NA. I'd love it if you would start by telling me a little bit about yourself: how you became a writer, editor, publisher, and how these worlds are interwoven.
RM. The worlds have always been interwoven for me, I guess. That’s a good word to use. From writing and printing little stories using a toy printing set with rubber type as a kid, to editing my high school newspaper, working as a writer and layout staff person for weekly and daily newspapers while putting myself through school at the University of Florida, to being a letterpress printer and university editor/publisher today. As an undergrad I switched from a journalism major to an English major, and I got more serious about writing poetry and fiction. I was founding editor of the literary journal Florida Quarterly at the University of Florida and went on to earn my PhD at the University of Virginia, not only because I knew I could study with a great literature faculty there, but also because I could take creative writing workshops with Peter Taylor, who was their writer-in-residence. Some of his longtime friends from college days, Robert Lowell most frequently, would visit from time to time and come into our workshop. During my time there I shifted away from fiction toward poetry. I won an Academy of American Poets prize and began to publish my poetry in little magazines, but I also continued to write fiction, with Peter’s encouragement. I have to say, though, he was especially supportive of my poetry, even though what he saw of it was incidental really, since he was teaching fiction workshops.
Of course, it makes sense that he’d encourage poetry, given his long friendship with Lowell and his marriage to the wonderful poet Eleanor Ross Taylor. In fact there’s a continuation of these good memories made tangible in a collection of short stories we published about a year ago. Through a surprising series of events, we had the chance to publish the first collection of short stories by Jean Ross Justice, a wonderful writer whose work I hadn’t really known until the manuscript was passed along to us by a mutual friend, Robert Dana. Jean’s work had appeared in Esquire, Antioch Review, Yale Review, Shenandoah, The Oxford American, and elsewhere, but these and other stories had never been collected until we brought out her book, The End of a Good Party . It turns out that Jean is the widow of poet Donald Justice. And she is also the sister of Peter Taylor’s wife, the poet Eleanor Ross Taylor. As things unfolded, Peter and Eleanor wound up living in Florida (in Gainesville, at my old alma mater, the University of Florida), as did Donald Justice and Jean, before they moved to Iowa. These interesting, layered connections only slowly dawned on me, after we had already decided to publish the book of Jean’s stories, without any of us having realizing the links . . .
It’s a marvelous literary “full circle” in interesting ways. Again, it seems thoroughly interwoven. Jean’s book would not have happened without some more tight interweaving, through the friendship of two great colleagues here at Tampa who have been consistently involved with Tampa Review, Don Morrill and Lisa Birnbaum, close friends of Robert Dana, who also knew Jean Justice. Lisa has been one of our fiction editors, and she offered to work with Jean as our in-house editor to agree on the final selection of stories and see everything through final page edits. It was a labor of love for all of us—and we’re also proud to have published some of Jean’s stories in Tampa Review.
Every now and then an essay comes around that captures an inchoate idea in poetry and amplifies and shapes that idea. Take Charles Olson's magisterial "Projective Verse," which not only explicates but embodies the poetic principles it talks about. Dan Hoy's newly minted, THE PIN-UP STAKES, over at Montevidayo, is one such essay. In brief, Hoy talks about the relatively new coupling of poetry and the marketing of poetry, (via social networking, blogging, publicity stunts, etc.) thereby defining an emerging poetic category of "Image Artist". According to Hoy's assessment, image artists fall within a category of poet that uses poetry as a platform to create a "strategic framework" and or brand for themselves.
(Disclaimer: I am the current poetry editor of LIT Magazine and will become editor-in-chief next issue, so if you hate thinly veiled self-promotion, please skip ahead.)
The current issue of LIT Magazine is days away from being printed. We are going to have a release party at Housing Works in NYC. Get all the details and an author's list by clicking on the image of the cover. I've been super proud to work on LIT with our great team of editors. Our current editors-in-chief, Jackie Clark and Ben Kendrick are stepping down after this issue. It will be difficult to see them go and the magazine will suffer without their insight and hard work. Thanks, bros.
Also, I'd like to congratulate Jennifer L. Knox (LIT #17: "Kiri Te Kanawa Singing 'O Mio Babbino Caro') and Farrah Field (LIT #18: "You're Really Starting to Suck, Amy" and "Amy Survives Another Apocalypse") for having their poems chosen for the next Best American Poetry.
Here is a quote by James Tate (right) from an interview in Durak #2 (1979) I've been thinking about:
Interviewer: How do you characterize your sense of humor?
Tate: I've never been able to separate and identify my sense of humor, even or myself. Insights are funny, and perceptions can be funny when they're sharp enough. You could say about humor that in the long run it's more hopeless than tragedy. I'm not apologetic about that part of myself; I learned to live with it a long time ago.
