Literarisches Events (in and around Lawrence KS)

  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Thursday, September 11, 7:00 p.m., Spooner Hall, KU Campus.
  • PATRICIA LOCKWOOD. Lawrence. Friday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Lawrence Public Library. Sponsored by Raven Bookstore.
  • DENNIS ETZEL, JR. & RACHEL CROSS. Lawrence. Thursday, September 25, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • TONY TRIGILIO. Lawrence. Thursday, Oct. 2, 4:00 p.m., English Room, Kansas Union, KU Campus. FREE.
  • CALEB PUCKETT & JUSTIN RUNGE. Lawrence. Thursday, October 16, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.
  • BEN LERNER. Kansas City, MO. Thursday, October 23, 7:00 p.m., Epperson Auditorium, Vanderslice Hall on the KCAI campus, 4415 Warwick Blvd.
  • KRISTIN LOCKRIDGE & ROBERT DAY. Lawrence. Thursday, December 4, 7:00 p.m., Raven Bookstore, 6 E. 7th St.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Many thanks to poet, critic, teacher, podcaster and Kennedy-assassination historian Tony Trigilio for tagging me for this undertaking.

What is the working title of your book?

Hmm. That’s a tough one. I had one out a couple of years ago called Things Come On (an amneoir). But we’re talking Next Big Thing, not Last Big Thing, so . . . Well, I’ve got a chapbook forthcoming (from Bedouin Press) called Of Some Sky. But that’s a chapbook, not a bookbook. I do have a completed manuscript called No Soap, which is under consideration by a publisher (and has been for some time now, in fact). Let’s talk about that one, how ’bout.  Is that OK?

I’m not allowed to give answers. I am merely a pre-written list of questions.

Ah. OK. Carry on.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It’s part of a series of books about my mother’s life and times. No Soap is kind of a prequel to Things Come On. That book dealt with the end of my mother’s life. No Soap deals with the beginning of her life - before the beginning, in fact. I’m writing her biography, but writing about a lot of other things in the process – the south in the Great Depression, women artists, Capitol Hill during the Cold War, memory, aporias, the archive – but I’m getting ahead of myself. In answer to your question, actually, my mother died when I was 12, and I wanted to know more about her than I did. That – and a compulsive desire to research, think, and write – got me started.

What genre does the book fall under?

“Fall under” is a great choice of terms. I’ve been filling out an NEA fellowship application, and you have to choose nonfiction or fiction, poetry or drama, but no combination of these, let alone some new genre that hasn’t been invented yet (like the NOVEL was, in the early 18th century). In other words, generic boundaries are part of official US government policy. So we all fall under, in a way.

But I have a hard time answering this question. My book is a mixture of prose and verse, dialogue and photographs. One page might be laid out like the Soncino Talmud, the next like a medieval manuscript, the next like a braided narrative poem. I guess I was thinking of the scrapbook as a model, more than anything – the post-WWI scrapbook, when American families started to use it as a memento and record of the family and immediate community. Those scrapbooks not only contain newspaper articles, like the older ones, but also artifacts: concert programs, coasters, bits of wood, whatever. So it’s a sort of wunderkammer.


You know . . . those curiosity cabinets they used to do in the 19th c. – where a platypus skull would be next to a rock from the Parthenon or whatever, next to an African mask, etc. etc.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Nobody you’ve ever heard of. Just: NO FAKE SOUTHERN ACCENTS. You think we can’t tell, but believe me, we can. I wouldn’t mind having Ken Russell direct it, but he’s not available, apparently. Wes Anderson could bring the right sensibility, but I think our storytelling styles are rather different.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

In No Soap, an adult son, who as a child lost his mother, tries to speak with his mother when she was a child through a scrapbook-like montage, and ends up taking an unforeseen tour of the early twentieth century. Does that make sense?

I can’t . . .

Oh – right. Sorry. Never mind. It sounds cheesy as hell, but it’s the best I can do.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, the term “no soap” is 1930s slang for “no luck” and a term my mother, Lib Peoples, used frequently as a teen. Her grandfather, a timber baron, went bust; her father died; her house burned down; she grew up in a race- and class-divided South during the Depression and the Great Flood of ’37; she studied at the Chicago Art Institute but had few creative outlets in her small town. This is by far the most exciting story-line I’ve ever worked with. But, like the traditional romance plot, the story has a somewhat happier ending, as the heroine discovers how to gain a little power, escape her hometown, and open up new possibilities for herself.

Throughout No Soap, I try to ask Lib questions, to talk back, to (literally) write between the lines. What results is sometimes sober, sometimes wacky. A lot of it has to do w/displacements – of past/present, memory/document, self/other.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Are those my only choices?  “An agency”? . . . Uh, I write experimental nonfiction and poetry. . . . But like I say, it is . . . currently looking for a home. Like the boll weevil.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Jeez – I don’t remember. The whole multi-part project blurs together. I think I got the idea for the whole thing in around 2002, and it has grown alarmingly. I’ve been writing while I researched, and revising one part as I put together the next. And I’m now composing the last part. I try not to think about things like this, actually.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My mom, first of all. And innate curiosity and epistephilia. As to models – I can’t imagine having written any of this project without the example of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s book Dictee. Michael Ondaatje’s early mixed-genre work; Susan Howe’s “historical” works (esp. The Midnight); Eleni Sikelianos’ The Book of Jon; Lyn Hejinian’s My Life – all these went into the mix, in different ways. I’m also inspired by the tradition of American “documentary poetry,” from Muriel Rukeyser’s “Book of the Dead” to Olson’s Maximus Poems to the many practitioners today – as well as mixed-genre work, from William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All down to recent titles from places like Coffee House Press and Ugly Duckling Presse’s Dossier Series.

