Sunday, October 16, 2011

Four New Poems by Brad Liening

My Spirit Animal

My spirit animal is your mucky lake,
your sick duck.
Cellophane cell phone
battery barf stringing the reeds.
Your grandchildren will weep
if the people of the future
still do things like that.
Maybe they just gnash their teeth and moan.
Maybe they just drool.
What good is a firecracker
when the cyborgs are all lining up
on the gorgeous dais
to show us just who
the boss is around here?
I know how this movie ends:
the beautiful people
slink off to glory in small,
sequel-related victory
and reproduce (not that
we get to see that part),
while the rest of us
are sent deep underground
to labor in silicon mines
and plot our resistance.
Run through with our own antennae,
atrophied language skills
impairing our ability to think creatively
so it looks like it might be a while.
It’s dark down here, indeed.
Poetic justice demands our suffering.
The split world maintains
we had it coming.

Manifest Destiny

Killer ants are overrunning our town.
They sink what we imagine to be tiny fangs
beaded with tiny drops of poison
into our ankles and arms,
our necks while we sleep.
We’re only guessing here,
since a lot of scientists
have already been bitten and no one
else wants to get too close.
The mayor turned blue,
the deputy comptroller exploded.
There’s a spate of ugly suicides.
Celebrities form a committee to raise awareness,
and we’re told of massive donations.
Parents are on morning television shows
discussing the dangers killer ants pose
to teens and other humans.
Don’t play the killer ant game, they warn.
A whistle stop tour conducted
by a prominent politician has included our town.
We have been lifted to national consciousness
by the tiniest of creatures,
and slowly things begin to change.
Our mailman received a Guggenheim
and next week I will be in a fashion shoot,
draped in a tunic of artificial killer ants
under a giant killer ant moon.


Everything here seems somehow
to be about you: the triptych

depicting melting ice,
steam hissing from a pipe,

all of it tagged and inventoried.
The inventor of the in-flight safety video

is your distant cousin,
he’s here in person explaining

to the crowd what to do
in case of sudden loss of pressure.

The last time you two spoke
you swore to speak again soon.

Who put this together? you ask
but everyone has put on headsets

for the guided audio tour,
and they all silently look at you.

So you do the only thing you can do,
which is appreciate the exhibit.

Here’s a big book in which
your name doesn’t appear.

A heap of potatoes
and a feeding tube.

A film about a
trip to the moon.

Forced Hand
      after a song by Much Worse

We’ve been let down.
Fish gills scummed with muck,
prohibitively expensive baseball games.
The poetry section at the bookstore:
how sad.
Can we ever get back
to the lobbed bombs
of liquored up flowers?
Not in this dirt.
Not in our current climate
of wild and severe swings, snow settling
into the opening tulips
and coating the confused bees.
I was just making up that last bit anyway.
Budget talks fail.
That rubble is the road.
Some crumpled cardboard is sold
to the local art museum for a million.
No joke.
Our lame prospects get much worse,
our only silver lining
in the cable coverage
of teary politicians doing their honest best,
the beautiful young royals trading narcotized smiles
in berserk flashbulbs,
more reminders than
I can forget about in my sleep,
in my repetitive, punitive dreams.
Their shoes cost more than my rent.
Their lapel pins cost more than the hot air balloon
I could buy to take me far,
far away from here,
someplace I can’t
even imagine.

Liening is the author of Ghosts and Doppelgangers (Lowbrow Press) and several chapbooks. He's an editor at InDigest Magazine and can always be found at

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Angel in the Mirror: An Interview with Jenny Barber

Trembling, unseen,
I stayed there in the air
like clear
water in a glass,
transparent angel in a mirror.

        From “Variations” after Emilio Prados

GL: In her introduction to your first book, Rigging the Wind, Jane Miller credits your poetry with searching for and revealing “essences,” oftentimes in “landscapes haunted by suffering.” Do you think Miller’s characterization of your of poetry is correct? Does Rigging the Wind look for redemptive essences in places of pogrom and disapora? And if so, why does your poetry so frequently travel abroad to look for these essences?

JB: I was very appreciative of Jane Miller’s introduction to Rigging the Wind. In the book, I wanted to inhabit certain landscapes, many of them in Spain, in order to penetrate moments of history, especially the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. I love Spain, where I lived for a spell back in 1987, and I felt a lot of sadness when it was time to leave. This, along with a growing interest in medieval Jewish history, got me interested in researching the stories of those forced to leave Spain by historical circumstances. I was also, as you suggest, looking for a redemptive aspect in places of pogrom and diaspora. The endurance that people show in living through such times is, for me, proof of the human capacity to begin again after disastrous loss.

GL: You begin Rigging the Wind with a translation of Amrita Pritam’s “Conspiracy of Silence.” The poem tells us that “someone has broken / into a human ribcage” and stolen “our dreams.” No one can tell where this thief has gone to, except for “someone’s / poem [that], like a chained dog, barks” in warning. It is a complex and beautiful poem that, due to its reuse of the pronoun “someone,” makes the thief and the guardian of our dreams seem like the same thing, or person. Why did you choose to open your collection with Pritam’s poem? And why is the loss of dreams so pressing a concern for you and your work?

JB: I had been translating poems from Punjabi with the Pakistani writer Irfan Malik, and Amrita Pritam’s poem was especially resonant for me. There are many forces, both external and internal, that array themselves against the artistic process, so the artist has to be adept at finding ways to break through the “conspiracy of silence.” The conspiracy is not only about the difficulty of making art, though; it is also about the tendency we all have to shut down, to live life in a routine way. The existence of a piece of music, a painting, a book of poems, or a novel, with the worlds that they provide, can help us avoid that fate. Zagajewski says that “Only in the beauty created/by others is there consolation/in the music of others and in others’ poems,” and I believe we’re in need of such consolation. And, as for dreams or aspirations in life, those are fragile for all of us, and have to be nurtured by whatever means possible.

