This week we welcome Robert P. Baird as our guest blogger. Robert has published poems in Poetry and The Cultural Society and prose in Bookforum, Slate, Narrative, Boston Review, and n+1, all of which can be found by way of his website, robertpbaird.com. In 2010 Paulist Press published his translation of the Spanish heretic Miguel de Molinos. He is the former editor of Chicago Review and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Like all real poets, he is currently at work on a novel, which, if the lawyers allow it, will be called American Idol. He lives in Seattle and on Twitter @bobbybaird.
NA: The first question I have: who comes up with your cover art? I think everyone should click onto your website to see the beautiful covers.
AR & JR: About 90% of the time, the cover art is sourced from the existing work of an artist, and so it comes from all sorts of different places. For the issues of the journal, the decision is ours and we basically go on a wild search through artist portfolios on the web until we find something that seems to make some intuitive sense to us. For the single-author titles, we always try to consult the author first—many of them have some loose idea of what they’re interested in, and we go from there. In a couple of cases—Claire Hero’s afterpastures and Elizabeth Skurnick’s Check-In, for example—the author actually selected the cover art themselves; other times—like Ryan Call’s The Weather Stations and Kim Parko’s Cure All—we tried out a number of different options before landing on the one we wanted; and very occasionally—as in the case of Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine and Matt Bell’s The Collectors—we’ve actually designed the cover illustration ourselves.
Perhaps the best story of a cover coming together, though, was in the case of Bird Any Damn Kind. We went through mock-up after mock-up, always ending up either unable to find the rights holder or unsatisfied with the results, and it got to the point where the deadline was fast approaching, the layout was done, and we still needed a cover. And then Lucas Farrell, the author, finally let slip that his wife, Louisa Conrad, is an accomplished visual artist. A quick scan of her portfolio and we knew we were on our way; there’s a real conversation going on between his writing and her visuals which made her the perfect choice.
NA: How would you best describe your press? How many books do you publish each year? Are all of your books contest-winners?
AR & JR: Caketrain is an independent journal and press imprint run by two people out of their apartment in Pittsburgh. We champion the broadening of literary horizons and reward literature which demonstrates daring and a willingness to experiment. We publish four books each year: the winner and runner-up of our annual competition, a single-author title acquired by us outside of the competition, and an issue of our annual journal.
NA: You are located in Pittsburgh. Do you do a reading series in Pittsburgh? Do you have a local presence?
AR & JR: Our efforts to date have been concentrated entirely on the books themselves. We haven’t really done much in the way of readings, not only because we lack the time and energy for a reading series, but because there are plenty of groups in the city—The New Yinzer and Open Thread, for example, not to mention the many universities—who already build literary community through local events more effectively than we ever could. While we’re not very prominent in that community, we do feel it’s important to give attention in venues like this to the fact that one could scarcely imagine a better place to make books than here in Pittsburgh. From the very beginnings of Caketrain, we’ve experienced an outpouring of support and a feeling of shared concerns on a local level that has been instrumental to keeping us in the mindset of sustaining this project.
NA: I first heard about your press from Tom Whalen, whose book, Dolls, was selected by Denise Duhamel as the winner of the 2006 Caketrain Chapbook Competition. Have you published other collections of prose poetry and flash fiction?
AR & JR: There’s a lot of flash fiction and prose poetry in the journals, but as far as the collections go, a lot of our books blur lines in this respect. All the Day’s Sad Stories and The Collectors are novellas told in what is essentially flash fiction; Ghost Machine and Cure All both have elements of prose poetry and flash fiction in them; our next book, due in early 2012, is a memoir told in paragraphic blocks that are something like poetic flash fictions. We don’t really concern ourselves an awful lot with where these things belong in terms of genre.
NA: It looks as if you have chosen not to sell many of your books on Amazon. Am I correct?
AR & JR: Caketrain paperbacks are available exclusively through Powell’s Books and www.caketrain.org. Our growing catalogue of ebooks is available through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as directly through www.caketrain.org.
NA: Tell me about some of highlights of the press. Feel free to provide links to interviews, events, or reviews.
