Monday, July 13, 2015

Review: Orphans Burning Orphans by Gene Kwak

Orphans Burning Orphans by Gene Kwak
Greying Ghost Press, 2015
19 pages

I haven't done the Greying Ghost subscription for a few years, but they've always been one of my favorite small presses, so I was excited to get one this year. First up is Gene Kwak's Orphans Burning Orphans, a chap of six short stories. Staple-bound with black end-papers and a yellow cardstock cover that's stamped with black and red lightning/gun/fire imagery, the prose inside is quick and sharp to match.



The characters in Kwak's stories often come across as people trying to do good in the less-than-perfect situations they're put in. In "Neon God From The Top Turnbuckle" contemplates his own existence and whether he could continue the thread of himself through reproduction. "Red Skin, White Skin, Blue Skin," is a darkly funny story of a man attempting to go along with a lover's fetishes. Both of these pieces feature men struggling to find their place with women who don't always want what they want, making what they think are good decisions that ultimately mislead.

"The Death of Superman" and "Bad Done To His Good Hand" explore friendship and abuse through adolescent perspectives. The innocence lost in each - the severing of an inseparable childhood bond, the revenge taken by a child against an abusive family member - invokes a despair and hopelessness that isn't easy to clear away, no matter what the ending of "Bad Done To His Good Hand" suggests.

The story that feels like the black sheep of Orphans is "Warnings," though it's probably the most powerful piece in the collection. Propelling the story is a tragedy that befalls a man's child at a playground (one that I happen to have a somewhat irrational fear of, which may explain why I was most drawn to this piece), and while it's short and ends quietly, the ramifications of what's happened are huge.

Kwak's direct but poetic prose keeps all his stories on their tight tracks. Where other sparse prose is tired and distancing, the writing in Orphans is engaging, not wasting any sentence on trendiness or wit for the sake of it. Describing an encounter with a lover, the reader is asked to, "...imagine you only knew normal air and someone introduced you to a fog machine." It's satisfying to read fiction in which each line of prose is delicious and necessary, and each piece in Orphans Burning Orphans lives up to that.

Buy Orphans Burning Orphans here.

Poem In Fruita Pulp

The new issue of Fruita Pulp is out, and I have a new poem in it called "Feast on Top of A Smudged Glass Ceiling" that you can read here. There are some other fantastic poets in here too, so definitely check out the whole issue.

Big thanks to Kyle Harvey, Sonya Vatomsky, and the rest of the staff. I'm honored they included my work.

Poetry Review At The Rumpus

I wrote a review of F. Douglas Brown's latest collection, Zero to Three that you can read here. Some reflections on fatherhood and family, with some rhythm and pop culture thrown in.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Review: The Sheep Stealer by Jenn Blair

The Sheep Stealer by Jenn Blair
Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015
32 pages

Hyacinth Girl Press has become one of the few presses whose chapbooks I eagerly await, both for the badassery of their work and the stunning handmade style of their books. Kicking off their 2015 lineup is Jenn Blair's The Sheep Stealer, a poetic trek through rural America. Like all HGP titles, great care was taken in the aesthetic artistry of the book, featuring very simple cover art by Marian Scales, and my copy had flowery end-papers and lime green ribbon binding.



The twenty-three poems in The Sheep Stealer dance to the slow wilt and bloom of small-town, rural America, immersing themselves in a host of characters, meals, and ways of life. Blair's elaborate but pointed imagery carries the narratives, whether it's the prevalence of lamb's blood on everything in "Before the Flood" or a woman browsing brochures in a convenience store who, "inadvertently skins the knees of her / plump eyes on the word massacre," in the poem "Cherokee Summer" (oh, the power of a line that can make you stop, re-read, and then imagine it in your head).

Though the stories are diverse, they all speak to a movement within the stillness of place. This movement often comes in the form of travel, mostly on family vacations, and it also shows up in life cycles - birth, adolescence, and death. In "Vignette," two young girls go exploring and wind up dead; a boy confesses and is punished. "Gettysburg, 1992" is a fairly common snapshot of a family stopping in an antique store, the young girl bored and longing for the TV in the hotel room and fashion magazines. So much of these narratives is typical, but told with a breathtaking language and haunted nostalgia, and you find yourself looking between the lines for more from these characters.

