Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Howell

11
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): It’s All About You

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

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Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

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It’s All About You

a: What a Baby You Are; or The Medium of Time Travel; or The Poetry of Casey Kasem

This idea comes from Karen Head, author of Shadow Boxes (All Nations Press, 2003), though I don’t know if this idea appears in her book, but . . .

This is what Karen did, if I have it correct, or some part of it. She went back to the year of her birth & used songs from that year as starting points for poems. For instance, she has a poem titled “Light My Fire,” in which she weaves in certain events from the time period of her birth & the song. She then talks to those events & to the song & wraps them all together in a poem that talks back to her existence & to the reader.

So we are going to try something similar. You will use song titles from songs that were on the top 40 chart during the week of your birth (well, for those of you born in 1970 or after). Or you can use titles of songs that came out in the year of your birth, or the titles of albums, or the titles of books, or whatever else you can think of.

The point is to discover the immediate effects of your surroundings when you were born, by using the title of something as the lense through which you will perceive those surroundings.

I’d been interested in hearing from someone born in 1973 & who has used Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light” as their song title. Man, I want to know how that got woven into your life.

b: Conceptual Music; or How the Solipsist Applied Loop Quantum Gravity to His Existence

Ok. We will be doing a similar thing in this assignment, but now we will do it using the time period of when you were conceived.

If you don’t understand the second title to this assignment, it will be explained, in part, in an upcoming poetry assignment, “Break on Through to the Other Side; or T+3, T+2, T+1, T=0, T-1, T-2, T-3, T-2006 AD; or The Big Crunch as Big Bang in Reverse; or Neo Takes the Red Pill of Negative Eternity.” Look for it soon. [See Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions.]

Happy New Year! A Time to Reflect. A Prose Assignment!

This was inspired by Christopher Howell, who at the end of one of his semester-long creative writing classes would have students write a paper on what they have achieved with their poetry in the semester. This assignment will be similar.

You are to respond to the following questions. The response can be in journal entry form, essay, or however you want. The questions are:

What are you doing with your poetry?
In what ways has the poetry you have written this year been successful/unsuccessful?
Where would you like to go with your poetry? or what would you like to see/hear happen to your poetry?

Optional:
What’s going on in contemporary poetry?
What do you like &/or dislike about the current happenings in poetry?
What would you like to see happen to contemporary poetry?

Oh, be honest with yourself!

(9-16-06 addendum) Below is an example in verse, instead of prose. It’s from William Heyen’s book The Confessions of Doc Williams & Other Poems (Etruscan Press, 2006.) After reading it, read Pound’s “A Pact,” which you can find in Personæ: The Shorter Poems. A revised edition prepared by Lea Baechler & A. Walton Litz (New Directions, 1990).

   The New American Poetry

   It is the poetry of the privileged class.

   It inherits portfolios.

   It was born in the Ivy League, & inbred there.

   Its parents filled its homes with bubbling Bach,
           silver & crystal brightnesses
                       for its surfaces.

   It does not hear the cheap & natural music of the cow.
           Its vases hold gold-stemmed roses, not ponds with logs
                       from which turtles descend at our approach,

   neckfold leeches shining like black droplets of blood.

   It swallows Paris & Athens, tracks its genes to the Armory Show.

   It waits by parlor coffins, applies rouge to Poe & Beau Brummell.

   Its father is Gertrude Stein, not Whitman, who despises it,
        though it will not admit it.

   Old women with children do live in it.

   It does not harvest thought, or associate with farmers.

   It does not serve in the army, or follow a story.

   Inviolate, buttressed by its own skyhook aesthetics,
           it revels in skewed cubes,
                       elliptical appositions.

   Ultramarine critics praise it, wash their hands of subject matter.

   It is tar-baby minus the baby, minus the tar.

   Its city is not the city of pavement or taxis, business or bums.

   It dwells on absence & illusion, mirrors refulgent flames.

   Deer that browse beneath its branches starve.

   Its emotions do not arise from sensible objects.

   It passes rocks as though they were clouds.

   It does not flood out is muskrats.

   It sustains itself on paperweight petals.

   It does not define, catalog, testify, or witness.

   It holds models before the young of skillful evasion,
           withering heartlessness.

   It lifts only its own weight for exercise, does not body-block,
           or break up double plays,
                       or countenance scar tissue.

   It flails in the foam, but has no body & cannot drown, or swim.

   In his afterlife, Rimbaud smuggles it along infected rivers.


                                                  (1984)


   “The New American Poetry” from The Confessions of Doc Williams & Other Poems. 
   Used by permission of Etruscan Press.

a: Won’t You Give Me Three Steps / Gimme Three Steps, Mister, / Gimme Three Steps Towards My Core? / Gimme Three Steps / Gimme Three Steps, Mister, / So My Poems Won’t be a Bore

   With the end of the year near,
   it’s time to reflect on your poetry, dear.
   So here are some questions you can ask
   yourself about your poetic tasks.
   What are the three most important things
   you do to make your poems sing.

Bustin’ the rhyme here. Reflect on what are the three most important aspects of your poetry right now?

For instance, for me:

  1. Clarity. Trying to create poems with visual, syntactic, & thinking clarity.
  2. Music. Well, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Doo wop doo wop doo waa.
  3. Gleaming the other. Creating the poem that extends beyond itself. (For instance, in a poem about a compass that is about how the compass works & how it gets me home, is it also on another level about, for example, love, politics, justice, or is it an ars poetica. Can the poem convert lead to gold, etc? And why or why not?)

b: Three is a Gesture, Ten is Gaining Depth; or Three . . . That Ain’t No List, Now, Ten, Well, There’s a List for You; or Rounding Out the Top Ten – the Next Seven

What will complete the top ten list of what you are doing with your poems? And why? What will you try to improve or make more significant?

You will probably have to meditate on these aspects, & you will probably have to explain to yourself & your poems why.

For example, waiting to make my list:

  1. Imagination – or longer starings.
  2. Pivots – unique turns or shifts, wonderful seamless leaps.
  3. Tone – to see how tone affects meaning.
  4. Voice – to see if it is necessary for voice to match content.
  5. Image – is this connecting? Is there a better way to present it?
  6. Square look on page – to see how shape & poem interact.
  7. Ambiguity – as an experiment to encourage gleaming.

The David Lehman Experiment; or The Best Poetry According to You

That’s right. Each year you will compile your own anthology of the best poems you read that year, but the poems could have first appeared in a year other than the one you are reading. So for instance, if you happen to read Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder’s poem “Whoso List to Hunt” (ca. 1526) and you think it is one of the best poems you read during the year, then include it in your anthology.

This activity is continual. But you will start a new anthology at the beginning of each year.

The Ed Hirsch Experiment; or Keeping Track So You Don’t Forget; or The Reading Journal

Ed Hirsch has a fine new book out: Poet’s Choice (Harcourt, 2006). This book, basically, is filled with two- or three-page essays about a poet and the poet’s poetry. The first part is about individual non-American poets (and it’s quite impressive the number of poets he mentions that I’ve never heard of, but after reading Hirsch’s essay, they become poets I want to read – there are, of course, poets I have heard of and read). And the second part is about American poets.