AR & JR: The past year has been incredibly exciting for us. Ghost Machine was selected as one of the top 20 poetry books of 2010 in The Believer’s annual reader survey; after several reprints, it now holds the distinction of being our best-selling title to date. Sarah Rose Etter’s Tongue Party was released last May and is presently giving Ghost Machine a run for its money. Perhaps most incredibly, just last month, Ryan Call—whose debut collection, The Weather Stations, was published by us this past March—received a Whiting Writers Award. All of this leaves us exhilarated, proud, thankful, and hopeful for the year to come.
Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed are co-editors of the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based Caketrain Journal and Press. Their work consists of editing and publishing an eponymous literary journal, nine issues to date; and a press imprint, which has issued chapbooks and full-length titles from Elizabeth Skurnick, Tom Whalen, Claire Hero, Matt Bell, Tina May Hall, Kim Parko, Ben Mirov, Lucas Farrell, Ryan Call, Sarah Rose Etter, and Sara Levine.
Nin Andrews received her BA from Hamilton College and her MFA from Vermont College. The recipient of two Ohio Arts Council grants, she is the author of several books including The Book of Orgasms, Spontaneous Breasts, Why They Grow Wings, Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane, Sleeping with Houdini, and Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum. She also edited Someone Wants to Steal My Name, a book of translations of the French poet, Henri Michaux. Her book, Southern Comfort was published by CavanKerry Press in 2010. Follow Nin's blog here.
Not every building on the Cornell University campus is as handsome as the A. D. White House on East Avenue. It is the headquarters of the Society for the Humanities, home to a select group of post-doctoral fellows, each chosen for a fellowship year with nice perquisites. Back in the 1970s Archie Ammons was a senior fellow while he was writing Shere (I think I have that right). He was much honored nationally and revered locally, and it was through his influence mainly that I got to spend a year as a junior fellow at the Sock of the Hum, as my friend and fellow fellow Bob Harbison called it. This was back in 1980. Because I didn't mind climbing steps, I was given an office on the top floor -- oval shaped, gloriously spacious, with plenty of book shelves and surfaces for manuscripts in motion. It's a great house, one that has (as Archie liked to say) "some diversity to go with its unity," unlike many of its neighbors. Of more recent vintage is the sign identifying the building's inhabitants for the benefit of walkers or drivers below the slope. That a part of the sign says "one way" and features the image of an arrow, and that this forlorn part has become detached from the rest and is pointing down at the snowy ground, says more about the state of higher education than the article in the current London Review of Books that begins "We are all deeply anxious about the future of British universities." We are all. Deeply. -- DL
I don't think I've ever heard people having so much fun in an interview,including the host, in this case NPR's Robert Siegel, host of "All Things Considered." He's speaking with Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel about Lunatics the comic novel that they've just published.
We were thrilled when Rob Casper was named last year to head the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress. Rob was an early contributor to this blog, with a series of posts about his selections for jubilat, a magazine he founded and edited for many years. You can read his posts here.
Now Rob is bringing his insights and expertise to the Library of Congress. And he's started a blog that promises to be a lively addition to the online discussion of poetry and letters. We're going to follow along and you should too. Here's a link to Rob's first post.
On the Cards and Dice
Before the sixth day of the next new year,
Strange wonders in this kingdom shall appear:
Four kings shall be assembled in this isle,
Where they shall keep great tumult for awhile.
Many men then shall have an end of crosses,
And many likewise shall sustain great losses;
Many that now full joyful are and glad,
Shall at that time be sorrowful and sad;
Full many a Christian's heart shall quake for fear,
The dreadful sound of trump when he shall hear.
Dead bones shall then be tumbled up and down,
In every city and in every town.
By day or night this tumult shall not cease,
Until an herald shall proclaim a peace;
An herald strong, the like was never born,
Whose very beard is flesh and mouth is horn
– Sir Walter Raleigh (1552-1618)
Best American Poetry's own Jill Alexander Essbaum is featured today in the New York Times' "Learning Network" Blog's post, "Poetry Pairing." Click here to read Jill's wonderful poem "Precipice" and the discussion as the poem is compared to two other pieces about time.
Way to go, Jilly!