GL: The last poem in Rigging the Wind is the somber and understated “Notes.” In this piece, the speaker describes a lurching trolley and plastic sheeting “on the scaffolding / [blowing] into ripe sails” before she and another (“We”) “sit down on the steps / of the temple with its Moorish dome,” and listen to the “small dark notes / of night begin.” These notes, “like so many sparrows,” are compared to “a sparrow diaspora” that is “choosing this time to call their own.” It’s an ambitious metaphor with which to close the book. The notes of night (sensed, evaluated, but not described directly) turn into sparrows (that aren’t actually or at least necessarily there before the speaker) that disperse in diaspora (a human term for, in this case, either mere dispersal or migration); and the birds “choos[e]” to “call” (as in assign) this time as theirs. There are many levels that the speaker sees (she could even be said to see through or past immediate reality here), and yet the speaker herself is nearly anonymous, invisible, accompanied a nameless other (perhaps the reader). With so many personal acts of imaginative projection happening here, why did you choose to employ such an anonymous speaker about whom we know almost nothing? And why does the act of imagining diaspora (in the night sparrows) rather than an act describing the Spain-at-hand close out this collection?

JB: Thank you for this perceptive reading of “Notes.” The sparrows in the poem, in addition to being themselves, are, as you point out, meant to represent human migration, and I also meant them to stand for the survival, and even the ability to thrive, that is possible after catastrophes such as exile. Your question about the poem’s speaker is an interesting one, and is relevant to the book as a whole. For Rigging the Wind, I wanted a speaker or speakers who were relatively effaced, so that they might better reflect the landscapes they were describing or the historical moments being explored. My hope is that the speaker of “Notes” provides the means by which the reader can occupy the center of the poem, be directly affected by its atmosphere. Incidentally, “Notes” describes a block on Beacon Street in Brookline, which is close to home for me; the poem was a way of returning from the geographic travel and time travel that occupy much of the book.

GL: In your new manuscript-in-process, Given Away, you use an epigraph from Celan’s “Psalm” to welcome the reader into the world of your poems. Celan’s poem is a sublime prayer to a kind of post-war anti-deity, a presiding nothingness. According to this poem, there will be no resurrection: “No one moulds us again out of earth and clay.” And thus all human beauty “flower[s]” for the “sake” of “no one.” This is about as starkly an anti-essentialist, nominalist, nihilistic poem as you can find. So why did you choose this almost devoutly hopeless (or post-hope poem) to inaugurate your book?

JB: Yes, I intended for the excerpt from Paul Celan’s poem “Psalm” to set the stage for the poems in Given Away, some of which struggle with spiritual questions that have no ready answers. I’m struck by the fact that you describe Celan’s poem as “nihilistic” because of its proposition that there will be no resurrection, and that no deity exists. I see it somewhat differently. The lines “Praised be your name, no one/For your sake we shall flower” (trans. Michael Hamburger) to my way of thinking express an extraordinary human stubbornness: even doubting the existence of a deity, even recognizing that we have no ultimate salvation, we still “flower,” we still are. So, although “Psalm” confronts nothingness, I don’t see it as conveying hopelessness; I see it as a modern psalm, an act of witnessing as well as the embodiment of great need, a need that in and of itself causes the urge to speak.

GL: The first poem in Given Away, “Away,” the title of the book suggests, is something that the book gives to us (as readers) in several senses: it is the poem that welcomes us to the book, says hello, or makes appropriate warnings on our behalf; it iterates the book’s theme or preoccupation with departure; it prompts the reader to think about otherness and elsewhere not just as emotionally and/or intellectually burdensome absences but as things that can be given and received as a kind of (albeit dark) blessing. But it could also suggest that the speaker of this poem (and perhaps of the book as a whole) is almost gone from the beginning. The poem begins ominously with a countdown of sorts: “I count to twenty / and back” and ends with images both seasonal and apocalyptic: “Past the old blast furnace, / the wheel of August touches down.” In between, the speaker is often haunted by both what’s missing form the immediate scene (peace, sustaining quiet, a clear view of the world) and by what transcends it (blighted histories, “cities…destroyed”) as well. What I’d like to know is: to what extent is the speaker away, or spiritually or psychologically exiled from her experience of reality? And to what extent does she mourn what’s missing from her world, that is, what’s away from her?

JB: I was thinking about several different things while working on that first poem. One was the devastation that Hurricane Katrina brought, the ease with which the hurricane and subsequent flooding destroyed the city. Another was Isaiah, who follows up prophecies of destruction with prophecies of restoration. Finally, some of my despair about human harm to the world’s environment—what Chase Twichell calls “negligent worldicide”—though largely unspoken in the poem, underlies it. In other words, I’m afraid for us, afraid for the world. I experience this fear as a kind of spiritual exile, in the sense that fear removes the speaker from a certain trust in the ongoing nature of the world. An apocalyptic attitude creeps in, not in the sense of a religious reckoning with predetermined end times but in the sense of an impending disaster of our own making. We will need the deepest kind of change in order to avert this disaster. I do want the poem’s speaker to be a kind of witness to events that are happening in the world rather than an entity that has withdrawn itself; I would like the reader to feel accompanied by the speaker’s thoughts, even when these thoughts are dark.

GL: The poems in Given Away sometimes return, perhaps, even more bleakly than the poems of RTW, to Spain. “The Train to Malaga” is filled with passages that suggest ennui. Here, from the poem’s opening: “Nothing, / only olive trees / observing their slope,” and here from the second section of the poem: “Afternoon. / More afternoon.” There is a dialog later in the poem that enacts futility, or perhaps even biblical suffering: “When we get there—/ but we won’t, / not the place we thought.” These lines showcase a greater despair than any in RTW. So, does this poem record an evolving bleakness with regards to your view of Spain, or travel, or the world at large? Or does it simply it portray a momentary lapse in spirit? In other words, are the depressions here more circumstantial than representative of a larger shift in your perspective?