Each essay talks about something wonderful the poet did or how wonderful a poet is/was. Each essay is filled with enthusiasm and love and a deep understanding of the poet and the poet’s poetry. Hirsch has been able to turn his head enough to find something in each of the poets he writes about.

So this is what we are going to do. We are going to keep a reading journal. We are going to write about every book of poetry we read. We are going to put into written words why we like, or dislike, a certain book, or poet. You will be able to record your early responses to each book. Later, you can add to the responses. Or later, way later, you can see where you were at this point in your poetry life. I think, in part, it will help us understand how a book of poems works, or will help us understand a particular poet with more depth and clarity – and probably our own poetry.

You can also couple this poetry assignment with the previous assignment. You can write about each poem in your anthology.

Yeah, we are going to learn why we really like something. And through the writing of it, we will aid our memory about a poet. You can even rewrite poems in your journal. That’s always a good idea.

The next assignment or two will get us back to writing poetry, but in the meantime, it’s good to reflect through prose.

Go forth!

Making Closure; or Getting to Know You / Getting to Know Every Word About You [use a high, squeaky, out-of-key voice to sing that]; or Damn, Is My Vocabulary that Small? And After All of that Highfalutin Schoolin’, too, Sheesh; or I’m Gonna Make You Smoke All Them Ceegars Until You Learn to Hate Them; or The Old Possum’s Book of Practical Remedies; or How to Avoid the T. S. Eliot (Old Possum) Syndrome; or Shaking Off the Funk; or Getting Rid of Your Wouby (Mr. Mom anyone?); or Keeping it Fresh; or How Boring Am I?; or Mama Needs a New Pair of Words (and how to avoid making your point)

You are gonna need all of your poems for this one. Go through all of your poems and find the most frequent word(s), image(s), idea(s) that appear in your poems. Well, maybe not all of your poems, but over the last year or two or three.

Now use those words, images, ideas, in at least every other line of the next poem you write. And then do it again with the next poem. And the next. Keep doing it until those words, images, and ideas are out of your system. Or until you at least understand how to use them with significance, and not as an easy fall back.

For instance, my common words and images are: shadows, the moon, and mountains. And I need to purify myself of them so I can grow and move on. Right now they are so easy to use. I know they are inexhaustible material, but, dude, I need to break free for awhile, ya know? I need to learn how to use them with power, again, as I did when I first discovered/used them. Maybe this doesn’t happen to you, but if it does, you will find out and cure yourself.

Go refresh!

[11-11-16 Note: To make this easy, copy and paste your poems into a Word Cloud generator.]

Self Parody; or She Who Laughs Bests, Laughs at Herself; or Popping the Ego; or How to Make Nelson Muntz “Ha Ha” at You

Nelson MuntzNow that you’ve been examining your poetry, it’s time to make fun of it. Hyperbolize yourself. Generalize yourself. Write a self parody of your poems’ tendencies. Shake it up.

Ask yourself, “Am I still being original? Am I still being fresh? Am I making it new?”

You should do this assignment every couple of years. Starting now. Then every two or three or five years (five might be too long), consider where you’re. If, for example, your voice tends to be the same, make fun of it, so you can explore other voices. If it’s your tone that tends to be the same, bust it up. Check your syntax: are you following the same techniques because they create a cool effect? If so, make it laugh for you, and then go explore other syntactical arrangements.

Stay fresh my friends. Make it New!

I tend to say “Go forth!” at this point, as if you are a noble knight on a gallant steed, and you are about to go on an exciting journey or heading for battle. But this time I will put on a fool’s cap with a little bell dangling from the top, spin once, twice, thrice, and with a giggling cackle, a “Ha Ha,” and a jocoserious tone announce to you, . . . “Go Jest!”

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Go Forth!

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29
Jan
13

Interview with Rock & Sling Editor – Thom Caraway

One of my favorite literary journals is Rock & Sling. I remember the women who founded the journal asking me questions about how to start a journal. They asked me circa 2003 when I had only published one or two issues of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics. My advice was very limited. I can’t imagine what I could have told them. Now, it is being run out of Whitworth University by Thom Caraway. Under his editorial management, Rock & Sling have been creating journals that are beautiful to hold and putting together journals with the conscientiousness that goes into making a well-designed book. Inside each issue there are also good stories and poems.

On Wednesday, May 16, 2013, during my Publishing class at The University of Southern Mississippi and taught by Angela Ball, I learned that one of my assignments would be to give a presentation about a literary journal of our choice. Rock & Sling was the first journal that came to my mind. I then went home, and asked Caraway if he wanted to participate. He agreed. I quickly typed up questions for him to answer. While these answers came quick, they had lots of thought behind them. Since I now have about 11 years experience in publishing (instead of just one or two), I knew what types of questions to ask. Because I knew Caraway’s love of journals and books and putting them together, I knew what questions to ask him, and I also knew what questions I would want asked of me. So the questions arrived with ease. In addition, I asked questions that would be of more direct concern to the other students in the class and to those who are considering submitting their work to Rock & Sling. I emailed Caraway the questions the same night. One week later, he sent me his responses, which appear below.

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As I recall, Rock & Sling was started by two ladies in Spokane, WA, around 2003. Who were those ladies, how long did they run the journal, and did it have the same focus as the journal currently does?

Susan Cowger, Kris Christenson, and Lori Klein. The journal came to us through Susan, whose daughter had attended Whitworth University. They were “a journal of faith, art, and literature.” Or “literature, art, and faith.” Some combination of those words. It seemed like all of the faithy journals had some combination of those. We simplified to “a journal of witness.” It captured the essence of what we wanted, and I think we’ve stayed true to the original mission, though we probably define “faith” more broadly than Susan did.

What prompted them to turn it over to Whitworth University and when did that happen and were you there when it occurred?

We got it in 2009. It had gone on hiatus in 2008, looking for a stable funding source. It was totally independent, but Susan and the other original group couldn’t subsidize it any more. I came in on the second or third meeting. Our department was generally in favor of it, but they didn’t really know how to make it go. I was the faculty advisor for the school’s undergrad journal, and that fall, I had also pitched a class in editing and book design. So it at least looked like I knew what I was doing. I spent the next couple months convincing various administrators that it was good for the university. That’s an on-going battle.

How did you get involved in becoming the Editor-in-Chief, especially considering that you teach full time and run Sage Hill Press?

It wasn’t going to go if they couldn’t get an editor. None of the other faculty had any experience in running a magazine, and I didn’t either, but I’d done Willow Springs and North Dakota Quarterly during my grad programs, so I kind of convinced them I knew what I was doing. My experience with Sage Hill Press certainly helped. I knew some design, and enough of the marketing and business side to sound reasonably confident. It turned out there was plenty I didn’t know. Teaching the editing and design class really helped, since I could make the business/marketing end of things part of the curriculum and sort of teach myself as I went.

What knowledge did you bring from running a press to running a journal?

It helped to know how a book gets put together (how to pick economical paper and an efficient trim-size, etc.), the printing side of things, and knowing the indie publishing biz. I knew where to go to find things, and had contacts at other presses and journals I could go to for help.

