Chicken Scratch: The Red Hen Press Blog
Ron Koertge Featured on The Writer’s Almanac
An excerpt from Ron Koertge’s Sex World was featured on The Writer’s Almanac yesterday. Take a look at his feature here. Congrats, Ron!
Katharine Coles wins a Utah Book Award!
Congratulations to Red Hen author Katharine Coles! Katharine’s poetry collection, The Earth Is Not Flat, won the poetry prize in the Utah Book Awards, awards given by the Utah Humanities Council to honor exceptional achievements by Utah writers and to recognize outstanding literature written with a Utah theme or setting. To view a list of the winners, click here.
Congratulations again on the success, Katharine!
A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Leia Penina Wilson
Rumor has it poet Leia Penina Wilson has been pretty busy playing Magic the Gathering this summer, but she recently took a few moments to reflect on her upcoming collection, i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown), available October 7th. We’re lucky she shared some wonderful responses to help pass the time! Take a look at Leia’s full interview for more on the inspirations and distractions in her life, a well-rounded list of her phobias, and the qualities in a poem she finds deserving of a toast.
1. Who is the person in your life that inspires you the most?
My mom inspires me the most. I don’t know anybody who works as hard as she does. It’s crazy how much she has worked, how much she does work, for us. The only thing she’s ever asked of us is that we go to school; she’s sacrificed a lot so we could have an education. She’s raised us by herself, and that’s been so hard on her. Four children as a single mom is always difficult. There was a lot of struggle, a lot of uncertainty. I probably wouldn’t be alive without her though.
2. How did your title originate? Did you consider other titles for the book?
I considered a lot of titles for this book. I always keep a running list of lines or phrases or sometimes just one word (or feeling) that might turn itself into a good title as I’m working on a project. It takes me a long time to come to a title I like. It’s a bit crazy how important titles really are, isn’t it? It’s intimidating too, choosing a phrase that captures the whole of it. I rearrange quite a bit. This title came from one of those rearrangements. I think it was originally a line from one of the meatier poems in the book. If I can’t decide, I often ask my friends to vote on which line they like best.
3. Your biggest distraction from writing
I play an awesome card game called Magic the Gathering. It’s my biggest distraction from everything. I love it though. I just built a Sigarda, Host of Herons commander deck, very poet-y of me. My favorite commander general is still Olivia Voldaren, only the best vampire ever.
4. Do you have any irrational (or rational) phobias?
Oh yes, I have a ton of phobias. Most of them irrational—I want to live forever or die quickly; I don’t want to feel myself dying (that scares the shit out of me). Snakes. Lizards (except dinosaurs, which are awesome). Insects (except butterflies and praying mantis’). I just watched my sister give birth to a baby—so pregnancy. That’s frightening, being responsible for another human. Not for me, but I adore other animals though, dogs and cats and all variety of furry creature. It’s strange, I don’t like the dark much, but I adore things that glow in the dark. Ha, that makes that particular fear kind of fun. I love neon & strobe lights also. Christmas lights! I love movie theaters, watching movies in theaters. I don’t like crowds. Too many people are overwhelming for me. I’m not sure if you’d call that a phobia though. I’m continually afraid of disappointing my mom. I don’t go on carnival wheels because I’m always afraid they’ll collapse or stop when I’m at the very top. I’m not afraid of heights, but I don’t like the uncertainty of being stuck. I’m a little afraid of uncertainty, so I make all my decisions quickly and assuredly. No time for regret! I have a tiny phobia of clowns. I don’t like loud, happy men. The colorful makeup and smile freaks me out. I close my eyes 98% of the time when watching horror movies. I don’t mind the blood, but the suspense is scary, I don’t like the violence of them. I’m afraid of getting lost, so I take the same route even if there’s a more efficient way to get somewhere.
5. If you could go on a date with any fictional character who would it be and why? Describe the date.
Sailor Uranus or Neptune, I have a difficult time choosing which one is hotter. I thought I could grow up into them when I was younger. I never wanted to date her, but I wanted so badly to be Queen Beryl. I like dates that involved ice cream cones with sprinkles. I really like dessert.
