Posts Tagged ‘Graywolf Press


On Katie Ford’s If You Have to Go

A version of this review (and a better edited version) may appear in a future issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.


Katie Ford’s fourth collection of poetry (and fourth with Graywolf Press), If You Have to Go, revolves around a break up with her partner of many years. The book consists of four sections, with section “II: The Addresses” comprising the bulk of the poems. In this section, there is a prefatory four-line poem that is followed by 39 sonnet-shaped poems that behave as a crown of sonnets. That is, each poem has three four-line stanzas and a couplet, which occasionally rhymes, and some aspect from the couplet is included in the following sonnet’s opening line. Sometimes the repeated aspect from the couplet is a line or phrase, an altered version of a line or a phrase, or a word from within the couplet. For example, the end of sonnet 34 ends, “Yet, lighting candles – / it’s how I went on,” and sonnet 35 begins, “By candlelight the house went down.” This type of linking not only aids in thematic flow of the section and book, but aids in the associative thinking of the speaker. The direction of thought shifts but with the same repeated aspect. For instance, while sonnets 34 and 35 share images of light and home, sonnet 34 is concerned with whether to burn the home down (where the “home” is also symbol for the writer’s body, as established in the book’s opening poem “In the Hearth”), and what to do with its ashes, but sonnet 35 turns the focus on how to deal with the ghost of the departed husband. This associative linking and thinking are vital as section II is a monologue, and to me, it appears to be an internal monologue of the writer sorting out her new life, or filling in the emptiness of lost love. This internal monologue also at times leads to abstract language, some contorted syntax, and multiple internal voices.

The opening lines of If You Have to Go are, “Of life’s abundant confusions / this does not partake” (“In the Hearth”). This is a perilous start, as the reader has nothing concrete to attach to and the “this” is ambiguous. However, it situates the reader with the abstractions we commonly use when thinking, especially during a break up with a lover. The reader, however, will later learn that “this” refers to all that surrounds her break up and the empty feeling that accompanies it. This abstract language also seemingly conjures past religious poets, like John Donne, who might use phrases like “abundant confusions” or use the word “partake.” The antiquated language of forlornness, however, is contrasted with images from the physical world.

Because of the contrasting languages of the internal and external, the images appear more evocative. Consider the opening of the first sonnet-shaped poem in section II:

     Empty with me, though here I am, I saw
     some soul set my meal with dream, then leave

It’s a challenge to visualize what it is happening at first because there is nothing really concrete. If the first line included “I am” before “Empty,” the reader gets a better sense of what is happening, but still the lines are a bit vague. Though the reader catches on to the fact that the narrator is talking to herself, and she represents herself with both the objective and subjective first-person pronouns, “me” and “I.” She is acted on and acts, to some extent. She “saw / some soul,” but is it a metaphysical soul or a person? And why “some” instead of someone more specific? Perhaps it’s because she’s in deep depression. But then this happens in lines 3-8:

     a gift for me: a ten-toothed comb to rake what’s dead
     from me until the comb’s carved medieval scene 

     where bend two horses, water-consoled,
     adds to me the hope of that number.
     My own comb’s a lime-shined prairie
     with the grass of plastic acres. 

The comb with all of its details brings her out of her internal despair and gives her a form of external hope. A hope she can physically hold on to, and a comb of hope that will accrue more meaning, as it is often referenced throughout section II. The image resolves what the abstract cannot portray.

The point I am trying to get at is risk. Ford risks using antiquated words and syntax, as well as abstraction. These uses are what every creative writing teacher (and composition teacher) tells his or her students not to do. Teachers stress writing in today’s language and with images to engage the reader. Ford’s risks, however, pay off as she fully renders one human’s broken-hearted condition by balancing the inexpressible internal with the sensual external, and as she tries to find stability through a resolvable regularity of abstraction and image. In addition, by bringing in the antiquated language, she speaks to the past and reminds the reader that writing of loss is timeless and universal. In If You Have to Go, Katie Ford creates a language and poetics for vulnerability. //





Ford, Katie. If You Have to Go. Graywolf Press, 2018.//



Jason Shinder’s Stupid Hope (2009)

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 12, which was published circa November 2009.