Tom Healy, poet and contributor to the BAP blog, has been named chairman of the Fulbright Foreign Scholarships Board. Here's an excerpt from the State Department's official announcement:
The J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (FSB) elected Tom Healy as chairman at its quarterly meeting in Washington, DC on December 6, 2011. The Board elected Susan Ness to serve as vice chair.
Tom Healy of New York City and Miami was appointed to the FSB by President Obama in 2011. Mr. Healy, a poet and writer, teaches at New York University. He is a visiting professor at The New School and has also taught at the Gorée Institute in Dakar. He served as president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and received the 2006 New York City Arts Award from Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his work to rebuild the downtown arts community after 9/11. Mr. Healy is a trustee of the Miami Poetry Festival and public arts presenter for Creative Time. He was a member of President Clinton's White House Council on HIV/AIDS and has traveled the world for microfinance projects and AIDS prevention efforts. He studied at Harvard and Columbia Universities.
From Julianne Moore as Famous Works of Art by Marina Galperina:
Check out the shots taken by the famous fashion photographer Peter Linderbergh, side-by-side with their original inspirations, as spotted by Museum Nerd. What strikes us isn’t just the meticulous styling, strategically echoing the visuals of the original artwork with couture. Moore is doing a splendid job channeling the subjects, beaming with vigor of a glamorous “cripple” by John Currin, as if she was a Currin model frozen in a frame. You be the judge. Do these do it for you?
Click here for the rest of this fascinating story -- and side-by-side illustrations of Julianne Moore posed artfully and photographed in the manner of the models painted (or sculpted) by Schiele, Klimt, Modigliani (shown on the left), Sargent, Degas, and John Currin (shown on the right).
Words and msuic by Frank Loesser
Ron Padgett informs us that there is "now a website devoted to Kenneth Koch, with a biographical essay, a bibliography, photos of Kenneth (on at age 4), and some of his readings of poems and plays, as well as two video clips." Click here and see for yourself. -- DL
NPR's senior editors asked me to name three of my favorite poems of 2011 and to record some thoughts about them. I chose three poems that share a sense of mystery and the uncanny – a spooky but also exhilarating glimpse of a spiritual world beyond our own. All favor plain speech, an unadorned directness, eschewing the glamour of rhyme or traditional form. -- DL
Read the full article here.
Happy New Year!
I'm just sorry that I couldn't find the scratch-n-sniff version of this image that is intentionally out-of-season for many of us who read this blog. Time passes, seasons change: yep, that's what they do. Hope you're dug out from under that snow!
Just thought I'd pass along the time-altering, season-shifting resolution that I'm really going to try to keep this year. This one is not about going to the gym or eating fewer carbs or being nicer to your neighbors (though those things might just alter time, or create that feeling anyway!)
Here it is: Take ten minutes out of your day, put everything else aside, and read a poem. Just sit with it, see where it takes you, feel what it makes you feel. Read it again, and see what else you see, hear what else you hear in it. Then (maybe this sounds like poetry as yoga, but that's ok!) just sit for a minute and breathe in the air that the poem has made around you, that little poem bubble of altered thoughts and/or feelings. And then go off--or back--to work, or school, or the gym, to the rest of your regular day.
I'm going to be teaching a lot of poetry this semester, and I'm very happy about that. And yes, in those classes, we will do a certain amount of tying the poem to a chair and poking around to figure out which of those rhetorical techniques with strange names in Greek might be at work to create the effect of the poem. But the more important thing I want impart to my students is that the poem is there for the reader to sit with, to enjoy, to learn from, to laugh or cry along with. The poem as a little blip of time out of time.
And to start the New Year off right, how about this little time-stopper of a piece by Miss Emily Dickinson.
Essential Oils -- are wrung --
The Attar from the Rose
Be not expressed by Suns -- alone --
It is the gift of Screws --
The General Rose -- decay --
But this -- in Lady's Drawer
Make Summer -- When the Lady lie
In Ceaseless Rosemary --
--Wandrers Nachtlied (1780)
Over the hills
Comes the quiet.
Across the treetops
No breeze blows.
Not a sound: even the small
Birds in the woods
Just wait: soon you
Will be quiet, too.
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.