6. Please provide our blog readers with a summer reading recommendation
I’ve just moved to Las Vegas, so my summer reading is a bit scattered. I just finished reading Eric LeMay’s On Nothing, which is the perfect summer book. It’s weird thinking about the unnamed and named when moving to a city that’s all about sprawl and excess. The whole city feels nameless to me; everything is about sensation and experience. I love it. Maybe I’ll feel different after a few months. I’m not sure. I just read the new issue of Saga. It’s a comic book series by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples. It’s pimp, if you haven’t read it I highly recommend it. Next on my summer list is Helen Oyeyemi’s Boy, Bird, Snow: A Novel. It’s a lyrical retelling of Snow White, and I’m so excited to read it!
7. What was your favorite/ least favorite thing about writing this book?
That’s a hard question. I always get frustrated at ordering poems, at having to come up with poems that transition nicely into other poems. Most of my poems feel very final to me; they stand on their own and don’t need other poems for support. Or they don’t want them. So having to think of what poem came after each poem, and how that would affect/effect the reading experience annoyed me. That’s why I like a lot of space on the page of my poetry, why I like section breaks so much. My favorite thing is just simply writing the poems, that moment when the poem works or clicks or is final or whatever you want to call it is my favorite moment. It’s like finishing a really great drink—you’re a little buzzed from it but you want another. Cheers!
8. What’s one talent you wish you naturally possessed?
That’s a hard question too. I’m kind of awesome.
9. What is it about poetry that speaks to you?
The poetry I tend to gravitate towards and write is about fragments, pieces of stuff, broken lines, and empty space. The world is kind of fucked up, and I think poetry should reflect that broken-up-ness, that dissonance. I like that with poetry there’s a lot of room to play and manipulate language and sound. I like layering, scattering, weaving. The piece-ness of poetry speaks to me. Poetry reflects memory in that way. I think poetry reflects the tangibility, the temporality of experience accurately, or it can, so I like to see what I can do with that. I like verbing and accretion in poetry. Like a Katamari game you play forever, stuff accrues, gets stuck, shit gets lost, forgotten, smushed and transformed. Poetry provides a way to arrange, rearrange, and play for me. I like characters in poetry, I like fucking them up, in having them survive/witness/reflect.
Leia Penina Wilson is an MFA candidate in prose at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. When she’s not reading or writing, she spends her time baking tiny cakes and cookies. When she’s not baking, she plays Magic: The Gathering and cuddles with her boyfriend on the couch. She is the nonfiction editor for The Black Warrior Review. Her work can be found in, or is forthcoming from, Diagram, Alice Blue Review, Crab Orchard Review, The Chariton Review, NAP, and others. She is originally from St. Joseph, Missouri. Her first book, i built a boat with all the towels in your closet (and will let you drown), won the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s To the Lighthouse Poetry Publication Prize, selected by Evie Shockley. It is available now for pre-order from Red Hen Press. The collection will be released October 7th.
Cynthia Hogue Featured in The New York Times Sunday Book Review
Craig Morgan Teicher, editor at Publisher’s Weekly and author of the poetry collection “To Keep Love Blurry,” wrote a Sunday Book Review for The New York Times featuring Cynthia Hogue’s Revenance, as well as the works of Simone Muench, Fanny Howe, and J.D. McClatchy. Read Teicher’s take on Hogue’s collection of poetry below:
“Hogue’s mind is projective more than receptive, well suited to the kind of visual art that requires viewers to reach out with their imaginations and wrap it in words, thoughts, equivalences. Hogue’s particular wit and intensity relay not merely the appearance of art, but the experience of it, ‘its complication of what is.’”
Read the full post, along with the reviews for the other featured poets, here.
A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from America Hart
With just a few writers to go, our sneak peek at Red Hen’s fall titles continues with London-based author, America Hart, whose upcoming novel, into the silence: the fishing story is available September 23rd. In the interview below, America discusses her take on genre and punctuation, as well as her inspirations, both literary and musical. Keep reading for her thoughts on what makes a book memorable and more!
1. Did you learn anything new or surprising, or adopt new interests while working on into the silence: the fishing story?
I became interested in women composers and women musicians generally. I didn’t plan to write a novel about a girl who becomes a music composer, but early in the novel Natalia is walking home from school carrying a violin. And when I wrote that, I realized she would be a music composer.
As a pianist, I already had quite a lot of knowledge about music. Or so I thought. But as I wrote the novel it became more and more apparent to me how male dominated the field of music composition and production actually is.