Does the journal help you run the press in any manner? Do you learn things from it that makes your press more effective?

The great thing about a journal is how many authors you can publish at a time. I was used to working with one author at a time, usually for 6-12 months, refining the manuscript, and putting it all together. The journal gave me access to a bigger base of authors. So I’ve solicited some authors we worked with on the journal to submit a book for Sage Hill. It’s also given me a better understanding of marketing and distribution.

On the other hand, the journal takes up much of my non-teaching time, so the press hasn’t maintained the kind of production schedule I’d like.

One of my favorite things about Rock & Sling is the colophon. Not many journals do that. What prompted you to include colophon? And how often do you change the typeface?

TrajanFor me, I can’t really design a book until I know what the type will be. I’ll experiment with type for hours, sometimes days, until I find the right one. It has to fit the book, speak to the personality of the book, become a vessel for the text. But for books, it’s different, because the personality of the text is more unified. It all came from the same author. With the journal, the personality comes from the journal itself, as much as it does from the text. And the text varies wildly, so the type needs to be adaptive and versatile. It needs to speak in a variety of languages. Once I found the right one, and I knew it the minute I’d set any text in it, I wanted to know everything I could about it. The type was Perpetua, the designer Eric Gill. Eric Gill was an interesting dude, and designed a number of persistent types. The colophon itself probably goes back to a design class (which you were in) during my MFA days at Eastern Washington University. Christopher Howell taught that class, and talked at length about type, and the importance of choosing just the right one for books. Or maybe it’s just something I got obsessed about as a designer later. I had the standard palette, I think. Garamond, Palatino, Caslon. I started exploring. I also started to notice colophons, often in Copper Canyon books. It added a depth of meaning to the book. Not only did the writer put a lot of time and life and love into the creation of the manuscript, but the designer was also intentional about how the book was set, which was explained in the colophon. That fascinated me. And like any amateur, I imitated until I understood. For me, Perpetua is the personality of  the journal. It’s beautiful, versatile, and engaging. It creates its own kind of interest, but doesn’t overwhelm the text. The colophon was a way of conveying that, the debt we owed not only to the authors, but to the type designer.

I’m not sure the type will ever change for the body of the journal. I just love Perpetua. Everything I submit is set in it. Poems. All of my syllabi. Letters of recommendation. Many of my students now use it, and our poetry editor has adopted it as well. For our first four issues, the titles were set in Perpetua Titling, which is an all-caps type. I wasn’t wild about it, but it was consistent with the body. Before laying out 8.1 (our fifth issue), I lost the template from those first four issues on a crashed hard-drive. We reconsidered everything (save the body type), from trim size to title types, page-styles, titles, layout, etc. We’re actually going with a new title type, and a new master-page style (in the footer), as well as a different rule style. When you are in the rhythm of journal production, it seems impossible to consider changing things. I don’t know why that is. Probably because there is so much other stuff going on; it’s too overwhelming to consider a redesign of the whole thing. I also want a consistency in our shelf presentation. If people have several years of our journal on their shelves, I want it to look good. So after all of that reconsideration, we kept the same trim size and spine text. But I’ve changed some of the more extraneous elements. But it took months to arrive at the right balance. We’ve gone with a slab sans-serif title type, League Gothic (from the excellent League of Moveable Type), which works well with Perpetua, set in a half-tone black. I’m pretty happy with it. We’ve also messed with the master-page, the size of it, and what’s in it. For me, the design of the book, being the most consistent personality element given the ever-changing nature of the work we accept, has to be precise, so people know they are reading something good, even before they get to the content. 

Why isn’t there a colophon in the current issue?

It’s expensive to print on the inside of the cover. Also, for that issue, we had space. In coming issues, I’d like to move it to the interior, maybe as the last page of the journal.

What typeface is your favorite and what typeface do you think works best for text pages? for covers? and for online?

Perpetua. It’s just beautiful. The Roman and the italic. I use it for almost everything now. I also like Californian for text. Garamond is a classic, and very versatile. Caslon is elegant, but not suited for all purposes.

TrajanFor covers, I love Trajan, but it’s become very popular. I don’t think you can ruin Trajan through overexposure, but I haven’t used it much lately. It’s one thing if it’s the title type for The West Wing, another entirely if I’m seeing it in terrible flyers posted around campus or in elevators. Perpetua Titling is what we used for the first four issues, and it’s a big, wide-based, solid title type, but it feels a little heavy sometimes, heavy-handed. We used it for titles as well, and have moved away from it for both with the new issue. I used Perpetua lower-case this time around, though we kept the ampersand in Poor Richard. That creates some problems. In the same size as what’s around it, it’s too big, so every time I use it, I have to isolate it and manually change the size and kerning to get it spaced just right. I like doing that kind of stuff though, the kind of stuff only I really notice, like shrinking the kerning, or the font-size of blank spaces.

I’ve been playing around with some gothic sans serif type for covers. I like League Gothic, and Gear, and pretty much anything at Lost Type or the League of Moveable Type. The internet is such a great resource for designers now. You can find pretty much anything, between Dafont and the other warehouse sites, and most of it is free. Still, lots of stuff doesn’t always mean lots of good stuff, so I stick with what I know for the most part. Nothing too showy or flashy. I never want to overwhelm the actual text with the typography.

Online, I appreciate tall, slender sans serif type. I like Gill Sans, and though it’s maybe a little basic, Franklin Gothic is nice, too. And boring old Calibri is a very readable screen type, though I am not a fan of it in print.

Another thing I like about the journal is the covers. They are always so beautiful. Where do you find the artwork and who does the cover design?

I handle cover design, which I love doing, despite my limitations as a designer. I’ve never taken a class in design or anything, so I always feel like I’m missing out on some cool stuff I could be doing. But, I can place art on a page, and move text around, and so far that’s been working.

When we first got started, I couldn’t get any of our overworked art faculty to sign on as art editor. I said I’d do it in the interim, but as it turned out, I didn’t really know any artists. One of my colleagues in the English department, Fred Johnson, kept asking me if I knew such and such artist. After a few of these, I started making a list and checking them out. Turns out he was connected to a lot of artists through his time at Ball State, and they were all fantastic. So I just started emailing them. Some have been hesitant to commit to covers for an ostensibly faith-based journal. Some have said no, for that reason. After the Gala Bent and dan Baltzer covers (6.1 and 6.2), I thought I’d make it look like I was at least trying, so I started asking the artists themselves for recommendations. So dan led me to Jeffrey Youngblood for 7.1, and he recommended Emelie Anskog for 7.2. I’ve been pretty happy with the results.

For this particular issue (volume 7, issue 2), there’s a lot of risk in the design. The logo is right up against the edge of the cover. That’s risk because the exactness of trim is not perfect. Many publishers would have pulled the logo in a bit. And the same for the art work. A lot of risk is taken in putting the picture into the bleed and also in cutting off part of the picture, but I like how the art exceeds the cover? Did you feel you were taking risks when designing this cover? How did you feel about those risks? Do you often take those risks when developing covers? (I also ask because in a previous version of this cover, which is on Facebook, the logo was on the left with a safe distance from the spine and the volume/issue/year information was on the right and vertical and a safe distance from the edge of the cover.)

