The State That Springfield Is In by Tom C. Hunley Coming November 10, 2015

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cover design by J. Scott Bugher

We are happy to announce Tom C. Hunley will be joining the Split Lip family with his killer collection of poems called The State That Springfield Is In, a full-length book of verse based on the Fox animated sitcom, The Simpsons. Here’s what we have to say about the book. We’re super excited to release it on November 10, 2015.

Inspired by America’s most prominent hallmark of modern pop culture, The Simpsons, poet Tom C. Hunley shares his narratives––autobiographical or allegorical––by channeling the eccentric personae of residents in the animated sitcom’s town, Springfield, and trusting their voices to speak on his behalf, resulting in true poetic entertainment. As author Denise Du Vernay states in the collection’s introduction, “Tom’s interaction with The Simpsons doesn’t follow sitcom or even cartoon rules. He doesn’t have to. Tom follows a mysterious set of rules, completely unknown to those of us without a poet’s sensibilities.” That is the sentiment that defines Hunley as an artist. He is a poet who has a firm grip on poetic formalism (the “rules”), but, as is the case with any true artist––perhaps a guitarist for the sake of a metaphoric example––Hunley knows when it’s time to part from his Eddie Van Halen trickery in exchange for what resonates with those who are unfamiliar with the “rules,” “theories, and “doctrines” of art: gritty power chords strummed in the manners of Kurt Cobain or Johnny Ramone.

While capable of boggling a reader’s mind with poetics only a limited audience bothers to appreciate these days, Hunley has taken to The Simpsons in order to depart from the shoebox diorama boundaries most readers and writers of verse wallow in, and instead reach out to those of us who want to feel aroused by humor and drama rather than feel disoriented by, for example, accounts of lucid dreaming juxtaposed with archaic Polish folklore found in the nationalistic opera of Stanislaw Moniuszko. In short, Hunley wants poetry back on the map as an element of pop culture rather than vaulted property of academia and patrons of Sotheby’s auction house. The State That Springfield Is In may very well be the poetry collection to materialize his bold objective.

 

Save The University of Akron Press

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Hey folks. I’ve been seeing some heartbreaking headlines posted all over social media regarding the University of Akron’s potential to close its book press and couldn’t help but to post an open letter to its top administrators: Scott Scarborough (President), Lawrence Burns (Vice President of Advancement), Mike Sherman (Senior Vice President, Provost & Chief Operating Officer), and Paul Herold (Secretary of the Board of Trustees). It’s posted below. If you feel inclined to learn more and see what you can do to help keep the book press in biz, visit the Save The University of Akron Press’ Facebook Page!

Dear Scott Scarborough, Lawrence Burns, Mike Sherman & Paul Herold––

I am writing with uniformed concern for the University of Akron’s book press, and I say uninformed because I am unaware of the school’s situation in full, and, though a bit speculative, I frankly believe media outlets suppress facts to produce more persuasive journalism. If, however, recent headlines are accurate regarding University of Akron’s plans to halt its book press funding, then I am obligated to ask: would you please consider other means to transpose the institution’s budget from deficit to reclamation?

Akron’s book press has been an essential contributor to the literary arts for thirty years, and its most notable effort, I’d argue, is the esteemed Akron Series in Poetry. On the one hand, through an entrepreneurial lens, I can see how one may justify considering poetry an expense worth omitting since, as a product, it has very little monetary value, and its supply trumps its demand. On the other hand, through an academic lens, there is a fundamental need to preserve and respect poetry since it cannot be forgotten the arts are precursors of the sciences, and if academia believes the arts have been exhausted to the extent of futility, then the academy is, in fact, blaspheming its own being.

The first and foremost duty of academia is to embrace and respect preexisting knowledge, to shelter it in order to promote research and discovery and/or creation of yet-to-exist knowledge. Poetry of the past must remain in the proverbial knowledge arsenal, and the poetry of contemporary thinkers that has yet to be written and/or published must remain in the academy’s diet for even more knowledge. The academy must stay hungry for knowledge and remember an appetite for profit belongs to the entrepreneur’s diet.

While I can respect the business component of university operations, I cannot say I fully understand it since I am a romantic with a fervent desire for academia to get reacquainted with its roots, or to at least aim effort toward doing so. There are valid reasons, I’m sure, that the academy has been pressed to take a more corporate approach to operations, but there has got to be a way to balance things and take a reformative approach rather than a transformative approach by remembering knowledge stockpiles as a result of synergy between multiple domains in both the sciences and the arts.

You claim to function as a polytechnic university––an admirable approach. Your website even defines it to an etymological level: Polytechnic = Polutekhnos, which is Polu (many) + tekhné (arts). By cutting the book press, it seems your approach will deflate to: Ligótera (fewer) + tekhné (arts). Please be kind to your reputation and maintain the purity of your polytechnic approach by preserving your book press.

