Panhandler Poetry - Fiction - Nonfiction - Drama - Criticism - Interviews - Art
Felecia Chizuko Carlisle feleciacarlisle.com
Seth Neefus sethneefus.com
Panhandler poetry - fiction - nonfiction - drama - criticism - interviews - art
Issue Five Yee-Haw Industries Industrial Letterpress /1-17 Andrea Robertson Fiction /18-20 Jason Ockert Interview /21-23 Taylor Crawley Painting /24-34 Manoli Kouremetis Fiction /35-38 Robert Minervini Painting /39-56 Catherine Carter Interview /57-62 Eli Lehrhoff Drawing /63-75 Editor: Jonathan Fink Art Editor: Valerie George Managing Editors: Brooke Hardy, Doug Moon, Ashley Clark www.uwf.edu/panhandler. Panhandler (ISSN 0738-8705) is published by the University of West Florida’s Department of English and Foreign Languages.
James Caudle caudledmilk.com
Yee-Haw Industries has been covering America with unique, art-like products since 1996. Partners Kevin Bradley & Julie Belcher opened up shop from a back-40 barn in Corbin, Kentucky, with salvaged, antique equipment previously put to rust. Their vibrant, folk art, wood cut prints of country music’s classic stars, such as Hank Williams and Loretta Lynn, caught eyes and told stories. Handmade posters featured stranger-than-fiction characters, like ass-whooping grocer Cas Walker and daredevil icon Evel Kenevil. Soon, modern music acts including Steve Earle, Buddy Guy, Trey Anastasio, Lucinda Williams and Southern Culture on the Skids began commissioning promotional posters and album art. In 1998, having outgrown the bluegrass barn, Yee-Haw moved to a 100+-year-old building on Gay Street in historic downtown Knoxville (just a few doors down from where Hank Sr. was last seen alive). They began offering tours of the Yee-Haw studio in action and mainstreet store to sell their wares. When not creating original fine art prints, commemorative and promotional posters, stationery and greeting cards, invitations and announcements, Belcher and Bradley can be found lecturing across the country or serving as judges for national art and design competitions. Yee-Haw’s work has been honored by selection to PRINT Magazine’s Regional Design Annual for eleven years running and has been reviewed and featured by The Washington Post, AIGA Journal, FSB Fortune Small Business, Southern Living, Esquire, American Illustration 21, and was recently published in The Art of Modern Rock, the Poster Explosion. On the client side, Yee-Haw has done fine illustration, as well as design and letterpress, for the likes of RRL-Ralph Lauren, The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland, Mountain Stage Radio Show, Appalshop, The Wall Street Journal, MTV2, and the Cartoon Network and Jack Daniel’s. The studio has recently collaborated with the National Gallery of Art to design & produce a unique line of Dada merchandise, available exclusively at the National Gallery for the duration of the 2006 Dada exhibition.
Ye e - H a w I n d u s t r i e s
ee-Haw Industries writes: If there’s one question we get on a daily basis, it’s got to be, “How do ya’ll do that?” Letterpress posters, prints, and fine art all require a stepby-step process to go from an idea in our head (or your noggin) to a hang-on-the-wall finished product. “So what’s the difference between carving into linoleum or into wood?” Wood is very tricky to carve, especially with fine typography and illustration. Linoleum, while still requiring practice and skill, tends to go faster. A general rule is that “production” posters—those for bands, theatre events, readings— tend to have very little lead time; hence, their carvings take place on linoleum. More often than not, fine art prints or posters don’t come with a tight deadline and allow for the more time-consuming practice of
carving wood. We start out by sketching our ideas on paper. This is the first testing ground for designs and illustrations, as well as original typography. It’s in the sketching process that we determine how many colors a poster will require. Working from our sketches, we begin the carving process. Original designs and typography must be transformed from their life on paper to a format that can be interpreted by the press, i.e., carved blocks. A different block is carved for each color used on a poster. If we’re using four colors, we must carve four different blocks. All carvings are mirrors of what the final design will be (so they’re actually done backwards) and are done on either linoleum or wood. Selecting and laying out any --
lead type, wood type, typography, or dingbats is done during the proofing stage. This is a painstaking process, often involving tweezers (for the tiny lead type letters) and lots of ‘furniture’ (the shims that don’t print, creating leading, word spacing, etc). The entire poster is created on the press, proofed, then completely disassembled to begin the actual process of printing. Each block is run on the press separately, again, beginning with the key block and ending with the lead and wood type, and dingbats. Start doing the math on this, and you quickly realize that everyone who works at Yee-Haw has a pretty good right hook. The average fourcolor poster goes through the press four times for one final print. If that poster is ordered in a quantity of, say, 200 posters, that’s 800 press
runs for one order. But thereâ€™s another factor to consider, the waiting. These are heavy-inked posters, so in between each run through the press there must be an 8-hour drying period to let the colors set. When youâ€™re printing, you gotta print, and when youâ€™re drying, you just gotta wait.
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Andrea Robertson, age 24, contracted an incurable strain of storytelling early on in life from her extended family in the rural West Virginia. She left her mountain home for the academic world of Greensboro, North Carolina’s Guilford College, where she received a BA in Religious studies. She never quite quit writing or telling stories, though, which made her both incredibly popular and incredibly boring at parties. She currently manages her storytelling condition at American University of Washington, DC’s MFA program and lives happily with her boyfriend, her cat and an immodest number of houseplants in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Alike Enough for Kin
he way it’s told now, some kids found her. Boys found her, always boys. We women argue if those boys were from the Baptist overnight camp or Boy Scouts though. When the boys found her, she’d two years laid in the dump off War Ridge toward Damascus, the deer parts pit where men with difficult wives gut their kills. It had been the beginning of the season. The gully was close to clean, but dry orange and brown leaves, drifted like snow or duned like sand with a mite more than a smattering of deer parts buried her up to her empty eyes. There’d been that awful flood in the summer, too, which wore the gully deeper. These are all excuses, and bad ones. We should have seen her. The woman didn’t smile like dead folks are supposed to, no macabre relaxation on her face, corners of the mouth tilted up. Or at least thats how she looked, in the papers. Her lips were long gone, her teeth sitting in her head at disapproving angles. She reclined at a position that if not for putrefying animal parts looked comfortable, her bones yellow like the frizzed hair still clinging listless to a bare skull. Her left hand she kept folded across a ribcage
empty woven with fallen leaves and the bones of small things. Bare fingers, ringless. Winter was early and angry, a thin layer of ice gathering on skeleton made her look all spun from glass. The police came in from Charleston. A little crowd of us watched in our slipper feet, our husbands’ work jackets consuming us down to the knee. We’d seen their van down the road in the gray light before morning and didn’t waste time. Our houses glowed orange up the steep gravel road, like rows of jack o’ lanterns against the valley, where the Mennonite farms would stay darkened for about another hour. The bone woman was revealed to us in flashes, swinging flashlights of the state police, intermittent headlights of our men driving into their morning shifts. In the dim blue lights of our dens, we’d seen how these things were done, the delicate process of collecting unspoken-for bones. From their shapeless uniforms we could not tell whether her handlers were women or men, but either way, they showed none of the mercy of their television counterparts. Pulled from the mire, every one of us swears we heard the sucking sound of the earth releasing the woman’s skeleton, the investigators rolling a black - 18 -
bag around her. The rags left on her were light and cottony, the impression of a dress, red. She was not a hiker. “She is a traveler,” we said, and everyone agreed with grim nods. There was no telling, right off, how old she was. Could’ve been a gypsy from back in the ‘70s, or some cocaine dealer’s girlfriend from last fall. She deserved it, probably; such a mess, by herself, way back in the woods in a dress like that. At any rate, we all knew better than red dresses. Not on purpose, but not on accident, either, she was everywhere. Little girls on Zenith Lower and Middle played “Lady of Glass,” each girl taking her turn on an alternating day as the unfortunate bone woman. Some tellings she’d be murdered by a mean step-sister and thrown down the gully, sometimes she’d been shot in a hunting accident and never found, her lover left looking for her. Whatever tale, all ended the same. In the deep, dark, way of little girls they became consumed. A month of recesses found them standing in solemn rings around and burying a chosen victim under their own brittle leaves falling off Zenith Lower Middle School ‘s maples “...And here you’ll lay,” their leader
would snarl with her best approximation of evil “here, you’ll stay.” The mythos growing in those girls’ Polly Pocket trapper keeper was second only to ours, as every one of us came out with their own vague recollection of a woman, always beautiful, always glowing with dewy youth and sometimes speaking like a Yankee, sometimes like southern gentry, and in a few, like a Frenchwoman, down by the road from Damascus. A traveler, to be sure, and a traveler to have killed her. There was no other way. A quick roll call at the Methodist Center, a knock on cousins’ doors; none of us was missing. They had been traveling through, he had left her here. Some of our men would raise their hands to us, of course, but not the worst among them could take a woman’s life and leave it to rot. An outsider affair entirely. Some sculptor, a forensic artist, they said, got hired by the state to rebuild her face in case somebody would recognize it. The idea was so graceful and savage. We couldn’t close our eyes in those days without that artist’s image pushing careful thumbs, etching finicky knives into the woman’s imagined clay skin. He’d have kept the clay wet with a damp handkerchief, red paisley like our husbands and their fathers’, we dreamt, in visions we couldn’t tell each other about. When his hands left her face for good and the Watchman ran the photograph we all knew. Maybe the sculptor pitied her, maybe he loved her a little. When he shaped her sagging eyelids, her thin lips, gaunt cheeks, he left her looking almost pretty, pretty and tired. But his kind artifice couldn’t hide her, not from us. Our very own faces looked back from the gray photograph the Watchman ran. Genetics is a funny thing, and we all look alike enough for kin, all of us descended from the same few clans two hundred years or so dead. Her sparse widow’s peak
and high forehead, thick jawline, chin winnowed to sharp point, nose prominent but not hooked separating wide-set eyes. Our eyes closed, we could feel that sculptor’s hands on our own faces. The lady of glass was our sisters, our mothers, our daughters. She was no traveler. Science crueler than art and
laughed the gaps showed, and when she scowled her canines would be sharp and stern like a mother’s teeth need to be. The teeth the scientists couldn’t suss out, there were no dental records that came close. How many of us bothers with the dentist, all the way over in Brekenritch? No telling whether they broke before or after. No telling.