JB: In the third section of Given Away, where “The Train to Malaga” appears, I am exploring Celan’s lines that say, “How much, O how much/world. How many/paths” (trans. Michael Hamburger). Thus the section includes travel, one way to follow the world, to follow other paths, and the richness and discovery those paths might provide. With that said, though, “The Train to Malaga” can be seen as a fairly bleak poem. The key to it is the four-month drought mentioned in the second section. The last time I was in Spain, there was a severe drought in the south, and the olive trees, responsible for a significant share of the economy, were at risk. As in “Away,” a fundamental aspect of our existence—the physical world that supports us—is in question.

There are other poems in this section of the book, however, where I intend to counteract bleakness or despair by positing spiritual presence rather than absence. Among these poems are “nefesh” (the Hebrew word for “soul”); “Arriving When It Does”; and “Orchard,” which is about the way the biblical psalms still unfold for us in all their immediacy and beauty. In “God Doesn’t Speak in the Psalms,” toward the end of the book, I want to examine how sorrow and praise can exist side by side, how both are essential to the fabric of the psalms, and, of course, to our experience of our lives. Overall, Given Away is about wrestling with one’s angel, whether that angel is loss, despair, absence, or presence, or all of those elements at once.

GL: So now that you’re nearly done with Given Away, what new projects, if any, are on the horizon? What are you reading and thinking about these days? Where does Jenny Barber’s poetry go from here?

JB: In terms of new projects, I’ve written some poems toward a next book. It’s too early to say what the shape of the book will be, but I am continuing some of the themes in Given Away while also reaching into other areas. Overall, I’d say that the new poems exist in a space that is more “here” than “away,” more centered around local geography than places at a distance. While the poems in Given Away are very much about an individual in spiritual crisis, the more recent poems are closer to finding ways of resolving that sense of crisis, one moment at a time.

Jennifer Barber’s new collection of poems is Given Away, forthcoming from Kore Press in 2012. She is the author of Rigging the Wind (2003) and Vendaval (1998). Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Orion, Bellevue Literary Review, Zeek, the Jewish Forward, Upstreet, the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Cerise Press and the New Yorker. She is founding and current editor of the literary journal Salamander and teaches at Suffolk University in Boston.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Three Poems by Dan Rosenberg


Here deep light. Here deep light rising
from a sack of rusted whistles.

Rustles in the closet’s deep light.
A breath is a breach, cuts a lip
on deep light. Here bedpost tops
wicked in a rattle. Brassy
like an undergarment. Undone.
Such keeping tracks the eye.

New holes make a shirt perfect
for this deformity. The box cries from its corners,
the mold-bearded box.
Here air ages. Manners tip gently
in the lone. Deep something
thumps down and startles.

In the sleeping hour, the hour of disobedience.
The scavenge comes
unbidden. The tic, the squeak.

Here deep light beats back.
It comes in slats. It comes:
The hamper of efforts drooling knee socks.
A blue vase collects itself.
Here blank walls for walls

are not lit by deep light.
Not the bur on time tugged forth.
See a fray failing a shoelace.
Here deep light kept rolled like wrong carpet.

Deep light without aim. Dying
pockets of air. Each pocket
sent mewing at deep light.


the floor is a storeroom

we keep each other
in the original packaging

I bought you a t-shirt with many kinds of breasts
I was desperate

something to say I care but not too much

The sun taxes me heartily
                                          and my heart

lost in our angular house
for a place to leave       things and never remember

I want to go to the movies I said
            I was joking       the hand on your knee
when we were alone was mine

I slit the folded paper: a book! of dust-
collecting     the air mattress’s sotto voce

Am I using this bookshelf wrong?

that child safety cap fails
because you’re a grown woman stumped

to listen hard I ignore my own pulse
we all do
the delicate touch       the stamen     a stone
bookend shaped like a book

laundered the sun in a pile of feeling
up oneself absentmindedly on the phone

slouching over my weak core like protection
not a symptom

when I forget to say “I” you remind

the chickadee all puffed up      the driveway

how much of our favorite non-stick pan
can we safely eat?

the tongue of the prayer book        on the hardwood
a stack of change won’t do me      ok then

the plastic frame worked all its scuffs
would have happened to the picture if

a stretch of the esophagus
            what’s bloodied by the camera
            what’s lost without a backup
            plan for fire: a tangled rope of knots

and the anchor      the doorknob’s inside doesn’t match

                      but fits


Epistle, a yellow footprint on the hardwood. Open the fist, a
palm. A shake. Nine walnuts in a Ziploc baggie chatter. I'm
holding. I'm shaking. My photograph slinks down. Its frame.
Frayed like shoelace. Her lips purse. Every edge threatens a
fall. Even hems, even lips, even beauty's tight edge. I'm
pressing against. The factory atop my neck. The spill. One
flash surprises, the next captures. I freeze wide open. It's a
countdown. If thunder comes. Chewing comes easily. Yellow
my finger in the lily. It doesn't keep to itself. As well as it
should. Woman in bra between dogwoods. Red spills on her
head. Just a magazine ad. A dangle. A docile puppy in a nook.
A shoulder. I've fallen. Not my nook. Limpid with springtime
my angles. Shake, a greater tremble. Tremble my ginger veins.
A color wheel of fingers. Pointing, a basement before dawn.
The chimney a finger. What she wants. My eyes, then the
frame. Then my chest. A descent. A cracked cocoon. No
moth. Bulbs in the basement open. It takes forever. Petals
fall, her feet. Recover the ants all together. Light, then hand,
then wall. Thumb becomes a mandible. Touch my crushing
organ. My outreach. A small apple falls. The worm inside.
What eats. What's eaten. Two flowers kiss, wilt. The cyclist
falls. The garbage is a nest.

Dan Rosenberg's first book, The Crushing Organ, won the 2011 American Poetry Journal Book Prize and will be published in 2012. His poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in several journals, including Pleiades, American Letters & Commentary, Subtropics, and Gulf Coast. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he is a PhD student at UGA and co-editor of the poetry journal Transom.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two Poems by Dereck Clemons


Brooklyn starts to unravel as soon as the
cameras roll. The wheels roll. The bus

Gorgeous in a tight black bodysuit, a
regular shimmers across the stage. A
man in the front row launches himself
into a kinetic leveling of evidence to the
contrary: he waves his feet, his arms.

