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Meet the Press: Etruscan Press's Tribus Imprint

TrioDante Di Stefano: In the introduction to Trio and to the book that preceded it, Triptych, you discuss the concept behind Etruscan Press’s new Tribus imprint. Could you talk about how Etruscan’s new model came into being and some of the benefits of publishing a three-in-one volume?

Philip Brady: The idea for Tribus was partly an aesthetic choice, and partly a logistical one. Aesthetically, Etruscan is committed to a dialogue among genres, and Tribus has given us a chance to see poetry in a new, dialogic, light. In Tribus, authorship is shared; we are reminded of the communal origins of poetry; and we are given a new lens through which to see the connectedness of verse. Readers approach the text in a new way — it’s not just a beginning and ending, but three connected narratives. Readers are invited to browse, compare and contrast.

As for logistics — as years pass, Etruscan has acquired more and more authors, but we continue to publish only six titles a year, of which only three to four are volumes of poetry.

The hardest thing I have to do as an editor is turn down work by poets I love whom we’ve previously published. It’s heartbreaking because it’s one thing to be turned down by a stranger and quite another thing to be rejected by someone who has already shown commitment to your work. Yet, it has become more and more common. Doing three books in one volume is enormously helpful in publishing great work and showing continued commitment to authors we love. And we hope that the audiences for each poet will be introduced to the other poets in the Tribus.

Triptych-the-three-legged-world-in-time-and-orpheus-and-echo-coverThe first Tribus, Triptych, came about because I had submissions from two Etruscan authors, Peter Grandbois and James McCorkle. Then another book came along by a colleague from the (Ohio) NEOMFA program. I had always admired Robert Miltner’s work. That’s when the idea of Tribus came to me. The more I thought about it, the more connections I saw among the three manuscripts. I contacted the three authors. Fortunately, they enthusiastically agreed, and the result is Triptych.

But I could see that this might be a way to address the problem described above. So now I was looking for connections among submissions from Etruscan veterans. And sure enough, I found that the manuscripts submitted over a five-month period by Karen Donovan, Diane Raptosh, and Daneen Wardrop shared tonality and motifs, while being wildly different in settings and themes. Karen, Diane and Daneen all agreed to join in Trio, and they took the collaboration a step further, exploring connections and working together.

DD: What was it about the work of Karen Donovan, Diane Raptosh, and Daneen Wardrop that threaded together for you when you began to think of the project that would become Trio?

PB: Each book is replete and fully empowered. Still, presented in one codex, webs of continuity appear. Trio highlights the way that women, in the penumbra of the patriarchy, fashion conduits for life, power, and loss. Trio augurs identity within and beyond selfhood. Trio reconfigures utterance by stretching, almost to breaking, line and syntax (as Daneen Wardorp says in an interview, “I love enjambment.”).

Composing their books separately, together three poets orchestrated what Diane Raptosh calls a “triunity.” In a “Trialogue” included in this volume, they converse, riffing off each other, weaving “centos” of one another’s lines, a poetics which, as Raptosh writes, let her “feel the  tendrils themselves turning into a new kind of work.”

DD: There are two more Tribus selections in the offing, one including a collection I wrote. Could you talk about these two forthcoming books?

GenerationsPB: So, the next step was to actually solicit a Tribus. Our two flagship authors, National Book Award finalists William Heyen and H. L. Hix, are both wildly prolific. and produce far more work than Etruscan could ever publish, even though we’ve done 13 Hix and five Heyen titles. Meanwhile, Dante, your new manuscript showed up. So, I thought that a new kind of connection might be made here — one more consciously wrought: Etruscan Generations. You agreed first, and then I sent Hix and Heyen your manuscript and asked for something to go with it. They both replied right away, and we have a new Tribus.

The latest is a collection including one Etruscan poet and two poets who aren’t previously published by Etruscan, but whose work seems powerfully connected. Ann Pedone’s Medea, Katherine Soniat’s Starfish Wash-up, and D.M Spitzer’s Overflow of An Unknown Self all came to us, with very different modalities—yet each renews the connection between contemporary and antiquity. 