Rock & Sling 7.2 Final Cover

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Final Cover

Rock & Sling 7.2 Draft

Rock & Sling Volume Seven Issue Two 2012 Draft Cover

I was so scared for 6.1, I did stuff fairly straightforward. I wanted it to look great, and not piss anyone off. After that one came out, a designer friend and I got to talking over beers, and he suggested I start messing with placement. He said, “Try turning the title text box vertical. Move it around.” I’d never thought of that, and I loved it, so tried it for 6.2. Our name isn’t even all the way on the front cover for that issue. I placed it so it’s half on the front and half on the spine. My theory is just to get out of the way of the art. I love the art. I want people to see the art.

So then I started moving the logo and other elements around. I really like the logo bleeding off the page a little, like who we are is incidental to the work we are publishing. It freaks our printers out. They always want me to move it in or up a ¼ inch. The only cover where we lost a bit of the content was 6.2. dan’s work has so much going on in it, and I cut an inch or so off one side to get it to fit vertically on the page. If I’m going to bleed it, I make sure that what is cut is still implied by what remains. And the artists have all been pretty happy (as far as I know) with their covers. I could shrink the art down to fit the cover, and frame it with a solid-color bar or something, but that’s just boring to me. The only reason I can see for that is to make sure people get a good look at the name of the journal. That’s much less important to me.

I think some journals might get a little used to themselves. I worked for North Dakota Quarterly, which has looked the same for forty years. Same size, same gothic type, same white cover and spine, same kind of cover image. That’s great, to have traditions like that, but one thing I love about journals is how responsive they can be, so I’ve been hesitant to make the issues look the same, at least on the outside. If I have to move our issue info to the back to feature the art more effectively, then that’s what I’ll do. If anyone is going to pick up the journal, it will be for the art, not for what issue number it is. So that stuff can go on the back if it needs to. Each issue has its own personality, which starts with the art. I like to think that we are conforming to what we get, rather than conforming or choosing material based on who we are.

As for the text page design. The title of the poem/story is all in caps, below that is a line that extends most of the width of the page, below that is the author’s name in gray, then there is some white space between the author’s name and poem or story. Also in the footers, the page number is black and Rock & Sling is gray. What overall effect do you think that creates?

Similar to my design aesthetic with art and the cover (get out of the way), I think the work is more important than the author. We went back and forth before the first issue. Some designs had the author info on top and bigger than the title info. I just didn’t like it. For me, the shape of the page is big title (“ooooh”), author, in a half-tone (“who’s that, oh, there’s the poem . . .”), and then to the work (“aaaah”). The author’s name is off set, and the title and text align with each other, so a straight line connects them. I wouldn’t mind moving the author’s name elsewhere, but I don’t think authors would like that (as an author, I wouldn’t like that).

With 8.1, I moved to a different type for the titles. Perpetua Titling is an all-caps type, and it just felt too big. So there is more distinction now between title and text, and I changed the rule from a heavy line of left-slashes to a lighter double thin line. The authors are in a small-caps Perpetua, and solid (the titles are half-tone now). We switched from an offset printer to a digital printer, and smaller half-tones (<10 pt) looked like crap (you can tell in 7.2). So the half-tone is on a larger slab sans serif type, and should print better. [For a good article about the difference between offset and digital printing, go here: http://www.printlocal.com/offset-digital-printing.htm.]

As for the footer elements, those are different now, too. I love the design of Versal, and they have massive page numbers in the footer, so I beefed up ours a little (18 pt League Gothic), and switched out “Rock & Sling” for just the Poor Richard ampersand. It looks maybe too contemporary, and probably will only last a few issues before I start to feel self-conscious about it.

CLMPI see you are member of CLMP. What does this do for the journal?

CLMP is a good resource for marketing and administrative information, plus it gets us on their lists and makes us look like a legitimate journal. It doesn’t cost much, and the resources are really useful, as are the list-servs. There’s lots of experience to draw from, which, given my lack of knowledge at the outset, was really important.

On the copyright page, it reads:

The editors of Rock & Sling believe that the act of writing and of reading literature is a way of witnessing to the truth of experience, drilling down to the core of language’s vitality, and accepting an understanding of artistic language as a kind of testimony. The word “Witness” means to testify: to tell the truth. The demands of the word are bracing in its charge to the writer to understand that his and her work matters not just as expressions of experiences and responses but as an active language engaged morally as well as aesthetically. To tell the truth is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of hope. To testify is an act of responsibility as well as an expression of faith.

Why do you have this theme? How is it different than, say, Image.

That definition was written by our poetry editor, Laurie Lamon, when we took over the journal. We use it as a framework for understanding our mission as a “Christian” journal. We publish a lot of work that isn’t overtly faith-based, at least in Christian terms. (I think specifically of your Paleolithic poems). But that work engages ideas of faith, or of something bigger than itself. Whatever you call it, that’s faith, which means it involves God, or god, or divinity.

As far as how we are different than a journal like Image, I’d say that on the surface, we really aren’t  We’re probably the AAA ball-club for Image, and that’s fine. But I think we are also perhaps more responsive to what Christian or faith-based literature could be or is headed toward. Image has a tradition. Every issue looks the same, and generally, every issue sounds the same. It’s a good sound, don’t get me wrong. I’d love to be publishing Pattianne Rogers, Gregory Orr, and B. H. Fairchild. They get great writers. But I think we are better able to take risks, because we don’t have much of a reputation at stake. And things are going on, especially in the evangelical church, that art will need to respond to, that won’t look or sound like traditional mainline Christian art. And that’s kind of where I want us to live.

With such a religious theme, what type of submissions do you receive and how do you decide what to publish?

Laurie and I agreed at the outset that our final consideration for taking a piece of any kind was “Does it demand to be published.” We get a lot of poems called “Psalm.” Lots of retellings or rehashings of familiar Bible stories. Poems or stories from Judas’ POV, or Lazarus’. Lots of annunciation poems. A lot of what you’d expect for a Christian journal. But the best pieces are those that are comfortable with ambiguity, those that acknowledge that doubt is a facet of faith, that in fact, one is meaningless without the other. That’s the central tension of most of the work we publish, I think, though it takes many forms. In that way, I don’t think we’re that different than any lit journal. Is it beautiful? Does it move me in some way? Beauty, even terrible beauty, is an expression of faith. I guess that seems apologetic of sorts. For me, beauty implies aesthetics, and aesthetics requires a big, pure, perfect Something. We call that God, but you don’t have to, and we like work that inhabits some space in between.

Part of my mission as the editor of a Christian literary journal is to show people what Christian lit can be. It isn’t all easy answers, Scripture, and parables. Lived faith is never easy, and the art that comes from it shouldn’t be either.

I’m an atheist with hope, and you’ve published me. Do you think you’ve published other atheists? Do you recognize a difference in poetry between atheists and those who believe in something other?