Jason Shinder's – Stupid HopeTwo reviews of Jason Shinder’s Stupid Hope (Graywolf Press) follow.

Review one: written in a coffee shop.

Jason Shinder has passed away and so has the hope of more beautiful poems like the ones in Stupid Hope. Yes, these poems are beautiful, like Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Both have extraordinary melancholy and despair amid layers of pleasure, and this is what happens with strong poems.

Stupid Hope is two stories of sickness unto death. One story is about the author’s mother, and the second is about the author. Both have brutal honesties, such as in “The Good Son”:

   If God had come to me and said,
   if you are willing to forget your self

   you will find the cure for heart attacks and compose
   the greatest symphonies,

   I wouldn’t have been sure of my answer.
   Because there wouldn’t have been enough
   attention to my suffering. And that’s unforgivable

Later in the poem the mother dies

   after months in a hospital room full of silence
   that lodged itself like a stone in her throat

   And she thought I was wonderful

   and would do anything for her.

The author is not heartless, as you will see when you read this book. He is just bluntly honest. (Also notice the craft of the last two lines. Prior to this, the poem was in couplets. Then in the last two lines the couplets break to emphasize the distance.)

Also, at times, Shinder makes images that parallel the disturbing feeling of joy in your own suffering:

   wanting to be worth the horror
   he lavishes

   wanting to be good enough
   to join his suffering
   with a little of my own.

Review two: from my post on Graywolf ’s Facebook page.

[. . .] And for you poets, it seems to be written under the emotional, empathetic, and sentimental shadow of Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” and “To Aunt Rose.” The poetry is not like Ginsberg’s, but it is sincere like those two poems and like Ginsberg . . . and then some.//




Shinder, Jason. Stupid Hope. St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2009.//


Presses with Open Readings for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

In the past, I have created such lists as all the Small, Independent, and University Press Poetry Book Publishers (which was up-to-date as of 3-6-10 with 687 presses) and all the Journals with “Review” in Their Title, Who Accept Poetry, and Who Have a Website (which was up-to-date as of 2-29-12 with 344 journals.) The first lists I made were Poetry Book Contests with Spring & Summer DeadlinesPoetry Book Contests with Fall & Winter Deadlines (scroll down), and Poetry Chapbook Contests (scroll down).

Now, it’s time to start a new list, and I’ll keep it here and I’ll update it as I can. Currently, these are the only ones I remember or that other kind people have reminded me of. The list will grow, and if you know of any open readings, please note them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. I’m trying to limit this list to free readings, but I’ve listed a few that charge a reading fee.

Press with Open Reading for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

All the Time Open Readings (last checked and updated 7-16-17)

January Open Readings
February Open Readings
March Open Readings
April Open Readings (last checked and updated 4-2-18)
May Open Readings
June Open Readings (last checked and updated 6-5-18)
July Open Readings (last checked and updated 7-16-17)
August Open Reading (last checked and updated 8-1-17)
September Open Readings (Last checked 9-1-17)
  • Arktoi Books (lesbian poets) (At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions.)
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Cherry Castle Publishing (“Our submission period is currently closed.”)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.”) Checked 9-1-17.
  • Sidebrow Books (Through October 31, 2017. “In lieu of a reading fee, we are asking each of you to kindly support our press and authors by buying the book of your choice from our catalog in conjunction with this reading period.”)
  • Tarpaulin Sky Press (“Will we open for unsolicited submissions again, anytime soon? Most likely. But we’re not sure when.”)
  • University of Pittsburgh Press (Pitt Poetry Series. For poets who have previously published a poetry book.)
  • Willow Books (2017. $25.)
October Open Readings (Last updated 10-2-18)
November Open Readings (Last updated 11-14-18)
  • Arktori Books (Lesbian poets. At the moment, Arktoi is not accepting submissions. Check back for changes.”)
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Black Lawrence Press
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee. Presently no calls.)
  • McSweeney’s Books (“The McSweeney’s Poetry Series is taking a temporary hiatus from accepting submissions. We hope to open things up again before too long.”) Checked 6-1-17.
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($15 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens.”)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • WordTech Communications (Includes the following imprints Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Turning Point, Word Press, and WordTech Editions.)
December Open Readings
  • Bat Cat Press (“We welcome the submission of complete manuscripts throughout the year. We read in the fall (September-December) and typically send out accept/decline letters in December and January.”)
  • Brick Road Poetry Press (75-100 pages. December 1 – January 15.)
  • Future Poem Books (December 1 through January 15.)
  • H_NGM_N BKS (with $10 reading fee)
  • Mason Jar Press ($4 submission fee)
  • Tavern Books: The Wrolstad Contemporary Series ($25 reading fee. “The Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series is only open to female poets aged 40 years or younger. Entrants must be US citizens.”)
  • Tinderbox Editions (December 1-7 fee-free open reading period. December 8 – January 30 $22 donation period.)
  • Unicorn Press (April 1 – June 30 and October 1-December 31.)
  • WordTech Communications (Includes the following imprints Cherry Grove Collections, CW Books, David Robert Books, Turning Point, Word Press, and WordTech Editions. Closes December 15.)