“In the dim blue lights of our dens, we’d seen how these things were done, the delicate process of collecting unspoken-for bones.” more blunt, they’d measured her hips, after the sculptor conjured her face. Increments of inches shaped her bones in the impression of motherhood. She’d at least held a child. The skeleton lady had been pregnant enough to show in her bones. We forget that, most times, in the telling, and on purpose. Did the thing live? No child’s bones lay in her, but maybe, deeper in the pit, in the woods? Was that baby the death of her, or did it grow into one of the little girls eulogizing her in the tall grass by the sandbox? Lord, we’d know if it lived, church or school or scouts. If something lived to feel, we’d have felt a child. A living child was not possible. A child was stillborn to the bone woman, or given up to the state, if she lived. If she lived. She’d wear jeans cut too tight at the ankle and too loose at the waist, like the rest of us after childbearing. She would bark at her child, that horrible throaty admonishment all our mothers raised us on that we raise our own on “Aht!AHT!AHT! Get away from the road! Don’t touch that! Stay away from that man!” Her teeth would’ve yellowed with cigarettes and some with some fallen so that when she - 19 -
If she lived, her legs would be hairless and a color like deerskin jackets, and she would sit with them spread long, crossed at the ankle, in the truck bed of a man (her husband?) down by Shanklin’s Ferry. She wouldn’t fish, of course, but maybe the kid would have. Would she wave when she saw us, parked with our own men, our hands empty too, while our men and our kids fished? Would we wave back? Yes, please, the most pious and uptight of us would not ignore a neighbor woman like that. Some of us would be jealous, of her face tanning and not burning, great big movie-star sunglasses perched on the high cheekbones of her delicate head. Her hair would be high and out of fashion, teased up at the crown of her skull and dyed a color like fox fur. The skull, the leg, the scientists weren’t sure about when those happened either. Whether she was woman or bone when those broke. Two years, the scientists figured, she’d wasted out there, and our men had thrown deer guts and beer bottles over her, the woods had shed on her, the barn cats had gnawed at her, and now the cold wind froze
her bones glazed like glass. The scientists’ projections were all alchemy to us and we took the Watchman at its word. Our speculations made us idle and our husbands nervous. The way men are, they were quiet about it.. But we could tell. “Her nose, her nose is Gunnoe, all the way, maybe a cousin from out of state,” and we could see them chewing the insides of their mouths. “Had to be young, had to be quiet...” And we could hear the volume of the evening news cranked up, from dens across the county. We women leaned back in our kitchen chairs, our stoves cold and clean hours after dinner, our smiles satisfied and strange. So nobody would argue or feel ashamed, the Mennonites paid for her burial. It was the cheapest, if they did it, a thirty-dollar permit from the state to dig a hole in a field out of crop rotation, out of the groundwater. Like Mennonites do, their men built her a sturdy pine box with their own strong hands. Their women had laid careful the pieces of her the state sent back into it, stretching a shroud embroidered for somebody’s son who was supposed to die and then didn’t. Standing in a quiet circle, stitching her up into rough linen, those women would look more like each other than we look like each other. Those women, their hair pulled tight and smooth under mesh bonnets look like a ring of sisters, while we are a loose conglomeration of cousins. A few of us followed them out into field scrubby with winter, walking a respectable pace behind the women in their darkest dresses, bonnets untied, white ribbons dancing on an imploring wind. Theirs is the lowest valley, and we all felt a little claustrophobic and cold in the shadow of Angel’s Rest and Endor. Early, early in the morning the ground was
still icy and late in the fall the steady whispering swish of high grass was broken as thistles caught the hems of our good skirts. The Mennonites sang some songs we didn’t know, their women’s voices lilting over the deep growl of old elders while we hummed convincingly, like teenagers at a revival. Their leader, that purported miracle-woman, spoke spirited but soft over the grave, her head inclined as if to pray though we couldn’t hear, so that the youngest of us watched her with a surreptitious eye, nudging their mothers when the congregation agreed, “Amen.” And it was over. Two boys with shadows of beards took to filling in her hole, still in their church clothes, just their jackets tossed away. We nodded to them, polite enough, and the Mennonites back to us, turning to our opposite paths home. The only sound for miles as we two congregations parted ways the rustle of grass against our legs, as each of us pushed our own path straight out from that woman to our own places. When we tell it, we say manners kept us behind the other church people; after all, it was their ceremony. But when only a few of us are together, when the men and the younger women are out of hearing, we can tell each other the truth of why no one wanted to look in that hole, at that shroud. “A Gunnoe nose.” “Our nose.”
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I NTER V I E W
Jason Ockert has won several national fiction awards and is the author of the short story collection Rabbit Punches. His stories have appeared in many journals, including The Oxford American, Black Warrior Review, Indiana Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, MidAmerican Review, and McSweeney’s. His work is included in the 2007 anthologies New Stories from the South and Best American Mystery Stories. He teaches in the English Department of Coastal Carolina University.