My favorite poem in the collection is "Vessel," an inventory of mementos a mother keeps from her child's birth. It speaks of how she preserves, putting "small knit booties in / mason jars," and a baby footprint of "Five faint / pearls of toe and one gorgeous / black heel." We are shown a more literal imprint of life here, while the rest of the book recounts passages of time and life subtly, though the poem ends with the same "moving on" theme.

"Epilogue" closes the collection, moving primarily through the aging of nature, reminding us that, "once the beginning began / there was no way to turn it / back into itself." The act of looking back always takes place while life is moving relentlessly forward, no matter our desire to return to a certain newness from the past. The Sheep Stealer is an immensely satisfying and enjoyable chapbook to read. Rich in its language and setting, Jenn Blair's poems speak eloquently on adolescence, travel, loss, and the rural ways of life through an engaging cast of characters.

Buy The Sheep Stealer here.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Not Dead, Just Working

Summer is here, and I'm trying to keep the writing/editing train moving. And mostly succeeding, so far. Here is a bullet-point list of exciting things:

- I've been helping to read and select chapbook submissions for publication with ELJ's new Magpies series. We've received a number of great manuscripts so far and are accepting work for a few more days. Anyone interested in submitting can go here.

- The revival of the online journal Amethyst Arsenic is finally here, and I'm so excited to start reading poetry submissions for the new issue to go live, later this year. We open July 1 and we are a PAYING market, so please go here to submit your work and help make this issue great.

- I'm planning to start posting chapbook reviews here on the blog, so stay tuned for that.

Additionally, I have some new work forthcoming in a few awesome journals that I can't wait for people to read. I'll be posting links here when said journals go live.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

MenilFest 2015

The seventh annual MenilFest was held in Houston yesterday, and hundreds of people came out to support art, lit, and music. This was the second year I attended the festival and the first that I manned a table for ELJ Publications, which was a new, exciting experience. The forecast rain held off for the duration of the fest, so it was a lovely, overcast day to hang out at a book fair.


Some notable journals and presses were there that I love. I went by the H_NGM_N Books and Little Red Leaves tables a few times, but didn't get to chat much with the people there (though I'll likely be sending my micro-chap to H_NGM_N soon, so I should have introduced myself). Same for Rust + Moth and Owl Eye Review (the latter of which I actually did have time to talk to and wanted to know more about, but there was no one at the table when I went by). I spoke with a girl at the Zine Fest Houston table and took a draft copy of her zine, which looks pretty badass, though she was still fairly apologetic about the unpolished state of it (this served as a reminder - be proud of your work, people!).


I went by the Gulf Coast table, as they always have their back/current issues on sale and tons of back issues of other journals. There were a lot that I really wanted (AGNI, A Public Space, BWR), but I didn't have the time to stand and browse them all, so I just grabbed some Gulf Coast issues. Also wish I'd gone by the Glass Mountain table next to them, but didn't have time. Brazos Bookstore had the table next to ELJ and did some good business from the look of things. They're a fairly big-name bookstore in Houston, and I know there are lots of people willing to support local businesses, but it still surprises me how well they do with selling stuff at list price at a book fair.


Manning the ELJ table at MenilFest was an odd and interesting experience, from which I learned a few things. This probably isn't the case with every lit fest, but most people come to the Menil book fair to support local authors, and while we have published and will publish a few Texas authors, the only title we had from a Houston writer was mine. So, while I was able to sell a few of mine, the only other thing people were interested in was whether or not we were local. To the point where I eventually stopped mentioning we were based in New York and just explained, "Yes, we're local - I'm the Executive Editor and I live here." Yeesh.

I was also reminded of how important a book's title and cover is, especially for lesser-known writers. A few of our books were repeatedly picked up by browsers based on their titles alone. The lesson here is, if you're like me and generally horrible at creating your own titles and covers, find someone who is good at it and have them create something for you. It can make all the difference in the world when selling your book to people other than friends and family. Other less-than-stellar questions that came up: an inquiry into whether we'd consider producing audio books and a few questions/assumptions about our books being self-published (for which I did my best to keep my Angry Bitch Face at rest while answering).

Overall, I had a good time getting the word out about ELJ and what we do. I wish I'd had more time to browse the other tables and buy books, but it's always a good feeling just to venture into artistic communities where the focus is on creating more than consuming, so MenilFest is an event I'm happy to check out every year.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Chapbook Review At The Mom Egg

I reviewed two of Rose Auslander's chapbooks, Hints and Folding Water, for The Mom Egg, which you can read here.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

2015 Writing Goals

1. Write a poem a week.

2. Complete and submit another chapbook.

3. Make progress on a full-length project.

4. Continue publishing in journals, submit to more paying markets.

5. Continue seizing writing and publication opportunities outside poetry (book reviews, essays, fiction, etc.).

It would be great if the fiction-writing part of my brain would resurface this year, kthx.