I became especially interested in finding out more about women musicians and composers, from Nina Simone to Clara Schumann to Germaine Tailleferre. And I also became interested in artists like Camille Claudel, Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Vanessa Woolf, and other women sculptors and painters. I read biographies, articles – whatever I could get my hands on – and one artist often led me to another. So I was on sort of a trail of discovery the whole time I was working on the novel.
2. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, which artists or what kind?
I know it is a cliché, but I’ll say it: I write in cafes and always have. My initial drafts I write by hand. And I prefer cafes that play music that I like, as I tend to become absorbed in the music and that seems to inspire my writing. I’ve just completed a two-volume novel that is a slave history/narrative, Waiting in the Rain: The Blood Notebook. And when I started drafting it, I happened to be in a café where they played Nina Simone just about every day, and they always played “Strange Fruit.” The music of Nina Simone played into the story itself; the lyrics and melancholy of the song are incorporated into my novel.
When I wrote into the silence, I was listening to music all the time, and as I became interested in more composers, I listened to more music. Some of the music I listened to most often: John Coltrane, Nat King Cole, Samuel Barber, Nina Simone, Chopin’s ballades and etudes for piano, and all manner of reggae and hip-hop. Often I just listened to radio. So my interests in music have always been very eclectic – and are always expanding. In other words: I always listen to music while I write!
3. What was your favorite thing about writing this book?
I actually really love to write, and I think for the most part I was happy just about any time I sat down to write or revise this novel.
4. Can you imagine exploring the content of into the silence in any other genre?
I think it’s safe to say that I probably missed the whole “genre” boat, and have just blended genres generally when I write. In fact, I think I blend music, poetry, and fiction in this novel. I had two ideas when I was writing into the silence: One was to write something like a snowflake, to create a story that was as beautiful and complex in its own way. And the other was to write a novel like music, maybe a fugue … or something like John Coltrane’s rendition of My Favorite Things. I’m fascinated with the repetition of themes in music, and especially with music that has a simple motif that is repeated over and over again, and made more complex or changed as the music goes along. Also I’m interested in African drumming, for the same reason.
5. Favorite and/or least favorite punctuation marks
I generally take a lot of liberties with punctuation, as readers can see with into the silence. I started writing the novel with no idea that it would be a novel – I hadn’t planned anything. I just began writing and assumed it was a short story, but then the next day I came back to it again. And the next day. And the next. When I’d written a substantial portion of the novel and went back to revise it, I remember thinking I should “fix” things, that it needed to be straightened up a bit.
And then it became apparent to me that the story has its own sort of logic or pattern. The shifts in time, the use of dashes as a way to connect ideas (rather than using as we say in the UK “the full stop” to separate ideas), and the general abuse of punctuation weren’t consciously planned. And there’s no use of capital letters at all. Not that I have anything against the capital letter.
The story begins in the voice of a child, a girl who feels that she doesn’t have a voice, but who wants to compose music. The appearance of the writing itself I think gives an equalizing effect: The “small things” become as important as the “big things.” Sentences are often constructed in inverse order: “the ring on the hand of a woman …” instead of “a woman wearing a ring …” I remember thinking when I wrote the novel that I was doing a lot of things that we were taught in school not to do. But the “small things” are emphasized through the innovations in language, punctuation, use of lower case, and inversion of the order of words in sentences, and children and nature are given a voice.
6. Do you have a favorite place to go and work on your writing?
These days, I go to Notes Cafe on St. Martin’s Lane, Charring Cross, which is just by Charring Cross Station in central London. This is where all the theatres are, as well as Pineapple Dance Studios, Covent Garden … I love this area. It takes me about half an hour by train from my home, a straight shot, and is on my way to the university where I teach. So I can stop and work on my writing for a few hours before I go to teach. At Notes, I love the atmosphere, the music, the food and the coffee! As for revising, though, I can go anywhere: I read over my manuscripts on trains, boats, planes, at home in bed, in the park … wherever.
7. Please provide our blog readers with one summer reading recommendation.
While writing my new novel Waiting in the Rain: The Blood Notebook, I discovered Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women. It’s a novel that takes place on a plantation in Jamaica and tells the story of women slaves and the planters. In a very complex and interesting way.
