Content Tagged ‘poetry’

Chumming it Up at AWP

In House Guest, we invite Ecotone contributors and Lookout authors, as well as editors from peer presses and magazines, to tell us what they’re working on or considering. Michael Brooks Cryer’s Channels, Frequencies, and Sequences appears in Ecotone 20, the Sound Issue. His book Selected Proverbs, winner of the 2016 Elixir Press Antivenom Poetry Award, was published by Elixir Press in December.

Whenever I walk through the convention-center doors on my first day at AWP—which is usually Saturday, the last day of the conference—I think of what August Kleinzahler says about the Grand Canyon: “Nothing quite prepares you for it. Terror, that’s what it’s about.”  He also says the only reasonable response to the chasm is to back away slowly.

I wasn’t sure I was going to attend AWP in Tampa this year. I don’t think I’m ever sure I’m going to attend AWP. But, alas, I end up there most years to see old friends who are spread out across the country at various colleges and who converge on some unknowing city to add another tote to their collection.

Of course, I don’t want to sound like a total crank—I’ll leave that to professionals like Kleinzahler—so it’s worth saying I like to catch up with friends at these things. And I also decided to attend this year because I had an opportunity to give a reading to promote my book of poems. Elixir Press released Selected Proverbs in December, so it seemed like AWP was as good a place as any to get the word out.

I was about to spend way too much money on a hotel room when I went back to Airbnb one last time to see if I could find something cheaper and closer than Miami. And I did find something. I booked a yacht! That’s right, suckers. I stayed on a yacht while you stuffed yourselves into a Days Inn with a twin bed and a crusty bedspread between the six of you. I’m not usually one to rub it in, but a yacht is pretty freaking cool.

That is, it would have been cool if when I arrived the owners had evacuated all the sewage that’d accumulated in the boat’s tanks after the last group to stay there had a giant pizza party.

How do I know there was a giant pizza party? I had a long conversation with the owner and his wife about using some kind of odor-devouring yeasts in response to the devastation. And that’s not even the best part of the conversation. It turns out that boats have a mechanism called a masticator that chews boat waste into a kind of slurry when you’re out at sea so that you can dump it in the water behind you as you sail to Bora Bora. Not only had they forgotten to evacuate the tanks, but that mechanism was left on and my yacht was chumming the bay the afternoon before I arrived.

I couldn’t help but laugh when, the day after I learned about the boat’s ulterior propeller, I was greeted by a giant revolving door at the Marriott’s entrance. The door spun at a consistently slow RPM, chopping masses of conference goes into smaller and smaller groups, expelling them out of the hotel. I think all AWPs should have rotating doors of this magnitude. Maybe speed it up a little.

It rained and blew a little Saturday night, and I laid in the boat and watched Tom Hanks in Road to Perdition, which is really a pretty movie, even if it misses for the same reason, while the boat rocked and was sprinkled with light rain.

The neon hospital sign across the bay would appear and disappear in the front windows of the boat—I recorded a video of it because, next to the gangster Tom Hanks moving on the screen anchored within the boat, the sign seemed like a surreal floating advertisement that had become unmoored and was now lost in the night sky.

After the rain stopped, I stumbled off the boat onto the dock—it got tricky when the tide was out and the distance between the boat and the dock grew considerably—and I walked a short distance from the boat to a restaurant that had transformed into a nightclub the evening before, keeping me up most of the night with a strange mashup of hair metal and what I think was Gloria Estefan.

I took a seat at the bar next to a young woman who had also been attending the conference, and we effortlessly chatted about our impressions. I started to feel a little lightheaded as we talked. I was starving, so I chalked it up to low blood sugar, possibly a flashback to the panic from the book fair. But this was a little different. I started to feel a little nauseated too. The bar seemed to be on a fulcrum, listing from one side to the next. I was seasick!