DD: Sadly, Daneen Wardrop, whose collection Endless Body, closes out Trio, passed away before the book’s publication. What do you find most memorable about her work, in this volume and elsewhere?

Silk-road-coverPB: Dante, I sit before this question and come back to it over and again. So many images: first seeing Silk Roadthe delight of entering into that magical, historical journey of Donata Badoer; watching as the work emerged, working with Daneen through a succession of cover images—she was an astute art lover with a trove of references and connections—talking about the poetics of evoking  the past in poems which employ and resist narration…And then on to Endless Body—an unframed sequence crafted out of one of poetry’s prime elements—the art of enjambment—as if in breaking, lineaments reveal the oracular—the space where story yearns forward onto the empty page, the exhaled breath. All too soon to speak of. All too soon to be.

DD: Karen, I was first introduced to your work through Aard-vark to Axolotl, a collection of what you call tiny stories and essays. From 1985 to 2005 you co-edited ¶: A Magazine of Paragraphs, a journal of very short prose. I’m curious to hear any thoughts you have about your long engagement with short prose. There’s only one prose poem in Planet Parable, “I Saw Egrets Flying.” What has short prose taught you about lineated poetry (and vice versa)? How did your understanding of short prose inform the multiplicity of stanzaic patterns and formal choices on display in Planet Parable? When you are composing, how do your poems begin to assert themselves in formal terms?

Karen Donovan: Thanks for all these questions, Dante. Yes, Walker Rumble and I founded ¶ way back in 1985 and published 25 issues over 20 years, working with hundreds of writers doing ingenious things with short prose. The work spanned categories – prose poem, flash fiction, microfiction, creative nonfiction, essays, letters, lists, rants. We described the contents of ¶ as “short bursts of ordered sensibility of 250 words or less” and let folks decide what to submit under that wide sky. Forging literary ground in the universe of shortness was a fantastic editorial experience. All during that time, I was making my living as an editor and professional writer, but in my creative life I was writing lineated poetry and never thought of myself as a writer of prose. When I started doing the prose pieces that wound up as Aard-vark to Axolotl, it was mainly just to play with the cool vintage illustrations in an old Webster’s dictionary we owned. Before too long, I realized I was writing paragraphs and had to laugh. The form had evidently percolated into my body and all it needed for a spigot was that dictionary.

What short prose taught me is that it must be as well written as poetry, to set Ezra Pound’s dictum on its head. You can’t have a wasted syllable. “That first line is pretty close to that last line,” as Walker once said.

Whether I’m writing poetry or prose, I try to craft strong sentences and put them in the right order. It's usually very clear when I need end-stopped lines and when I don’t. The egrets piece in Planet Parable that you mentioned is a good example. It tries to make transparent the long, loose discursive process of thinking while taking in continuous, seemingly random data from the world. It’s a slightly distracted internal disquisition that unfolds in time, so I wanted a stream of prose. Versus poetry, which is really a method of obliterating time. Everything in a poem happens at once, even in a narrative. The idea crystallizes and pops into existence and hits the reader like a photon.

Making a formal choice is a matter of knowing where the energy is in my idea. What form will allow me to capture it? Sometimes I think about form before I start writing, and sometimes I let the content pile up and dictate its form to me as I go (trusting in Levertov’s great description of form as “a revelation of content”). Form sticks to content quite mysteriously. Form is also a good editing tool. I often like to write in syllabics, which has its own handy, built-in Exacto knife. One of the most formally experimental pieces in Planet Parable, “This Is Why Advanced Ontics Is Taken Pass/Fail,” is constructed of decasyllabic lines that break apart as the poem moves forward and then reheal as the poem concludes. I needed to handle an onslaught of ideas from biology, chemistry, quantum physics, metaphysics, and more, and I wanted the poem to be both show and tell. Syllabics gave me the structure to hang on to this trapeze act. But still – it’s made with sentences.

Aard-vark-to-axolotl-pictures-from-my-grandfathers-dictionary-coverDD: There’s a prose piece from Aard-vark to Axolotl that I kept thinking of when I was reading Trio, “The memory fruit,” which begins: “You are not singular. You are not really yourself. Something else makes you: deep snow, grief offered names, love as portable as a small stone.” Could you riff on the experience of publishing your work in a three-in-one volume, and the work of Diane Raptosh and Daneen Wardrop in light of “The memory fruit”?