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Book Roudup

From glancing at the lists, this seems to be about what I did in 2013, as well, with maybe slightly more fiction and non-fiction in 2014. Fiction favorites were the much-anticipated Crystal Eaters by Shane Jones and Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey (I'm not entirely sure about this, but I'm almost positive I bought the latter through seeing a recommendation by the former. Funny how that works out.). Poetry highlights were one of my first ventures into erasure, Radi OS by Ronald Johnson (a brilliant erasure of Paradise Lost), and Head Off and Split by Nikki Finney (the opening poem, "Red Velvet," about Rosa Parks, blew me away). For non-fiction, Leslie Jamison's The Empathy Exams is, by far, my favorite, followed by Toms River by Dan Fagin, which has some pretty extensive research and reporting (this is, apparently, why some didn't like it, but I'm usually more appreciative of non-fiction in this vein, as opposed to the lighter, more poppy stuff).

I've definitely scaled back on chapbooks in recent years, but my love for them hasn't diminished (it's likely I didn't even note all the ones I read). I also read somanyfreaking journals that I didn't list them, this year, though I wish I had, as there was so much memorable stuff in the journal world, this year, both online and in print.

2015 reading goals. I would like to do ONE of the following:

1. Finish Proust's In Search of Lost Time
2. Read a ton of Dostoyevsky, alongside the three-ton Dostoeyvsky biography
3. Read Ulysses
4. Read Gravity's Rainbow
5. Finish all of Roth's Zuckerman novels

Okay, less talking, more reading now. Enjoy my 2014 "Books Read" list below.

Fiction

Dune – Frank Herbert
If Beale Street Could Talk – James Baldwin
Silas Marner – George Eliot
Martha Quest – Doris Lessing
Speedboat – Renata Adler
Leaving the Sea: Stories – Ben Marcus
Barry Hannah – Airships (unfinished)
The Fault in Our Stars – John Green
Rabbit Run – John Updike
Rabbit Redux – John Updike
Crystal Eaters – Shane Jones
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood
Nobody is Ever Missing – Catherine Lacey
The Laughing Monsters – Denis Johnson
Rabbit is Rich – John Updike
Rabbit at Rest – John Updike

Poetry

Singing School – Robert Pinsky
Lines of Defense – Stephen Dunn
No Planets Strike – Josh Bell
Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems – James Baldwin
3 Sections – Vijay Seshadri
Morning in Serra Mattu – Arif Gamal
Opening the Doors of the Temple – Annalee Kwochka
You Might Curse Before You Bless – Allie Marini Batts
Rome – Dorothea Lasky
Bicentennial – Dan Chiasson
Voyager – Srikanth Reddy
Radi OS – Ronald Johnson
Saint Friend – Carl Adamshick
The Heart is Strange: New and Selected Poems – John Berryman
Morning in the Burned House – Margaret Atwood
Selected Poems II: 1976 – 1986 – Margaret Atwood
American Smooth: Poems – Rita Dove
Everything Else in the World – Stephen Dunn
Here and Now: Poems – Stephen Dunn
Head Off and Split – Nikky Finney
Citizen: An American Lyric – Claudia Rankine
Paper Doll Fetus: Poems – Cynthia Marie Hoffman
Faithful and Virtuous Night: Poems – Louise Gluck
Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals – Patricia Lockwood

Nonfiction

Baby Knows Best – Deborah Carlisle Solomon
Stringer: A Reporter’s Journey in the Congo – Anjan Sundaram
Toms River – Dan Fagin
Far From the Tree – Andrew Solomon
The Empathy Exams: Essays – Leslie Jamison
Reality Hunger – David Shields
Not That Kind of Girl – Lena Dunham
Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay
Updike – Adam Begley
The Birth of the Pill – Jonathan Eig
Lives in Ruins – Marilyn Johnson

Chapbooks

Red Demolition – Juliet Cook
Hints – Rose Auslander
Folding Water – Rose Auslander

PLAYING ONE ON TV is "Best Dressed!"

This week, PLAYING ONE ON TV was featured by Sundress on The Wardrobe's Best Dressed. Much excite! Head over to their  blog  to read som...