And now on the flight back, I just realized the woman sitting in the aisle seat to my left and one row up is writing a poem on her computer as we fly. I only realized this when she started adding line breaks to the block of text she had just written, turning her prose into poetry with a click of the mouse. Frank O’Hara’s line, “It is even in / prose, I am a real poet,” came to mind.

I’m wondering how many conference goers are doing the same thing as I write this. The same thing I’m doing. All of us on our planes somehow excited by what we’ve just experienced. Maybe she learned this technique in a panel this week. Write a paragraph and then chop it up! Run it through the masticator! Chum the world with your poetry! She probably has a workshop tomorrow. Her classmates will love it. They all have the same poem. The one on the airplane. The one with the boat in it.

 Michael Brooks Cryer teaches writing at Arizona State University. His poems and reviews have appeared in Quarterly West, Ecotone, DIAGRAM, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Cortland Review and other journals. He is also an occasional freelance music critic for Phoenix New Times. Four Chambers Press released his chapbook, Channels, Frequencies & Sequences, in the summer of 2017, and Michael’s collection, Selected Proverbs, won Elixir Press’ 2016 Antivenom Poetry Award.

 

Roundup: AWP Hot Panels Edition

Packing for AWP in Tampa next week and inundated by invitations to panels and parties? So are we! But we’re excited, too: AWP is always a big Ecotone/Lookout Books family reunion and we can’t wait to see you. We’ve whittled out a small selection of events, featuring recent Ecotone contributors. Visit us at Tables 1302 and 1304, where we’ll be getting “Craft”-y…

Remember: leave lots of room in your boes and bags for bookfair acquisitions, apply and reapply sunscreen, and hydrate! See you in Tampa.

Thursday

Intersectional South: New Perspectives in Southern Poetry. (Chad AbushanabJohn Poch, T.J. Jarrett, Adam Vines, Juliana Gray) In the 21st century, there exists a multitude of Southern poetics defined not by location, but by the variable experiences of the American South. This panel seeks to explore “Southerness” in terms of individual experience in order to highlight new identities and perspectives in contemporary Southern poetry. It brings together a diverse group of poets who will speak to the idea of “Southerness” in literature, and how they see this operating in (or against) their own work.
Room 18 & 19, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
9:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

The Art of Crafting a Chapbook from Start to Finish. (Abigail BeckelJennifer TsengDan MahoneyWilliam Todd SeabrookBrad Aaron Modlin) What makes a chapbook successful, both in terms of literary merit and sales? This panel will explore best practices for writing, organizing, and publishing chapbooks. Authors will discuss how they conceptualized and structured their chapbook manuscripts, and leading chapbook publishers will talk about what they look for in submissions and how they design and market chapbooks. We’ll also discuss the range of genres—poetry, flash, hybrid work—the short length of a chapbook can effectively showcase.
Room 5 & 6, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

The World Grows: New Directions in Environmental Writing. (Ross Gay, Camille Dungy, Pam Houston, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Diana Owen) Through writing and art that explore the connection between nature and culture, Orion inspires new thinking about how humanity might live on Earth justly, sustainably, and joyously. This panel brings together an award-winning and diverse group of Orion authors who will read original work and discuss new directions in environmental writing, a genre that has become increasingly urgent in today’s world. Room 18 & 19, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Poetry, Myth, and the Natural World: A Reading with Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Rajiv Mohabir, and Sherwin Bitsui. Sponsored by Blue Flower Arts. (Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Sherwin Bitsui, Alison Granucci, Rajiv Mohabir) The layering of cultures; the complex wonder of the natural world; the riddle of faith; the deep resonance of mythology: what better place for these dimensions to wrestle and converse than in the poetic realm? The urgency inside the poems of Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Rajiv Mohabir, and Sherwin Bitsui offer a complicated empathy with the world, one that grapples with loss and is tinged with sorrow: even beauty can hurt. Yet their language, resplendent with song, also sings into being a world of joy.
Ballroom B, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Thursday, March 8, 2018
4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Friday

The World and the Story: How Plot Maps Fictional Realities. (Leah StewartBrock Clarke, Jung Yun, Brenda PeynadoJulialicia Case) In fiction, there’s an interdependent relationship between world-building (the map) and narrative construction (the route). This panel will examine how writers employ different types of stories—the romance, the mystery, the quest—in service to different visions of reality. Why does a realist like Chekhov so often use the romance? For what purposes does a fantasy writer use the quest? How can a writer of literary fiction employ the quest or the mystery to investigate character?
Room 11, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
10:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.

