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.
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.
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!
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.
Writing 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.
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.”
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.
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
This spring, University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Department of Creative Writing hosted visiting writer Nikky Finney, distinguished South Carolinian writer and teacher, whose fourth collection, Head Off & Split, was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for poetry. Before coming to UNCW I didn’t seek out poetry, but since beginning my MFA here last fall, and working as a TA for the Pub Lab, I’ve been inundated with poems. As a fiction writer, one prone to writing concise vignettes and flash fiction, I’m fascinated by the distinction between poetry and prose. I attended Nikky Finney’s public reading on Thursday, April 21, eager to hear her experience with words and form. The Kenan Hall room was packed with faculty, students, and Wilmingtonians, and I found a seat on the floor in the back, where I could only see the poet when a sea of shoulders in front of me shifted just so. But I could hear her speak, and between poems Nikky Finney offered habits that improve her writing, told anecdotes about her family and how they’ve influenced her work, and shared her deep connection to the beach. She spoke with such authority, intimacy, and openness I couldn’t resist scrawling down quotes in my notebook. I left the reading, perhaps just as muddled about the distinction of prose and poems, but armed with two of her books, the desire to get home to my writing desk as quickly as possible, and the intention to connect more deeply with the quiet places Wilmington offers writers. I’m excited to share her words and ideas that have already begun to nourish me, with our readers.
1) “You have to go to the word, go to the root, go to the definition.”
2) “That’s your job: you have to pay attention. Poems are walking by every day. You gotta pay attention.”
3) “If you do what you’ve already done, you’re gonna get what you’ve already gotten.” (advice Nikky Finney shared from her grandmother)
4) Keep an epigraph journal.
5) Talk about hard things in a loving way.
6) “Take the opportunity, so you don’t live with the regret.”
7) “You know, we live in a really noisy world.” Do something for yourself that is aware of how noisy the world is. “You have to figure out the noise in your life and then shut it down, it’s not helpful to you.”
8) “I listen to what makes my heart flutter.”
9) Face the thing you really need to be looking at.
10) “Reporting is the reporter’s job, but my job, my student’s job, your job, is to make something of what you know about humanity. Because that is why we’ve had art for thousands of years. To make us better…to have the kind of conversations we are having.”
–F. Morgan Davis, MFA Candidate in fiction, Pub Lab TA
In honor of the MFA students graduating from our program at UNCW this semester, and because we think National Poetry Month should be every month of the year, we found four graduating poets and one professor to share the poetry collections sitting on their bedside tables. What we discovered is a delightful array of poetic bounty that is sure to help inspire through the long days of summer–or life in the “real” world.
photofrom left: Pernille Smith Larson, Jacob Bateman, Christina Clark
I’m reading Ron Rash’s New and Selected Poems alongside The World Made Straight. I’ve become obsessed with his North Carolina/ Appalachian lexicon and how his masterful prose lines sometimes read like poetry. I’m beginning to see that he operates much like Carver in that some of his narrative poems reincarnate in his novels, and I’m always a sucker for genre-stealing/genre-complicating. Up next is Above the Waterfall, which I hear is even more lyrical. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if I read him outright by summer’s end.
—Elizabeth Davis, MFA candidate in poetry
I’m currently reading Chloe Honum’s poetry collection The Tulip-Flame. Initially, I picked the book up because it was chosen by one of my favorite poets, Tracy K. Smith, for a first book award. The Tulip-Flame includes different narrative strands with thematic connections: a mother’s suicide, a failed romantic relationship, the art and practice of ballet, and the growth, decay, and resurgence of a garden. These poems are stark, short, and gorgeous. They are both emotionally restrained and deeply moving. Not too long ago, I heard a writer tell an audience that writers should read outside of their comfort zone, by which s/he meant reading the kind of poems, stories, novels, etc., that you do not write yourself. I’m reading outside of my comfort zone by reading The Tulip-Flame, and it’s an inspiring and pleasurable experience.
—Pernille Smith Larson, MFA candidate in poetry
Walking to Martha’s Vineyard, by Franz Wright, was one of those books I’d been told to read about a half dozen times, but had never gotten around to. The poems are brief and clear. You can read them very quickly—they have that kind of accessibility, which generates interest in what comes next. Moving back through them it became clear that they work just as well if you take each poem slowly and seriously. I remember a professor once saying, of some poem we’d read, that it was unimposing in its artfulness. I thought of that often reading this book. I think it’s the kind of work most poets would really love to be able to generate.