(For a whole slew of influences and “further reading,” see the “Reader’s Guide” to Things Come On at Wesleyan University Press’ web site.)

So . . . is that it? . . . Can I go now? . . . Wait – don’t answer that – 

But, hemm. Whom to "tag"? Everyone I asked is either too busy, has already been asked, or considers it beneath their dignity.

Cheryl Pallant, perhaps? Aby and Matthew Cooperman? Lea Graham? Rachel Loden? Grant Jenkins? Jonathan Stalling?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"No layoff from this condensary" (NOT!)

--> So, I wrote a curmudgeonly Facebook post: “Sometimes I think that most poems are just too damn long.” This ostensibly harmless superannuated harrumph garnered an impressive string of comments whose implications ranged from Bronze-Age Greece to neoliberal globalization.

I guess what I had in mind is the recent proliferation of “lyric” poems that go on for two, three, or more pages (often as part of books that go on for 100+ pages), but don’t go anywhere, do anything, or say anything new within those pages. Even some famous poets. I mean, I like a bowl of oatmeal every now and then, but not a vat. You’re going to have to at least throw in some damn raisins or brown sugar or whatever, somewhere in there.

Or, to switch the metaphor: Frank O'Hara said "only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the American poets, are better than the movies." And Spicer went him one better and said should be more entertaining than TV. But much contemporary “experimental” lyric is like watching a TV test pattern for an hour, instead of a show. It’s a damn good test pattern, mind you. If you enjoy that sort of thing.

There are concise long poems. Read late Niedecker, for some great examples. Or Homer. But then, he’s got narrative to carry you along (what today we might call “blow-up action”). True, there’s the catalogs (esp. the “catalog of ships problem,” as Ed Sanders calls it). But the function of those is to immortalize the warriors, so that current and future warriors would want to keep serving the “gore-goons” in order to assure their own poetic immortality, too.

However, it is exceedingly hard to write a long lyric poem of any sort, IMO.

Ashbery does it. In fact, I don’t care for his shorter poems, because his poetry works by process of accretion. And it thematizes meandering. You can’t meander much in 14 lines. You can’t forget where you were going, or set down in a completely different place than you had intended, which I take to be his point. The Language Poets wrote some very long texts with a high degree of formal internal similarity; but I finally realized that, if you reject closure, you can’t stop writing!

But how many poems make long-ness a topic? Or are even aware that their readers experience them as long – TOO long? Maybe Berryman’s mother was right about boredom evincing a lack of inner resources, but I have to sympathize with the guy. (Notice how short the segments of Dream Songs are, btw. This is why I like the serial poem – you can keep going, but any given segment doesn’t put you to sleep).

Part of the problem may be the poetic-industrial establishment. People who write poems want to get jobs teaching poetry – jobs that might even reward them for writing and publishing poetry. But they have to publish poetry in order to get those jobs. And like all things within neoliberal capitalism, size matters. Production, baby – that’s the name of the game. “My book is 30 pages longer than your book. And those 30 pages are a lyric poem that doesn’t use the vowel ‘o.’ So there!” Number of degrees, number of pages, number of books. An arms race.

[And of course, all this is happening as the economy is imploding, the climate is going haywire, an increasing percentage of an exploding population is in increasing misery, and the entire world is sinking into high-tech neo-feudalism. But whatever – back to our rant:]

The “Slow Poetry” movement (don’t blink or you missed it) emphasized production: handmade, letterpress editions rather than print-on-demand, mass produced verse. That’s fine. But the bigger issue, it seems to me, is consumption. In the accelerating world of po-biz (and every other biz), everybody has to read (or pretend to read) more and more, just to keep up. Given that the SIZE of poems seems to be increasing, this situation makes for some pretty shallow speed-reading of poems. Which is, of course, fucking ridiculous. Speed read economics textbooks, how-to books, engineering manuals even – but poetry?? What’s the point?

If you’re telling the story of a twenty-year war and sea voyage, then, sure, you’re going to need some space. But Paradise Lost?? I’m sorry – Dr. Johnson was right. And Ronald Johnson was right, too. Have you read any of Keats’ odes? OK. Have you read “Endymion”? More than once?

There are poems I like that are too long. There are long poems that contain passages that are to die for (when the rest is dross). There are books that contain many long poems, where the shorter poems shine like diamonds in the - well, oatmeal. Any time I’ve written a poem longer than a page, I compulsively grab my wallet. And then start cutting. I’m notorious – ask my students. I’m the psycho poet text-slasher.

And I like word-play as much as the next guy, up to a point. But look: if you’re clever, we’ll realize it after half a page. You don’t have to go on and on to convince us. Too many younger poets engage in endless verbal acrobatics that seem as desperate as a group of 4th-year MFA students at the AWP book fair.

And you know what? If you send a short poem into the slush pile – it might just get read, for a change.

Now – got to get back to writing my epic.