Against Forgetting Against Forgetting: 25 Years Later. (John PochJill Bialosky, Peter Balakian, Jacob Shores-Arguello, Rebecca Gayle Howell) Twenty-five years ago, Carolyn Forche’s groundbreaking anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, was published. This gathering of poems helped to galvanize an entire generation of poets who came to believe that poems could do more than articulate a poet’s confessional hankerings and could bear witness to history itself. The poets on this panel will read a few of their favorite poems from the anthology and discuss what this book meant and means to their own work and the world.
Florida Salon 5, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m.

Vassar Miller Poetry Prize 25th Anniversary Reading. (Caki Wilkinson, Alison Stine, James Najarian, Anna Lena Phillips Bell, Jordan Windholz) The Vassar Miller Poetry Prize, founded at the University of North Texas in 1993, honors Texas poet, writer, and disability rights advocate Vassar Miller (1924–1998). To commemorate the prize’s 25th anniversary, writers of winning manuscripts will read from their collections, showcasing the formal and geographic variety of poetry published in the series. The reading will be followed by a Q&A.
Florida Salon, 1, 2, & 3, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
1:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Sustainable: On Writing Long and Linked Poems. (Kathryn Nuernberger, Jenny Molberg, Cortney Lamar Charleston, Jacques J. Rancourt, Traci Brimhall) In an age of digestible snippets, we grow hungry for occasions to practice the fine art of paying attention. An art form rooted in mindfulness, the long poem is one way of practicing deliberate attention. Drawing on their own experiences writing and publishing long poems, linked poems, project books, and novels-in-verse, this panel will discuss both the rich literary tradition of long and linked poems, as well as provide insights into the process and craft of creating your own sustained lyrics.
Grand Salon D, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

A Woman’s Place: Ecotone Essayists Expand the Boundaries of Place-Based Writing. (Belle BoggsAnna Lena Phillips BellShuchi SaraswatAisha Sabatini Sloan) Contributors to a new anthology from Ecotone and Lookout Books discuss how we can continue to broaden the traditional boundaries of place-based writing to make room for more complexity: explorations of body, sexuality, gender, and race. Joined by their editor, these authors consider how women’s unique experiences and histories make them artful observers of the natural world. They will read from their essays and talk about approaches to intersectionality in the field of environmental writing.
Florida Salon 4, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

The Teaching Press: Bringing Professional Literary Publishing into the Classroom. (Holms Troelstrup, Steve Halle, Deanna Baringer, Ross Tangedal, Beth Staples) Lookout Books at UNC–Wilmington, PRESS 254 at Illinois State University, BatCat Press at Lincoln Park Performing Arts in Pennsylvania, and Cornerstone Press at UW–Stevens Point utilize literary presses as teaching tools for graduate, undergraduate, and secondary students, emphasizing hands-on experience in literary publishing. Panelists detail important practical and curricular concerns in establishing and maintaining a teaching press, as well as the local and national impact of their work.
Room 17, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
4:30 pm to 5:45 pm

A Foot in Two Cultures: First Generation American Poets. (John HoppenthalerLauren Camp, Timothy Liu, Adrienne Su) The contemporary influence of poets who were born in the US and whose parents are immigrants has been substantial and important. For these poets, there is an ongoing calibration of the distance between the culture of their parents and their negotiation with the reality and myth of an American Dream. The inherent tensions of this push and pull create a space that can be fruitful for poetry, a space from which the poets who comprise this panel continue to write.
Florida Salon 5, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Friday, March 9, 2018
4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.