January 28, 2010 Doug Moon: How do you see a community of writers working, both in academia and as a published writer? How does that formulate where your stories go from inception to publishing? Jason Ockert: The stories from Rabbit Punches were largely shaped by the aid of peers in my graduate workshop, I’m grateful to say. What can be helpful in the classroom community is learning how to tune your individual voice by process of elimination. A workshop can make a writer schizophrenic. One’s head may become infested with competing opinions. One thing you can learn from an academic environment is how to parse through other people’s visions of stories in order to clarify your own. When the story reads right to me I send it out and hope for the best. As far as the post-classroom community, I’ve attended conferences, given readings, served on panels, and corresponded electronically with other writers and readers. These interactions can be a mixed bag and I prefer conversations that focus on the work and less on the business of publishing. It’s natural to network, of course, but that can get old quick. I’d rather argue about
the genius of Barry Hannah over a beer than compare agents in a dimly-lit conference ballroom. Brooke Hardy: I can tell that what you’ve written is very characterdriven. These characters are so full of quirks and desires—pretty much everything you would want in a really strong character, they just happen to be really odd. Something about your stories reminded me of a combination of Geek Love, without the physical abnormalities, and a Flannery O’Connor story. I was wondering what you see as the function of these really odd characters in your stories? JO: One hurdle in creating these characters was to make them three-dimensional. The oddities are meant to be a characteristic, not the entirety of the character. These odd folks feel familiar. Flannery O’Connor was my first literary heroine, so it makes sense that you can see the influence. Like her, I don’t want the characters to come across as simpletons. The quirks need to be earned. The idea is to avoid creating a caricature. You don’t want to share a joke with the reader at the expense of the character. Without compassion for characters the - 21 -
reader will lose faith in your story. BH: Do you know any of these people? JO: Do any of these characters come out of a space in reality? BH: Sure. JO: I’m sure that they do. Take “Deviated Septum,” for instance. I’ve been working since I was twelve at a variety of different places. The job is a great place to observe people. I have always been curious about the ways in which people live. One of the things I used to do was deliver medication to the elderly in South Florida. My job was to go door to door and drop off the medicine. That part of “Deviated Septum” comes from reality. I was fifteen or sixteen and what I remember was that these old folks really wanted me to come in and talk. Many of them were just very lonely; many had been abandoned by their families. “Deviated Septum” didn’t simply come from that experience, however. Much later, when I was just starting graduate school, I rented a room in an elderly woman’s house. She was this free-spirited old radical who rented the room in order to have some
companionship. She wanted someone to listen to her, really. One time she told me how unfair life was because, as you age, your body may fall apart but your passion does not go away. She said all this in a very convincing way; no guile at all. And that loneliness and sadness resonated. It reminded me of my job in South Florida. So, I took those feelings and combined them with the sexual awkwardness of a sixteen year-old boy and created the story. BH: In some of the stories, you’re caught between wanting to laugh at how absurd it is, but then there’s that hint of sadness to it. Like “Deviated Septum,” he’s trying to be suave and debonair, putting the wrappers on the bed. You want to laugh because this is crazy, but then you realize that there’s serious desire underneath this one character. He’s trying to do something—not in an underhanded way—and then you have this woman who’s dying as he tries to revive her. I thought it was interesting. I like the images and how it shifted there and the progressions in the stories. JO: Thank you. I think that’s where it comes from. You take characters, put them in situations, and then try to figure out where you want to go and what you want to convey. I am to be honest with the pursuit. DM: It seems like some of the most fun I have with reading contemporary short stories these days are the ones that really do flirt with the sense of the absurd, not only in modern life, but life in general. Thinking about so many of these experiences coming from the working world, which is probably the best place to cultivate a unique sense of the absurd, I wonder how you see that working. To what extent would you describe your stories as an extrapolation of what the world is like? To what extent do you feel like the
fun is in that sort of hyperbole? JO: Rabbit Punches is a collection where you’ve got characters that are desperate to fit into something. They’re on the outskirts, on the cusp of being just forgotten and remaining anonymous. Most of what they’re trying to do is belong, whether as part of a family or part of a community or part of a corporation; something bigger than the self. This doesn’t come easily or naturally to most of the characters. So, the fringe of being cast out was something that I was curious about in this collection. It’s about trying to belong and the consequences of being a part of something, after all. BH: I would say that your stories are definitely tied to a sense of place, not only geographically, but also environmentally. Do you see this sense of place, even geographically, as being central to these stories? Can you imagine, say “Deviated Septum,” happening in another location, or do you feel that it’s really tied to this Southern town? JO: For me, place is very important. I had geography in mind when I was compiling the stories. Essentially, the movement is from the Midwest to the South and then back to the Midwest. There’s contrast in the mood from the first story to the last story and this is tied to place, also. You could say that the “Southern” stories have more hope and possibility and opportunity for mischief while the “Midwestern” stories contain more reflection and contemplation and resolve. That’s how I see it, anyway. BH: Some of the stories are rather long and some of them are only a few pages. I was interested, not necessarily in the specifics of those stories, but how, when you’re in the writing process, you decide, “Okay, this is where I need to stop the - 22 -
story,” or whether you continue the narrative and add more? JO: I just finished a novel and a second collection of short stories. In that second collection, Neighbors of Nothing, the stories are much longer probably because I had been working on the novel for so long. My brain was more accustomed to the extensive narrative. In Rabbit Punches, I did just the opposite—I started with the short-short stories that were more language-driven and personal and then started building. It’s difficult for me to say when I consciously know when to stop a story. The most honest answer is to say that I stop it when it feels right. DM: Why do you think more readers seem to prefer novels to short fiction? JO: A lot of times novels are more plot-driven. When someone asks you, “Well, what’s that novel about?” you can answer. But, with a story, if you can answer what the short story is about, in some ways you aren’t really doing justice to the piece. You have to read it. Sentences matter much in the short form. In a novel, often, the emphasis is placed on the event rather than the discourse and this might be more accessible to readers? I don’t know, though. I don’t want to sound bitter because I actually think that the short story form is alive and well. People are reading them. I have faith. DM: Are there any journals or writers that you’ve read lately that you admire? JO: Yeah, there are. Oxford American is one of my favorite short story journals. They do some really good things. They are always putting something out that I find I read cover-to-cover. DM: They have great music issues,
too. JO: Yeah, they do that, and they put the movie issues out. They’re damned good. I’d also recommend Ecotone, Witness, The Iowa Review, and, of course, the online journal where I’m fiction editor, Waccamaw. As for books, Padgett Powell has a relatively-recent novel out called The Interrogative Mood. It’s 164 pages of questions. One question after the next, after the next. I recommend reading it. It’s wild and heart-rending. As far as collections of stories, to name a few I recommend Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, by Kevin Wilson, The Taste of Penny, by Jeff Parker, What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, by Laura van den Berg, and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned, by Wells Tower. I am drawn to stories that have a level of innocence to them. I appreciate writers who are forthright with their characters even as they situate them in ridiculous circumstances. I am curious why characters get back up (when they probably shouldn’t) and nothing makes me happier than rooting for the underdog in a piece of fiction. I want the story to save me, too. I appreciate you taking the time to talk to me here.
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PA I NT I N G
Taylor Crawley received her BFA in printmaking along with a BA in art history from the University of West Florida. She graduated with her MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in May 2010, where she was awarded the graduate fellowship in printmaking. Her work draws from significant yet disparate moments from pasts, both personal and distant, which synthesize into a narrative that exists on a plane between reality and fiction; these fragmented stories silently materialize as objects with a strong connection to music. Several of her fictional LPs were recently featured in the New American Paintings 2010 MFA Annual. She is assistant to Jason Jagel and resides in San Francisco. More of her work can be viewed at taylorcrawley.com.
Portfolio: The Collection
aylor Crawley writes: This group of paintings is derived from a collection of lists and sketches made on sticky notes and folders, within the margins of notebook paper and sheet music at times I probably should have been paying attention in class. As this information gradually accumulates, it becomes more and more difficult to find a place for this tangential mess of thoughts that I just canâ€™t seem to part with. Certain things I see and hear resonate with me in such a way that I feel a duty to immortalize them, even if it is as simple as transforming them into fictional bands in an imaginary record collection.