KD: Dante, you are clairvoyant. Calling up “The memory fruit” from Aard-vark to Axolotl is more relevant to the making of Trio than you could know. The illustration that goes with this piece is titled “Achene of Buttercup in vertical section, showing solitary seed.” I was writing about loneliness, the experience of losing a friend to whom I had a lifelong soul connection, the shock of realizing how much of my identity had been formed in her presence and now felt as if it had disappeared with her. And now… Diane and I lost Daneen to very sudden death, right when we were getting ready to celebrate the publishing of Trio, after months of intimate poetry conversation, immersed in one another’s language, resewing our lines together as centos, and birthing this volume together. The sense of loss is very similar. Our work and our minds are in explicit relationship, literally bound together. Trio itself is now the memory fruit. My hope is that it will go on generating attachments among our books every time a reader looks into it.

DD: I love one of the last lines in Planet Parable, “the vast thirsty ashes of the world” over which the rain speaks. There’s something so lovely and sad about the intense music of this moment, a moment that emblematizes Planet Parable’s thematic and formal concerns. What points of connection do you see in Planet Parable’s telescoping ecopoetics, the historical excavations of Run: A Verse History of Victoria Woodhull, and Endless Body’s exploration of corporeality and consciousness?

KD: Why the hell isn’t this beautiful project we are living going better? Is it possible to do it another way? All our books cohabitate with this question from different sides. Diane’s book sings with the mind and spirit of a woman who saw an alternative: “My advice was cultivate that love / which craves the happiness / of partner most, his or her / person next. Yourself last. / Be kind to the new. // In freedom / is safety. When people / learn this, they’ll know equality.” Daneen says, “Don’t worry about the awe. / There is no history except slate, / no biography except occasional winter wheat, / deer treading sun.” In the last poem in Endless Body, she asks, “At what rip in the gravity do we enter?” In its vast, thirsty ashes, the world yearns always to re-create itself after it is destroyed.

DD: Would you share a memory of Daneen Wardrop while working on this project and talk about the significance of Endless Body for you as a reader?

KD: Endless Body is endlessly generative – in subject matter, language, image, tone. Reading it is an experience of motion, tendency, current, experiment. Many of the poems are titled using word variants from Dickenson’s drafts. The book’s openness flows from Daneen’s receptive, absolutely original sensibility. Every conversation and email thread we shared brought that same light.

Here’s an example. One of her ideas for doing a reading together was to invite the whole audience in. I quote her: “If we end up doing readings virtually, we might ask people to use the chat function to suggest an image or idea they’re interested in/obsessed by that day at that minute. We might then, among the three of us, be able to find one of our poems that speaks to or complements that idea and choose to read that. It would probably be chaotic to do that for the whole reading, but we could have a couple of those interludes? This may be totally out there, but given the claustrophobia I sometimes feel with zoom, it might be cool to think of ways to air things out, widen things out.” Exactly. Air. Wideness. Out. That’s Daneen!

American-amnesiac-coverDD: Diane, In Run: A Verse History of Victoria Woodhull, you write through multiple personae inhabiting a variety of formal approaches. You’ve written many persona poems throughout your career, most notably in your collection, American Amnesiac, which was longlisted for the National Book Award. I’ve heard you speak eloquently about writing persona poems here. How was writing through and about the historical figures in Run different from persona poems you’ve written in the past? What other thoughts can you share about writing persona poems? What are some of your favorite persona poems written by other poets?

Diane Raptosh: I believe every poem is a persona poem, including—and perhaps especially—poems crafted from the I. American Amnesiac is in some respects a weirdly autobiographical poem, despite the fact that its speaker, Calvin Rinehart/John Doe (from Amnesiac) is a formerly affluent white man whose life specifics do not much resemble my own. But his status as participant-observer, his sense of being simultaneously subject and object, his many neuroses and certainly his anxious obsessing over the state of America are characteristics I consider my own. As for why write anyone writes persona poems, this portion of John Keats’s Negative Capability seems helpful: “A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, The Moon, The Sea . . . the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s creatures.” These sentences make good sense to me.