God, I hope we’ve published other atheists. I was an atheist when I took over the journal, or at least a hopeful agnostic. We don’t have a Shibboleth or anything. The work speaks for itself, and using your poems (or Jeff Dodd’s “Dear Russel Nakagawa” poems in 8.1) as an example, the work demonstrates a kind of faith, regardless of the writer’s beliefs. My favorite pieces we’ve published aren’t explicitly Christian. But as Jonathan Johnson always said, “You’re subconscious is smarter than you are.”

How do you generate submissions?

I have no idea. People knew us from before we took over, and we still get submissions from them, though we probably publish fewer of those folks now. So there is some previous name recognition. Mainly, I think it’s having a good-looking book and taking it to AWP. Our submissions always spike after AWP. We typically get 250-300 submissions a month. Ad swaps with other journals help, I think. We swap with folks like Sugar House Review and Weave Magazine, and some bigger journals, like Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, and Willow Springs. That gets our name out there. Probably half of our website hits come off of searches for “Christian literary journal.” So being a kind of niche helps. We get somewhat higher submissions from places where I know we are selling the journal in stores, or have it in libraries. But we get stuff from all over the world, which is awesome. I really wish I understood how people knew about us, or why they submit work. I hope it’s because the journal looks great, and the work is awesome, and people want to be a part of that.

What do you look for in a submission? That is, do you want a cover letter? What do you want in the cover letter? What’s a perfect submission for you, aside from quality poems and stories?

Ah, cover letters. I train my interns not to read them. I always read them. I like parsing the bullshit. I remember one author, when I was poetry editor at Willow Springs, with a full page of publishing credits. I had never heard of 10% of them. So I started looking them up. Maybe they were so local or small that they had no web presence or even Google hits. But most of them were made up. I kind of loved that. So I have a pretty cavalier attitude about cover letters. I’d rather a cover letter told me a good joke then tried to convince me that I should publish something because The Kenyon Review or Tin House published them. At the same time, I’ll probably read something a little closer if they’ve been published in The Kenyon Review or Tin House.

A perfect submission follows the guidelines (upload each poem separately, not as one doc with five pages), has a three-sentence cover letter (“You guys are awesome. Love the design. Hope you like these poems/this piece.”), and blows me away from the first sentence or line of the submission.

Are you pro or con Submittable.com? If you use it, what benefits does it have over email?

I admit to some nostalgia for the days of snail mail submissions, and writing comments on the envelopes, the arguments for various sizes of envelope. But I love Submittable. We got on board when we started up (after having met Michael FitzGerald at AWP), when they were still Submishmash and cheeky. It has built-in organization, which I lack entirely. It catalogs and archives efficiently, it tracks information I’d be too lazy to input, and it makes it easy to get work out to lots of readers, and to comment on that work. I’ve never used Submission Manager, but I don’t see any reason I would switch. And beyond that, it’s still free. That’s amazing, considering the service.

Do you take postal submissions? Why or why not?

No. I lose them, or forget to respond.

The journal has an Editor-in-Chief, which is you, and a poetry editor, prose editor, web editor, managing editor, assistant editor, and assistant prose editors. What do these roles do? How many are students, professors, and contractors?

The poetry editor is faculty. The nonfiction editor is staff, a senior editor in University Communications. (She has an MFA, and serves as the craft essay editor for Brevity, a terrific online creative nonfiction journal, probably the best there is.) Our prose editor is currently an alum, and three-year assistant, a terrific writer and editor. The managing editor is the English department program assistant (Annie Stillar, the daughter of my middle school shop teacher, and she is amazing. The journal wouldn’t happen without her), and she manages the budget, invoices, mailings, booking travel, and all of the many detail things that would kill me. The assistant editors are students who have been around a while, or who have taken my editing and design class. They manage their genre’s submissions, recommend stuff for editorial meetings or for rejection. I do that, too, to help clear out backlogs, but they handle a lot of it. The editorial assistants are all students. They read the work the assistant editors cull from Submittable. If it gets approved in the meeting, it goes up to the genre editors for final approval. I’m kind of in each of those steps, nudging. I’ve bypassed the readers on occasion, and passed stuff up that they didn’t like. It’s all a learning process for them. They are really sophisticated readers, but still not always paying enough attention.

How do you raise money?

Badly.

How many subscribers do you have? How many are people, libraries, swaps with other journals?

Around 100 subscribers. Another dozen libraries, and a half-dozen journal swaps.

What is your print run?

Now, it’s 400. We started at 1000, hoping to get picked up by Ingram (which demands 400 copies just for them). That hasn’t happened, alas. 1000 is enough to get onto an offset printer, and the quality is so much better. So that’s my aim, to get the subscriber base high enough to justify the expense. (Though it really is more cost effective on an offset printer, 2.05/copy vs. 3.25+/copy with a digital printer.)

What is the best form(s) of publicity? Do advertisements in other journals work?

The journal itself is our best publicity, followed by the authors. I try to design the book so that when people see it, they must pick it up. And I like it when our authors get excited about it, and start telling their friends about it. A great table at AWP doesn’t hurt.

Ads with other journals do work. I’ve seen it in cover letters. “I saw your ad in Redactions, and was intrigued …”. (I’ve really seen that.)

What’s the most enjoyable part of the journal for you?

I’m happy that I still get to do the design. If I had to choose between being the editor or being the designer, I’d probably pick designer.

Also, putting the journal together, once all the work is accepted. The interns have a big hand in that, and I just love watching them reason through an order. We place a big emphasis on the opening and closing sections, and they do a good job of helping see the entire arc of the issue.

Do you ever get lost in doing layout as you would when writing?

Absolutely.

How many times do you proofread the journal before sending it out?

Probably five times. After that, I have to stop. It could go on forever.

Do you proofread the proofs or do you just thumb through to make sure there are no glaring errors?

The latter. Widows and orphans, typos, and that’s it.

When you get the final product, do you look through it or are you too scared and already involved with this next issue?

The latter, again.

By the time the final copies arrive, are you bored with that issue already?

I wouldn’t say bored, but I’m already thinking about the shape of the next issue. But when it arrives, I’ve never sat down and read it. I know the work. I know it’s good.

What does your journal provide that other journals don’t or what do you do that other journals don’t?

I think one thing we do that not many other journals do is focusing so much on aesthetics. I want the entire experience of the journal to be beautiful, down to how it looks when we mail it out, where the shipping labels go. I can think of a number of journals who publish really great stuff, but just look like crap. Nobody has paid any attention to what the thing looks like, from the paper to the type to the margins. So I think we build a beautiful container.

I think our specifically faith-focused mission is also somewhat rare. There’s less than a dozen journals with our kind of mission. And of those, I think we are putting out some of the best work, and certainly the most aesthetically appealing journal. My goal with the journal is to reach a wider audience, to get into the hands of the “regular” lit journal audience. The work holds up. I want to teach people that Christian art, or art made by Christians and non-Christians doesn’t have to trite or cliché or boring.

The UPC is on the back cover. Typically, journals put that on the front cover. (I think it’s a law or something.) Why did you put it on the back cover? Why do you even have an UPC?