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Sounds from the Underground LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Artie Clark and his Space Cadets LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Stevie Hawking presents the Black Holes LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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The Fest’ring Corpses LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Thee Slithy Toves LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Holding Patterns LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Plate Techtonics with the Elektra-Clash Apocalypso Synthesizer quintet LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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There and Back Again LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Untitled (rare find), 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Untitled LP, 2010 12’’ x 12’’ gouache on altered record and sleeve
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Manoli Kouremetis earned his MFA from Old Dominion University. His fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in The Southeast Review, Boxcar Poetry Review, and The Summerset Review. He currently teaches at a private school for students with learning differences and as adjunct faculty at his alma mater. He lives in Chesapeake, VA with his wife and daughter. (Photo credit: Sarah Ashley Photography)
T h e M a n i n Ta n
orks on glasses once again, and the groom held his bride’s face in front of his. All the aunts hooted and uncles rapped the tables. This was Clay and Janelle, man and wife. By night’s end any guest would have been proud to kiss both of them. “Kiss me,” Janelle told him, but Clay held back. She loved the magnetic breaths between them. How far they’d come, and she’d made it with him. Thoughts of buckled hoods and Linda Spangler persisted, and she let them pass. They kissed. All the courses were out of the way. Servers in paisley offered guests champagne amid the clatter of dessert forks on china. The lights dimmed; soon there’d be dancing. Every man’s hand had a date’s shoulders to caress. When the conversation lagged, and even when it didn’t, all eyes turned to the man in tan. He wore a tan suit and a purple shirt. His glasses hooked on a black lanyard like grannies wear. Sporty grannies. When the servers refilled his glass he spoke warmly, just as he did with the bride’s cousins sitting around him. He ate like a calligraphist setting flourish to a serif. Most guessed he was from somewhere north. He was a dead ringer for a crasher, a crasher in tan.
Whispers about him swept through the room. “But he sure looks comfortable. Is he Blanche’s boy?” “He’s a Bergeron all right.” Janelle turned to her new husband. “I’ve never seen that man in my life.” Guests came by to wish the new couple well. Clay nodded out of turn, mumbled thanks here and there. When they asked Janelle if the man in tan was one of her professors, she changed the subject quickly and hoped her new husband would save her. His eyes stayed on the stranger. The man in tan stared back. Around them the liquor was doing its job as conversation popped its clasps and sneaked toward the racy. Everyone leaned in close. The photographers worked in tandem between the potted ferns, one snapping the shots while the other angled the blasting flash toward the corners and out the windows. Janelle watched the New Orleans skyline quiver. She wished there were more stars. Southern stars, as Janelle’s father referred to them in his toast. Southern stars wink slower, he explained to any Yankee guests. They streak longer, burn hotter, and they - 35 -
stay lit up later along the horizon at daybreak. “They are lights to come home to,” her father said, his Crown highball swirling wildly but never spilling. “Granted, doesn’t mean you won’t be in any trouble when you get yourself there.” Chuckles came from all over the room. Even the waiters nodded. “She’ll be up waiting for you, boy,” her father drawled. “You won’t like it and all your unmarried friends will make fun of you, but she does it ‘cause she loves you.” An awww sprawled thick. His mushy speech was getting to Janelle, even though she hadn’t wanted it to. She sniffed back her tears and shook her head. “My papa,” she whispered to Clay. “The madman.” Clay nodded, but she couldn’t tell if he had heard her. She couldn’t tell where he was looking. It was the expression he’d get when talking about upstate New York, headaches that still plagued him, the icy Thruway. She hoped she was mistaken. “My wish for Janelle and Clay is that in your life together, through all the laughs and catastrophes, the peaks and the valleys,” her father finished, “you both look back at this
night as the moment that the two of you loved each other the least.” Toasts begat toasts. Clay’s three brothers told jokes and Janelle’s drunken aunts floundered through nostalgia while they pawed the hunky groomsmen. College roommates hedged torrid details but kept it clean. Waiters popped more corks and refilled the flutes. Each table huddled together. All were hopeful, and all were flushed. “We’re gonna dance until we’ve gotta be carried off.” Janelle growled it more than said it. She always claimed that she made moments stick to her by dancing through them. If she could keep up with the moment, then it would likely keep up with her. “I hope I have what it takes,” Clay whispered back. “Just keep moving,” she said. They kissed. The next guest who reached for the mic was the man in tan. Everyone hushed. Curiosity got the better of them. It had gotten the better of Janelle as well. To her surprise, Clay stood and waved his hands like a football referee would. Despite his protests, the man in tan who may be a Bergeron was set to speak. “I’ll be quick, Clay.” In a few steps the man in tan was on the dance floor. Janelle stood beside her new husband. After all the pranks that Clay’s family had pulled on him over the years, she assumed this stranger was part of some practical joke set up by his brothers. After all, they were all standing as well. But once on her feet she felt that she wasn’t standing beside Clay as much as she was standing between him and the man in tan. His coonass brothers had Jack Daniels revving up their systems, and they were moving in. Janelle flirted. “Introduce me to your mystery man.” A little laughter from the crowd
defused some of the tension. “Everyone relax,” Clay said. He took Janelle’s hand, and only then did she begin to worry. The man in tan pulled an invitation from beside his plate and held it out for all to see. He did so with as much panache as he had eaten his dinner. “I was invited,” he said. “I only have a few words.” Southern manners demanded an open bar and hospitality. Both fathers told everyone to sit. Only Clay and Janelle stayed standing as the speech began. “None of you know me, and none of you should,” the man in tan said. “My name is James Spangler.” He tapped the invitation softly with the microphone. “And I shouldn’t be here.” She whispered to Clay. “Linda’s—” “Yes.” Spangler continued. “As some of you might know, but I’m sure most of you don’t, my sister was the groom’s girlfriend for quite a few years.” He sipped his water, dabbed his mouth with his napkin. “Clay was part of our family. We laughed and drank together up in Rochester the way you do down here.” Janelle squeezed Clay’s wrist, pressing more than she’d meant to. She wanted Spangler to vanish. Bring out the cake, strike up the band. The whole night teetered like a stack of dishes. One slip and all could smash. “Clay here and my sister were in a terrible accident several years ago,” Spangler said. “Clay lived. My sister died.” Spangler sipped his water again, spilling some. “And now he’s married!” He clapped the microphone hard into his palm. Feedback squeaked. “Why the hell was I invited to this?” Clay’s brothers surrounded Spangler again, and this time the fathers - 36 -
didn’t protest. The crowd seemed less captivated and more captive. The grapple in suits jostling before her, Janelle couldn’t take any more. She pushed past Clay. The brothers stopped pulling the man in tan toward the door but kept their grip on him. “Let him go,” Janelle said. “Do you know what’s monstrous?” Spangler continued. “My parents actually felt bad that they couldn’t make it down here themselves.” Janelle held Clay back, an open palm on his chest. Later, she’d wish the photographers got a shot of that moment, that connection. Imminent disaster shone as clearly as Clay’s description of the wreckage on that icy stretch of highway. She could take anything coming her way. Spangler shoved something into Clay’s hand. His water glass hoisted high over his head, he finished his toast. “Here’s to Clay on his wedding day,” the man in tan concluded. “Here’s to my sister’s old flame who didn’t even bother to come to her funeral.” Janelle kept her hand on Clay. Through the humidity and slouching, and now this invasion of his past, Clay’s tuxedo had somehow kept its shape. He looked dapper. Spangler’s words should have shrunk him, but instead his shoulders seemed to broaden as his chest filled with deeper breaths than Janelle had ever seen him take. Inside his rented shirt was the gall to leave a loved one like that. The idea sickened her, but what took her breath was her speculation that he might still have whatever it took to stay away. Janelle wondered how she could get through her next conversation with him. Still she kept her hand steady on his chest, the chest that had been holding this secret. In Clay’s hand was the program to Linda’s funeral, creased as if kept in Spangler’s pocket during that long night at the cemetery and
all of the long nights that followed. The program survived in preparation for this day years later. “Where were you?” Spangler asked him. “I couldn’t take it.” “So you hid?” “I did,” Clay said. “I did.” Janelle had heard enough. She took the program and handed it to a passing waiter. Before she spoke she glanced to her parents. There was her papa, the madman. Just minutes before he’d had the crowd eating out of his hands as he spoke of southern stars. Janelle hadn’t expected their first catastrophe to come while she was still trying to keep on her bridal tiara. Some brides never get a bite to eat at their reception because they have to say hello to so many guests and smile for so many pictures. Janelle had to save her husband. She snapped at Clay’s brothers. “Mr. Spangler doesn’t need you,” she said. “Clay does.” She led him to them. He pushed back a little at first, but eventually surrendered into their embrace. Inappropriate applause blipped through the crowd, as did some laughter. Anything to break the tension. The brothers brought Clay to the parents’ table and sat him down. Janelle asked the band to play. They went into the song they’d left off with before the speeches: “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Janelle followed Spangler into the stairwell. Once again she flirted. “Not so fast.” “I’ve done all the damage I’m going to do,” he said. She was close enough now to put her arm around his waist. She pointed toward a door around the corner from the stairs. “This way.” He pulled off his glasses as if to clean them. “I should go.” “Yes, you should.” She pulled him toward the door. “But first you’re going to dance with me.” Spangler had probably worried
that she was dragging him back into the hall. But the door led not into the reception but into the bangs and gushes of the kitchen. On long steel tables the crew wrapped the last of the food. The servers clamored around the swinging doors with trays stacked with plates of banana strips awaiting bourbon and flames. “The band is playing,” one waiter
This man had Clay to the point of groveling. But when she felt the creases that met at the corners of Spangler’s eyes, the anger tightly furrowed, she knew she had more in common with him than she wished. She kissed Spangler’s cheek. “If you wanted it off your chest, then you’ve been successful.” The servers watched.