Thank you,

J. Scott Bugher

Founder & Publisher

Split Lip Press & Magazine

www.splitlippress.com

www.splitlipmagazine.com

A Poem by Split Lip Founder Scotty Bob Steevessffph

We’ve been bad bloggers, so here’s a poem by the guy responsible for all the damage Split Lip has done to the economy, healthcare system, education and federal reserve.

Pills

TREATMENT

Pills fall, sheets of rain into a burrow

of wolves. My crow mind in hiding until dogs are

put to sleep. My life, an infant pear tree,

roots mingling with deadly nightshade underground.

Berries poison the delirium further, the fruit

that left Syd Barrett in his mother’s home until 2006,

the fruit that fed Brian Wilson voices

to harmonize with melody. My mouth is always open

like my mother’s basement door. Every time

I swallow, the crow loses memory of its abductor,

the pears decay before ever ripening.

–– J. Scott Bugher

What To Do If You’re Buried Alive by Michael Meyerhofer – Available Now!

Michael Meyerhofer, What To Do If You're Buried Alive

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Super excited to announce Michael Meyerhofer’s What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, his fourth full-length poetry collection, is now available from Split Lip Press! Find it at our website or Amazon today, pick up a copy, read it, and then contact Split Lip Press and tell us how hard your world had been rocked––if you’re still conscious enough to write us.

In his latest collection of poems, What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, Michael Meyerhofer’s narrative verse is tight and full of torque: storytelling in the vein of Richard Hugo, humor in the likes of Ron Padgett, absurdity a little like Stephen Dobyns and surrealism much like the dearly missed Tomaz Salamun. And this collection is huge! 130+ pages of the type of poems you can recite to a buddy at a bar without your buddy having any clue that you are speaking a poem aloud. This is the type of book for short story fans who want to explore the world of poetry while bypassing confusion, trickery, the diction of Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus and other poetic pollutants that interfere with one’s reading pleasure. If you’re seeking poetry you can feel you are a part of, know where you’re at in, and have a friend in the narrator, then this is the book for you! As poet George Bilgere puts it: “Meyerhofer sings in a pure American tenor, his voice haunted by late night diners, small town heartbreak, and somehow, out there in the desolate vastness of the heartland, a flash of humor and a sweet glimmer of hope.”

Michael Meyerhofer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Note About Michael Written by Michael: My first fantasy novel, Wytchfire (Book 1 in the Dragonkin Trilogy) was published by Red Adept Publishing. The book went on to win the Whirling Prize from the Kellogg Writers Series, and was nominated for a 2015 Readers’ Choice Award in fantasy by the premier book review website, Big Al’s Books & Pals. The sequel, Knightswrath, will be released shortly.

Meanwhile, I’ve been writing and publishing poetry for many years. My fourth poetry book, What To Do If You’re Buried Alive, was just released by Split Lip Press. My third, Damnatio Memoriae (lit. “damned memory”), won the Brick Road Poetry Book Contest. I’m also the author of two other poetry books: Leaving Iowa (winner of the Liam Rector First Book Award) and Blue Collar Eulogies (Steel Toe Books, finalist for the Grub Street Book Prize).

In addition to my full-length poetry books, I’ve also published five poetry chapbooks: Pure Elysium (winner of the Palettes and Quills Chapbook Contest), The Clay-Shaper’s Husband (winner of the Codhill Press Chapbook Award), Real Courage (winner of the Terminus Magazine and Jeanne Duval Editions Poetry Chapbook Prize), The Right Madness of Beggars (winner of the Uccelli Press 3rd Annual Chapbook Competition), and Cardboard Urn (winner of the Copperdome Chapbook Contest).

I’ve also won the Marjorie J. Wilson Best Poem Contest, the Laureate Prize for Poetry, the James Wright Poetry Award, and the Annie Finch Prize for Poetry. My work has appeared in Ploughshares, North American Review, Arts & Letters, River Styx, Quick Fiction, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, and other journals.

An Option for Poets in a Rut

I’m a poet, meaning I’m well acquainted with insecurity, plateau and stagnancy. Poets––the artistic type; not the CV-building, award-seeking, willing-to-write-whatever-to-get-published type––desire only one thing: growth. When asked which poem I’ve written is my favorite, I always say: “The one I haven’t written yet.” While a poet does, for one minute (one emphasized), feel pleasure upon completing a poem they like or can at least tolerate, and while a poet does feel proud (for one minute) when a journal picks up a piece, it’s still never enough. Poets want their next poem to be THE poem they’ve been meaning to write ever since the start, but oftentimes––even when a final piece presents an illusion that it is, in fact, THE poem the poet’s been waiting for but a day later decides it’s not––satisfaction is never at the level one would like it to be. This pattern is a lineage to utter frustration and thoughts about giving up.