I put it on the back because it’s ugly, and mucks up the front. I’ve worked in bookstores, and it’s just as easy to scan a bar code on the front as it is on the back. We have the UPC to make it easier to sell to bookstores, which are reluctant to sell anything without a bar code of some sort. It helps them track inventory.

Do you have distribution? Who distributes for you? Where does the journal get sold?

We have distribution through Ubiquity, who specializes in selling journals to indie bookstores, which are more likely to carry a selection of literary journals. Ingram has turned us down twice for distribution, and I think that is largely a function of our longevity (they want to make sure we’ll be around for a while) and the decline of the big-box bookstore.

We’ve also started handling some of our own distribution, which is a bit labor and time intensive, but allows us to track copies more effectively. Ubiquity doesn’t provide any reporting on where the copies are going, which sucks. But I’ll get emails or texts from friends saying, “Hey, I saw the new issue at a store in Houston, looks great!” So I know they are out there. We also see occasional spikes in submissions and subscriptions from particular regions or towns, so I suspect that stores have copies thereabouts.

What part of working on the journal do you like least?

Budget stuff. At least once a year, I have to defend, usually in written form, the journal as a printed thing. “Why not just have it online? That’s free.” Administrators, trustees. People concerned with the bottom line, which I understand. My first response (which I have to restrain) is, “We cost under ten thousand dollars a year. How much to baseball uniforms cost? How much do these ridiculous university-emblazoned water bottles cost?” But there’s a significant value to the students who help staff the journal, and it’s hard for some folks to see past the economic argument, which isn’t even true.

Do you pay authors? What do you pay them?

Two copies. Someday, I’d like to pay money, but that will take some doing. If we can get some big donations and establish an endowment . . .

Do you think it is unethical to not pay authors in money or contributor copies?

Yes. All journals should at least be able to afford to pay in copies. The work is valuable; it’s what makes the journal what it is. Copies are at least a nod in that direction.

Thank you so much.

//

For the downloadable Rock & Sling Tip Sheet I made for the presentation, click Rock & Sling Tip Sheet.

02
Jan
13

Christopher Howell Light’s Ladder (2004)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 4/5, which was published circa early 2005.

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Christopher Howell's – Light's LadderChristopher Howell is probably the most gifted poet in America who, unfortunately, is not receiving the proper attention he deserves. He tends to write magnificent lyrical poems, but Light’s Ladder (University of Washington Press) is filled with narrative poems, & they are tremendous. Two of the poems in the collection—“A Party on the Way to Rome” & “He Writes to the Soul” — won Pushcart Prizes, but I think there should have been more winners, such as: “King of Butterflies,” which is a wonderful journey into an imaginary, historical moment but with a tone of believability as if the actions occurred in a physical reality; & “Sometimes at the Braille Calliope,” which begins:

   Sometimes, when I wake at the braille calliope,
   all my fingers stranger than the moon,
   I try to halt the dream that woke me, leaving,
   just to ask if it knows how long I waited,
   watching it sleep inside my sleep, to take hold
   its hand and quit my grieving.

Many of Howell’s poems work in the soft-surreal, in absurd moments, or with the tone of absurdity such as “History,” which is one of the poems that is pushed forward by tight harmonies & the narrative. “History” begins:

   At Agincourt King Henry said, “First
   bastard who runs gets his jewels
   on a plate,” or words to that effect.

A few lines later we encounter “several men” who “farted,” & even this is successful. The poem continues to dance between, or weave, the surreally hilarious & the sincerely serious. The voice is somber, but it is the tone that creates much of the effects. In fact, Howell’s might just be a master with tone, as his voice rarely wavers from the somber. The somberness allows for both the serious & playful, or the tender as in “Story Time,” & there is always the masterful poetry.//

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Howell, Christopher. Light’s Ladder. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004.//

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For another post about a Chirstopher Howell poem, see https://thelinebreak.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/on-christopher-howells-listen-line-breaks-and-harmonies/.

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24
Apr
12

On Christopher Howell’s “Listen” – Line Breaks and Harmonies

     Listen

     Is it an empty house, the body alone
     with its weary old clothes
     or its bullet holes and severed arteries,
     last laugh still shining in its teeth?                         

     The road of answers leaps its ditch
     and descends a dusty hollow
     where nightbirds coo, Pass by, and the Angel
     of Nothingness does his nails.

     Often sky dazzles
     over the great breathing earth.
     Often of its own accord the grain begins again
     to simmer. Deep in the dark

     I find my wife's hand and listen
     as the blue trees bow and bend and I want my soul
     to tell about itself almost
     anything.

     And it says I, too, am a traveler.
     Wait for me. 

GazeI first saw this poem on Verse Daily, but it appeared earlier in Christopher Howell’s Gaze (Milkweed Editions, 2012). (I also post this poem without anyone’s permission, but I hope no one minds. If you do, let me know.)

The poem opens with the beginning of a question, which is followed by a comma. This comma acts as a pivot because here the poem creates a balance on either side. The comma also sets up a metaphor and establishes the tenor and vehicle. The first line also sets up some of the sounds that help accelerate the poem forward. Those sounds are the T, long E, and the long O. You’ll also hear the Z/S sound in “Is.” And the  long E sounds on either side of the comma yoke together the “empty house” and “body alone.” So what this line does, on one level, is to ask, “Is ‘the body alone’ ‘an empty house’?”

The poem begins by asking this, and then continues to extend the metaphor in the next three lines. I also hear this tug and pull between between the short T sounds and the long vowel sounds or just long sounds in general. The poem starts quick – “It is an” and then we get that long em sound that’s rounded out with the P sound in “empty,” and this followed by the T and long E sounds. You can hear this type of play here and there in the poem, and most effectively in line 8, “of Nothingness does his nails.” The effect there is that the line starts quick with all the short syllable in “of Nothingness”. This abruptness then allows the reader to hear the necessary slow down effect that would accompany someone who “does his nails.” Doing your nails is something you do slowly. It implies slowness. It’s like the Angel of Nothingness is just leaning against a wall, hanging out, watching, and doing his nails.

But to those opening lines. The first line, as explained, behave as a balancing act, and its long O rhymes with the long O at the end of line two. Lines three and four also rhyme with the long E sounds in “arteries” and “teeth.” You’ll hear subtle rhymes like that some more in lines 6-9 with the L sounds, and then there are the S and T sounds that rhyme at the ends of lines 13-15, and if you want to hear the “th” in “anything” as a type of S sound, then there’s an additional rhyme sound. And of course, there’s the long distance rhyme of the long E in “me” at the end of the poem, which recalls the long E sounds in line one. The long E sound also occurs in a few more places, as it walks in the cellar of the poem’s sounds like a ghost. You can hear those long E s in lines 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 14, and 16.

Lines 3-5 also establish or reestablish the L, S, T, and long O sounds that continually appear and accelerate the poem forward on an harmonic level.