I love WORLD BALL NOTEBOOK by Sesshu Foster from City Lights Books. It's a collection of microcosms, mostly prose poems, that examine minute social interactions, mishaps, conversations, travelogs, and emails. The poems are placed within the context of a ubiquitous game, so that the people in each poem become players, unaware of the game's rules and ultimate goal. What condenses over WORLD BALL NOTEBOOK's 137 pages is a beautiful, pathos filled, picture of humanity that is both entertaining and visionary.
Gladys Horton, one of the lead singers for the Marvelettes, has died. It’s a measure of how little respect this great girl-group has been given that The New York Times obituary of Horton had to resort to many hedges due to a lack of outside scholarship about the group. Horton was either 64 or 65 when she died; she was born either in Inkster, Michigan, or Gainesville, Florida; the Marvelettes broke up either “in the late 1960s or early 1970s.” Sigh. I think we know the exact moment the Beatles broke up, and the precise moment Dylan “went electric,” don’t we?
The Marvelettes will always be obscured by other acts on the Motown label starting with the Supremes. But they released a string of singles that are exceptional examples of girl-group soul. Their tight harmonies, no-nonsense phrasing, and lack of melodramatic flourishes may actually have worked against them, as did their talent for putting across a novelty song such as (the Marvin Gaye-written) “Beechwood 4-5789” as skillfully as they did more poetic work such as Smokey Robinson’s extraordinary “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.”
Horton didn’t sing lead on that last song, but she did on the group’s biggest hit, “Please Mr. Postman,” and one of the Marvelettes’ trickiest, wittiest performances, “Too Many Fish In The Sea.”
“I don’t want nobody that don’t want me,” sang Horton on that song. The firm decisiveness is in the lyric written by Norman Whitfield and Eddie Holland, to be sure. But it wouldn’t be half as effective had Horton not sung the sentiment with such a whiplash sting, flicking each consonant at the listener as though she wanted to commingle pain with your pleasure. She was a fine, fine vocalist, and you’d do well to track down a copy of The Marvelettes: Anthology, the best showcase for the group’s work, a short history of soul music across 28 tracks, concluding with the superbly punctuated song title, “A Breath Taking Guy.” Every breath Horton took on these hit singles was a strong one
Dean Young's heart is rad. Even through it may not be working as well as it should, it's produced tons of poems that have helped me live my life. Dean needs a new heart. You can help by making a donation in his honor to the National Foundation for Transplants. I donated for the purely self-serving reason, that helping get Dean get a new heart will be as close as I ever come to writing a Dean Young poem, but I'm sure you will find a better reason. Also the folks over at Coldfront have a rad rundown and video of a benefit for Dean at the National Arts Club in NYC that is worth checking out. Here is a one of many poems by Dean that have helped me make my way through the ossuary:
The Invention of Heaven
The mind becomes a field of snow
but then the snow melts and the dandelions
blink on and you can walk through them,
your trousers plastered with dew.
They're all waiting for you but first
here's a booth where you can win
a peacock feather for bursting a balloon,
a man in huge stripes shouting about
a boy who is half swan, the biggest
pig in the world. Then you will pass
tractors pulling other tractors,
trees snagged with bright wrappers
and then you will come to a river
and then you will wash your face.
Birds LLC is rad. They just released two new titles: EITHER WAY I'M CELEBRATING by Sommer Browning and KINGS OF THE F**CKING SEA by Dan Bohel. Birds is shaping up to be a press that represents all the best parts of small publishing enterprises from the 60s and 70s with a dash of professional design and promotion thrown in for good measure. They are a publishing family hell-bent on supporting their own, while bringing hot hot poems to the masses. Also, Birds is having a book release party for the aforementioned titles in Brooklyn this Friday, details HERE.
The Wilhelm Scream by James Blake is rad. Can't stop listening to it and staring out the window into the snow while basking in existential melancholy. This isn't the official video, but I think the song goes way better with the kitten riding the magic carpet, anyway.
FOOD I CORP is rad. It seems like an insidious, Illuminati-type organization. They have a publishing branch that puts out a stream of truly weird poems and various other oddities. The also have a bunch of interlinked Tumblrs that spit out photos sent via the cell phones of an unknown number of constituents (CORPse, SMASH MAGAZINE, BLACK & GOLD, EAT CORP, CORPTAILS). Seems like it will only become more and more powerful as it spreads like a virus throughout the internet.
In response to the previous post, and in continuing honor of Jerome Kern's birthday, here are four versions (three video, one audio) of the remarkable song, "Ol' Man River," written with Oscar Hammerstein for the 1927 Broadway production of "Show Boat." It is a seminal song in American music for many reasons. For one thing, it was meant to be sung as a bass solo by the character Joe. For another, the song expresses - without caricature and with deep sympathy - the interior lives of the black characters in the play. It acts as a leitfmotif throughout "Show Boat," which, despite its "happy" ending, is perhaps one of the most melancholy pieces in 20th century American musical theater: the two major characters are a woman abandoned for five years by her gambler husband and a woman ruined by the exposure of her true racial identity, drawn against a backdrop of the racism of the deep South in the late 19th century.