A literary agent came as a guest speaker for my MA Creative Writing students and said she thought it a book everyone should read. A student had also recommended it, and although I was teaching horrific hours (long!) and was daunted by the length of the book, I was intrigued. So I started reading the book, and, as they say, I couldn’t put it down.
The voice is very compelling, the characters are complex, the writing style is interesting but accessible, and the plot moves in unexpected ways. The ending is something else! It’s very lyrical, and very moving. So many NY Times bestsellers are so predictable – I get them at airports and read them on my domestic flights – I enjoy them, but I can forget them as soon as I get off the plane. This book is one that is really unforgettable! I could recommend more books, but if I have to choose just one for the moment? This is it!
8. What’s the largest number of times you’ve re-read a single book? What was the book and why did it appeal to you?
To be honest with you, I’m a repeat reader of many books! Bessie Head’s A Question of Power is a book that I read probably seven or eight times when I was writing into the silence. Bessie Head was born in South Africa, a mixed race child when interracial relationships were illegal, and she lived in Botswana most of her adult life.
I actually had started into the silence, was probably in fact about half way through writing it, when I discovered A Question of Power at the bookstore. It sort of affirmed what I was doing – her story is very complicated and it is definitely non-linear! I was fascinated by how complex the writing is, and how unique. Bessie Head still is one of my favorite writers.
I’m also a repeat reader of Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. And I first read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea when I was nine or ten years old (my mother was in a book group, and I sometimes read what they read). The vocabulary of course is easy! But even at that age I could somehow understand the sadness of the story, and I remember being very moved. I think both Hemingway and Faulkner influenced my writing style from the time I was very young.
9. Is there a passage of into the silence you’re most excited for your audience to read? A passage you’re most nervous about your audience reading?
I hope that I’ll be surprised by what my readers like! I personally like some of the passages about mailboxes, and the delivery of mail. There’s nothing major that happens in these scenes, but to me they express a kind of nostalgia about the mail as it was delivered in the past, and the anticipation of receiving a letter. Also I like the introduction of the character America, and the repeated refrain: “America – where has she gone? Light a candle in the window for her.” Readers can make their own interpretations!
When I was reading the final draft before it went off to press, I noticed (again) some long, winding passages … sort of like the trails the characters take in the mountains. I hope the readers will stick with these passages, in the same way an audience sometimes will wait, anticipating a favorite passage of music in a long piece.
America Hart directs the MA Creative Writing Program at London Metropolitan University. Born and raised in Colorado, she lived in Boston and New York City before moving to London, where she lives with her partner, Seraphin. Her work has appeared in journals and publications such as Black Ice, Sniper Logic, Blackbox Manifold, Shearsman Magazine, Stride Magazine, and the Journal of African Cultural Studies. Her honors include a Rocky Mountain Women’s Institute Fellowship and the Jovanovich Award from the University of Colorado. She has received research grants to conduct fieldwork in Jamaica, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. into the silence: the fishing story is her first novel. It will be released September 23rd and is available now for pre-order from Red Hen Press.
A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Ron Carlson
This afternoon, our sneak peak at the upcoming fall titles continues with Ron Carlson, whose new collection, The Blue Box, is available August 19th. Ron’s release date is just under a week away; until then, keep reading to learn a bit about the ways in which The Blue Box transcends genre, how Ron’s work has changed over time, and more!
Many times with my fiction I’ll finish a story and then have a colleague or friend read the work and offer nudges left and right, notions for a polish. With the pieces in The Blue Box, I learned to be careful because when I’d read one of them or show something to a friend, the reaction was often an expression I’ve seen many times which seems to say: what was that? Did I hear you correctly? When you get that look printed on someone’s face before you, you’ve got to ask: isn’t that what you were after? I don’t think I’ve answered your question, except to say it’s been fun putting this book together.
2. Do you have a favorite place to go and work on your writing?
I write mostly in a small room with a big window in a building behind my house, but any place will do. Best would be the front seat of a parked car with the doors all open and the horizon at thirty miles.
3. Which authors or poets were you reading while working on your upcoming release?
All of my prolific students, new and old—and fiction primarily.
4. Biggest challenge while writing The Blue Box
This book, like Room Service, consists of all sorts of notions, some of which are simply little stories, some attempt to be poems, some are parodies, some confounding observations, some are outcries, some are those things an old teacher would write in the back of his notebook late in the day; the challenge I suppose was to select those pieces that, while defying categories, still had some staying power. It’s so different than writing stories or novels; these are sparks that fly off the wheel. Plus, dare I say, they were fun, many of them. I was playing around and made connections. Regardless, I’m happy to have all of these odd notes in a single volume.