By why are lines 2, 3, and 4 breaking where they are? I think it is because each line is an image thought. Line two shows the body “with its weary old clothes,” which is a single image or the conclusion to the image in line one. Line three has two images, but they seem connected as both indicate an abusive entering into the flesh. Plus, you can’t sever arteries without making a hole.  Or maybe the bullet holes severed the arteries. Anyway, the violence of penetration holds those images together as an image thought. Line four is tight in sounds: three L sounds, the two AH sounds in “last” and “laugh,” the three S sounds and a fourth if you hear “th” as a type of S sound, the short I sounds in “still,” “ing,” “in,” and “its”, the two N sounds, and the four T sounds. All those sounds certainly get stuck in the teeth, so they can be pronounced again later. The fourth line ends the question that began in line one. Still, I wonder about the “last laugh.” Since “laugh” indicates a plural verb, then I wonder if the “last laugh” applies to both the house and body. So while line one established a metaphorical relationship around the comma (which means body and house are the same or as one) the verb tense in “laugh” actually makes them act as one.

What stanza one does, then, is to tell us why the title is “Listen.” We need to listen to the sounds and for an answer to the question. So, let’s continue listening.

Evel Knievel Snake River CanyonLine five is a good example of a line break behaving in the manner of its content. When you get to the end of line five, you are forced to leap over the ditch in your imagination. The line turn is the leap. I kinda feel like Evel Knievel over Snake River Canyon on this line turn, except this leap is successful. You can also hear the L sound that echoes to line four and that may be acting as a connecting sound between stanzas one, two, and three, especially since the L sound rhymes at the end of lines 6, 7, 8, and 9. In line five, the L sound has the feel of a discus or hammer thrower to me. It’s spinning in centripetal force from line to line and adding to the final acceleration of the poem. The S sounds in lines four and five provide a connective sound between the stanzas and lines, too, but it’s effect is bigger as its sound is almost in every line, and it is in every line except the last if you hear “th” as a type of S sound. The S sound is more like a drawstring that pulls the poem together tight.

Line six is the continuation of the actions of “answers” in line five. After it leaps, it must descend, and so it does in image and sound, a “low” sound. The early sounds in the line are higher in pitch than the “low” sound in “hollow,” so it really is a descent. And the low sound essentially continues in the next two lines, except for the two high-pithced long I sounds, and those low sounds feel of despair until the upbeat of “Angel.” Wait. Maybe there isn’t anything to despair after all. An angel is hope. It’s a good thing. Right? Nope. Oh, there’s a brief glimmer of hope on the line turn after “Angel,” but then it’s abruptly taken away with “Nothingness.” The “Angel of Nothingness.” Oh, despair can only be made more despairing when hope presents itself but fails or is taken away. (I wonder how much the capital “A” in “Angel” added to the hope. The capital “A” makes it a proper noun, a specific angel, and not just a generic angel. More hope can come with specificity. Plus, the capital “A” points to the sky like a mountain. Maybe we will rise from “a dusty hollow.”) So line five leaps, line six descends, line seven describes the hollow and offers hope at then end, and then line eight takes away that hope with a patient angel doing his nails, which I’ve discussed above.

In line nine, we hear the last of the L sound for four lines, but as we hear it, we also hear it and the Z sounds in “dazzles” rhyme with the L and Z sounds in line eight’s “nails.” The movement is connected by sound, but the images in the lines eight and nine are contrarian in their meanings. Line eight is patient and chill, and line nine is dazzling. Is that why the line ends there? to juxtapose at-easness with something that dazzles? And in the dazzle, the rhymes stop for a while, too. Also, the dominance of long vowels that were in the first two stanzas fades a bit. In this stanza, the consonants take dominance. It’s more of that tug and pull I mentioned above.

Line ten, like like six, continues the action of the previous line as we see where the dazzling occurs. Notice how slow this line moves, too. I imagine the earth breathes slow, too. Line eleven starts a new action – the grain beginning . . . something. The line has six trochees and ends on a stressed syllable. It’s the longest line in the poem with 13 syllables. It has five N sounds and ends with three G sounds. There are also two “in” sounds – “Often” and “begins” – But it looks like there are four with the repetition of “in” in “grain” and “again.” The “in” was set up in the previous line, so it has its echoes there, but it also recalls the two “in” sounds in line four. And it sets up the two “in” sounds in lines 12 and at the end of line 13. But back to line 10. Why is it so long? Rather, since it is the longest line, it draws attention to itself. It must be significant if it needs so many syllables to say something. I think it is because the tone of the poem is turning. In addition, I think this is where the metaphor we thought we had in line one becomes real. It turns out, in fact, that line one wasn’t performing as a metaphor. It was being literal. In other words, is it an empty house if there’s only one alone person in it? But we need that metaphor, so we can feel the aloneness and despair that accompanies an empty house. perhaps, the metaphor is literal and figurative. Perhaps, he is an empty house with only one alone person – himself –, and perhaps the house and himself weren’t empty when his wife lived with him, in him, and in the house. So line 11 is a volta, a turning. Something is rising instead of falling. Something is growing instead of dying. Line 12 answers affirms that something is growing. The grain simmers “Deep in the dark”, or the logic of the line tells us that. That is the image we get. But “Deep in the dark” will act in two different ways, and it achieves this because of a line break. The line break, now acting like the comma in line one, also creates another metaphor between seed in the dark and the wife’s hand “Deep in the dark.”

Line 13 connects to line 12, as described, by the hinging line break, but it also connects with the D sounds. “Deep,” “dark,” “find,” and “hand” are now connected. Line 13 also begins with four long I sounds in a row. It’s an elation. It’s the high-pitch of joy sound. “I find my wife’s.” The high joy and hastened pace in those first four words and syllables, lower and slow in the next four syllables. The pace drops off after the “d” in “hand.” It’s like there’s a slight caesura there. One might be tempted to put a line break after “hand.” It feels right, but then the change in emotion might be lost or not as strong. By not putting a line break after “hand,” the poem goes from elation to concentration in one line motion. It goes from happy to serious. The transition in emotion is seamless when on one line.

Line 14, like the second line in each of the previous stanzas, continues the action of the previous line. However, it doesn’t continue the action of what was in the preceding line (such as “the body alone,” “answers,” or “dazzles”), but it does continue the action of the scenery and mood of the previous line. Line 14 is also the longest line on the page, but not in syllables.  Lines 13 and 14 are also dominated by long vowels sounds – the long Is, the OO in “blue,” the long E in “tree,” the OW in “bow,” and the long O in “soul.” Long vowels tend to emote, and there’s a lot of emotion going on here. There’s also some tug and pull with the B, D, S, and T sounds, just like there was in the transition from joy to concentration in line 13.  I kind of want to hear the beginning of line 13 and the end of line 14 as the speaker being selfish or overly concerned with the himself. Line 13, as said above, begins with all those long I sounds, so how can you not hear the “I” of the poet especially when coupled with “I” and “my.” And then the end of line 14 also has “I” and “my.” But line 15 tells us that it’s not that he wants his soul, he wants his soul to tell him something about itself. He wants to listen. So this stanza is about listening. It’s about the title.

Line 16 is the shortest line on the page, but it has three syllables just like the last line. Those two lines speak to each other just as his soul speaks to him. Line 16 ends on a type of gasp or last wish that is kind of like “just tell me . . . anything.” But oddly, he doesn’t want to hear anything, he wants to hear “almost / anything.” There are some things he doesn’t want to hear. The worst of them would probably be to hear nothing, or the sound of an empty house, because then he would surely be alone.