More to come. 
Ultimate update: 4-29-30: Added Skull + Wind Press to Open All the Time Readings
Penultimate update: 4-4-19: Added Pandhandler Books to February, March, and April.
Antepenultimate update: 1-19-19: Added Galileo Books to January, February, and March
Preantepenultimate update: 11-20-18: Added SurVision Books to January


157 presses that print paperback and/or hardcover poetry books.//

Thomas Sayers Ellis’ Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems

A version of the following review will appear in the next issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.

Skin Inc.: Identity Repair PoemsI love when I stumble onto a poet that I’ve never heard of before and who is good. Even better, when they are doing something new, at least new to me. You all probably know of Thomas Sayers Ellis, but I didn’t. But now I know something you don’t know. His newest collection, Skin, Inc.: Identity Repair Poems (Graywolf P, 2010) is good. Oh, I am digging this book. I’m not sure if I know how to talk about it and explain why I like it because this style, this poetry is so new to me, but give me the chance.

The first thing I hear are a strong tone and voice. It’s so distinct and it comes off the page. This poetry is clearly meant to be read aloud. So much poetry wants to be read aloud, but it rarely is except in the quiet whispers to ourselves or in the typically reserved voice of a poetry reading. But that’s obvious. That’s not what is new.

Good poems do, and Ellis’ poems do. These poems leap. There are jumping-with-sensation poems, or as Ellis says:

The line lives life and life lives the line,
many unbreakable,
broken lifelines.

(“The Judges of Craft”)

That stanza is abstract, but that’s okay. It’s one of the many ars poeticas in this book. Besides, there is that haiku leap from line two to three. Let’s listen to some other stanzas from “Godzilla’s Avocado”:

From a lumpy russet, swirling
in a cosmos of miso,
colors mash into casserole.

Kids love kitchens, the sushi chef
re-ending monsters
with embassy-precision.

Life’s raw rolls, ready
to unravel the difficult answers
we wrap in seaweed.

“Love is when two people
like the same food
and the same toys […]”

There’s a lot of leaping here. Leaping from line to line, like “in a cosmos of miso, / colors mash into casserole” (And how do you not love the sounds of “cosmos” and “miso” in the same line? and the rest of the harmonies in that stanza. I love harmony and there are plenty of harmonies in this collection.), leaping within a line, like “Kids love kitchens, the sushi chef,” leaping from stanza to stanza, as every above stanza  does, and leaping from concrete to abstract, as those first two stanzas leap into those last two stanzas and then back again at “seaweed” and back again. In fact, the leaping between abstract and concrete happens throughout. But leaping is not new, but this leaping is refreshing.

What is new is the poet who is fighting on both sides of the Page vs. Stage poetry battle. What is new is that he bridges the gap, and he helps the stage poets understand the page poets and the page poets understand the stage poets. What’s new is that he teaches us how to read poetry. His poetry.

That’s kinda vague. Let me give some examples.

