Book Review, “The Myth of Water,” by Jeanie Thompson

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To undertake a cycle of poems on the life of Helen Keller is to throw oneself at an interesting poetic problem: how to capture the perspective of one who lived in a wholly different perceptual world than most other people. To be sure, there are plenty of fine collections on the experiences of disability—Nick Flynn’s startlingly original Blind Huber comes to mind—but Helen Keller is a singular historical figure who, in our cultural imagination, bears a particular burden as the standout radical subject who, as if through magic, was able to speak from beyond an impassable veil.

It is with an acute sense for Keller’s abilities that Jeanie Thompson works in her book, The Myth of Water. . . 

Read the review at NewPages.

 

 

Remembering Brigit Pegeen Kelly, 1951–2016

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Brigit Pegeen Kelly was my mentor — a teacher and a friend who had a profound impact not just on my goals as a student but on who I would become, how I would view myself in relation to the world. She was the rare educator who could make you rethink what it was to learn. Her active listening was nearly alchemical; our conversations, at times, felt like a form of magic. Through sheer presence she could make the world new, more real, more full, and more resonant.

It was the kind of enriching that came just in time, not just in my life but as it was contained in a larger era. We talked about 9/11 right after it happened. We talked about the nightvision cameras that captured the first bombs dropping on Baghdad. We talked about the protests, the need for language and for silence. It was the new millennium, the new communication, the new politics, when the future seemed to be suddenly flattened and pressed into full view, when it seemed suddenly switched on. She is the reason I became a poet during this time, and she is one of the reasons why poetry has been so sustained in me through all these years, why it has remained necessary. These past weeks following her death have had me thinking so much about those years, when I could feel the inside of me getting burnished as though worked with invisible hands. . .

Read the remembrance at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review, “The End of Pink,” by Kathryn Nuernberger

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There is an abiding anguish that swells like a tidal water through Kathryn Nuernberger’s new book, The End of Pink. It’s an emotional force that takes a little while to establish, not yet fully evident while reading through the table of contents or perusing the first few poems, which seem at first like relatively straightforward engagements with historic books of science and pseudoscience, poems that are the result of the purposeful taking of a subject of study.

Read the review at NewPages.

Writing Exercises 101, 201, and 301

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Oh, the energy of autumnal days! Summer has its blisses, winter its purities; spring lays out romance and adventure, but these short weeks, the light falling like a voice into the distance — they grip me like nothing else. These are the days of the private pleasures of the mind opened into conversation, days in which I thrill at blank pages, new music, appointments fulfilled in the noise of crowds, and my breathe materialized in the cooling air. It’s a time of study and practice. It’s a time of education.

I don’t teach anymore, but I’ve always loved it, especially because I’ve had the fortune of driving at least a small variety of workshops, with a variety of different kinds of students at different levels of familiarity with the traditions that basically define the craft of writing. There are many ways to bend one into the doorway of this craft, and perhaps I’m emboldened by my distance from the profession, but I thought I could share some of my favorite exercises, ones I’ve either led, participated in, or simply heard about.

As is typical of my posts, I’m largely concerned with the writing of poems, but there should be plenty here for prose writers as well. I’ve divided these into the most straightforward categories imaginable — Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced — and while I have some definite reasoning for that, of course don’t feel like you need to adhere to any structure whatsoever. I’m always curious about new exercises and prompts, and I hope some of these stir some thinking for you, either as a teacher or a writer, or maybe both. The bell rings. Let’s begin. . . .

Read the feature at Michigan Quarterly Review

Book Review, “Violet Energy Ingots,” by Hoa Nguyen

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These are deeply personal, domestic poems, caught up in household activities, the nuances of partnership and parenthood, changing weather, and the day-to-day turbulences that make up the real terrain of our emotional lives: frustration with loved ones, appreciation for our children, fond but sometimes ambivalent remembrances of the past, and bitterness toward the entrenched injustices of our larger society.

Nguyen does not approach these subjects directly, however. Her poems seem to communicate outward from a subconscious that is organized by quantum probabilitiesof resonance and reference. They are messy, haphazard, and playful. They accrue obsessions—sonic and thematic tics—that come together with livewire resonance like the hum of an electric fence. . .

Read the review at The Boston Review

A Beginner’s Guide to Submitting Work to Literary Magazines

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For me, August is go time. I’m sitting on six or so months of poems I’ve been dutifully attending to — what represent my ambitions and quandaries of the year — and as I start to feel them ring with a sense of resonant completeness, a terrible anxiety sets in: I must do something with these. The decision to publish is definitely a personal one, and I would never suggest that writing has an end in it, but publishing is certainly a key pathway toward audience, and it’s also a way that your work can become a part of something larger. For those unaccustomed to putting themselves out there and submitting to the slush pile, as we so fondly call it, the task can be daunting and even emotionally fraught. But there are perfectly good ways to go about it that will keep you organized, give you great chances at success, and, most important — and I will argue this until the snows pile against the house — can actually help you improve your writing and how you think about it. . .

Read the guide at Michigan Quarterly Review