Line 17 starts with “And” to recall the “hand” in line 13. Line 13 has one or two long vowels, depending on how your pronounce, but it’s dominated by  the T, S, and L sounds that we’ve heard so often before. Then after the line turn, in line 18, we return to the long vowels with the long A and long E. So not only to we have the tug and pull between long and short sounds in this line, there is also some tugging between line 18 and the three syllable “anything” in line 16.

GazeThis poem now as I hear it and think about it is about the tug and pull between life and the afterlife, between aloneness and the company of love, and it’s between listening to sounds and hearing nothing. It’s about patience. Patience like the Angle of Nothingness has in lines 7 and 8, and the patience of waiting for the soul and the afterlife to be with the loved one again.

Once again, I first saw this poem on Verse Daily, but it appeared earlier in Christopher Howell’s Gaze (Milkweed Editions, 2012). (I also post this poem without anyone’s permission, but I hope no one minds. If you do, let me know.)

For more about lineation and line breaks in general, please read “Lineation: An Introduction to the Poetic Line,” a fun, conversational, an in-depth look at line breaks. //

28
May
10

Writing Poetry Aloud

Sean Thomas Dougherty and I started a Facebook poll. We are asking our poet friends the following question: During the composition of a poem do you read the poem out loud?

Sean and I want to know because it seems there are a lot of “ear dead” poems out there. While we wait for responses, I am thinking about how I read the poem aloud during its composition.

I can tell you right now that I don’t read my poems out loud during composition that often, but I tend to read the poem aloud once during the composition. But why don’t I read  aloud more often during the poem’s composition? Why only once if at all? especially when I love reading them out loud at poetry readings, especially when I love the rhythm my body falls into and the trance I fall into when I read the poems aloud.

Charles Olson

Charles Olson. Creator of Projective Verse.

I used to read out loud a lot more often, especially during my Charles Olson and Projective Verse phase, which lasted about three or five years. I had to get the poem’s layout with all the spaces between the words to match my breathing, which is more fun when you try to match it to how you smoke!

I should go back further.

I have written in almost every form and every quantitative and qualitative meter that I could find in English, Latin, and Greek. And I have written at least three poems for every meter or form. The only way to write in every meter is to read aloud.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

"Algernon Charles Swinburne" painting by George Frederic Watts 1867.

Swinburne taught me the most about qualitative meter, and it was Ezra Pound, I think, and a Latin dictionary that taught me the most about quantitative meter. By the way, qualitative meters are based on syllabic stress while quantitative meters are based on syllabic length.

Back in the early 90s I heard of a guy who would talk in complete sonnets. He just made them up on the spot in mid-conversation and as part of the conversation. I wanted to do that. So I began another level of training. After a while, I was able to talk in rhyming iambic pentameter fairly well and in blank iambic pentameter with hardly any effort. I never did reach the sonnet level. Maybe once.

I also learned to read slow so I could hear each sound, how it moved, and how it connected to other sounds. Did you know that each letter of the alphabet is made of multiple sounds? That’s useful in harmony making. Did you know there are five levels of stress? They only teach you two in school: stressed and unstressed. But there are five. I even created my own five-level scansion symbol system to mark all the syllables.

Did you know that it’s impossible for the first syllable of a poem to be unstressed? It’s not necessarily stressed, but it’s not completely unstressed. This is because you are speaking for the first time. There’s an extra build up of air. More air comes out here than it would in another spot. For example:

The house had gone to bring again
To the midnight sky a sunset glow.

That’s from Robert Frost’s “The Need of Being Versed in Country Things.” That first “the” has more of an accent than the “the” in the second line. It’s because of the initial expulsion of air.

Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan

Also, in every poem there is one syllable that is more stressed than any other syllable. That’s what Robert Duncan said. I’ve confirmed it true, usually. Sometimes there are two syllables that are the strongest.

So how do I accurately explain how much I read out loud? I don’t know, but I did. Every poem I read, I read out loud. In fact, there came a point when I thought you could derive a poem’s meanings strictly from its sounds. You can. Not always, but often. In fact, there came a point when I didn’t care about the content in any poem. I just wanted sounds. Long vowel sounds especially. Like Bob Dylan’s vowels or Campion’s. Eventually I learned that in a poem the vowels carry the emotion and the consonants carry the meaning. That’s what the letters do. Go read a poem. The emotional ones have lots of long vowels or good vowel movements. The heady poems are consonant based.

T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets

T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets

Almost all my papers on poems were about sound, meter, and rhythm. What I’m trying to say is that I spent an intense twelve to fourteen years reading every poem aloud multiple times and in different intonations. The beginning of T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets may be the most beautiful sounding poetry in the history of the English language.

Plus, I scanned poems. I wrote down the stresses and unstresses using my five-level scansion symbol system. I wanted to see what I was hearing. By seeing what I was hearing, by recording it, I was better able to train my ear.

Now, I don’t read out loud that much. Now, when I read out loud, I read for pitch and tone. Because of all my self-imposed training, my mental/silent ear can pick up on the vowel movements and harmonies and rhythms quite well, at this point. It’s actually like a visual and internal-audio dialogue as to how I hear most of the poem. But it’s not so good at hearing the height of the sound, or at least in hearing how the heights work throughout the poem, and how those heights affect the poem’s tone. The poems I don’t read out loud while composing are the ones that are generally flat in language and imagination and end up being to thinky or cerebral. Plus, I want to hear the puffs from my lungs. At some point in the composition, I want my lungs involved. Also, if I’m trying to work out sounds in the poem, I will read it aloud a number of times.

Allen Ginsberg

Allen Ginsberg

Thinking of pitch and tone. If you want to learn about pitch, read Allen Ginsberg. If you want to learn about tone read Ezra Pound or Christopher Howell.

Now, I wanna write a long Ginsbergian poem because those are the most fun to read aloud.

//

Everything I wrote above is true. At the same time I’m being defensive. I’m rationalizing my laziness for not reading aloud my poems during their compositions.

Jack Spicer

Jack Spicer

A poem needs energy to exist. The hardest part about revising a poem is keeping the original energies. The more revisions that occur, the less of the original energies that remain. That’s generally true. That’s why I think Allen Ginsberg “revised lightly.” That’s probably why Robert Creeley didn’t revise. That’s probably why Jack Spicer trusted the Martians who gave him his poems.

And a poem can’t have energies if it’s written flatly on the page. It can only have two dimensions that way. Writing with the voice creates additional energies and dimensions. The vowel aloud has more emotion that what I hear in my head.

A poem written on the page is a zombie.

It needs breath to be alive. Charles Olson knew that, and now I am reminded of that.

It’s time to stop being lazy. It’s time to sing aloud.//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

The Cave

Poems for an Empty Church

Poems for an Empty Church

The Oldest Stone in the World

The Oldest Stone in the Wolrd

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Henri, Sophie, & The Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound: Poems Blasted from the Vortex

Pre-Dew Poems

Pre-Dew Poems

Negative Time

Negative Time

After Malagueña

After Malagueña

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