Kern and Hammerstein knew what they were doing with the song, and they were very nervous about how it would go over. There is a story of both of them sneaking out of the theater during the premier, lurking in the lobby because they were too jumpy about the audience's response. (It was originally sung by Jules Bledsoe [right], although the song is most associated with Paul Robeson's performance in the 1936 movie version.) As the song ended, there was a deep, unnerving quiet. Kern and Hammerstein looked at each other in alarm and finally worked up enough courage to take a peek. The audience was sitting in stunned silence, many of them quietly weeping, too moved to applaud, too moved to move.
Paul Robeson (left) is actually known for two versions of the song - the version sung in the 1936 James Whale movie, and a later version which is in a way a defiant response to the song's sentiment of resignation. In earlier productions, the character of Joe is a comic figure, resonant of minstrelsy and typical stereotypes of the time. Robeson changed the lyric - slightly but in important ways - in later perfomances to reflect his commitment to civil rights and his own sense of personal dignity.
Interestingly, the lyric had already been changed in each major production, indicative of what was acceptable language during each era. In the 1927 version, the lyric went: "Niggers all work on de Mississippi/Niggers all work while de white folks play." In the 1936, this was changed to "darkies;" in the 1946 revival (and in the 1951 movie), it became "colored folks." Finally, in the 1946 movie, "Till the Clouds Roll By," a biopic of Kern's life, it morphed into "Here we all work on the Mississippi," sung by Frank Sinatra (above right) in a white tux against a white background, accompanied by a white orchestra and about a thousand white dancers all dressed in white. Apparently, no one got the irony.
I hear music when I look at you, A beautiful theme of every dream I ever knew. Down deep in my heart I hear it play, I feel it start Then melt away. I hear music when I touch your hand, A beautiful melody from some enchanted land. Down deep in my heart I hear it say: Is this the day? I alone Have heard this lovely strain. I alone Have heard this glad refrain. Must it be Forever inside of me? Why can't I let it go? Why can't I let you know? Why can't I let you know The song my heart would sing -- That beautiful rhapsody Of love and youth and spring? The music is sweet, The words are true. The song is you.
-- Music by Jerome kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein (1932)
This is beginning to seem like kind of a lot of snow. Am I wrong? I grew up around these parts and it seems to me when I was a kid there were a lot of winters in which there was this much snow, but that might have been situational as at the time I was very much shorter.
The philosopher tells us to remember to factor in changes in perspective, the meteorologist tells us we've smoke-stacked our planet right out of whack, which is whack; the poet tells us the world in dark and white is something pleasing,but then, it is worth considering that the poet almost never has to shovel.
Okay, I love all you arty philosophical freaks and insist that you keep up all your bad behavior. I wish I could say more but have suit up to go pick up the kiddies in the blizzie. If you need more of me, read the old posts or buy a book! They're cheap! And it cheers me up when they appear to be selling. Yes, like all pets, I'm that petty. Don't kill yourself and I shall return to encourage you again. OTG* there is a lot of snow on my tree jewelry.
*Oh Their God. In my house when someone sneezes, we say "einstein". wink.
Dude, did you go to the Dean Young Benefit? I didn't either. So put down your self-flagellation devices and click this link that will transport you over to Coldfront where D.J. Dolack had the wherewhithal to record it and post it and then email me that he posted it. Yay D.J. Also give Dean Young some of your money, otherwise what's the good of SCIENCE? HAHHAHAHAHAHHA. YAY SCIENCE! WHOOO HOOOOOOO!
It's important to use science to keep the people we like and love here as long as possible. Oh right the link! CLICK HERE.
To read about Dean Young and make an online donation, please visit his page at the National Foundation for Transplants.
Indiana power plant after flood, 1913. Photograph by DJ Angus.
Poets Kimiko Hahn, Saskia Hamilton, Noelle Kocot, David Lehman, Ben Lerner, Brenda Shaughnessy, and Stacy Szymaszek read poems by themselves and others on the themes of absence, emptiness, and…nothing.
Here's a poem by David Lehman:
The Human Factor
The gambler knows nothing’s more addictive than deception with the chance that the betrayed one, the spouse or the State, is pretending or consenting to be deceived for motives of vanity and greed not different from his own, leaving him with a choice to make between his mistress and his self-respect – which may be why the ideal reader of Graham Greene’s novels went to a parochial school, was married and divorced, has lived abroad in Europe or Asia, plays in a weekly small-stakes poker game, works for a newspaper, lies to make a living.