5. How has your work changed over time?
I’ve tried to get out of the way and let the story or piece have its way.
6. Please provide our blog readers with one summer reading recommendation
A book that deserves the rest of August: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul, a novel by Bob Shacochis.
7. If you could do a reading at any bookstore or venue in the world, where would you choose to read?
The Commercial Club, Main Street (Hwy.40) in Duchesne, Utah; a big airy beer bar that hasn’t been there for twenty five years.
8. Is there anything you would like to tell your readers about your book before they pick it up this fall?
I’m happy to meet you!
Ron Carlson is the author of five story collections and six novels, including Return to Oakpine and The Signal. His fiction has appeared in Harper’s, The New Yorker, Playboy, GQ, Best American Short Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. His book of poems, Room Service: Poems, Meditations, Outcries, & Remarks, was published by Red Hen Press in 2012. His book on writing, Ron Carlson Writes a Story, is taught widely. He is the director of the writing program at the University of California at Irvine and lives in Huntington Beach, California.
Verónica Reyes Wins a Golden Crown Literary Award!
Congratulations to Red Hen author Verónica Reyes! Verónica’s poetry collection Chopper! Chopper! won the top poetry prize of the Golden Crown Literary Awards, awards given by the Golden Crown Literary Society to honor outstanding lesbian literature. To view a list of all 2014 Golden Crown Literary Award Winners, click here.
Congratulations again on the great success, Verónica!
A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Ron Koertge
Next up on our Q&A fall preview is poet Ron Koertge, whose forthcoming flash fiction collection, Sex World, is available September 16th. Until you’ve had the chance to explore Sex World for yourself, take a look at Ron’s responses regarding his daily writing habits and his fall title. As usual, he keeps it short, sweet, and well worth the read! (Even if we really were hoping for an awesome chicken joke…)
1. Describe Sex World in as few words as possible (or) if Sex World had a tagline, what would it be?
If everything’s basically about sex, Sex World isn’t.
2. Do you have any unique or unusual writing habits or quirks?
I’m just a regular blue collar worker who punches in 7 days a week.
3. Best joke you’ve ever heard about a chicken
None. I like really filthy jokes.
4. What is it about the short story genre that speaks to you?
I’ve been a poet all my life, so very short pieces appeal to me. That’s why flash fiction isn’t really just short fiction.
5. Did you learn anything new or surprising, or adopt new interests while working on your book?
I programmed myself to write one flash fiction piece a day for 2 months. I wasn’t sure I could do it, but I did.
6. Please provide our blog readers with a summer reading recommendation and a brief explanation of what makes it an appealing read
Try Poisoned Apples, by Christine Heppermann. “Feminist poetry juxtaposed with the trials and tribulations of the modern teenage girl and fairy tales.”
7. If you could go on a date with any fictional character who would it be and why? Describe the date.
I don’t want to date Holden Caulfield, but I’d like to hang around with him for awhile.
8. If you could do a reading at any bookstore or venue in the world, where would you choose to read? Why?
Vroman’s in Pasadena. I like indie bookstores, I know the people there, I’ve always drawn a crowd.
9. How did your title, Sex World, originate? Did you consider other titles for the book?
It’s a provocative title. That alone should sell a few books.
Ron Koertge teaches at Hamline University in their low-residency MFA program for Children’s Writing. His new book is Sex World, his first collection of short, short fiction. His recent books of poetry include Fever (Red Hen Press, 2007), Indigo (Red Hen Press, 2009), Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses (Candlewick Press, 2012), and The Ogre’s Wife (Red Hen Press, 2013). Koertge also writes fiction for teenagers, including many novels and novels-in-verse: The Brimstone Journals, Stoner & Spaz, Strays, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs, and Coaltown Jesus. All were honored by the American Library Association, and two received PEN awards. He is the recipient of grants from the NEA and the California Arts Council and has poems in two volumes of Best American Poetry. He lives in South Pasadena, California.