John Doe felt like someone I needed to fill in for; he felt more or less like a real person think-feeling in my mind. Writing about and through Victoria Woodhull—with her array of secondary characters—felt similar. I identified with her in many ways: she was all raw energy, unschooled, eccentric. I am “educated,” yes, but I come from humble beginnings. It felt easy to “become” Woodhull, as I have bucked many of the same restrictive scripts put in place for women, including traditional marriage, lifelong monogamy, and more. I love to take on voices and topics that allow me to learn as I compose. Why write what I know?

Leadbelly_1024x1024In terms of other persona poems, I studied carefully Tyehimba Jess’s incredible verse collection Leadbelly as a primary model for writing persona poems about a historical figure with a cast of other, necessary characters included. His was my go-to text for how to bring to life a historical character. So too, I would like to give a shout-out to my Trio mate, Daneen Wardrop’s Silk Road, which, as Phil mentioned, is written in the persona of Donata Badoer, Marco Polo’s wife. What an incredible book! Beyond these, Patricia Smith writes some of the most powerful persona poems I have ever encountered. Her “Skinhead” is stunning. Of course, Robert Browning’s duchess is in the background, looking as if she were alive. James Tate has great persona poems, as do Robert Hayden (“Night, Death, Mississippi”) and the poet Ai. I love her work. For the past decade or two, I have found it easier to arrive at emotional truths through writing persona poems; doing so allows me to enter a sense of boundlessness. That said, right now, I am at work on a manuscript written from the I. The time feels right to risk some things from that pronoun.

DD: What did you learn about nineteenth century American culture and literature through the creative process that you hadn’t learned through scholarly research?

DR: I’ve always been an American history buff and did a lot of scholarly research for Run. Understandably, I encountered differing narratives about who Woodhull was. But I wasn’t looking for that exactly. I wanted to uncover and offer a possible version of her—from birth through her presidential campaign—based in “fact” and informed, imaginative conjecture. I wrote the book from a conviction that all history is what Plutarch called historia: both fact (chronicle history) and fiction (feigned history). Mostly I wanted to get Woodhull’s story out there in the best way I knew how: through poetry. I was bugged that it took me until I was almost 55 years old even to have heard of her! Doing the research, I was reminded of how much the 1870s mirror our times in terms of, well, the usual categories: oligarchical economic structures, slavery-centered political frameworks, misogynistic scripts, caste systems, racism…. I was researching and drafting the book during the Trump/Clinton campaign. It comes as no surprise that long before presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was mocked as “the devil” by certain sources, nineteenth-century tabloids used Woodhull family photos, featuring bedraggled characters and caricatures of Woodhull as “Mrs. Satan” as stock to lampoon all suffragists. To answer your thoughtful question (at last!), I feel that to understand someone, you have to become them. I’d like to try being everyone! This is what literature helps us do. Rather than aiming to arrive at an “objective” understanding or at some definitive rendition of Woodhull, the creative process enabled me to enter—through acts of imaginative, empathic transport—the essence of Woodhull, as well as to channel the energies and voices of other figures important in her inner circle.  

DD: Could you share some thoughts on the Emily Dickinson who appears in Endless Body? What is the Dickinsonian influence or imprint on Trio as a whole?   How does Dickinson inform what Daneen Wardrop called the “spiritual conversation” unfolding in this three-in-one book?

DR: What a wonderful question. I would say there is a Dickinsonian tonal complexity, or perhaps better: a tonal mischievousness at work in Trio as a whole. Equally present: an overall Dickinsonian wit. More on Emily Dickinson’s overall imprint in the final paragraph.

Dickinson appears in Wardrop’s Endless Body implicitly and overtly. I would go so far as to say that Dickinson is “the blade in the melody” of Endless Body, which Wardrop herself points to in her poem “+ Glowed + Absent—through.” Dickinson inheres in every endless dash—that pointer, that magisterial gesture, that “vast barrette” mentioned in Wardrop’s “+ Catch my + slips so easy.”

