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Saturday, September 17, 2016
Wonderful interview by Kaveh Akbar at Divedapper with the poet Francine J. Harris on her new poetry collection: play dead (April 2016), recently out by Alice James Books. Read on to find out about some of Harris's thoughts on poets "preventing the calcification of language" and on "textspeak" and other matters such as verbing nouns and nouning verbs! Click the link below to read the interview in full!
Nouning Verbs and Verbing Nouns--An Interview with Francine J. Harris at Divedapper
I'm excited to announce that the video book trailer for my new book of poems Kiss/Hierarchy (Rain Mountain Press 2016) is now up on Youtube and viewable for all those interested. This video is my poem, "Dear Jean Seberg," set to to a montage of images connected to this 1960's movie star's uncanny rise to fame. Plucked from a small midwestern town and discovered by the film director Otto Preminger, Jean Seberg found herself playing Joan of Arc at the age of 18, and with only having acted in high school productions before this!
Created by Mark Knox of KnoxWorXMedia, this video is a sensual homage to 1960's film, the at times sultry graininess of black-and-white film, and the New Wave Movement in French Cinema that Jean-Luc Godard spearheaded with others. Seberg's role on Breathless (1960), directed by Godard, was a key part of this New Wave and helped re-ignite her stalled film career at the time (after the commercial failure of Joan of Arc (1957)). A look at the ephemeral nature of fame and at the tenuous, vulnerable beauty of this midwestern film star, the video offers an example of the poems that make up my new collection. If you like slowly-smoked cigarettes, hastily-conceived heists, and unlikely love stories, you might enjoy this video and the film-saturated poems in Kiss/Hierarchy.
Here's a sample of Bar-Nadav's thoughts on sound in prose poems and poetry composing in general. I wholeheartedly agree with this idea of sound as key to a deeper, more "visceral" method of finding one's way while writing (and even revising) a poem:
"I especially enjoy pushing sound in prose poetry. When I read the work of someone like Karen Volkman or Simone Muench, I see how the prose poem can create opportunities for very visceral treatment of alliteration, assonance, and consonance, and rhyme and off-rhyme. I’m also a great believer in allowing the poem to go where it may, and, as you noted, sound was a major compositional device in the writing of these poems. At the same time, sound also enabled me to revise these poems, which I said aloud dozens of time as I revised. All this to say, sound can be both a compositional device and a tool for revision. "
Last week I had the pleasure of being able to interview David Shields, the New York Times bestselling author of such books as Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010) and the very frank and unapologetic nonfiction book--with its eye-stopping title--The Thing about Life is that One Day You'll be Dead (2008). I know few writers who would let me know,
within the first 10 pages of a book, that “over the course of [my] life, [I am]
likely to take about 850 million breaths” (The One Thing 10), but Shields is just such a writer. A true advocate for "literary collage" or for evolving beyond our more traditional ideas of writing our stories through a narrative frame with a clear beginning, middle and end, Shields is an intriguing commentator on what it means to write meaningfully in our fast-paced, reality-blurred and digitally-infused times. Here is a link to my "nano-interview" with him for The Rivard Report, published on May 10th, 2016: War is Beautiful author David Shields Coming to San Antonio.
It was a delight to interview a fellow WordTech poet, Susan Cohen, for the Delphi Quarterly Review. Cohen published her first full-length book of poems, Throat Singing (2012) with WordTech Communications, under their Cherry Grove imprint for lyrical poetry. Able to write equally with wry humor and with an unflinching look at the precarious state of being human, Cohen is a deeply smart, musically-rich poet. To find out more about her work and to sample some of her poems, whose titles can offer up unexpected predicaments, such as: "The Woman Who Feels No Fear," feel free to read this interview I conducted with her published this month in the Winter/Spring 2016 issue of The Delphi Quarterly Review.
I had a wonderful time last night reading my poems at Viva Tacoland here in San Antonio, along with the wonderfully talented Ben Olguin. That is until the clouds grew more and more dense and began to lean in on our little beer garden along the river like some kind of CGI version of an extreme weather phenomenon taking place. Gray-green clouds, wind, and lightning were all around us. It did lend a certain drama to the night, and we managed to carry on with our third surprise feature reader, Jen Knox, and most of the open mic that came after before the rain really hit. Here is me reading from my chapbook, Dear Jean Seberg, before the storm did its macabre dance around us. There was a certain disaster flick charm to the reading as the storm drew nearer, as the other photo shows:
The crowd listening to Ben Olguin 30 minutes later.......That is the wonderful Live Oak Tree at Viva Tacoland set against the quickly darkening skies. And if you look closer, you can see my husband's beer in the foreground, waiting patiently for him to finish taking this photo:
One poem I read from Dear Jean Seberg was: "Dear Key Largo." It seemed apt to read as this flick, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, takes place in Florida at a family-owned hotel right as an ominous hurricane is approaching. But then the gangsters arrive and take over the place and the local Native Americans get stuck outside as the wind mounts, pounding on the door. This 1948 film, released so soon after the war, has Bogart playing a disillusioned soldier come back from fighting in Italy. He has arrived in Florida to seek out the widow (Bacall) of his war-time comrade since he was the captain of her husband's troop and witnessed his death. It goes from there, but there are many sultry scenes of sweating gangsters pacing while waiting for a boat to arrive to make their escape--all as the hurricane nears. Then the wonderful Claire Trevor plays Gaye Dawn, the head gangster's ex-girlfriend, who stares down the bottom of one too many whiskeys and embodies a club singer now past her prime with indelible, broken-hearted vulnerability. All this, with great dialog, hurricane lamps, and 5-6 gangsters growing steadily more uneasy, builds enough tropical tension for several film noirs. Here's the poem along with a poster from the film:
Dear Key Largo:
Bogart and Bacall)
If life were a hotel, it would,
at times, buck and swell. The temperature
is on the rise, the waves muddy
as regret and not receding. Do you play the ponies?