A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Adrianne Kalfopoulou
Today’s Q&A fall preview comes all the way from Athens, Greece with author Adrianne Kalfopoulou, whose upcoming nonfiction title, Ruin: Essays in Exilic Living, is available September 9th. Until then, take a look at Adrianne’s responses below for her thoughts on the meaning of ruin and exile, to learn which mythological creature she’d like to keep as a pet, and more!
1. Do you remember where you were or what you were doing (or thinking about) when the inspiration for Ruin struck?
Oh, great question because I think throughout the entire writing of this book, I was continuously “struck” so to speak, by events, circumstances, “crises” that kept happening. But I only started to be aware of the linking strand of “ruin” somewhere after the 3rd or 4th essay in the group, one I actually called “Ruin.” Then I got quite excited about the various connotations and possibilities; that it’s a verb as much as a noun. “Ruin” as opposed to “Ruins” which is a more static idea, as something already ruined, while “ruin” as a verb – from the Latin ruina, and French ruere, meaning “to rush” and “collapse” – is something charged, something that changes if it also violates – it’s a very active word, with energy, and of course, implications, too.
2. Could you discuss the role of “exile” in your upcoming title?
Again, this is quite a multivalent word for me, I guess conventionally it refers to someone removed or uprooted from a place of origin but Roberto Bolaño’s wonderful discussion of exile (available here) speaks of it as a condition of shrinkage (as opposed to disappearance) and cites Swift as “the master of exile” who understood “exile was the secret word for journey.” That works for me, this condition of shrinkage in the midst of journeying is maybe a good way to describe the sensation of what I call “exilic” – a smallness of the self, and its helplessness, when everything around it feels much stronger and larger. These are also very human moments of vulnerability.
3. Biggest challenge while writing Ruin
To keep from falling into ruin myself in the midst of turmoil… & make sure the writing maintained that energy of “rush” or “collapse” described as opposed to the stasis of “ruins” a fait accompli as opposed to a situation in media res.
4. Do you have any unique or unusual writing habits or quirks?
I’d have to say the quirkiest habit is that I wish I had something of a habit, so I’d be a more disciplined writer. When I see pictures of smokers and drinkers I sometimes think if I had my own crutch to let off some of the accumulated tension of working over any length of time, I’d get more work done. But that’s only my mythologizing other writers’ habits. I sometimes take breaks and do yoga exercises, or go for a run, which is all pretty boring. Otherwise I just try and keep all my notes together – I do do that, scribble to myself as ideas occur, which turns into something of a chaotic process when I find myself going through weird not always legible lines to figure out what I thought was so important to what I was thinking at the time.
5. Are you working on any exciting projects this summer, related to your writing or otherwise?
I’m trying to finish a draft of a work that is, very loosely, fiction. Certainly a hybrid genre of sorts because it is sequentially unorthodox, that is emotional memory structures the work more than the kind of plot-driven chronology of sequential events. I keep thinking it’s a love story to the city (Athens), but who knows. It’s structured around tango, a dance that has no formal rules so that works well too. My other project is a research project I’ve been involved in, exploring Sylvia Plath and her Emersonian vision, or ambitions.
6. What mythological creature would you choose as a pet and why? What would you do with it?
Well if you mean the animal in mythology I’d like as a pet it would be Odysseus’ dog Argos who he leaves behind in Ithaca, and is the only one to recognizes him when he comes back 20 years later after Troy. But the “creature” I’d turn into a pet.. ! It might be fun to imagine the possibilities of turning the Cyclops into a pet …
7. A book you’re looking forward to reading but haven’t picked up yet
Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, and the Letters of Ted Hughes.
8. Favorite (or dream) summer vacation spot
I have to say Patmos is my favorite spot, an island in the Dodecanese where St. John is said to have had his revelations and written the Apocalypse. It’s where I go when I want to get away (even if it takes some 10 hrs. on a ferry to get there). It is the faraway-ness of the island, too, that draws me, and that I’ve learned over time of its strange coves and off-the beaten-track secrets, places to swim or just sit and stare at the Aegean.