When we get to the “Mr. Dynamite Splits” section, Ellis gives us footnotes. What I like about these footnotes are that they tell us how to read the poems. “Why is that important?” you might ask. Well, because poems are meant to be read aloud. Too often, as I mentioned, they aren’t read loud enough. What happened to the “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”? In fact, I just went to the roof of my apartment, the highest point in Brockport, NY, and read my favorite section, “My Dynamite Splits,” over the rooftops of Brockport and to Lake Ontario to the north, and to Rochester to the east, and to the churches to the south, and to the sun setting in the west.

But there’s more. Those are just my reasons. Ellis’ reasons are different.

A big concern of his is the level of respect given to the spoken-word, or Perform-a-Formist, poet. I’ve heard this often. The spoken-word poet wants the respect of the printed-page poet. I’ve also heard the page poet wants the attention and the celebrityhood the spoken-word poet receives. Ellis teaches us how both can be had. For instance, “A perform-a-form line breaks many times, verbally, before it breaks the last time visually. If written, it is written more like blood than bone. If spoken, it is spoken more like stutter than song” (“Two Manifestos: The New Perfom-A-Form: Two,” p 72).

James Brown Apollo

Ellis has a photograph from a similar scene in his book. Ellis is also a fine photographer.

I drifted. The footnotes. In the “Mr. Dynamite Splits” section, an elegy to James Brown, Ellis tells us how to read the poems. The instructions are for the Perform-A-Form poet and for the page, or academic, poet. My favorite footnote, man I like them all, is from the one on page 53, especially the last sentence. I’ll quote the two stanzas on the page and then the footnote.

“These nuts,” that’s what all the Camel Walks,
splits, spins, and Popcorns
told those early closed doors.
Get up offa that thang.

Long live you plea, please, pleases,
Byrd’s brotherly loyalty,
and calling-on Maceo’s licking-stick.
Live at the Apollo laid legend to myth.

Grown ass male physical solo with real references to animal behavior, and the freedom-hesitation to lean back, scream and jump. Fists up to the face, body tightening – a prep for flow, like a brother getting some no matter who is looking. Sweet life I do. Get the “long” and the “loyalty” and the “licking” and the “live” and the “laid” and the “legend” all on the same time and they’ll remember your shine. Eyes will catch the hits before they syllable the ground.

That last line is all about scansion, and it’s one of the most accurate scansion definitions I’ve ever read. At least that’s what happens to me.

Or consider this from page 45 of the same section:

and a bewildered next-time fire
of choked chords and percussive horns
Papa lit the behinds
of new bags with.

To quote Sweet Charles, “Yes it’s you”
the warm globe mourns . . .
for passing mashed potatoes and peas.
Gimme some more.

Call to mind the “be” from “be f-o-r-e” from the preface to the poem and make the “be” in “bewildered” an echo and extension. Do this in the mind near the remembrance of Papa, southern-styling your young “be”hind. Your voice, when reading, must not rest in any one bag. Passing is not rest. Like you, the gesture and line must “unit of gimme” some “unit of more.” A poem is just some.

That’s stage directions on how to read the poem. That’s also prosody. That’s Ellis telling the stage poet the academic significance of the poem, and Ellis telling the academic how to read the poem aloud.

As a result, Ellis has it doubly tough because he has to prove his poetry to the academics and to the spoken-word poets. He’s caught in the middle of the Page vs. Stage battle. In other words, as Ellis says, “I am weary of working / to prove myself equal.” That comes from the “Colored” section of “The Identity Repairman,” which is a wonderful poem that gives the history of African-Americans through the epithets of the times: “African,” “Slave,” “Negro,” “Colored,” “Black,” and “African-American.” (Who invented those words?)

There’s so much more to say about this collection, this voice, what the poems do, and what the poems say, but page space is limited. So I’ll end like this. Even though Thomas Sayers Ellis read and performed “The New Perfom-A-Form” at the “Futurism and the New Manifesto: Celebrating 100 Years of the Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” event at the MoMA in 2009, this Vorticist forgives Ellis his Futurist leanings, because that’s a helluva manifesto and Skin, Inc. is a helluva collection of poems.//

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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