious, and diligent.
Amira Thoron was born in Cairo, Egypt and raised in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. She received her BA in English from Brown University and her MFA in Poetry from The New School. She lives in New York City and Martha’s Vineyard. For My Father is her first book.
Tolly Wright is passionate about pop culture, Elizabethan culture, and the strange culture of her motherland, the city of Baltimore. Her writing can be found in Time Out New York, Affect Magazine, The Villager, and other publications. She is a graduate of The New School (Riggio Honors Program). Her website is www.tollywright.com. She’d probably follow you back on twitter @tollyw.
Writing at The New School is proud to announce the winners of the 2014 Chapbook Competition! The competition is open each year to the graduating MFA class. Winners are selected by acclaimed writers who are not affiliated with The New School. A winner is selected for each of the program's four concentrations: Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Writing for Children.
Fiction Winner: Gillian O'Neill, "The Cottage"
Fiction judge Justin Torres, author of We the Animals, has this to say of O'Neill's winning short story:
"The Cottage" is a very evocative story that is also very short. When I reached the end I thought, surely this is not the end! My other thought was, surely I've just read the winner. Judging is a strange business. The stories for this contest were all strong, all laudable. I wondered, should I pick the sexiest story? The boldest? The most imaginative? The saddest? "The cottage" is all these things--sexy, bold, deeply imagined, sad. But where "The Cottage" is superlative, and undeniable, is in the quality of the writing itself. O'Neill's writerly instincts, her pacing, her use of dialogue, the clarity and variety of her sentences, somehow exhibit both maturation and promise. This story could, to my mind, go on, go deeper--or not. There is, after all, something satisfyingly startling in its sudden termination. Either way, it is a winning story written in winning prose. And most importantly, and what seemed most worthy of recognition, was the certainty that O'Neill herself will go on writing, going ever deeper. So my initial thought, surely this not the end, might be seen to have arisen from a kind of general hunger for more from this author, and an awareness that I had just read the work of a writer with a brilliant career ahead. Let me then revise and rephrase that thought, and in doing so, offer a toast to O'Neill: surely this is just the beginning!
Nonfiction Winner: Anna Fridlis, "The Edge of the Known World"
Nonfiction judge Ted Conover, author of Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders with America's Mexican Migrants, said this of Fridlis' winning manuscript:
This storyteller has her own voice, and the power to conjure up a faraway place and time. I happen to have read Chekhov's Sakhalin Island and I admire the way Fridlis invokes it to help set her desolate stage; the slow reveal that this is the story of her grandparents adds meaning and tension. On the last page I wanted to know what happens next to these humble people on the edge of the world.
Poetry Winner: Steven Klett, "A Field Full of Mirrors"
Poetry judge Rachel Zucker, author of The Pedestrians, said this of Klett's poems:
Initially, I was seduced by the short, funny poems in “A Field Full of Mirrors”—poems like “Van Gogh” and “Moss”—poems that made me laugh out loud. I wanted to send these poems to friends who don’t usually read poetry because I knew they would like them and laugh out loud as well. What kept me reading and liking Steven Klett’s poems was the way the humor, strangeness, charm and sonic pleasure of these poems dig until they hit something deeper, something substantial. Steven Klett’s poems are playful and pleasing to the ear: “As night wore out its welcome/ we made headway with wine”; “We sleep on beaches/ and speak with the intimacy/ of a clam to its shell.” The poems are quick witted but never rushed. Klett looks at relationships and the human condition as if he were an explorer, turning over a rock, peeling back a piece of bark, slowly, carefully, full of precision.
“There’s a still/ in the air/ that I just can’t shake”
“My hands are heavy/ with your sleeplessness”
“If there is such a thing as exile/ our modern age experiences it / as Ella Fitzgerald”
Klett’s poems employ the pathos of James Schuyler’s short poems and the syntactical high jinks of Robert Creeley. Like Schuyler and Creeley, the cleverness isn’t snide, isn’t facile. These are fresh-feeling lyric love poems that snap like elastic. “Two people in a dark corner/ have the capacity to get along,/ and by get along/ I mean seek comfort/ in the fact that they have one another/ until they’re miserable” writes Klett. Later, “The swaying fields have me again./ This feeling is neither true nor fruit.” The poems are funny, but they sting too, as poems should.
Writing for Children Winner: Chelsea Schoenbeck, Born to Run Away
Writing for Children judge Aaron Starmer, author of The Riverman, writes of Schoenbeck's submission:
Like so many great stories, Chelsea Schoenbeck’s Born To Run Away is about a very specific moment. Two friends reunite after a year apart and confront unresolved issues surrounding the death of a young woman named Amelia. Heartbroken and confused, Lee was Amelia’s best friend. Aloof and wandering, singer-songwriter Rhett was Amelia’s friend too, but their friendship had grown into something more. Lee and Rhett are haunted by what could have been, because Amelia had made promises to both of them. And she could only keep one of those promises. In fluid, patient prose, Schoenbeck follows Lee as she tracks Rhett down in Malibu. Carrying little more than a notebook full of letters and a mysterious box under her arm, Lee hopes to tie up loose ends. But the wonderful thing about a story like this is that once the loose ends are tied, everything unfolds. That specific moment may be over. Amelia’s story may have ended. But Lee and Rhett have new roads in front of them.
A reading will be held in the fall of 2015 to celebrate the release of these chapbooks. Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to the judges for their careful consideration of the many submissions!