There are more, actually, says Mrs.
Rubin, thumbing through a dozen
laminated sheets. Mrs. Rubin begins
dancing gleefully within minutes.

What makes her to stick both hands into
applause, which she calls a gas fire
glowing in the fireplace.


Lag in battle. Do the heavy lifting. The
American military effort in the not-too-
distant future wrestles into scenes of
contest, observed over eight days by two
New York Times journalists.

Not long after, the two were seen being
microwaved during a standoff on Feb.
12. Their unpublished novel spreads
throughout the world, causing pregnant
women to miscarry.

A simple warning that she could, she
felt, her patterns, or fabrics clumped
together into Karen Carpenter, who
balances a cup in the hallway, in the
night, on its saucer, heading back to the

The effect forces the childish millions to
remain out of work, out of savings, & to
face the end of the comforts of middle-
class life—who are now in their lives,
potentially for years to come, selling
beauty salon equipment.

Dereck Clemons is in San Francisco with Wendy Trevino & he writes poems using material from the newspaper in this 1 page:1 poem limit thing. That bulk of data (in each of these prose blocks of phantom collage sentences) becomes a board across which the continued work of expansion, abridgement, switching, & transferring occurs, or where performance occurs. To be sure, the poems telescope in & out or up/down a continuum of lyric & narrative & transparent subjects, more trope-related stuff, or equally w/r/t to scheme stuff, or word arrangement as such, so some end up going through cycles of repeated phrases, let's say, very opaque, while others enact more continuous-seeming narrative threads. They're all, though, employing very similar patterns, regardless. Similar behaviors. It seems like what I'm describing is an observation of rhetoric, of how those four operations I mentioned might do fantastic things w/ narrative & DO fantastic things to us, right now, all the time. Otherwise, the poems are concerned w/ audience & our entire lives as in-audience to countless stages or platforms that, while contrived by not-us, are still where we find ourselves dealing w/ ourselves & w/ each other. The Spectacle, which is truly entertaining, is able to subsume into Performance an audience ever more thoroughly at these key points, where reason is being pivoted around on itself--the aggressive, finite actions of the Spectacle--so the poems try to concentrate on that. So the first 10 pages of Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle, basically.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

What Passes For Meat In Heaven: An interview Kim Gek Lin Short

GL: The The Bugging Watch and Other Exhibits (TBW&OE) is, to a certain extent, a story of grief and recovery. Harlan, one of the paired heroes/intimates of your beautiful book, wants to use the artifacts of his post-traumatic present to recover the past with his beloved and "cure his broken Toland." Toland, however, "touched everything" before she fell apart and away and therefore cannot be adequately preserved. Dan Magers at Sink Review was keen to note your curatorial interests in this book. And it sometimes seems like Harlan wants to collect his Toland back to life. I wonder if you could explain or at least comment on the link between grief and curatorship, between suffering and the longing for preservation in Harlan’s character.

KGLS: Hey Greg! Thanks for the interview. Stories are loopy things, and there are so many ways to tell them. Even not telling a story is a way of telling a story, stories are capable of such fishslippery. The story in The Bugging Watch is a sort of fishslippery, a curation, not linear, a collection, an exhibition. Yes, it is an idiosyncrasy of “denial” that links grief and curatorship, it is a way of denying the end of something (something linear), and a way of manufacturing a future. Preservation has that suspicious quality of broadcasting as much about the past as the future. Curating especially is tuned into this station. Have you ever been to a retrospective of an artist’s work in a museum or gallery and had the prescience that the effect was not as much to honor the truth of the past as to create a future for that work that person that (now) subject? So this is how Harlan takes Toland to Tuesday in his world where it is always Monday.

GL: The second section of TBW&OE, “The Bugging Watch,” features footnotes that tend to complicate/enrich Harlan and Toland's narrative rather than clarifying it. This kind of approach seems, broadly speaking, to dramatize a kind epistemological notion: the more we pursue knowledge the more we are rewarded with and further enmeshed in our own mazelike pursuit of it. Harlan and Toland are dazzling poetic figures prone to Carrolian utterances and ingenious turns of phrase. They are dynamic & mysterious characters to begin with, but in The Bugging Watch, their stories become even more labyrinthine (and fun) through and because of the footnotes. What I'd like to know is: Does this corridor of poems in the middle of the book seek to entice by threatening (the reader, the poet with) a loss of control (not being able to make sense of a "larger narrative")? Does it, in other words, woo readers away from trying to make sense of the story behind these characters and try to encourage them to admire instead their many arrivals and departures?

KGLS: This is a book about a departure, and the fantasy of an arrival. In a manner of speaking, Harlan is trying to find another way of looking at a door that is always used for leavetaking. It is another way of looking at leavetaking. The footnotes dramatize this “stage” full of doors, full of entrances and exits. Is there sense to be made of it? Yes. Is there also non-sense? Yes. Is the story that is bobbing under the surface of these poems a cocktease? It depends on the cock. This is not a purposeful comment on epistemology, although I am delighted if this text dramatizes an epistemology for a reader. Knowledge is not a sure thing. I hope it woos readers away from needing sense, but I’m also happy if it just woos them enough to be okay with all the halfsense. Would it clear things up if I said that I think questions are more important than answers in art? Didn’t Milan Kundera write that the brilliance of the novel comes from having a question for everything? I like that. I think it is true. I think it is also true of poetry. And prose poetry novellas! Narrative tends to breed a kneejerk assumption that its function is to clarify. But with poetry, readers don’t expect clarity or answers. Readers of poetry have bigger fish to fry. They want truth. They want the animal to awaken. That true animal inhabits all true comers—tall tales, teeny hunches, towering questions—that “yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes.”