9. Please provide our blog readers with one summer reading recommendation
I really loved Paris, When It’s Naked by Etel Adnan which was recommended and given to me by David Lazar; Adnan’s engagement with Paris is a seamless interplay between a concrete sense of the city, its moods, its weathers, its history, and her own insights, personal moments of the quotidian, and poetic. And this she accomplishes all on the level of the sentence. For example you’ll have a line like, “Cities attract each other like flowers do;” and then the weight of a sentence like this: “Manipulation of information is the most perfected science of this century’s end.” What’s lovely is how she weaves in and out of these various tonal registers to create a pitch that’s both somewhat whimsical and yet political. She really does manage to bring seemingly opposite kinds of dispositions together. Here’s another example of that: “Oh! If only Paris could get blanketed by snow I wish it would. But European unity has not yet performed such a miracle.” Wow… I really did go on about this!
10.Who is the person in your life that inspires you the most?
It changes, as it probably does for most people, no? I’m drawn to people – mentors, lovers, friends, kindred souls – who have something of the quester in themselves. Whether this started with my paternal grandfather, a restless mind who taught himself some 11 or so languages, and this through two world wars, or in the adventure of parenting and experiencing my daughter’s imagination, or as a teacher whose assumptions are changed by an interaction in the classroom – the person, or persons, always combine a generosity and curiosity of spirit. The person I’ve been most inspired by for some time is the person I’m involved with, a writer also, who across time and culture and the strange interstices of “desire and memory” has shown me new orientations to language and life.
11. What pushed you to become an author, and what drives your art?
The need to write; I think it’s as simple as that. Then there’s the magic (and torment) of what happens in the process, on the page, the alchemy of that self or persona that discovers other selves and personas from what might have been expected. I mostly write poems and essays. What happens to language, and how structure and form meld to the urgencies of expression (and vice versa) can be an empowering and sublime thing in the midst of the debris of life’s less magical and plainly brutal realities. One might have a story to tell. And one generally does, and there are some astounding stories out there, but for me it’s the transformative act in the writing itself that drives the work, and keeps me doing it.
Adrianne Kalfopoulou is Associate Professor of Language and Literature at Hellenic American University in Athens, Greece. She is the author of two poetry collections, Wild Greens and Passion Maps, both from Red Hen Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in Hotel Amerika, Essays & Fictions, Room Magazine, Fogged Clarity, The Broome Street Review and Spoon River Poetry Review. She has taught creative writing and literature in the Creative Writing Program at New York University and at the University of Freiburg. Her upcoming title, Ruin: Essays in Exilic Living, is available now for pre-order from Red Hen Press. It will be released September 9th.
A Little Bird Told Me: Summer Updates from Cynthia Hogue
As we inch ever closer to the upcoming release dates, our Q&A fall preview continues with poet Cynthia Hogue, whose new collection, Revenance, is available August 26th. Read through the interview below for her thoughts on writing, what draws her to stories about “ghosts,” and more.
1. What’s one event you’re most looking forward to this summer?
How could a poet who has essentially written a book of mystical poems in the tradition of New Spiritualism (albeit that, by coincidence)—including a number of otherworldly stories that people shared with me as I traveled across country to various places of power (Taos, New Mexico, Saratoga Springs, New York, among others)—not be excited and honored to be reading at the Annenberg House? My LA sister, a KABC news producer (formerly of the ABC West Coast office), Elaine Hogue, mentioned that the Annenberg had been part of Marion Davies’ estate, and I thought, Why, I’ll read a few of the ghost poems. Although my poems are very not-Hollywood, I am fascinated by the ghosts of the old Hollywood days. I mean, really, who isn’t?
2. How did your title, Revenance, originate? Did you consider other titles for the book?
I didn’t consider other titles, no, because of the nature of this book. As I say, quite a few people gifted me with their visions, their “ghost” stories, some of which transformed into poetic material for me. As I traveled a lot across country helping out my other sister, Chris Stegel, who was on the parental caretaking frontlines in New York, I witnessed things that can only be described as inexplicable, unless one accepts that there are extrasensory elements of existence to which we open as loved ones pass from one world to another. For instance, literally in the moment my father was dying, my very deaf mother turned to me and asked if I had just said, “We love you, we love you.” I hadn’t heard anything myself, but I said, “We aren’t alone,” and together we held my father’s hand and he died. My heart was pretty much open, vulnerable, breaking during this time—it is very moving, as anyone who has been through this knows—but I wanted to reach beyond the sentiment for that which is at once so awesome—the mind cognating the end of life—which enlarges our capacity to perceive and to empathize, and also for that which we see but cannot explain.
