Chapbook review: Conor Bracken: Henry Kissinger, Mon Amour
Too often I feel that poems written around a persona can start to feel repetitive; this book is an exception. (Another notable exception is Karen Kovacik’s Nixon & I, and both examine powerful, unsavory men.)
But “examine” isn’t right, either. These punchy, inventive poems are so funny/sad, fresh/inevitable; their portrayal of Kissinger is evoked in quick flickers and throughout the book I’m wondering about the kind of persona who could love the kind of person Kissinger was/is (substitute, if you will, Dick Cheney or any number of powerful, corrupt men). These poems are deft, surprising, Amazingly taut and sure-footed. A fantastic debut.
[published by Bull City Press, 2017]
On Aaron Smith’s Primer
So much too-familiar territory: too familiar to me personally, and so much of it, and so reading this book feels like a long train ride (why a train? because we have to maintain a certain distance?) with an estranged brother to whom I never speak but utterly love, for whom I wish simple happiness, and he speaks to me in these blunt recollections and confessions as the miles rock under us, carrying us to nowhere in particular–it’s the sitting together and listening that matters; it’s the tension between in here and everything out there–and when he gets to the middle my heart is just breaking but I let him go on and he becomes even more eloquent in his desire and fear and shame and hope.
[published by University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016]
Chapbook review: Kamden Hilliard: distress tolerance
“. . . BUT my doc used to say: the best indicator/
of future behavior is past behavior/
and y’all’s asses still don’t see why I’m nervous all the time?”
These poems snap like electricity burning new pathways against the argument of tolerance. Read this chapbook.
[published by Magic Helicopter Press, 2016]
I made pad Thai tonight for Taylor’s folks and served it in big bowls over a handfuls of thinly chopped, gorgeous purple kale. Then a rousing game of Boggle–Taylor obliterated everyone–and fun conversation. When T had phoned late this morning to say he’d invited them to dinner, I’d felt rankled–this wasn’t what I planned to do with my day–but I never get everything done that I hope to do, and I truly enjoy the prep work, the chopping and slicing and cooking (not so much the cleanup, though I kept ahead of that, too)–and it was lovely company and a fine evening.
Just home from my first physical therapy session–I’ve been fighting my former employer to approve PT for a back injury sustained last July (!)–and though we have a couple of months to go, I could feel a marked improvement immediately upon getting up from the table. It’s such an overwhelming relief to begin to look forward with a sense of hope that I will regain more balance and strength. Daily exercises and weekly sessions, but so good to finally be starting on a recovery plan!
One of the books I’m currently reading on the Kindle (a library copy) What’s Left of the Night by Ersi Sotiropoulos, is a novel that fictionalizes several days in the life of Constantine Cavafy. (I’m currently editing, with Terry Kirts, a chapbook-length anthology of poems that are styled after or pay homage to Cavafy):
“Only now could he see where the poem hobbled. . . The poem’s horizon was too closed. It was about Alexandria. About someone who has wasted his life there. . . Alexandria sucked the life from him, drained him dry. And yet any city could give rise to the same emotions, even Paris. You blame the city where you were born for your failures, no matter where that is, thinking the city is what constricted you, buried you alive. You walk its streets feeling trapped, imprisoned.” I couldn’t help thinking what a good title Blame Alexandria might be.
It’s warmish today, 37 and rainy, and the leftover snow from last weekend is melting fast: the scraggly patch of trees bordering the road below our apartment is veiled in fog.
And now I read that Mary Oliver has died, at 83, and my FB feed is filling with poems and anecdotes. Like Stanley Kunitz, Maxine Kumin, Jack Gilbert, Donald Hall, and now Mary Oliver–it’s like watching one’s heroes fall. I never met most of these poets, never heard Mary read, but this loss brings me to tears.
Even after ten years of running a micropress single-handedly, I still catch myself making avoidable mistakes. Two January examples:
One: Not checking the back cover before having copies printed. Our spring lineup is insane–roughly one chapbook every week through the end of March–and the only way to do this is to keep as much ahead of the wave as possible. So it was especially dumb of me to have the printer run 50 copies of W’s chapbook without carefully double-checking the sample she ran first. Even worse, I took them home, scored and folded every one, and stacked them in their cubby where they’d be ready when the page sets were printed, folded, and pressed–it’s at that point that I slip a cover onto each page set and manually trim each copy on a big Carl rotary cutter on the dining table. And that’s when I saw the error: top left corner of back cover: I’d forgotten to add the ISBN. Worse, I’d typed “ISBN TBD,” which is fine for the proof that the author reviews but disastrous on the final set because it has to be covered somehow to be salvaged. It would have been better to leave no indication of an ISBN than to have these extra characters.