GL: So far in your brief but formidable poetry career, you've concentrated much of your efforts on exploring characters that have weathered considerable trauma. These figures are both sustained and potentially crippled by their fantasies that lead them away from their suffering. Delmore Schwartz wrote: "In the unpredictable and fearful future that awaits civilization, the poet must be prepared to be alienated and indestructible. He must dedicate himself to poetry, although no one else seems likely to read what he writers, and he must be indestructible as a poet until he is destroyed as a human being." Masculine gender bias aside, do you see any value in Schwartz's above proclamation and prescription for the poet? Must a poet be (at least temporarily) "alienated and indestructible" in order to dramatize suffering in her work? Or should the poet share in the suffering of her creative progeny in order to reveal it?

KGLS: Ah, civilization and its discontents. The future is scary. People suck. Poets rule. Yes, poets should prepare themselves for a good dose of marginalization, Schwartz’s prescription has some truth. This sort of glorification of artistic alienation always put me in mind of The Residents’ Theory of Obscurity, the idea that the artist creates work in isolation for the art itself without consideration for audience, or “market.” In the case of The Residents the artist goes so far as to conceal her “real” identity, which doesn’t matter, only the art does. Artists like Fever Ray and even Lady Gaga do this to a limited extent. So this is like what Schwartz is saying about the indestructibility of the poet and the destruction of the human being. Although I don’t think Schwartz is prescribing concealment of identity, but rather that the poet and the art merge to transcend finite material existence. It is an exaltation of poetic identity, a superidentity. At its best, it has something to do with souls, or that part of ourselves that is eternal, the stuff we hope our art is made of.

Great works of art can come from alienation or not, to answer your penultimate question. As for the final question—“should the poet share in the suffering of her progeny in order to reveal it”—yes. This is not to suggest that a character or a character’s circumstances in a book should be conflated with the author or the author’s life, they shouldn’t. But if there is suffering, or any measure of emotional depth in a work that exceeds the merely rhapsodic, that lives and has truth and guts, it is because the author has experienced that emotion.

GL: The geographical backdrop of Harlan/Toland's fantastical story is Denver, Colorado, a very real place colored by powerful fantasies. Denver was one of late twentieth-century America's biggest boomtowns, gaining affluence, wealth, and both white-collar and progressive prestige steadily as the century closed. Its suburbs have been portrayed as both middle-class Edens and, at times, Cheeveresque nightmares. How and why did Denver, with all its signifying baggage and promise, present itself to you as the landscape for your twenty-first century Gothic tale?

KGLS: I do think of The Bugging Watch as a period piece, and the period it inhabits is a sort of gloomy afterperiod. That sounds very precious and meta but Harlan’s world—the drippy architecture of his lost hours with Toland—is just that: a reminiscence constructed in a future. So why Denver? Harlan and Toland live in Denver because I lived in Denver when I first wrote about them. I lived in a tiny and buggy first floor w/ basement of a Cheesman Park duplex. The exact address was 1412 E 14th Ave, here is a Google map.

But Harlan and Toland do not inhabit this exact address, their address in The Bugging Watch is 1412 Humboldt Street. Humboldt is one of the cross-streets for the aforementioned address on 14th Ave. In real life, there is no 1412 Humboldt Street, and the fictional place where Toland and Harlan dwell is a pretty convincing facsimile of the buggy 1st floor w/ basement I lived in for a few years. So why did I bother to change the address from 14th Ave to Humboldt St? I liked the way Humboldt sounded. I liked the word. I chose the music over the truth, to borrow from Richard Hugo (“All truth must conform to the music”).

Still, it wasn’t just that. It is never just that. Harlan and Toland do not live in the 1st floor w/ basement that I lived in. They live in a once-a-past-a-time-ago of it, in a place that is part real and part fantasy, so I put them inside walls invented near-real—a made-up address in a real town. And even though the exact address is not a place I have ever seen before, it is a place I have seen my whole life. Because, to keep borrowing from Hugo, “the poem is always in your hometown, but you have a better chance of finding it in another.”

GL: You recently expressed some grief through correspondence over sending your forthcoming MS, China Cowboy, to the publishers. Why the sorrow of letting this book out into the world? And what comes next, or don't you know?

KGLS: The characters in my book China Cowboy are characters I’ve had in my life for many years. Sometimes it feels like these characters are part of my family, as demented as that is considering how demented they are. But I talk about them with my family like they are real people. We have inside jokes on them, we imitate them, we make fun, and we Stevie Wonder their flaws. My daughter has a stuffed animal she calls La La, for instance. Is that twisted? Maybe. It is part of our dysfunction. I guess we can still do all these things even though I have put China Cowboy out of my house. But it isn’t the same.

What’s next? I have a couple works-in-progress, a novel and a collaborative hybrid. I am not letting either of them out of my house yet.

Kim Gek Lin Short is the author of two full-length collections, The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits and the forthcoming China Cowboy, both from Tarpaulin Sky Press. Her chapbook Run was the 2010 Golden Gloves selection from Rope-a-Dope, and a previous chapbook, The Residents, is available from Dancing Girl Press.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Two Poems by Dustin Luke Nelson

We’ll know we’ve hit the big time when we’ve got a set of equipment for smut and then another for non-smut

I’ve been doing sit-ups.
Sit-ups every day under
pulled curtains & now I’m
a disassembled pen waiting
for spit balls to papier-mâché
fluorescent lights.
Brigades of knob-eyed
ferrets tuck our coins,
our coin-shaped wedding rings,
& our gold-plated Velcro straps
into hollow slats beneath
our beds. When I have bed
head I just cut out the offending
hairs, kneeling over the toilet,
flushing away the evidence.
I’ve been doing sit-ups.
I’ve been trimming the skin
inside my nose with formaldehyde
& rosewater. Others are using embalming
fluid. It’s fashionable. We’re rising.
We’re gaseous. We’re blinding sun
particulars. We’re furious for glory.
Forward! Fold your underwear
lengthwise. Trample the one-
eyed & the believers, &
the fish-taco-loving 20-somethings
with ambitions of overhead
lighting made of glass.

Wednesday June 11th, 2010

He wanted Abraham Lincoln to be tragic.
To not be the joke of a man that he had become.