“Bring out the cake, strike up the band. The whole night teetered like a stack of dishes. One slip and all could smash.” said. “They’re dancing!” Janelle turned to Spangler. “Listen.” The band finished the tune to applause. In unison the crowd clapped like sports fans. “To Clay!” erupted the guests. Finally came Clay’s voice. “Play Sarah Vaughan,” he said. “Janelle’s favorite.” The band jumped into “BrokenHearted Melody.” Janelle took Spangler’s hands. He was reluctant to move at all at first, but eventually Spangler took the lead. As the two danced through the kitchen the servers moved boxes and rolling carts from their path. Spangler spoke first. “What are you doing?” While she twirled along with him she held her head perfectly still. Tiara on tight. “My husband hurt you,” she said. “I can’t make it go away, but at least I can give you the first dance.” “That’s an important dance.” “It was an awfully big hurt.” They spun past the dishwashers and refrigerator until they got to the oven in the corner. There was nowhere else to go. “Everyone wants to kiss the bride, right?” she said. “Well, I’ll kiss you.” Janelle brought her cheek to his. - 37 -
“But if your aim was to crush him,” she said, “to make him into a fool in front of his people, well—” The crowd hollered in the hall and the dancing became more of a stomp. She imagined Clay on their shoulders. She let go of his hands. “Then you have failed.” “It’s time for me to go,” Spangler said. “You bet it is.” Spangler wove through the crew toward the door. Before he was out of earshot, Janelle called out to him one last time. “Stay away from my husband.” By the time Janelle returned to the hall the dancing circled the tables. Neckties littered the floor and high heels hung on chair backs. The band played a peppy swing number she’d never heard before. She pushed passed the hugs and kisses toward a patch of tuxedo black huddled together. In the center was Clay. Janelle rocked her hips as wildly as she could. Her shoulders scooped so low that her dress straps slipped. Once Clay had his hands on her waist she pulled off her tiara. Janelle gave her crown to a passing guest and hoped to never
see it again. She let the music toss her. Clay’s moves weren’t half bad and she slid along with him. Less than ladylike, she knew. The next song was faster yet. She hoped they could keep up.
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PA I NT I N G
Robert Minervini works in painting, installation, sculpture, and site-specific public art. Primarily a painter, his work is based on the intersection of nature and culture. He received his MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute in 2009, and his BFA from Tyler School of Art in 2005. His work has been exhibited nationally, including Marine Contemporary Art Salon, Eleanor Harwood Gallery, 941 Geary Gallery, Verge Gallery, Manifest Gallery, The Brooklyn Historical Society, the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery, the Luggage Store Gallery, the Pennsylvania State Museum, and the Philadelphia Art Alliance. He has been awarded the Murphy/Cadogan Fellowship by the San Francisco Foundation in 2008, the Edwin Austin Abbey Mural Fellowship by the National Academy of Fine Arts in 2008, and the Carmela Corso Scholarship by Tyler School of Art in 2005. He has been a resident artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Root Division Studio Program in San Francisco. His work has been published in New American Painting No.91, Mural Art: Large Scale Art from Walls Around the World, and SF Gate, amongst others. He is represented by Marine Contemporary in Santa Monica and currently lives and works in San Francisco California. More of his work can be viewed at robertminervini. com.
obert Minervini writes: The word “Utopia” originates from the literal Greek meaning “not place,” suggesting that perfection can only exist in the realm of imagination. My work presents invented spaces that are based on reality, but revel in artificiality. In these desolate dreamlike non-places, I subvert nature and construct or destroy architectural sites alluding to the making of a utopian and/or dystopian environment.
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Destructure, 2009 35’’ x 44’’ acrylic and spray paint on canvas
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Candy Mountain, 2009 35’’ x 44’’ acrylic and spray paint on canvas
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Domestication, 2010 18’’ round acrylic on canvas over panel
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Mobilization, 2010 18’’ round acrylic on canvas over panel
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Aquafication, 2010 18’’ round acrylic on canvas over panel
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Sunday Painter, 2010 18’’ round acrylic on canvas
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The Generosity of Being, 2010 46’’ x 100’’ acrylic on canvas
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L.A. (sell me something else), 2009 50’’ x 68’’ acrylic on canvas
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And the Rest Will Follow, 2009 60’’ x 84’’ acrylic and spray paint on canvas
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Looking Forward to the Past, Again, 2009 46’’ x 50’’ acrylic, oil and spray paint on canvas
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Looking Forward to the Past Again, 2009 156’’ x 180’’ acrylic on wall
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It’s Time, 2009 60’’ x 96’’ acrylic and spray paint on canvas
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Kiss the Sun, 2009 35’’ x 44’’ acrylic on canvas
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Domiciles, 2009 20’’ x 24’’ acrylic on canvas over panel
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Urban Splendor, 2010 42’’ x 46’’ acrylic on canvas
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Park Life, 2010 20’’ x 32’’ acrylic and spray paint on canvas
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I NTER V I E W
Catherine Carter’s poems have appeared in Poetry, North Carolina Poetry Review, Cider Press Review, and other journals. A native of the tidewater region of Maryland, she now lives in Cullowhee, North Carolina, where she is an assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University. Her first book, The Memory of Gills, was published by LSU Press. Her second book, The Swamp Monster at Home, is forthcoming.
October 28, 2010 Brooke Hardy: This is a question about your personal aesthetic with the collection. I noticed that a lot of your poems involve physical movement. Do you find that motion is central to your aesthetic poetically? Catherine Carter: I hadn’t actually noticed that. If it’s happening, it’s happening under the cover, so to speak. I’m a big believer in intentional fallacy. I see what you mean, though, and I guess I would say I think most poems do that. Maybe it’s safe then to say that’s part of my aesthetic. BH: One of the things I noticed in all of your poetry is a connection to nature. There seems to be a melding of the human and the natural worlds in a lot of your poems. Sometimes this takes the form of personification. Other times it’s anthropomorphic. In poems such as “Ants and The Double Helix,” the interaction between the human and natural worlds is somewhat indirect. How do you see this role of nature playing throughout your poetry? CC: I think it’s very important. I think it’s central. It is one of my “things.” I think the non-human is a lot more like us than we normally know.
Sometimes something reminds you. You can see something behaving in a humanlike way or you remember what animals we are, and actually, I think if that changed—and I don’t think slender volumes of poetry change it—the world would be very different. It’s all part of our sense of hierarchy and dichotomy and the way we tend to say this is “me” and that is “other.” We do it with gender, with race, with class. Just name something, and we say this is “me” and that is “those other people,” and it’s almost always so we can say I am better than “those other people.” It’s certainly human/ non-human. If we thought that nonhuman people were some kind of people, we couldn’t do most of the things that we do as a species, and I think that would make a better world. BH: I really liked how “Ants and the Double Helix” highlighted how we are a human animal, for instance, and how the interaction between the ants carrying the nail clippings shows at this very base level that what we’re all trying to do is the same thing. I really appreciated that you were trying to emphasize that connection. I really liked that.