“Revenant” is French for “ghost,” which I’d been thinking about simply because my husband is French and I’m studying and translating French with him each summer. Revenance came to me as I sat with the poems a few years ago, putting them together into what would become the book, meditating on how the poems were working together. I made up the word, but it sounds like the plural in English: Revenants (which is the title of Mark Nowak’s wonderful collection of poems).
3. What’s your spirit animal?
If one has a spirit animal, or rather a spirit guide, one cannot divulge that so lightly, but in Revenance and in the new book I’m working on right now, there is a good deal about eagles.
4. What did you learn about yourself while writing Revenance?
I’m not sure that I learned this about myself, or that it was a confirmation of what I already knew about myself, but I write by listening, by “bearing witness,” to others, to another, or an otherness, and also, that if I’m not careful, I am sentimental. It’s fine to be sentimental in person, I think, and I probably am more often than not, but the poem suffers if it is rife with sentimentality (a danger in the elegy, of course, of which there are several in Revenance).
5. Are you a social writer? Who do you trust to read the earliest drafts of your work?
I think of myself as a private writer, because I don’t often show early drafts to anyone while the poems “brew.” But for each book there are a few readers of individual poems I have consulted, and with this manuscript, they are Kathleen Fraser, Jeannine Savard, Alan Michael Parker, and Alicia Ostriker. There are others I have learned from over the years, whom I thank in the acknowledgements. On the other hand, once a manuscript is assembled, it is really hard to ask of anyone such a gift of time, reading the whole book in advance, but three friends graciously agreed: Karen Brennan, Norman Dubie, and Elizabyth Hiscox. In the past, I’ve also consulted Sarah Vap, Afaa Weaver, and the Icelandic poet, my friend Christopher Burawa.
6. First book you read and loved?
I am probably misremembering that I read and loved A Midsummer Night’s Dream first, but when I was 11, I saw a Royal Shakespeare Company production in Regent’s Park, and I got fascinated with the era, Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare. My mother bought, I believe, a young adult set of the plays (or a set translated into modern English) for me. Then, soon, it was on to Jane Eyre and Gothic romances! I have been writing poetry since I was 8, but to be frank, I don’t remembering reading a lot of it when I was young. Hiawatha, yes. And Evangeline, which was my mother’s name.
7. Do you stick to a daily writing routine?
When I have time, which is rarely. I had time this past spring, and wrote every day for almost two months, but I had a book project, so I was mining a particular subject. Usually, I don’t have that, or the time to write every day.
8. What’s your best method for overcoming writer’s block?
Just do it. Don’t think, just write.
9. Did your own writing ever surprise you during the process?
I think your writing always has to surprise you or you aren’t going where you need to be going. I mean that formally as well. I have poems that experiment with form—both traditional form, which is always a surprise when I happen into that terrain, as well as innovative free verse. Poetry isn’t about reviewing what you already know, at least, to me it isn’t. I lose interest. If my poem doesn’t interest me, why would it interest anyone else?
10. Favorite writing instrument?
I used to have a sacred pen (well, I still do and love to write with a Mont Blanc my sister gave me), but mostly, I write on the computer. Not sure I’d call it a “favorite writing instrument,” but I do find it liberating because you can work so fast.
11. Can you imagine exploring the content of your upcoming title in any other genre?
No. Well, maybe prose poetry, or film. But actually, there are a couple of pretty wild and experimental ekphrastic poems, some dialogic poems, and poems of eco-ethical conscience, and I don’t see other genres accomodating the linguistic flexibility and experiment that the lyric does. Poetry best approaches the unsayable, the unknowable, but it also best stretches and explores language’s expressive capacities down to the level of syllable, morpheme, down to the elemental. I say these poems are “ghost” stories, but that is just a way to describe them briefly. They aren’t really narratives, but more about tracking the sensory impressions, the mind making sense or trying to process something that actually doesn’t “make sense.”
Cynthia Hogue has published seven previous collections of poetry, most recently, Or Consequence and When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina (interview-poems and photographs), both in 2010. Among her honors are a Fulbright Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry, the H.D. Fellowship at the Beinecke Library at Yale University, an Arizona Commission on the Arts Project Grant, and the Witter Bynner Translation Residency Fellowship at the Santa Fe Art Institute. She is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry in the Creative Writing Program at Arizona State University. Her new collection is Revenance, available now for pre-order from Red Hen Press. It will be released August 26th.