He wanted to cut Lincoln’s hair, trim his beard, tilt
his head into the basin and push the pads

of his fingers into Lincoln's scalp. "How's
that?" and "He said what?" and maybe

that's all a little later and right now Lincoln
just closes his eyes, let's the tension do somersaults

from his chest to his knees. And he shakes a little
because it's hard to let go. Billiard balls popping

from his chest, rolling down the checkerboard floor
to the back room where six women are waiting

for their hair to dry in translucent beehives. They whisper
to the bees, "What is wrong with him?" "What?"

And Lincoln sits ignorant of bees and their keepers,
preoccupied with the beeswax candy in his hand. Free at the counter.

Dustin puts oil on Lincoln's beard before cutting it with scissors
Down to the skin, then the hot cream, the kind that explodes

with foam in a ceramic bowl with a little water and a brush.
He shaves Lincoln once. Then again, running

the blade against the grain the second time. Following
That with some lotion for the burn. "How's that? Better?"

Dustin Luke Nelson is a Co-Founding Editor of InDigest and InDigest Editions. He is also a writer/producer for Radio Happy Hour and his poetry has appeared here and there on the Internet and on the not-Internet. He blogs at and takes to heart that a dear friend once said, "The Nile is a river in Egypt. Don't make jokes about it."

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

At the Bottom of a Shadow: An interview with Kiki Petrosino

It’s very quiet in this room. It feels like
being at the bottom

of a shadow, at the bottom of
a room. (“Question”)

Kiki Petrosino is the author of the poetry collection, Fort Red Border (Sarabande, 2009). She holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in FENCE, The Iowa Review, Harvard Review, Gulf Coast, Forklift Ohio, and elsewhere. Her poem, "You Have Made a Career of Not Listening," was anthologized in Best New Poets. Her awards include a post-graduate writing fellowship from the University of Iowa and two staff scholarships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. She has recently moved to Louisville from Iowa City, where she worked for five years as a Program Assistant at the University of Iowa's International Writing Program. She is an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, where she teachers literature and creative writing. Check out her author page, featuring a great interview about her work, at Sarabande’s website.

GL: Robert Redford, the comically romantic muse who stars in the first section of your anagrammatically titled and uber-wonderful collection of poems, Fort Red Border, exhibits a mixture of a glib, amorous proficiency and dialogical absurdity—he says the darndest things: "You float around my house all day / just like a little cloud of sweetness." Redford's such an interesting choice for a poetic subject qua beloved because he's so…meretricious. For example, I noticed when watching one of his movies not too long ago that he seemed really adept at putting on and taking off his glasses. That is, he appears to prioritize all the wrong things, have little to no negative capability, and somehow still be appealing. So, did you choose Redford (as your Beatrice) in part because his polished veneer allowed for projection and fantastical extrapolation? Do you think that the speaker's paramnesiac trysts with Redford show us, more often than not, the way that modern love works? That we fall in love with images that allow us to dramatize a monodramatical affair with the self?

KP: Yikes. I hope that we moderns haven’t succeeded in creating a world where love is nothing more than a series of “monodramatical affairs with the self.” The self can be such a stifling, terrifying little locket to cram yourself into. I once heard the poet Dan Beachy-Quick say that love is a leap across empty space. And I believe that for love to work, there ought to be something real on the other side of that leap. But can I confess something? I don’t think the poems in my “Redford” series are love poems at all. And I don’t consider the “Redford” who emerges in those pieces to be a romantic figure, painted in the usual shades of eros (or whatever the silver screen is made out of). I’m glad that you’ve mentioned Beatrice here, because Dante’s journey was on my mind as I wrote these poems. This series came to me during a time in my life when I felt deeply wounded on a bunch of levels. Some of this wounded-ness had to do with romantic love, but most of it was about me learning to accept the circumstances of my life at that point. I think my Redford emerged as a possible answer to my hurt. The certainty that I associated with the Redford archetype was like a cool glass of water or something. The contrast nourished me, and was generative of new thought. For me, the “Redford” poems are artifacts of a highly personal, interior thought process—yep, a long monodramatical affair. So I always hesitate when asked why I “chose” Redford as interlocutor. It didn’t feel like a choice; more like a surfacing. The Redford I found in my poems is really a constellation of desires for lots of things—certainty being chief among them. This is, perhaps, similar to how Beatrice embodies all the virtues that Dante yearns for in his epic. There was a real Beatrice, of course, but that person is not the angelic guide whom Dante crafts into being. That Beatrice, the one who calls Dante by name in Canto XXXI of the Paradiso, represents Dante’s best self, in both a spiritual and artistic sense. And I think Dante knows that all along. He knowingly invests her with all that is good and wise and pure so that he can strive towards that. When we hear Beatrice interrogating Dante, and when Dante answers her in the poem, he’s actually in dialogue with two conflicting aspects of himself. Dante as Seeker. Dante as Keeper of Wisdom. So I’ve always read Dante’s Beatrice—and, for that matter, his Virgil—not as true characters, but as forces that come from within the poet; they give voice to his inner life. I’d like to think that a pale copy of that might happen in my series; that desire gives rise to a revelatory encounter with the imagination, and that this encounter is an opportunity for redemption.

GL: In one of your poems, "Canton Thirteen," you describe "the slender rise of [Redford's] collarbone" as "[making] a ridge / under my cheek, like the worn fishtraps they've found in dry / moat beds near the Tower of London, delicate forked machines / of flint and willow, no bigger than a thmubspan." I remember seeing a poem you wrote as far back as 2003 that featured a reference to fishtraps. I don't know if I remember it correctly, but I believe the poem said something like this: "Love knits a fishtrap loose in water." Why does this image offer you such abiding fascination? And what do fishtraps have to do with love?