More specifically, I would say that her poem “Emily Dickinson undressing” (which begins with this epigraph by Roland Barthes: Imagine [if possible] a woman dressed in an endless garment...”) is a map by which we might effectively navigate Wardrop’s whole book. In this piece the poet suggests that “If I knew how to pray, words would cross wefts / of endless garment / bobbins still spinning in the world—” This is precisely what Endless Body does: with every taut line, with each knowing turn, it stitches a limitless fabric: “Some veils are red. // Some tulle is ripped. // In this deep tippet the world starts”—the full while the poet rips through to eternity. As Wardrop’s I types out her words, seams redden and glow—. These seams form the spiritual conversation that all of us in Trio are having. I hope readers too will experience this numinous quality. This immanence. These bladed melodies.

The + Glow + Absent—through. Similarly, Karen Donovan invites us all in her poem “So Many Swans Could Mean Something” to stand “on the great divide where the mind / is always leaving the body behind.”

DD: Would you also share a memory of Daneen Wardrop and talk about her legacy as a poet, scholar, teacher, and person?

DR: There is so much to know about Daneen; every day I uncover some new mystery about her. Her roles in rock, folk, and bluegrass bands—as lead singer and guitarist throughout her college years—transformed into a tenured English professorship at Western Michigan University, 1990-2020. During that career, she earned many awards, including the Distinguished Faculty Award at WMU and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. She was a nationally renowned Emily Dickinson scholar (Emily Dickinson's Gothic: Goblin with a Gauge (1996), Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing (2009), as well as Dickinson’s poetic heir apparent. She inspired her colleagues, students, and friends—from those associated with WMU to poetry lovers and climate advocacy communities.

In 1997 Daneen adopted her daughter Lian from China: Lian is featured in many of the poems in Endless Body (“LiLi and I speak to each other raining hands—” says the poet in “Afternoon”). I also have a daughter from China right around Lian’s age. Daneen and I had a number of conversations about our adoption experiences. We traded stories over Zoom about airport experiences with our “backpack babies”: how we literally had to sprint—daughters buckled onto our bodies—from one mysterious office to another, for meetings with adoption officials in China. Daneen’s multi-layered poems about adoption continue to move me—through. I’ve no doubt that she was a first-rate mother, daughter, sister (“My family speaks to each other with thunder on their sleeves, / whiskers in their bellies,” according to “Afternoon.”)

Honestly, I feel as if I was just beginning to know her as a friend. She was very funny, deeply authentic, and modest to a fault. She was incredibly large hearted. A kinder person we might never know.

As for Daneen’s poetic legacy, I would point to her ability to take on almost any subject, any persona, any tone, with mastery. I would easily place her among the most brilliant American poets I have encountered. Her work is a high-wire act of heart and erudition, pause and profusion, compression and munificence.  Endless Body is her tenth book.


Poem from Daneen Wardrop’s Endless Body:

Gift

A mix-up—the package arriving two weeks after she was.
White box painted with red and yellow flowers
bright as patois. No perches like on a bird house?
. . . a butterfly house. Each slot hardly wider than a match—
the wings must have to shut together to enter.
Do the butterflies tilt and fly in without stopping— 
clapped-closed and no stopping?
She was dry, thin lips
cut as the line around a country.
The box came without instructions.
This is not sadness. I come in and out of the blunt.
Why would they want to be in there,
darker than an inside.
I will not retract a single tilt of her face.    


Poem from Karen Donovan’s Planet Parable

So Many Swans Could Mean Something

I don’t want to talk about what we have lost, I am not sure
there is a difference between prayer and conversation

anymore, why anything happens, why thinking
is like this breathless occupied midnight.

Out back where the clouds skim the black surface
of the pond, it’s as if we called them, and now

you are saying, Look, the whole flock is here.
They drift, nickering, white boats on a moonless tide,

making and breaking engagements on a night when everything
gets decided. It is time to sleep, but who can sleep?

The water could not be blacker. We watch them,
lights off in the house, window slid wide,

standing on the great divide where the mind
is always leaving the body behind.


Poem from Diane Raptosh’s Run: A Verse-History of Victoria Woodhull

Victoria Solos the Stuff of Free Love

This is my lover, but when I cease to love him I will leave him.
This is my lover. For him I am, of an evening, leaf and hymnal.
This is my lover. But when I seize love, summer trees sing off-key.
This is my him. But should I leave love, I will seize the hymning.