Saturday

“Ballade of the Poverties”: A Reading by Beloit Poetry Journal Poets. (Meg Day, Nicelle Davis, Cortney Lamar Charleston, Sally Wen Mao, Carolyn Forché) Writers will read poems inspired by Adrienne Rich’s “Ballade of the Poverties.” Addressed to the princes of predation and finance, this piece reminds us that political poetry isn’t new or newly necessary but remains a vital force for survival, resistance, and change. Audience members will submit lines for inclusion in a collaborative response to “Ballade,” to be printed published on the BPJ website.
Room 20 & 21, Tampa Convention Center, First Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Crafting the Weird: Techniques of Fabulist Female Fiction. (Clare BeamsBrenda Peynado, Jamey Bradbury, Celia Johnson, Ramona Ausubel) Surreal, magical, or fabulist fiction has traditionally been employed to attack political systems through subversive means. Yet, women writers have adapted this genre for their own modes of critique. In this event, panelists will discuss how they use elements of the weird to address subjects such as the domestic, the female body, otherness, and LGBTQ identity. Presenters will provide examples, methods, and techniques for crafting subversive fiction that offers new methods of witnessing reality.
Meeting Room 1, Marriott Waterside, Second Floor
Saturday, March 10, 2018
3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Patricia Smith: Listen for the Voice You’re Not Hearing

On February 8, poet and Ecotone contributor Patricia Smith, the 2018 University of North Carolina Wilmington Distinguished Visiting Writer, gifted a packed house in Kenan Hall with a luminous reading and moving performance. Smith read across her eight volumes of poetry, encouraging the audience to confront the ways in which they  interact with life and its multiplicities: through joy, darkness, desire, and inspiration. She said, “Listen for the voice you’re not hearing.”

Her poems “Fixed on the Next Star,” “One Way to Run from It,” and “How Mamas Begin Sometimes” appear in Ecotone Issue 13.

With a background in playwriting, performance, and journalism, Smith is a professor at the College of Staten Island and in the MFA Program at Sierra Nevada College, and an instructor at the annual VONA residency and the Vermont College of Fine Arts Post-Graduate Residency Program. A past Guggenheim fellow, she is a two-time winner of the Pushcart Prize and a four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam, making her the most successful poet in the competition’s history.

Photos by Nicholl Paratore

WHAT WE’RE READING: AWP 2017 EDITION

In early February, more than 12,000 writers, editors, teachers, and publishers descended upon Washington, DC for the annual the 50th Annual AWP Conference and Bookfair. Taking a break from the action (read: filling tote bag after tote bag with new books), four UNCW MFA candidates stopped by the Lookout + Ecotone booth to share with us those titles that carried them into the new year.

Station Eleven was suggested to me by a trusted reader friend after hearing my complaints about literary depictions of post-apocalyptic worlds that leave civilization in a survivalist state. The narrative follows Kirsten, a traveling performer, twenty years after a viral outbreak killed most of the human population. She tours with a band of actors and musicians who perform in the villages and settlements they rest at within the Midwestern United States. The troupe’s go-to performances are Shakespeare plays. I had my copy of the book signed by Emily St. John Mandel at last year’s AWP, even though I hadn’t finished it at the time. What I admire most about Station Eleven’s narrative is its devotion to the survival of the arts instead of just that of humans. It defines being human as preserving these arts, which make up our culture. Without drama, music, writing and art, what would our existence be?

—Will Dean, MFA candidate in fiction


George Harrison said, “Music should be used for the perception of God, not jitterbugging.” In Robert Ostrom’s latest collection of poems, Ritual and Bit, we see an artist not only challenging us to perceive a God but also talking directly to a God in prayers, an artist inserting himself into the story of creation. What is it to be homesick with spiritual memory, being fully aware that we’re reconstructing our memories every time we retell them? Ostrom leads us through with intimacy: “Trust me, says what you’re about to read to your beautiful ear.” He takes us to a place where words are relics—each one holding a little life, beauty, loss. And we leave haunted, but in a good way. We’ve felt an exquisite purpose.