If you’re a poet with no clue about anything above, clearly you are a very happy person without neurotic symptoms, or you are the type with an “anybody can write poetry just like anybody can play hand drums or paint abstract pictures” mindset. As for this poet? Well, you can say I’m familiar with mental health facility lobbies, and you can say I’m a stubborn dick who does not believe anybody can write poetry, though I should clarify–– While, yes, anybody can technically write a poem since there really isn’t a set of criterion to evaluate what makes for a good poem anymore, NOT everybody can write poetry with a deep, intense drive to master the art because that takes a lot of work, most being very hard work that needs to be done while feeling uninspired, exhausted, doubtful, self-loathing, et cetera. Simply put, while anybody can write a poem, only few are willing to do what it takes to write a good poem.

What can be done, then, if discouragement and doubt is beating a poet down? My answer, though pertinent to those not studying writing at a university, is: Investigate some universities or community colleges and look at what creative writing classes they offer––anything from Intro to Creative Writing through Advanced Poetry Writing. While combing a given semester’s course offerings, note the instructor’s name who is scheduled to teach the classes you’re interested in. When finished, Google the instructors’ names and see what you find.

I did this in 2013 just after I had completed my undergrad degree in creative writing. I didn’t need to go back for more classes because I didn’t know how to practice on my own; it was a desire for a new challenge, and by that I mean I like to write, at times, as per an assignment or prompt, and I’ll admit having a deadline is a nice motivator, too. During the Googling process, looking up those writing instructors, I didn’t find many I was interested in. There are too many old-schoolers out there with a very specified agenda, the same they’ve been teaching for up to decades. For example, you can take a poetry class with an instructor you know nothing about and then discover he/she teaches only Whitman––nothing else––because the instructor believes only Whitman is worth studying. It happens with fiction as well, the case often being: only Raymond Carver is worthy of study. I’m not going to quarrel with that, though. Carver is the man.

After several fruitless searches, I gave Ivy Tech Community College a try. (FYI, this is back when I lived in Indiana.) They offered an Intro to Creative Writing class taught by Norman “Buzz” Minnick. I pasted his name in Google and landed on his website, where I found this poem:

AT THE AUTO REPAIR SHOP

Everything,

even the gumball machine, is grimy.

The mechanic has his name on a patch

above his heart. His fingernails

and the deep lines in his cracked hands

are forever black. The shop smells

like tires and stale coffee.

Chilton’s service repair manuals

and parts catalogues are stacked

behind the counter. No one notices

the zweep zweep sound of an air

impact wrench torquing lug nuts.

Cigarette butts float in the toilet

above which hangs a pinup

showing a woman wearing only a pair

of bright red high heels

that compliment

the bright red muscle car

she sprawls over.

She has thick, dark pubic hair

which upon closer examination

is only the smudge

of a greasy thumbprint.

First appeared in the Oxford American, later published in his book Folly.

I was SOLD. (I’m one of those frowned upon poets who champions poems that make sense, though Norm has the capacity to write some pretty tricky shit.) There was no need for any further investigation. I contacted the school, said I wanted to audit the class and showed up a few weeks later to the first session. Norm came in with tattoos cloaking his arms, and I think I remember his first remark was along the lines of: “If you can’t stomach vulgarity, sex, violence and such, then this might not be the class for you.” After letting the class know what they were in for, he opened with his first lesson by asking: “What is love?” Every answer was exactly what you had likely thought of just now––something grounded in a feeling or emotion. I didn’t say anything since I had no idea what he was trying to do. But as more and more clues started to surface every time he’d reply to an answer, I picked up on his trickery. I raised my hand and said, “Love is authentic gumbo found in Nebraska by a Louisiana native.” I had never been asked how to define an abstract noun before. I knew to avoid them when writing––not all the time, but more often than not––but I’ve never given very much thought to solving how to work around an abstraction, so I’d just bypass them altogether. That answer I gave triggered a poem I wrote called “A Cincinnati Boil,” which was later published by The Baltimore Review. In fact, after the semester studying with Norm, four out of however many poems I penned for the class wound up published. Along with Baltimore, poems were taken by Atticus Review, Hobart and Cleaver Magazine.