This is my hymn. When love is squeezed by law, it is despotism.
This is my law: it is ruddy—leaf love, heady, and shouldered by all.
This: if I want intercourse with one hundred men, so I will have it.
These are my loves: my leeway to think freely, to feel out thought.

This is my lover: it is this her-dominion—my reedy belief-weave.
This is my love: it is how bees dance maps and plants eat the light.
This is love. When I cease using my, seas ease leaves into freefall.
This is my love: this slipping of strings, fringe reef leafing into tree.

This is the love: limbs that snap through the lungs to sycamore out.
This, how love lilacs: I stand arm in arm with every act of my life.


Brady-passagesPhilip Brady is the author of five collections of poetry: The Elsewhere: Poems and Poetics (Broadstone Books, 2021); To Banquet with the Ethiopians (Broadstone Books, 2015); Fathom (Word Press, 2007); Weal (Ashland Poetry Press, 1999) winner of the 1999 Snyder Prize; and Forged Correspondences (New Myths, 1996) chosen for Ploughshares’ “Editors’ Shelf” by Maxine Kumin. Brady’s poetry has received the Ohioana Poetry Award, The Ohio Governor’s Award and six Individual Artists Fellowships from the Ohio Arts Council, a Best of Ohio Writers Contest Prizes, a Newhouse Award and a Thayer Fellowship in the Arts from New York State, an Academy of American Poets Prize, a Listowel Writer’s Prize (Ireland) and residencies at Yaddo, the Millay Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, the Hambidge Center, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Virginia Center for the Arts, Hawthornden Castle (Scotland), the Tyrone Guthrie Centre (Ireland), Fundacion Valparaiso (Spain), and Cimelice Castle, (Czech Republic). He has also been a visiting lecturer at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria and the Poets’ House in Donegal, Ireland.

DownloadKaren Donovan’s new collection of poems, Planet Parable, was published in 2021 by Etruscan Press in an innovative multi-author volume called Trio, which also includes complete books by the poets Diane Raptosh and Daneen Wardrop. Her two other books of poems are Your Enzymes Are Calling the Ancients (Persea Books), which won the Lexi Rudnitsky / Editor’s Choice Award, and Fugitive Red (University of Massachusetts Press), which won the Juniper Prize. She is also the author of Aard-vark to Axolotl (Etruscan Press), a collection of tiny stories and essays inspired by the illustrations in a vintage Webster’s dictionary owned by her grandfather. From 1985 to 2005 she co-edited ¶: A Magazine of Paragraphs, a journal of very short prose.

RaptoshDiane Raptosh’s verse collection, American Amnesiac (Etruscan Press), was longlisted for the 2013 National Book Award as well as for the Housatonic Book Award in poetry. The recipient of three fellowships in literature from the Idaho Commission on the Arts, she served as the Boise Poet Laureate (2013) as well as the Idaho Writer-in-Residence (2013-2016). In 2018 she won the Idaho Governor’s Arts Award in Excellence. An active ambassador for poetry, she has given workshops and readings everywhere from riverbanks to prisons. The holder of the Eyck-Berringer Endowed Chair in English, she teaches literature and writing at the College of Idaho, where she also co-chairs the program in criminal justice/prison studies. Run: A Verse-History of Victoria Woodhull, published in a collection of three poets’ works, is her seventh and most recent book (Trio, Etruscan Press, 2021). www.dianeraptosh.com

 

Daneen Wardrop_newbioimage2021Daneen Wardrop was the author of five poetry collections: Endless Body (Trio, Etruscan Press, 2021); Silk Road (Etruscan Press, 2018); Life as It (Ashland Poetry Press, 2016), winner of the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Award; Cyclorama (Fordham University Press, 2015); and The Odds of Being (Silverfish Review Press, 2008). She was also the author of several works of literary criticism, including Emily Dickinson and the Labor of Clothing (University Press of New England, 2009). Wardrop’s honors include a 2011 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Poetry Society of America’s 2006 Robert H. Winner Award, judged by Jean Valentine. She was a professor of English at Western Michigan University, and died on April 8, 2021.


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