—Ashleigh Bryant Phillips, MFA candidate in fiction


Over the summer I began reading What About This? Collected Poems of Frank Stanford. Stanford was a Southern writer who, because of his early death by suicide in 1978, was not widely read during his lifetime. This collection was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2015 and includes previously published and unpublished fragments of poems. His poems are relatively short, usually less than thirty lines, but because of their cryptic language they speak above and beyond any single moment. Stanford has the ability to talk about these strange characters from the South and Midwest without being anchored in an exact time or place. I read his work and know that whatever sense of understanding I glean could still be so far from the vast map of meaning he had in his head at the time of writing, and that is the exciting part. I am left with raw emotional data every time I read his work. His poems are like circus freak shows moving through the night on an open train; there is a history in each word but the reader only can glimpse it for a passing second.

—Graham Irvin, MFA candidate in poetry


I’d been meaning to read Eula Biss’s first book, The Balloonists, since reading her essay collection last year. The Balloonists works as a series of prose poems, one long poem, or a lyric essay; her Anne Carson-like genre defiance is one of the reasons I keep returning to her. She studied nonfiction under three poets and after reading this book—about married couples as people “not especially interested in intimacy, who somehow ended up married,” and about Biss’s mother, who tells her that she is “not a liar, but that she is not what [Biss] writes about her”—I think poetry may be the most insistent way to learn how to write in prose.

—Rachel Castro, MFA candidate in nonfiction

 

News Roundup

It’s been a strange time in America these last few weeks, so we’re heading into this Roundup trying to focus on some good things for our readers and from our contributors. Here are things to toot happy horns about, and inspiring reads in the aftermath of some disconcerting divisiveness.

First up, Lookout author Clare Beams has received a ton of wonderful attention recently for We Show What We Have Learned. Most notably, perhaps, from the New York Times! “Stories as well executed as these are their own reward, but it’s also clear from the capaciousness on display here that Ms. Beams has novels’ worth of worlds inside her.” But there was love too from many others, including Kirkus‘s list of Best Debut Fiction of 2016, Paste Magazine, Parnassus Books, the Fiction Writers Review,  the Boston Globe, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Charlotte Observer, the Wilmington Star News, Shelf Awareness, Brit+Co, and Flavorwire, to name a few more notables. You can also hear Clare talk with fellow debut story writer April Ayers Lawson on WUNC’s the State of Things. And, here’s a roundup of photos from Clare’s very celebratory book launch here at UNCW.

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Could you possibly need more convincing that this is a book you should read?

Lookout author Ben Miller’s Mural Speaks! project, the aim of which is to translate William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow” into each of the 140 plus languages currently spoken in Sioux Falls, is still looking for submissions. We love the way the project celebrates the diversity of the urban midwest.

Oh, but there’s so much more to celebrate from Ecotone contributors!

We’re thrilled that Dan Hoyt is the winner of the inaugural Dzanc Books Prize for Fiction for his novel This Book Is Not For You. Dan’s story “The Mad King” is one wild ride, in our current issue.

517zwtcc5zl-_sx326_bo1204203200_Patrick Phillips’s book Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America, out this September, is reviewed in the Washington Post. You can read an excerpt from the book at Longreads.

Lynne Thompson and Douglas Kearney are included in this fabulous Black Lives Matter Poetry Reader.

Alison Hawthorne Deming offers the first entry in a new series at Terrain, “Letter to America.”

National Poetry Series winner Melissa Range is featured on PBS News Hour, taking on terms like “redneck” and “white trash.”

Annie Finch’s poem “Moon of Our Daughters” is featured on the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day.

Megan Snyder-Camp, who has not one but two books out this fall, has three poems in the Sewanee Review.

Belle Bogg’s The Art of Waiting is one of Oprah’s favorite books of 2016!