The long shot is only your wrists,
pale as snow and thrust out into the
a cacophony of small-time criminals
and masters of the fix; each man his
version of a war—his hope faulty
as electrical wiring in a storm. And
about the girls? They wait like
they thrive only in the spotlight
of someone else’s arms, but a few
sense the pressure dip and rise; like
they take the world in stride. The
and tremble, the hurricane lamps are
in the shape
of tears. She’s a widow and he’s a
the father’s a cripple, and the
pace upstairs. Someone gets smacked
someone else dies with an unloaded
dropping from their hands. The wind
the plot unfolding inside and tosses
the palm trees around like dice.
Gee, fella, can I have a drink? There’s a singer
past her prime, her boyfriend the mob
sweating upstairs. There’s a widow
and a wanderer.
That was a close shave. The local Native Americans
pound on the door, want out of the
The ceiling fan spins like a headache
that won’t end. What do you do with a
black throat poking into your ribs?
how a decision can tip when a little
added into the mix. Hope is
patriotism wary, and the mobsters
are peddling counterfeit money. Who,
is the real public enemy? The
or your own thoughts, both equally
of holding you hostage. Meanwhile,
turns her face toward Bogart, and the
the hurricane subsides, and the pale
I had the privilege to interview the multi-talented bilingual, NY/Puerto Rican poet, Urayoan Noel last week for The Rivard Report, an urban, independent online newspaper based here in San Antonio, and the interview was picked up by the Poetry Foundation's blog, Harriet! We discussed everything from brain hemispheres to composing poems with smartphones to homophonic translations and more.
I had the luck to meet Urayoan Noel in New York City when I was living there with my husband from 2000 to 2006, and we had the audacity to try to build a bilingual journal (in English and Spanish) on a fraying shoestring budget (at best!). We had started this journal Terra Incognita while living in Madrid and were intent on building a bicultural bridge between the U.S and Spain by featuring poets and writers practicing their art in English and/or Spanish or a combination thereof . One of the pleasures of this project was receiving submissions from poets such as Urayoan Noel and being able to host him and others at a bilingual reading series we curated at The Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village in the early 2000s. So, more recently, it was a double delight to be able to host Urayoan Noel again here in San Antonio through Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary arts organization. As the Creative Writing Classes Program Director for Gemini Ink, I had the satisfaction of featuring him as one of our Spring 2016 visiting writers, and out of his visit to San Antonio, came this interview.
Read on to learn more about the buzzing hemispheres reverberating in the poems of Urayoan Noel, in his new collection Buzzing Hemisphere/Rumor Hemisferico (University of Arizona 2015), poems which have been called by Victor Hernandez Cruz: "a stereo ping-pong game between two languages." Click the link here to read the interview in full:
Cecily Parks’ “Skylight”: A Peek into
the Poetic Landscapes of O’Nights
Cecily Parks’ recent collectionO’Nights(Alice James Books 2015) is packed
with wonderful winter poems and poems discussing nature in unexpected, idiosyncratic
ways, I thought a look at one of the poems in this collection would be perfect
“Skylight,” a poem about two-thirds of the way into Cecily Parks' O’Nights, the neat borders between the
human body and what surrounds it on any given day are dismissed, or at least
not assumed to be as intact as we often presume. The body and the outside world
merge and break down—often interacting in uncanny, surprising ways. And Parks’
sense of wonder about being alive on a planet pervade this poem with its child-like,
voracious appetite for investigation. In “Skylight,” the speaker starts off the
poem contemplating the physical world that fringes her body as she runs around
While I run around the winter pond
you are already
gathering the morning
in your quadrangular eye and making
a blue-and-white thought of it. Is it
or the pond that I contemplate best?
Parks is not
afraid to ask questions in her poems, and these questions often begin a certain
line of inquiry that prods the boundaries of things. Right away there is an
ambiguity about who or what the speaker feels most intimately connected to in
this poem: the “you” addressed in this poem or the presence of the pond. And
who is this “you” exactly? A lover at home waking up to this day with his
“quadrangular” eye or the pond itself? The pond and this “you” seem to dip in
and out of each other, to be one and the same, and then not quite the same at
all, and we witness the porous boundaries between the human and natural worlds.