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Ashley Clark: Tying in with that connection between the human and non-human, in “Galas Again,” what is it about the September, tart apples that fascinates the narrator so much, particularly in the poem’s preoccupation with the seasons? CC: When you come around to your fall seasons in some traditions, your new year happens in the fall— around Halloween, in fact, with your Mexican cultures—and the apple is part of that. You eat apples for it. If you cut open the apple, you find your five-pointed star, and it ties into all those other apples that everyone has to allude to in order to feel like they’re suitably literate: your Genesis apples and everything. So, I think if you read, you just can’t bite an apple without having a cultural resonance set up. But you know, the fall season is the change, is the death, is the dark season. BH: I’m interested in the collection’s fascination with plants, particularly with skunk cabbage and lettuce. Is this grounded in your personal experience as an author? What informed this repeated image of plants? CC: I really like plants, even though I got a C in botany, but I blame that
on my then boyfriend. I was in love and I wasn’t paying attention. But, my mother is a master gardener and father is a biologist, and in our childhood we were very fortunate. We coursed around the woods playing with things—plants and roadkill, getting fish, eating live minnows— so that was just part of the cosmos for me. But to take it further, really plants are also people, to go back to that non-human people thing. I’m kind of conflicted about this. I’ve recently tried to become a vegetarian, and I don’t feel like a very good vegetarian, but there are just so many reasons not to mess with meat. It just simplifies so many things. But I can’t do it out of the sense that animals are alive in a way that plants aren’t. That I cannot buy. Plants are the innocents of our food chain; they are the base of the food chain. There they are photosynthesizing happily or not so happily, and they will do their best to muscle anybody out of the sunlight just like we do. But in terms of who lives without taking other life, it’s mostly plants. So, the rationale that animals are somehow better than plants or more alive than plants—maybe they are more sentient—but I don’t know if I even feel safe saying that. It’s not something we are in a position to know, obviously. But plants are pretty cool. My mother gardens, and gardens, and gardens, and when I lived at home, I couldn’t have cared less. I just didn’t want to mess with it. And you grow up and you move out and suddenly you have fifteen phone calls over one set of lettuce. I’m sure it’s very gratifying for her and I hope it is. They are really great. Plants are extremely educational. AC: In a similar vein, I was wondering if “Leaving Love” is based on an actual beach? CC: Yeah, we used to go to Nag’s Head off the North Carolina coast
in the summertime. As you can see by the end of the poem, the conceit takes over, and I just don’t give a damn about the breakup; it’s all about this beach.
CC: I was thinking of things that fail, things that are thwarted, things that are not meant to be. That was a failed desire. I have so many of those.
AC: Switching gears a little bit, many of your poems provide imagery of detachment from the body, particularly in “Evidence of Angels,” which is in line with a lot of what you’ve been saying about questions of personhood. How do you see that imagery of detachment working to provide some sort of overshadowing for the project as a whole?
BH: That leads to a question that I had about the arrangement of the collection as a whole. I was curious how you arranged the collection in these sections. Did you write with a specific thematic bent in mind, or did you pull together various poems into something cohesive?
CC: I think that detachment from the body is not really possible. You know, all we have to do to find out is let us hurt enough. Break your toe to find out everything you are is centered in the flesh. And whether there’s something beyond that, I don’t know. You see people who certainly indicate that there is. Stephen Hawking is maybe only the most obvious example. With that one, I thought that even the souls were embodied. I really like the buzzards for that reason. They are kind of a family totem. In fact, the family has fostered injured buzzards at various times and I could tell you buzzard stories until you’d beg me to stop. We have a buzzard song and we call ourselves “The Clan of the Buzzard” because they are scavengers, because they recycle. I love the buzzards, and I figured that it was this goofy fantasy about how the buzzards know. AC: “The Handsome Dentist Files Your Teeth” is very clearly both an erotic and somewhat violent poem, as the mouth is described as “probing, squirting glands that lubricate your words, your kiss.” What should the reader make of the ordering of this poem in the middle of a section that otherwise largely deals with death?
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CC: The latter. With this one, I shopped this thing around from the time I was twenty-five until the time I was thirty-seven, and I kept changing it, and adding things, and taking things out. Finally, LSU picked it up, but even then it wasn’t any kind of hearts and flowers thing; they rejected it the first time, and I did things to it. The second time, I asked someone I knew to write a letter to LSU to ask them if they would at least take a look at it seriously. She did, and that was Kathryn Stripling Byer, and you know how much I owe her for that, I will never know. And then she got Fred Chappell to write a letter. How much do you owe these people? Everything. So, twelve years this thing was out there and three years before LSU actually printed it because they have a big backlog. So, I revised it again in that three years for the final copy and I still didn’t know what arrangement I wanted. I tried this and tried that, talked to my spouse and called my friends, and said “Hey, what am I going to do with this?” and eventually I had these kind of thematic groupings, but they were random in the sense that “this goes with this and this goes with this,” and I eventually thought there was some kind of progression here and I think you can say that as you get to the back of the book, they are newer poems. I’d always heard you ought to begin and end with your best stuff, so
I tried to put the things that I liked at the very end and a couple that I liked at the beginning. I certainly thought that the last four or five were the best. That’s one reason why they’re there. Coincidentally, they also had hints of redemption, which I think is a nice note to end on. You see that the book is pink. The whole cover thing was such an education because I had a friend that does graphic design and I said, “Would you make me something?” and she did. It was beautiful, and LSU wrote me a note and said, “About that cover….” and I said, “I got this great thing!” They said, “Actually, we like to do that in-house.” Then they sent me this cover and they said, “How do you like it?” and I said, “Well, it’s very pink.” They said, “Glad you like it!” I said, “You know, I name like twelve fish in this book and this fish is not any of them,” and they said, “Glad you like it!” It really took me a while to come to terms with this pink cover, but in the end I was glad because it doesn’t say to the reader, “All hope is abandoned.” You know with collections, there are always gravestones on the cover and this kind of stagnant green. Eventually, I thought I hit it kind of lucky. But, at first I was just appalled. Wait until you do it. It’s very funny. You think you have this creative control and this power and they’re going to accommodate your wishes. No. AC: What is the writing process like for you as you’re crafting your poems? Do you generally get a first line and go from there? Or do you work with images? CC: If things go well, I hear a line. It’s usually the last line, and I have to forge my way to it. I also revise a lot. The poems sit around a long time. Usually, I have a feel after a couple drafts or maybe sooner that either it’s going to fly or it isn’t. If it isn’t, I kind of let go of it. And if I think it is, I stick with it for as long
as it takes, which is usually three to six months. Some of them you just get lucky and it’s pretty much where you want it the second or third time around. BH: I can certainly identify with that currently. I have a long list of halfstarted poems and I’m not sure if they need to keep going or stop. They kind of take on a life of their own, I think. Sometimes, I get a really clear sense that it is over or this
and form that doesn’t encourage the brain to fall into a rhythmic pattern while reading. I didn’t notice until afterwards that they followed a form. How do you see these experimentations with verse and form working in the collection? CC: I really love form. I’m a big fan, but I also—and maybe this is just a function of where we are in the twenty-first century—I feel as though in some sense we’re not al-
“When I found out about James Wright, it was Thomas Lux who said that the creative writing academy world had been Wright versus Ashbery, and he thought that if Wright hadn’t died so young, Ashbury maybe wouldn’t have won.” is it. Other times, it is frustrating because I see these poems take on lives of their own and they just keep saying, “Keep working on me. Keep revising me. Keep refining me.” So, I battle with them sometimes, like they’re something else. Like they’re detached from me. AC: Yeah. On my stats sheet, I have how many I’ve written compared to how many I’ve published or tried to publish. It’s a lot. How many that have appeared in print came to something like six percent of the total output. I have a huge folder full of dead soldiers. BH: I noticed that your poems go back and forth between working with form or rhyme and free verse. For instance, in poems like “Nine Lines from Some Dead People I’ve Lost” and “The Handsome Dentist Files Your Teeth,” there is, I would argue, a very subtle play with rhyme - 59 -