KP: You’re right to point out that certain lines tend to stay with me. There really is a very old wicker fishtrap on display at the Tower of London, and when I saw it as a young tourist, I thought, what a beautiful machine. The thing is, I have no idea what fishtraps may have to do with love, which probably explains why it’s taken me multiple poems to work through that image. Perhaps it’s a question of sound. I have to confess that, as a museum-goer, I often find myself more taken with the explanatory notes that accompany an artifact than I am with the artifact itself. The note next to the fishtrap said, “Fishtrap, willow and flint,” which has such a wonderful and wistful sound to it. As if someone were speaking a command, or a wish, into the empty air, and this was the result. As a poet, I’m interested in how desire can bring a world into being. And I’ve learned that the laws of such worlds may have very little to do with objective reality. For example: in my memory, that fishtrap was as transparent as Wonder Woman’s jet. It seemed like nothing more than a white clasp woven from extremely tender shreds of bark. But I just did an image search for “Fishtrap, Tower of London,” and it turns out the real fishtrap resembles a giant Triscuit ™ more than anything else. Awesome! It doesn’t change anything for me. I love them both.

GL: The second section of Fort Red Border, titled Otolaryngology, begins with the prose poem "White." The poem details in stunningly beautiful language the perhaps typical or maybe most essential characteristics and actions of the color/figure White: "White rises from her set of tines…White drags her swordwhite self packed down in rice." White does and is many amazing things, but toward the end of the poem, you write of White that "her broken breath [is] the tree you break yourself against." This line struck me because I remember you using this phrase to describe one of Shakespeare's sonnets; you said something about how one of the sonnets features a "voice that breaks against the rock of itself." At any rate, it seems to be an idea especially important to you: that a poem constructs its own method and means of destroying itself in such a way that reveals ever more meanings while never providing a totalizing account of meaning. In "White," interestingly, the catalog of descriptions and actions enriches our understanding of White, but never finalizes it. We can only guess at White's motivations, and we can only guess at the extent of White's figurative relationship with the color white. Even the last line of the poem promises more violence to come, not closure. White remains an active and dangerous force, but not an agent that helps resolve or fully account for its meaning. Which leads me to wonder if you think (your) poetry is most revealing, dynamic, or moving when it attempts to mean violently, to complicate and/or proliferate meanings, instead of tapering toward some kind of meditative or epiphanic conclusion?

KP: Well, the connection between violence and meaning isn’t something I’ve really considered in relation to my own poetry. But now that you mention it, maybe I am hostile to the notion of fixed definitions. Kiki smash! In fact, one of the first poems I can remember writing was called “Fork,” and it was a series of associative definitions of the word (i.e., “an extension of the tongue,” “an outstretched arm with flaring silver sleeve,” etc.). I chose to lineate the poem in the manner of a dictionary entry and to include a phonetic spelling of “fork.” There was something empowering (to my high-school self) about proliferating the possible meanings of this rather utilitarian word. I felt the same way while writing “White.” We all think we know what “white” means, but it doesn’t just lie there on the page. It’s a word that moves through the world all the time, like a glacier. And like a glacier, it gathers some things into itself and crushes others to smithereens. There are times when white appears to open itself up to our view (“The Great White Way,” “White Light/White Heat,” and my favorite: “Whitesnake”), and there are other moments, particularly in America, when the idea of white excludes (“Whites Only,” “White flight.”) If I took a hole-punch, or a garden spade—or if I drilled through the wall—could I find another way into white? Could I kick down the door and find myself, somehow, in someone else’s white—maybe even your white? The thing is, just when it seems possible to do this—to transgress the definitional boundaries of a word in order to generate new meanings that I like better—that same word will come roaring back at me with a roundhouse kick. For example: when I visited Nigeria a few years ago, I overheard the shopkeepers referring to me as “white.” This is something that wouldn’t happen in America, where I’m a “person of color” due to my mixed heritage. Neither descriptor has anything to do with my actual skin color, but yet here’s this word, this color, this word “white,” that gets all freighted with meaning to the point that it serves as shorthand for a whole host of other physical and cultural attributes. In Nigeria, the word “white” actually had the power to kick my ass, because it showed up and attached itself to me in an unexpected way. It engulfed me for a short time, forcing me into an extremely uncomfortable bear hug. In short, “white” is a word that constantly reminds me that I have not mastered it. It’s an extremely solemn word, because it can be about space and eternity and beauty, but it’s also a dangerous word for those exact same reasons. I can’t fully account for white, but I keep unfolding it. I keep trying to break it open.

GL: Okay. So your poem "Secret Ninja" is something of a crowd pleaser. I've read it to a handful of people over the past month or two and they inevitably love it. But the poem, aside from being tender and funny and inventive, is all about adolescent suffering. The speaker catalogs a number of things she would like "smash," and does smash, I guess, in her imagination--things she hates, things that irritate or perhaps traumatize her, like gym teachers. The speaker wants to enact some kind of clandestine transformation that would render the speaker powerful, magnificent. First, I'd like to know what kind of secret ninja transformation you wanted to enact when you were young? And, second, I wonder if the narrative of such transformations, found in comic books, action flicks and fantasy lit, have affected the way you write?

KP: My dear Greg, I wanted what every young girl wants: a total makeover. The kind of makeover whereby your garden-variety blushing weirdo (who, each day, carefully pins a Starfleet combadge to her uniform blazer) might magically transform into a slender orchid of a lass. I wanted long platinum hair, vanilla-scented shampoo, a Fossil watch, an emerald-green prom dress, and perfect, squared-off teeth. I also wanted a British accent. How I suffered. Certainly, books and movies helped me out. I watched Sabrina about a million times during my high school years, and I still love both the original 1954 film and the 1995 remake. (“I have learnt how to live... how to be in the world and of the world, and not just to stand aside and watch. And I will never, never again run away from life. Or from love, either…”) I don’t know if such films have exerted a direct influence on my writing, but the archetype of transformation—the whole ugly-duckling-becomes-swan-and-proceeds-to-rock-the-mic fantasy—is certainly alive and well in my imagination. As far as writing goes, I believe the page is a realm. It can be a space for enacting transformations in language. It’s good to be confident when you approach the page, but not arrogant. After all, the page will not be impressed by your kicky new haircut and French verbs. The page wants results. I don’t think I’d be a poet now if I hadn’t suffered through my terrifically dorky adolescence. My identity as an outsider forced me to become a good observer of things, and allowed me to cultivate an inner life that continues to sustain me today. Qapla!