It’s not cheap to print fifty covers (they come out at about a dollar a pop) and the mistake was entirely mine, so I couldn’t take them back for credit. I could design a tiny label to stick on, but the error will be obvious. And could have been avoided. I went back and had 25 corrected covers printed; I’m still trying to decide whether to scrap or use the boo-booed ones.
Two: Printing page sets too soon. I did this twice in January. The first time, I willingly gambled that the chapbook was ready to go. It had gone through two proofs, both reviewed and signed off on, so even though I’d printed off another copy and mailed it to the poet (because we’d changed our cover design and I wanted the physical copy to get the go-ahead before launching the title), I decided to move ahead with printing the page sets, figuring any last-minute corrections could be made and the page or pages could be switched out. This is exactly what happened–three final corrections, so three separate pages needed reprinting, and each page set needed the corrected pages slipped in and the old pages pulled. But I’d already printed fifty page sets (I thought I’d run maybe twenty). So that’s going to take extra time I could have saved.
Side note: Because I run the pages here at home on my laser printer, it’s not a big deal to make corrections even after the chapbook has been released, because I usually keep only about a dozen copies of any title on hand. So the first copies are the most likely to be missing a comma or quotation mark, some little thing we just didn’t see in the proofing process. It’s really no big deal. But I try hard to have at least 20 copies on hand when a title launches, just in case of immediate demand (happy circumstance!). This, plus the 25 copies each author receives, means a whole lot of pages stacked and waiting to fold, press, and trim.
The second time this month that I printed pages too soon was just a weird glitch that I can’t explain. The poet had seen both proof copies and given the go-ahead, so I ran 30 page sets, folded them all, put them in the press, and then had 30 covers printed. (I’d already had two copies of the cover printed, one for me and one for the poet, which went on the final proof.) I scored and folded the covers and set them in their cubby (one wall of my study holds about 80 6×6 cubes, into which all our chapbooks are organized by author). I took the page sets out of the press, grabbed the covers, set up the table and trimmed the copies. The final step in this process is hand-sewing each chapbook. This can be done by awl-punching three holes through the book’s gutter and sewing with a waxed thread. I use seven holes (Seven Kitchens Press); my friend Liz discovered this and exclaimed “It’s like a secret poetry handshake!”
And that’s when I saw that the margins on the left pages were much too close to the edge. But what had happened? I’d already trimmed 30 copies. The poet had read both proof copies and given the go-ahead. For the second proof, I had included two cover options so we could agree on the correct font color. I went back to my copy of the second proof.
It was larger.
I don’t know how, but it was definitely larger. The set of covers I’d had printed were smaller, enough to cause the left-edge problem when I trimmed the page sets to match the covers, and I don’t know why they came out differently. Nothing was actually cut off, but those left pages did not look okay. The only thing I could do was go back into the file, manually adjust the margins, and reprint a whole new batch of pages so they could be trimmed to match the smaller covers. I just couldn’t afford to throw the covers away.
Note to self: when trimming a new chapbook, STOP at the first copy and look through it carefully before trimming the rest. That mistake was absolutely mine, and you’d think I’d know better after publishing 135 chapbooks.
On Marie Howe’s Magdalene:
I read this book on my laptop via the public library’s new Libby app. It’s only the third book of poems I’ve read in this format, and maybe I’m just not used to the weird extra white spacing. I’d like to go back and read a physical copy just for comparison.
I love Marie Howe’s first two books. “Part of Eve’s Discussion” blew my mind with its simplicity and direct presentation of an imagined moment, the moment, in history, in which human history itself, our narrative of it, arguably begins. The poem stays with me through decades. And other poems in The Good Thief just wrecked me in their clarity, in their presentation of life-in-the-moment. Similarly, What the Living Do brims with excellence.
I recently obtained a copy of The Kingdom of Ordinary Time but haven’t yet read it. So, Magdalene. Some of the poems, again, just knocked me out. But overall, there’s a falling off of energy and I can’t tell if it’s in the poems or in me. It makes me think of that period when poets jumped onto the trendy hate-wagon against the work of Sharon Olds. Sharon Olds was doing what she did, maybe more of the same of what she always did, but personally, I’ve always loved her work and always found something to take away from it. Maybe I’m expecting Marie Howe to do something different–and that’s on me, not on her. I remember Jill Rosser saying, on the publication of roughly one book every ten years, that it was “done in the best families” (or something in that vein). And I remember being wowed by several of the Magdalene poems in APR a few years ago and thinking, wow, what a project, I can’t wait for this book. I just wish I loved it more.
[published by Norton, 2018]
Looking for a new job is hard, y’all. I have applied for several positions that I know I’m overqualified for, but my plan has been to really double-down on keeping my focus on 7KP, and to not take another job that makes me feel miserable. Welp, that’s not working. I can’t even seem to get an interview.
And the online applications! Gone are the days when one could walk in, shake someone’s hand, and make a first impression in person. That’s all I’m asking: let me make a first impression. Give me the chance to show why I’d be a great fit.