lowed to make it too obvious. But certainly, your sonic level is very important. You want it to be musical. You want to hook people through the ear. But what Pound called the metronome beat is probably not going to cut it now. I’m really into rich consonants. Those are some of my favorites. I love teaching them, and the poor students will look at me with bemused stares, but I love rich consonance. I love your alliterative Anglo-Saxon poetry and your Hopkins. The things that really work with sound in ways that are not your traditional metronome beat or your true end rhyme. If you don’t do true end rhyme, it gives you so many more choices. Heaven help you if you end with “love.” You’re really stuck, unless you can come up with something—dove, above, shove, glove. There you go. That’s all there is. BH: Speaking of form, you men-
tioned that you have fallen in love with form. The paradelle poem really stands out. I had never seen that form before. I saw your footnote and I also looked it up. It’s a very interesting form, being so repetitive. Seeing as you said you like experimenting with form and working with it, how would you see something like a paradelle working? It seems unconventional in its approach of repetition. Do you find that as musicality, or just following what the formula is? CC: I think that’s a really evil one. In many ways it’s just this kind of high jump to see if you can do it. If you’ve read Billy Collins’ paradelles, it’s just a joke. He’s playing a game. He’ll end on the word “the” just to get “the” in there. It’s very spoofy and playful. But it’s like the sestina or the villanelle where you keep coming back to stuff. So, it actually turned out to be a fairly grim paradelle because the stuff you come back to, you tear at, and gnaw at, and worry about. That stuff tends to be not so happy. It’s kind of a fluke that it turned out to be anything that I would put in the book. But, I thought it would work all right. But there are those forms that you want to work within and you really like them and they’re so cool. You so admire the people who do it, so you do it to see if you can do it. For this most recent book—I have one coming out next year—I had these Sapphics. I thought they were utterly appropriate to their topic, which was ogling a young man. It was very “form follows function” on that one. But everybody told me that I should leave them out. They said the Sapphic rhythm was too jolty, too jarring, that I had not managed to incorporate it into the poem enough. And whenever everybody whose opinion you respect tells you to take it out, you really have to take it out. But I’m still sorry because I really love that poem, and part of
that is just “I can do Sapphics.” BH: The persona of the poems… do you see that as a consistent persona, or do you feel that the voice changes throughout the collection? CC: There are those places where I am working as a not-me persona, but for the most part if I say “I” and it’s not a mold spore, that’s pretty much me. I really appreciate the scrupulosity with which you are saying “the narrator says,” but it’s mostly me. There are a few where I had to use someone else’s voice, but for the most part it’s twentieth century lyric poetry. AC: In “Letter Appealing a Citation,” the narrator is pulled over for driving too slow to avoid hitting the toads. What do you hope to convey by the juxtaposition of the toads and the road, and what is at stake for you in the figure of the toad? CC: I thought the toads were the opposite of the voice of law. There’s this authority figure saying “Follow the rules,” and it’s also literally true that amphibians are the indicator species, and I think it behooves us not to run over them. So I would appreciate it if people would try to not run over amphibians on the road— not to moralize too aggressively— but that would be a really cool outcome. But they are certainly the antithesis of the rule of law there. And when toads do that, they’re usually going out to mate or playing in the rain and they’re having such a good time. They’re certainly an admirable role model. BH: I really liked the poems “This Brassiere” and “Meditation on Lettuce.” Both seemed to deal with a need to break from convention and demonstrate a freedom based on liberation. What were you working with in those poems?”
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CC: Well, the lettuce is the easier one. In other peoples’ work, I like poems that are both dark and funny. I really like Thomas Lux’s work for that; he can write the darkest funny poem you’ve ever run into. I’m not here to tell you that I’m Edgar Allen Poe and I set out to write a dark, funny poem. But it’s something I’m happy with if it comes out that way. With the lettuce, I meant it. We are sinning against the lettuce, but what are you going to do? This is the world where we eat each other and the lettuce tastes really good. And there’s not some moral, or if there is, it’s not in this world. I’ve got a poem in the new book called “Cannibal Family” that’s more about that. With the poem, I wanted to raise the issue that it is this world where we eat each other, and that is both okay and not okay at the same time. “The Brassiere” doesn’t have that freight of guilt on top of it. I think “The Brassiere” was a happier poem. You know, you’re not really doing anyone any harm if your brassiere creaks. And it did. I had this weird bra that just creaked, and it was really associative. I thought, “Wow, that really sounds like the boats. There’s got to be a poem in that.” So, I just kind of followed along. I think the moral weight of the two poems is very different. In “The Brassiere,” death is by and large a desirable state, and in “Meditation on Lettuce,” not so much. AC: “Power Failure” was probably my favorite poem in the collection. I was wondering what is at stake in the dimness and fragility of the light described in that poem, as we see it going down the corridors in the hallway, and what you see in that image that was evocative for you? CC: That is one of the few overtly political poems. It was that morning after the 2004 election. We’d been up all night, and there we all are in the office with black circles under
our eyes, glooming around, and the power goes out. I was lucky; I was on the second floor at that point with access to the only light. It was the kind of metaphor you can’t make up, the kind that just gets handed to you on a silver platter. Even allowing that things weren’t going the way I wanted them to go, that wasn’t really affecting my degree of privilege. Not at all. Quite the contrary, if anything. BH: I was really interested in the poem “Bury” and was curious how this poem came about. It struck me as an interesting poem about how that word falls in your mouth and is sort of succulent but also how it works with rhyme. CC: There was a period in the spring when I sat in on my friend Mary Adam’s poetry class, and I’m thinking I maybe wrote that in her class. I don’t remember. If God smites me, I hope you’re outside the blast radius. BH: You were saying you are kind of in love with rich consonance, and that poem in itself seems to play with the sound. CC: It was. I wanted things to rhyme, and I wanted the images that went with the sounds. It’s about language in a way that they aren’t all. BH: It seems like a poem about writing. We all come across those. I am also one who in addition to having a bent toward imagery, I like words and sounds. Even though the poems aren’t read out loud, as they used to be in previous traditions in poetry, you can still feel that aurally. CC: Yeah, there’s a voice in there that reads it to you, and I often wonder, “Whose is it?” I’ve never been sure. I thought the sounds in that one tell you death is sometimes
this kind of richness. You think of going back into the biosphere and the buzzards getting you, and it’s the way it sounds that tells you. The “bury” versus “burry.” BH: You being a teacher yourself of poetry and writing, where do you see—if you can even tell—the next generation or level of poetry going, or where do you hope it would go? CC: Well, I don’t know. We’re all kind of stuck in post-modern. Apparently it’s been going on since 1945, and it drives people crazy. You can’t blame them. Someone somewhere years from now will say, “Oh, that ended in 1986.” But we don’t know. But if you’re offering me a chance to rule the poetic world, poems would have a clearer literal level. What happens or what is meditated on in the poem would be clear. I’m a big fan and maybe not a big enough fan. I don’t want my poems to be confusing, but rather, as clear as they reasonably can be. I’d like it if everybody did that, and I’d like it if people kept their poems under a couple of pages, unless we’re talking about the great epics. I think one of the great virtues of poetry is the compression—that it squeezes stuff down—and I think that’s very hard to do after page three. But, you know, those are personal preferences. Those are dictatorial. Obviously, the world is full of people getting a lot out of twenty-page poems, so it’s not that I wish they would vanish off the face of the earth. I’m just exercising my imaginary dictatorial privilege in accordance with that is basically a preference. But it’s really just a taste, like strawberries. BH: A friend and I recently were talking about the state of poetry, and she was coming from a perspective of an adult education English teacher. We were talking about the accessibility of poetry, and she was saying she wished that poetry - 61 -
