I’m way late in sharing the news that my debut chapbook, FEED, was selected as co-winner of the Keystone Chapbook Prize with Seven Kitchens Press!!! To add more joy to this, my friend and fellow Madwoman Jennifer Jackson Berry‘s chapbook, Bloodfish, was the other chapbook selected for publication! Thank you to Ron Mohring and Steve Bellin-Oka for believing in my poems, and for giving me a chance to share my work more widely.
The cover art is a mosaic by Daviea Serbin Davis, a Pittsburgh-based artist. The piece is titled “Meeting the Aunts” (the original hangs in Biddle’s Escape in Regent Square). Chapbook coming your way in March!!!
My poetry manuscript, The Falls, was named a semifinalist for the Wisconsin Poetry Series’ Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes, the Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize offered by Persea Books, and the 2017 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. I’m very grateful for this encouragement, and I hope that The Falls will find its right home soon.
My manuscript, The Falls, was a finalist for the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize, Indiana Review/Indiana Univ Press. Huge congrats to the winner, Jennifer Givhan!
The Falls was also a semifinalist for the 2017 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, Southern Illinois Univ Press. Big congrats to the winners, Monica Berlin and Sara Henning!
I look forward to reading the books of the winners. And, I’m grateful for this encouragement. I have faith that The Falls will find its right home soon.
I also have poems recently out or forthcoming in Radar Poetry, New Ohio Review, Crab Orchard Review, Muzzle Magazine, and Gulf Stream. Thank you to the editors of these magazines for believing in these poems!
My manuscript, The Falls, was a finalist for the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize offered by University of Pittsburgh Press. !!!Happy dance!!! I’m so grateful for this encouragement.
And, congrats to the winner, Erin Adair-Hodges! I look forward to reading your book.
New poems are out in Tupelo Quarterly, Bridge Eight Magazine, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Southword Journal (Ireland), Rogue Agent, and DIALOGIST, and two new poems are forthcoming in the September issue of Connotation Press.
My manuscript, A Thousand Arms, was a semifinalist for The 2016 Washington Prize from The Word Works Press.
My poem, “As Much As A Letter,” was highly commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue Poetry Prize competition and published online in the April/May issue of Southword Journal (Ireland).
My poem, “Needlework,” was a semifinalist for the Tupelo Quarterly 2016 Poetry Prize (TQ9), and published online in Tupelo Quarterly (TQ9).
My poem, “Needlework,” was a finalist for Sycamore Review‘s 2016 Wabash Prize for Poetry.
One of the luckiest times of my life was the two years I spent in the Bennington Writing Seminars. It’s been over a year since I finished, and I’m still learning the ways in which it was more than just an MFA. It was an initiation into the writing and reading life that was rooted in devotion, community, and joy (also neurosis and dancing).
I will never forget the workshops of my first residency at Bennington. They were led by Ed Ochester and Amy Gerstler — two poets I consider poetry gods. Walking in and finding a seat at the long seminar table, I was keenly aware of how much I had to learn and how much I wanted my poems to be better than they were. I was achingly nervous. And then Ed started the first workshop by reading from Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, followed by a poem by James Wright. And he choked up as he read, saying something like, “This is why we do this.” It made me feel that we were all in this together — that writing poems was, first and foremost, about loving poems we’d read, and trying to honor those poets who had changed our lives. I could do that. And, it reminded me that I was allowed to have my heart in my writing.
That’s what Ed’s poetry teaches and encourages me to do. To write in real, embodied voices, to “like complexity / not confusion.” To work toward beauty and heart. This heart often comes out in his poems in hilarity, or irony, or the perfect, resonant dialogue and detail (for instance, the haiku “Karaoke Night at the Serbian Club, South Side, Pittsburgh”). If you haven’t read Sugar Run Road, Ed’s newest book, or his many other books, you should. Here are two of my favorite poems from the book.