In their October issue, Poetry Magazine published Issue 21 contributor Laurie Clements Lambeth’s poem “Cusped Prognosis,” which was originally part of her essay, “Going Downhill From Here” in Ecotone‘s current issue.

We hope these engaging reads offer some perspective, comfort, and enjoyment. We’ll see you back here soon for our next Roundup!

House Guest: Zeina Hashem Beck

Zeina Hashem Beck’s poems, “The Woman in Our House,” “Asmahan,” and “Listen” appear in Ecotone 21. In the piece below, Zeina tells us about the process of writing 3arabi Song, using a glossary of some of the Arabic words in the chapbook.

3arabiCovWriting 3arabi Song: A Glossary of Arabic Terms

Tarab: a kind of Arabic music. The word is also used to describe the emotional effect of this music on the listener, who is almost in a state of trance.

Tarab: When Mom began an Umm Kulthum song in the kitchen, Dad replied from the corridor. When my parents’ friends came over, everyone sang. The only video footage my parents have of me as a toddler is me singing in the middle of a living room, surrounded by clapping adults. This was Lebanon in the ’80s, during the civil war. Every day at lunch or dinner, Dad made the same joke about a line from a famous Abdel Halim song – a line about how time was coming to heal us.

Ya’aburnee: literally means “you bury me.” A term of endearment, often used by Arab mothers, expressing their desire to die before their children, rather than live without them. Can’t be translated in one word.

Ya’aburnee: Three summers ago, my cousin was shot dead on the street in Tripoli, Lebanon. My aunt sat in her living room, crying and singing about her asmar, her dark-skinned boy. That same summer, two Tripoli mosques were bombed. I don’t know how many people have buried loved ones in Syria, in Iraq, in Palestine. How to write the untranslatable?

3arabi: the Arabizi way of writing “Arabic.” Arabizi” comes from the combination of “Arabic” and “Englizi” (English); it uses numbers to represent sounds that are specifically Arabic, and has become well-known among Arabic speakers (especially online and in texting).

3arabi: One of the books we had in our house in Tripoli was a big, blue, French-Arabic/Arabic-French dictionary. It’s one of the earliest books I remember going through; I liked its thick cover, its smell, its thin pages, its weight. Looking back now, I find it interesting that, like me, it was bilingual. Like many Lebanese, I attended a French school then an American University. I feel I live in many languages, and so does 3arabi Song. But living in many languages means using the language of the colonizer, the Empire – do I forgive myself? And how do I break English to create a space for my 3arabi self inside it?

Ra7eel: departure | 3awda: returning

Ra7eel | 3awda: In one of the first stories I wrote as a little girl, I gave my character a very Western name: Grace. I remember struggling to come up with it because, in my little girl’s mind, I probably thought, Who names their characters Zeina or Ahmad? Who sets a story in Tripoli? One thing 3arabi Song says is, Oh for God’s sake, who the hell is Grace?

Bahr: the sea. Also means “meter” in Arabic poetry.

Bahr: The sea isn’t always merciful. Refugees keep drowning in the Mediterranean. And poetry seems simultaneously useles and powerful. But language is what I do, so I do it.

Habibi: my love.

Habibi: I lose count of how many times a day I use the word habibi. I lose count of Allah too.

Allahu Akbar: God is greater.

Allahu Akbar: These words didn’t use to invoke fear, or beheadings. When I visited the US for the first time last year, I wanted to read the poem “Adhan,” which contains the words Allahu Akbar. My husband worried some people in the audience might not get it, might be scared. He also worried some people in the Arab world might be offended. This is what happens when you live in the liminal. I read the poem.

Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her first collection, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her second collection, Louder than Hearts, has won the 2016 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize and is forthcoming in April 2017. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a 2016 smith|doorstop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, and The Rialto, among others. She lives in Dubai, where she has founded and runs PUNCH, a poetry and open mic collective. Zeina’s readings often have a strong performative quality, and she has participated in literary festivals in the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Save Your Place: No Limit, No Shade

Ecotone’s tagline is “reimagining place,” and we love work that brings us to a specific location, real or imagined. In this department, Save Your Place, we highlight our favorite descriptions of place from work we’ve published at Ecotone and Lookout.

This place is from the poem “Muybridge’s Clouds” by Joshua Rivkin  in Ecotone 17.

“His lens opens and the sky burns away. No limit, no shade. Just the color of the crater left by footprints in mountain snow or the bright blindness of a just-fired gun, the sky in early photographs appears white. In his darkroom, a library of negatives, he matches the right shape for the right sky.”

What We’re Reading: First-Year MFA Student Edition

Having survived the first few jam-packed weeks of grad school, the first-year MFA candidates are already looking back on August with a nostalgic glow, remembering a different era when they could read purely for pleasure. We asked two fiction students, one nonfiction student, and one poetry student to discuss the books that they were reading and re-reading as they started the MFA program, the ones that made them excited and inspired, and the ones that perhaps they’ll pick back up in December.

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I’ve been working my way through a small pile of pastoral literature as research for a piece I’m working on. All were set before 1950 and I wanted to add something more contemporary to the mix. I picked up Evie Wyld’s All The Birds Singing and found a realistic, harsh, yet beautiful rendering of surviving on a farm. The story traverses landscapes, from a small British Island to the Australian Desert, connecting place to the narrator’s personal history. It’s a story that doesn’t shy away from cruel or vulgar situations. Instead, it embraces them and pinpoints the beauty that can be found there.

—Suzzanna Matthews-Amanzio, MFA candidate in fiction


A particularly bookish friend told me I must read Max Porter’s Grief is the Thing With Feathers, so off to the bookstore I went. The setup to this 114-page novel is fairly straightforward: a recently-widowed father and his two young sons are visited by a shape-shifting, mischief-loving Crow (the titular “thing with feathers”), who takes up roost in their London home while they grieve. What isn’t straightforward is how Porter chooses to tell his tale, mixing poetry, prose, play, and essay, cycling frequently between the viewpoints of the father, his boys, and the crow. It’s a bizarre and deeply beautiful book, and left me wondering how a happily married, thirty-something, first-time novelist can so masterfully capture what it’s like to be ensnared in such crippling grief. But also: where was this voice and what will it say next?

—Jeff Oloizia, MFA candidate in fiction


I’m reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a book that first intrigued me as a fan (read: President of the fan club) of Rebecca Solnit, but also caught my attention for its title, posing as a type of manual for losing oneself. Solnit seems to peer so deeply into moments that feel undiscovered, or unnoticed, or simply ambiguous in their beautiful, human complexity, that she actually gives these ideas a type of directional clarity. But the way in which she muses on the idea of being lost itself allows her readers to lose themselves with her, to feel a comfort in what we don’t know or have yet to discover, and to rejoice in where we arrive together as the exploration unfolds. And we trust her as our guide because she so eloquently blends her personal narratives with cultural and historical examples, finding nuance and meaning in our shared human experience. This book feels important not only for the strength of her craft, but for the value in what we can take from it, as writers and thinkers, delving into uncharted territories of our own.

—Nicholl Paratore, MFA candidate in nonfiction


This summer I reacquainted myself with Larry Levis through The Widening Spell of the Leaves. The title is an effective metaphor for the way his best work operates, beginning in scene and then expanding imagistically outward and ever-outward to include politics, place, and history. Like the visual trope of the molecule that expands into a galaxy that expands into a molecule as the perspective widens its scope, the poem eventually leads us back into a single moment, with all new layers and resonances. Instead of a poet’s usual sonic tricks and repeated symbols to create patterns, Levis creates rhythm from scenes and images in precise, journalistic writing that recalls Carver’s “Cathedral” and Didion’s Salvador.

—Elliot Smith, MFA candidate in poetry