was more accessible to the general public. She said that often Maya Angelou is looked down upon as being an intermediary between what’s really poety and what are popular attempts at poetry. That brought to mind what you were saying about things being clearer. Poems now often seem to be obfuscated or abstract rather than grounded in concrete things that people can relate to, not necessarily through things that are real, but things that the mind can piece together. CC: I’m a huge fan of the concrete. I think abstraction is one of the things that gets us in trouble. You know, the poem doesn’t have to be simple, but the literal part, the “what happens,” should be clearer. I can’t believe poets are willfully obfuscating. No one would seek to be unclear, but at some point it’s got them by the head and it’s putting the shake on them. They need to go back to that and say, “Wait a minute, nobody in their right mind will know what I’m talking about.” AC: What other poets or genres of writing would you say have influenced your own writing style? CC: I enjoy reading just about anything that I don’t feel obfuscated by or manipulated by. I mentioned Lux, and of living poets, I like his work very much; even at points when he was sort of verging on the surreal, he seemed to have such a sense of responsibility to the reader to be as clear as he could and maybe to entertain, also. I think people like to laugh, and that is not an unworthy ambition. When I was younger, in what you might call “the formative years,” my mother read to me a great deal. The first writer I really took for my own was probably Frost, like everybody else. Judith Wright is not well-known, but she is a great poet. When I found out about James Wright, it was Thomas
Lux who said that the creative writing academy world had been Wright versus Ashbery, and he thought that if Wright hadn’t died so young, Ashbury maybe wouldn’t have won. I found that a fairly compelling model that probably just appealed to me because it’s simple and full of dichotomy, when in actuality it’s much more complicated than that. Probably much more complicated than I’m willing to appreciate—there’s so much out there. There’s someone up in North Carolina named Sarah Lindsay. I doubt I could cite her as an influence because I came across her so late, but I really love her work. And some of your Harlem Renaissance people, they’re willing to kick stuff out into the middle of discussion, and it seems so obvious, but then it’s not. I’ve gotten into teaching Countee Cullen and his poem “Heritage.” It looks so simple, and it’s not. It’s like this textbook case of double vision; it’s just right out of Du Bois. One the one hand it’s an apology, and on the other hand it’s a death threat. It’s just great. It’s brilliant. BH: Can you recall the first poem you ever read or wrote? CC: I can recall the first one I read. My mother read it to me, and it was one of those Robert Louis Stevenson poems about the river. I think that was the first one I memorized, as well. I don’t remember the first one I wrote, although my mother claims she has them all—talk about blackmail material for a thousand years. I know at some point, I’m going to have to sneak in the house and burn them all to rid myself of the threat. I started keeping them when I was about fourteen, and maybe that was too soon. I was big on sonnets in those days, and it was before I understood how hard a good sonnet is to write. They were, I guess, okay sonnets for a fourteenyear-old, but now I don’t foresee
myself ever attempting a sonnet again, except maybe in the throes of unrequited love or something. I really admire the sonneteers, though. You know, Edna St. Vincent Millay could probably be added to my list of influences. She was really good with the form and used such delicate language to say such sockyou-in-the-jaw things. She’s very out of fashion now, but she was one kick-ass feminist. And sonneteer. I guess for the twentieth century it’s Millay, and Berryman, and maybe Claude McKay and Marilyn Hacker. Those are the big ones. BH: Do you mind telling us a little about your work that’s coming out next year? CC: Not at all! I’m delighted to tell you! It’s called The Swamp Monster at Home and I’m gunning for a cover with a swamp monster on it. It’s kind of like this one. I think I didn’t break this new one into sections, because I remembered how hard it had been the time before and how futile it probably had been. It’s the poems I’ve written since about 2005 when this one got finalized. I didn’t think I was going to be that close. I was afraid it would take me another ten years. I don’t actually teach much creative writing. I’m the English Ed Coordinator at my university, so I spend a lot of time grooming little teachers and doing admin work. So, I wasn’t sure when if ever, and LSU had suffered terrible cutbacks, so I really wondered. But back last January, I counted and thought, “Well, maybe I do have enough.” I had a really good spring and was teaching a grammar class and having a really good semester all around. So, I started putting them in order, and it came much easier this time; I was able to send it out in about April and they took it in August. If I may offer you unsolicited advice, do not ignore the role of dumb luck in this stuff. It is huge. And knowing - 62 -
someone. BH: How does your new book differ from or compare to this one? CC: It’s newer. Actually, I can tell you; I don’t have to be coy. It’s an older book in the sense that I’m older. Back in about 2007-2008, my spouse and I had been very unsure about whether we wanted to have children, and in 2006 I had several miscarriages. It became clear that wasn’t going to fly. So, those poems are at the center of the book, and there are some relationship poems around them. I also have this habit of developing high school crushes on inappropriate people, largely for the poems because it gets me going. I highly recommend it. And it does not mean I do not want to be with my spouse or married to my spouse; he’s the greatest guy in the world, bar none. But it may be the family addictive heritage where you have to get addicted to something. Back several generations, there were all these alcoholics. So, I kind of see the book as coiling around this kind of change in my life and the various high school crushes that bracket it as ways of dealing with age. I’m forty-three this year. And you know, you go along and you’re twenty-five and thirty-five and thirty-seven, and it’s better than ever and just great, and then at some point it’s not better than ever. Some things are— tenure is great—but you know, you are changing. And so I tend to see this new one as a book of change, but it’s certainly got all the old stuff in it.
DRA W I N G
Eli Lehrhoff lives in Brooklyn, where he collaborates with the artist Sto on the band-based art project Dubknowdub. The duo use a mix of digital and analog instruments, including a contact-mic-covered shopping cart that doubles as their tour van, as well as a deeply-set performative element to continue along the same lines as the cargo cult inception of dub music. With five record releases behind them, many collaborative installation projects and performances for the New Museum, PS1, Secret Project Robot Gallery, Live With Animals Gallery, Okay Mountain Gallery along with many bars and clubs around New York and Austin, Dubknowdub have begun work on a full-length feature film said to be inspired by The Monkees’ “Head” and the 1980 version of “Flash Gordon.”
Portfolio: S p a c e - C h a r t S e r i e s /Da e m o n P o r t r a i t S e r i e s
li Lehrhoff writes: When not reading comic books, I primarily use drawing to examine and interpret the central meaning amongst social theory, atomic theory, alternative molecular theory, gnomes, giants, the concept of the “truly other,” the relationship between the natural and unnatural, repetition, false symmetry, pareidolia, apophenia, apotheosis, steganography, the meeting point of magic and physics, the relative weights of rocks, alien life, the effect of chemistry on the brain, the effect of the brain on one’s own chemisty, the intersection of truth and reality, the effect of total solitude, the effect of extreme companionship, alternate histories, subatomic worlds, band names, intergalactic children’s entertainment, and the afterlife. To reach the acme of these ideas, I use equal parts extreme precision, repetitive action, and random chance. My work maintains a careful balance between meticulousness and carelessness to achieve a more naturalist line quality.
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99:3:92:BL:6/Forgiveness, 2010 11’’ x 17’’ pen and India ink
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2:48:3:A:31/Passion, 2010 11’’ x 17’’ pen and India ink
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87:6:23:G:6/Pride, 2010 17’’ x 11’’ pen and India ink
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2:25:11:DH:4/Fortune, 2010 17’’ x 11’’ pen and India ink
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0:15:2:P:20/Hope, 2010 11’’ x 17’’ pen and India ink
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22:62:0:LA:1/Fear, 2010 11’’ x 17’’ pen and India ink
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91:3:42:O:82/Discomfort, 2010 11’’ x 17’’ pen and India ink
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73:3:26:C:10/Courage, 2010 11’’ x 17’’ pen and India ink
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32:80:2:EE:9/Awareness, 2010 17’’ x 11’’ pen and India ink
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Holly Franklin hollyfranklinart.blogspot.com
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Free Life Center freelifecenter.com
Catherine Carter Taylor Crawley Manoli Kouremetis Eli Lehrhoff Robert Minervini Jason Ockert Andrea Robertson Yee-Haw Industries