I too dislike it
the mystified truisms
the dusty puzzle-prunes
the theatrical exaggerations:
“the brutal crescendo of woodworms”—
yet I think of O’Hara’s delight
in the endless pleasures
of quotidian life and Duhamel
throwing a dozen balls in the air
and juggling them all
Frank said only a few poems
are as good as the movies
but that was a long time ago
before a lot of bad movies
before background music before
there was almost no silence and
“the private life” is an insult to others.
Poetry is the most private art:
Li-Young remembering his father
combing his mother’s hair,
Stern and Gilbert with their mouths open
walking down a street in Paris, Judith
writing the mysteries of Level Green
and her father’s radioactive chambers.
Catullus registering his private ecstasies
and fears while the machine of the state
ground on. Kinnell saying “go so deep
into yourself you speak for everyone.”
Dec. 16, Beethoven’s birthday
Beethoven is such a great composer but
his personality is questionable which
shows once again that one is
what one does — music, poems, or even
money have claims but also such
unremarked acts as feeding sparrows
in winter which God doesn’t do too well—
though we’re told He notes the fall
of every one—so that as I park the car
your sparrows in the snow-covered forsythia
greet the weak sun with a matrix of cheeping,
dozens of them, not from gratitude but
perhaps from overflowing joy
Split this Rock is a DC-based nonprofit that “cultivates, teaches, and celebrates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change.” I’m a big fan and supporter of this organization, and have learned so much from their work in the world. They recently launched a Social Justice Poetry Database that gathers over 300 poems by socially engaged poets, and I’m sure it will continue to grow. It’s a fantastic resource.
This week, I read a powerful essay by Claudia Rankine in the NYT Magazine, “The Condition of Black Life is One of Mourning.” I highly recommend it. After reading Rankine’s essay, I went back to her celebrated book, Citizen. And since I’ve never heard her read her poems, found a video of her reading an excerpt from Citizen (on the Split this Rock database, no less). It’s worth your time to watch this, and I hope it makes you want to read her book.
“And you are not the guy and still you fit the description because there is only one guy who is always the guy fitting the description.”
Jan Beatty has shaped me as a poet in ways that are hard to articulate fully. I know many other poets and writers feel the same way, especially those who have gotten to know her through the Madwomen in the Attic and in her teaching at Carlow. On some other day, I’ll tell you more about her work to champion women writers, many writers whose voices and stories would otherwise never be heard.
But before I knew her in her roles in the writing community, I knew her poems. And her poems have sustained and inspired me as a writer and human for more than half my life. Lately I’ve been thinking about this love poem, “Dreaming Door,” from her book Red Sugar.
I don’t tend to write love poems or odes — my poems tend toward other more melancholy, dark places. But this poem goes to the tender place without sentimentality. It inspires me to try again. To try something new. As you’ll see in this poem, Jan’s gifts include an uncanny knack for dialogue, real language from the mouths of real people, that lingers and holds layers of emotion. Also, she can blend the tactile, real world with dreamy, wild images and move back and forth seamlessly. In her poems and in her teaching, I’ve also seen that she has this way of knowing what a poem needs — when it’s done, when it’s stopped too short, when it’s hitting false notes. This poem and so many more have become part of my world, in the way that only the best poems do. More on Jan and her work later, but for now, I hope you enjoy this one.
You brought donuts in the morning of our first days and
we watched the great rivers through my South Side windows/everything
swelling, we ate in the turquoise kitchen and opened the dreaming door:
our Pittsburgh rolling by on the coal barges, the P&LE carting steel
to the still-rising cities of the West, a couple speedboats
running the dirty summer Monongahela,
you on your way to work. I said no one’s ever
been this nice to me as I walked you the 52 steps down
from my third-floor apartment, you tilted your head,
looking at me in a way I’d never seen:
like I was the most sublime person,
your blue eyes seeming truly puzzled:
I haven’t even started to love you yet,
and at the door the world barreling through –
this time with gifts, fierce fires,
and planets of luck.
from Red Sugar, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.