Parks is quite
often on a daily run in her poems in this book, and this athletic ritual becomes a viewing
stand from which she may peruse and question the world around her. It is as if
her moving body is a camera on a dolly, roving for the best shot of the scene, and,
in this way, her eye is freed up to ingest with a certain immediacy whatever
she comes across: “The pond I run beside is soft and wet/ when like sleep from
an eye/ the mist has been wiped from it” (48). This is a poet with an unerring
eye for detail and the sleepy eye of this pond is just one among many of the
exquisite equations she can conjure up in her incisive, dream-like similes and
The speaker in
these poems is also a restless one, intent on forging new, unexpected links
between the natural and human spheres, between self and other. No boundary is safely intact in a Cecily Parks poem. As a result,
the speaker in “Skylight” is not content to remain as observer and seeks to
connect with the nature she observes:
I would like to wade,
trap the clouds
pond-wet hands and swallow them.
Skylight, if you
could see me you would know
that I know the
to have the sky
inside you. (48)
“swallowing of clouds” and hunger for sky show an adamant speaker who is
willing to ingest nature in whatever way possible, determined to become
enveloped within it. She even appears to metamorphose, almost Daphne-like, into
a part of the natural world, with her “pond-wet” hands.
I enjoy the playful, probing intellect alive in the poems in O’Nights
and the fact that full-blown conversations are conducted with the skylight in a
non-plussed, unapologetic manner. Any assumptions of what a poem confronting
natural landscapes can become fall away immediately once a reader steps into
these poetic landscapes, which seem busy collaging together the innumerable
textures any given physical landscape can offer up. And, in this poet’s hands,
a not small amount of magic occurs as doorways swing open in the poems,
doorways asking us to consider wider and more unsettling connections between
ourselves and what surrounds us as we stroll, run, or navigate the physical
world that accompanies us in our daily lives.
Cecily. “Skylight.” O’Nights. Farmington:
Alice James Books, 2015. Print.
I am pleased to have had two of my poems published in The Boiler Journal, a literary journal begun in 2011 by a group of writers from Sarah Lawrence College and which likes work that "turns up the heat, whistles, and stands up to pressure." My two poems: "Nightgown" and "Today I am Not" are in their current issue. "My Nightgown" poem is a revision of how I thought about that everyday (or every night) article of clothing, and I had fun meshing that with the surreal strangeness of the sleep state. And no, I don't own such a nightgown as you see in this image below although I have always envied the Myrna Loy's of the world who had the chance to flaunt such garments on the screen.
And the second poem, "Today I am Not" I see as somewhat like a list poem, but a list of absences or negatives. This poem became a linguistic platform to consider the "what I am not's" in my life, which, of course, can burgeon into quite a list--everything one is not in this world can be a whole lot of things!
And if you want to know why I have posted a picture of a fox prowling along nocturnally in the grass, you'll have to read my poems to find out. I hope you enjoy my poems as well as the other writers they have on display. There is a lot of wit, linguistic play, and fresh writing in this December 2016 issue: The Boiler Journal:
Each night I sleep wrapped in a gown of crying stars. Whether they cry to plea or sing is always difficult and tenuous to decipher. In my gown of voices, I pitch and roll as if on a ship at sea. I dream of sisters and brothers; I dream of stroking my husband’s penis, bright and flushed as an orchid, until we are interrupted by the blond shores of windows and the plaintive smell of cut hay, its disheveled sweetness. The world’s a gallery hung with the obsessive knowledge of light, light that could be memorizing, as we speak, one claw foot of the world’s daintiest bathtub. I don’t ever want to say until again— it carries too much waiting inside; it is a parade of soft pelicans procrastinating. In the day, I pluck music from other poets’ poems, and it falls like tender, snow-covered fruit into my hands. There is no greater joy. I want a nightgown woven from the wings of hummingbirds. Or do I mean from the birds of humming wings? Or is my nightgown just a linguistic invention—a cage of syllables cascading all about me, a rain of hums I wrap around me hungrily?
TODAY I AM NOT
a 23-year-old woman holding a lime-colored,
perspiring cocktail in a nightclub with black
octagonal mirrors. I’m not the word asleep
in my husband’s mouth as a dark bird lifts
packages of bright wind on its somber,
steadfast back. I’m not myself at 20—a tilted,
unblinking match flaring down the black
of a British night, confident I will spot
the hostel up ahead. I am not a shoe, a shush
or a shut-up. Meanwhile, the rose pirouettes and scuttles
on its stem—a pink crab with soft, flirting claws and vivacious
thoughts. Today, edges scold and blur, so I lean
into charcoal algorithms and bleeding clouds. I’m not decisive,
not a precise record-keeper of animal or plant life. Saxophones
hum and sweat among the clairvoyant
petunias and lavender phlox. I am not
a fox—all sleek, nocturnal journal-keeping and inky
footprints in the purple grass. What a gas it is
to be an extra in a film—to populate rainy cities and street corners
with your pale arms and blurry sins! I am not
my whims, my short-winded whistle, my steamer trunk