GL: The third section of your book is comprised of a series of valentine poems. One of these poems describes the speaker's trip to the butcher's, where she orders "the perfect amount" of meat. The speaker goes on to say that she finds food "ingenious" because she can successfully order "some of the food" and "Not [just] any food"; that is, she can get exactly what she wants. But with love, well, "You can't order some of the love" because "you get the wrong love" or "the wrong amount." Were the valentine poems an attempt to grapple with and explore this problem: trying to order a certain kind of love and rarely-to-never getting what you want? If not, please set me straight.

KP: The conceit that governs those lines came from my early study of French. In that language, you can’t just say that you want to buy (for example) some cheese; you have to say that you want “some of the cheese.” In other words, you have to stake out a claim to your personal smidgen of cheese as separate from the total amount of cheese that exists in the universe (“Je voudrais du fromage”). In an instant, the particularity of what you want is juxtaposed against the totality of what’s possible. This contrast reminds you that you’re just a speaker in the midst of a larger system. You can’t have all the cheese in the universe (says French) but not for the reasons you think. You can’t have all the cheese because the truth of cheese—the cheese—is so huge that it belongs to everyone. The cheese belongs to French (says French) but maybe you can have a little. If you ask politely. It’s all very reassuring, at least to the non-native speaker. But when we move to matters of the heart, you’re right: Cupid doesn’t take special orders. Like artistic inspiration, true love probably belongs to the realm of the unspeakable. Just as there are some poems that seem to drift from view the more you try to pin them to the page, true love must surface in its own way.

GL: It's been a couple years now since Fort Red Border was published, and even longer since you wrote many of these poems--some of them date back to 2004, right? So, what direction has work drifted in since? Are you writing more Redfordian poems--fantastical narrative/dramatic poems--more self-broken, sound-conscious poems like "Or," new stuff that fuses these modes, or Planet Weird poems that defy categorization. In short, what are you working on these days and how's that going?

KP: Right now, I’m working steadily on a new manuscript of poems and adjusting to some exciting career changes. This past fall, I joined the faculty at the University of Louisville, so I now have the chance to teach and write full time. I’m also co-editing a new electronic journal of poetry, Transom, which I launched with fellow poet Dan Rosenberg. In January 2011, a new chapbook of mine, The Dark is Here, was published by Forklift, Ink. And this past April, The New York Times published my poem, “Allergenesis,” as part of a spring-themed Op Ed page. These days, it feels good to write poems that don’t mention the pronoun “I.” It’s great fun to escape from the locket of the self, to explore other terrain in language. Repetition and musical incantation remain important to me, so some of my new poems attempt to thread particular sounds together. Sometimes I do find myself returning to the fantastical narrative/dramatic realm, and I’m working on a series of prose poems featuring a recurring character called “the eater.” I’m several poems into that series now, and I’m not sure where the eater wants to go next—maybe nowhere. For the past few months, I’ve just been writing one poem at a time and liking that phenomenon. Mostly I’m trying to listen and follow my intuition rather than force poems onto the page. It’s a process of seeking and revelation.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A California Suite: Poem by Peter Ramos & Paintings by Sharon Shapiro

Sunset, Strip

Our scuffed and unmatched luggage
              in the sun, beside the Chrysler and all
that fine bleached sand for miles, beyond which
              …the cold Pacific—whispering, blue-midnight

                                                                        a dirtier heaven shot through
                                                                        with palmettos and roadside cacti,
                                                                        with yucca plant and scrub—brown hills
                                                                        winking lights, come down

here beyond Wilshire and Culver City,
Santa Monica, Venice. A repetition
of cotton stucco, electrified
pastels by dusk, a thousand pink motels

                                                 AIR-CONDITIONING. POOL. COLOR TV. And you
                                                 blowing on your toes while I waited—the room-key
                                                 in the ashtray, the daybeds rolled back—
                                                 in the living-room swallowing beer. Come out Sugar
                                                 and see: your brightly painted feet
                                                 sink into bone-white shag. Turn over
                                                 on the sofa while I tongue your fresh burn.
                                                 Show me all your tan lines.

Soap up
your skin, your pinks
and browns and rinse—my pretty pinup
horrified or shocked by currents, by telephones
your swollen mid-century areolae.
Ripple-suck, water echo, bright laughter in the tub.

                                               You opened the sliding door and walked out
                                               of the cold blown-air, the news drifting
                                               from portable radios of a starlet
                                               murdered, of armed robbery
                                               starring some billionaire’s daughter.

That clear blue wobbling
           glass I’d almost drink—its ripples
flash and crackle
           in the sun, scintillating.
You tell me to show off
           my bikini and dive in.
But the deep end gapes. Already
           I can feel the cold water rush
over and up to my neck
           as you stand above me blacked-out
by the sun, laughing when the world tips,
           tumbles and spills until I fall down
into my deck chair dizzy.

Now you want a ring
and a chapel. No dice.
We’ll make the scene

here without it. Let the kiddies run
wild, half naked by the pool. Look up
and tell me to get over all
my old fashioned hangups.

Peter Ramos’ poems appear in Indiana Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Verse, The Chattahoochee Review, and Poet Lore. He is the author of one book of poetry, Please Do Not Feed the Ghost (BlazeVox Books, 2008), and two chapbooks: Watching Late-Night Hitchcock & Other Poems (handwritten press 2004), and Short Waves (White Eagle Coffee Store Press 2003).

For over 15 years, Sharon Shapiro’s paintings and works on paper have been exhibited in numerous venues across the country, including shows in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, New York, and Los Angeles. Her work has been the subject of two major solo exhibitions with catalogs, one at Brenau University in Gainesville, GA (2007), and the other at Second Street Gallery, Charlottesville, VA (2004). More recently, she was included in Playful Things: Examining the Role of Female Identity in Contemporary Art, a four-person exhibition at the University of Central Missouri documented by a hardbound catalog (2010). Shapiro has a BFA from the Atlanta College of Art (now SCAD), and is currently based in Charlottesville, VA.