—Jacob Bateman, MFA candidate in poetry
I first heard about Anne Sexton’s Transformations via Pernille Smith Larson, one of my MFA classmates. I had been working on a fairy tale series, and the collection was mentioned as a good potential reference for inspiration. Transformations is striking in that it haunts and at the same time manages humor. It retells old Grimm fairy tales while also redefining and refining them into modern poetry. Sexton accomplishes this in part through her use of more modern diction and imagery. Prior to reading this, I had also read a handful of Sexton’s most famous poems, “The Starry Night” and “Her Kind” come to mind, as well as her award winning collection Live or Die. Transformations lived up to and has exceeded my expectations as a collection. It manages to breathe new life and adult themes into stories that have been around for centuries–stories that we’ve known in some version since we were children. I would really recommend this book to anyone interested in fairy tale lore or anyone who is a fan of Sexton’s other works. Especially if you are inclined—as I am—toward weaving fairy tale imagery and concepts or themes into your work.
—Christina Clark, MFA candidate in poetry
I have two very different books next to my reading chair. One is just out from Emily Carr, a former student and UNCW alum: Whosoever Has Let A Minotaur Enter Them, Or A Sonnet— from McSweeney’s Poetry Series. It is bold, fresh, fractured and surprising, trying to approach emotion through language in new ways. The other is Tugs in the Fog, selected poems by Joan Margarit, the Catalan poet. Margarit has written some beautiful, direct poems about ageing, grief, and memory. I find myself moved by both books, in different ways.
—Mark Cox, MFA faculty in poetry
As lovers of poetry and literary crusaders against pollution, we were so interested to hear about this new project, Poetry for Trash. We asked founder and director John-Michael Peter Bloomquist to tell us about the project, his inspiration, and what poetry and trash have in common. Here’s what he had to say.
As a poet, I’ve often asked myself the question: is poetry worth pursuing? Will this poem ever get published? Is this poem trash? Many poets and myself desire to write something valuable, which can be a good thing, depending on what we mean by valuable. I value poems that make me feel beautiful, loved, or less alone.
More poetry is being written, published, and read than ever before, which is absolutely, unquestionably, unequivocally good. But I’ve become concerned that, instead of a desire to write, many of us are feeling pressure to write poems that sell—or at least that garner accolades and acclaim, earning us, for example, an esteemed teaching position that supports us financially. Poetry is also now, more than ever before, moving closer to becoming a commodity. Am I the only one guilty of asking: How much money will this poem make? Will it earn an award? Will it get me that job? Consumerism has infiltrated our poetics, and though there is a cause for despair when corporations and fashion chains look for poets to endorse them, I believe that the economy of poetry can help save us and our planet.
The scourge of a consumerist culture is pollution. Use it up, throw it out. Right now I live in Richmond, Virginia, and when I walk by the James River, I’m dumbfounded by how many bottles, cans, wrappers, and cigarettes I find. Everyone with a heart is concerned about the environment and pollution. And so another one of my questions has been: what makes an ecological poem? What is its subject matter, its line breaks, its diction, and should it be printed on recycled paper or should it be published online?
Poetry functions within the gift economy. Mauss, author of the seminal book on gift economies, The Gift, said that there are three obligations within the gift economy: to give, to receive, and to reciprocate. Nature gives us the food, water, and air we need to survive, but instead of reciprocating, we’ve been making capital and consuming. While a poem doesn’t (or at least shouldn’t) make capital, it does ask us to reciprocate, not just to read and write more poems, but to love more. And this is why I see all poetry as ecological.
With these concerns in my mind, I finally arrived at another question: How much trash is poetry worth? And this question started Poetry for Trash, an interactive gift economy. Over the past two years I’ve been making various signs which ask this question, and placing them in public parks. This past year, I’ve been fortunate to work with the people at MoB studios, who have created our latest sign. The sign facilitates the three steps of Poetry for Trash:
Through these stations two dumpsters worth of trash have been picked up and thousands of poems have been given away. Poetry is a solution to pollution because purification starts in the heart.
We were at AWP this year, at the Virginia Commonwealth University booth, modeling the new sign and giving away postcards that you can mail to your loved ones, which feature poems by some of our favorite contemporary poets in the country. Check out the work that we’ve been doing at poetryfortrash.com. Let’s keep the planet clean and our poetry free.
–John-Michael Peter Bloomquist