Through the course of the semester, Norm and I discovered we had a lot in common outside of poetry. In fact, I’d argue we have more in common with most everything BUT poetry since we’re both outspoken, stubborn assholes with strong opinions about the craft (e.g., Norm doesn’t care much for George Bilgere‘s poetry while I, however, think he’s a damn fine poet.) This is likely due to the fact we both were (me: past tense / Norm: still at it) members of punk and/or hardcore bands at one point or another. Norm is lead singer for a thrash hardcore band called Bush League. I was bassist for a few lesser-accomplished hardcore bands back in the 90s. So, as fellow punk-poet hybrids, we have had a few poetic debates (Norm knows well how to defend a good argument) over the past couple of years––always edifying, though. I will always remember meeting with Norm and his (who I think is) mentor Larry Atwood, who is as hardass as they come. We were at a bar reading our poems to each other. Following each reading came some serious shit-talking––sometimes warranted, other times just to be a dick––but it was a good time, and there were, for the record, moments we praised another’s work when we couldn’t deny its worth.

Anyway, I think I’ve harped a lot longer than I had planned to. Bottom line: If you want an extra boost when feeling like you’ve plateaued or that you’re in a rut, consider auditing a college creative writing class of some sort. Just be sure to look up the instructor so it doesn’t result in wasted money. Had I not stumbled upon Norm, I would likely not be posting this advice, but given the fortune I found in studying with the guy, and how I learned new things in new ways, I felt inclined to let fellow poets know that auditing a class is a viable option to help amplify your writing.

Interested in Norm? Here are some online poems I really like, and some just happen to appear in Split Lip Magazine. Huh. 🙂 5 Poems as Featured Poet in Atticus Review. 3 Poems in Split Lip Magazine. And 5 Poems in Gadfly. Find Norm online at www.buzzminnick.com.

And if you liked the “Repair Shop” poem among others from links above, you can find it along with other outstanding works in his latest book Folly. Go and get yourself a copy!

folly

Katie Schmid Wins the Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest!

Katie Schmid Cigarettes Web

Photo by Aaron Ottis Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Though Split Lip Press does not condone or promote smoking cigarettes, take a look at this pic of Katie Schmid, winning author of our Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest with her manuscript Forget Me / Hit Me / Let Me Drink Great Quantities of Clear, Evil Liquor. Such a cool photo, but even cooler, her book tentatively forthcoming sometime in late summer. Stand by for the official release date announcement.

Though a tough decision, our guest judge Meg Pokrass selected Katie’s manuscript as winner, finding it original and expansive in its entirety, and I concur. The collection is diversified with regards to both content and form. Her poetics are delicious, and she is astute in discerning the form that will serve a given poem best, ranging from those only in line, others broken in stanzas of different lengths, others with some long lines / some short lines, others as prose poems, some formatted with text aligned to the right or centered, and my favorite part, her series in the middle called “Daughter Psalms,” which are not individually titled pieces, just blocks of text unified by the series’ title placed mid-page on each page of the section. Another cool part is a series of prose poems titled “The Boys of the Midwest,” followed by a number as per the order they appear in. And, most importantly, the quality of her writing is masterful and striking––full of risk, balanced and tasteful shifts in diction choices, daring syntactical moves, and a touch of wit within otherwise dark, haunting poems––how, at times, such wit serves as a stepping stone to begin a lineage of rising tension as seen in “Some Brief Information About the Spartans”––

Boys pay tribute to Saint Jude: patron saint of dollar single cigarettes from the bar, patron saint of working a double at the granite factory, patron saint of watching the bitter candle of your father going to hell.

Dear god, the escalation: a gritty denotation of the Saint Jude figure.

And then how she manages to personify her narrators and characters with such a high degree of verisimilitude. It fascinates me, like this passage in “Letter to the Midwest”––

I too, am afraid that I can never escape:

these cracked sidewalks, the empty storefronts

like raw wounds, the fair weather drunks

who lie in doorframes with their abandoned

bodies in a puddle of vomit. And me:

I wake to find myself scuffed, badly bruised,

like a peach your thumb could sink into

with the lightest touch.

Beautifully tragic in my opinion.

So, that’s the skinny on our winner Katie Schmid, but let’s give props to those contestants who wound up finalists:

In the Valley of the Sun by Gleah Powers

The Prophetic Western by Meredith McDonough

11:58 by Ann Stewart McBee

PERSONA: Noun, Feminine, Singular by Carolyn Moore

Sleepstart by Heikki Huotari

Stranger Underneath by Trish Hopkinson

American Spirits by Jackson Burgess

Take Me Home by Sarah Levine

Tiger Laughs When You Push by Ruth Lehrer

Velocity by Martha Clarkson

Winter & Construction: Michigan Stories by Matthew Fogarty

Rock n Roll, Split Lip fans. We appreciate your support and look forward to bringing you Katie’s book Forget Me / Hit Me / Let Me Drink Great Quantities of Clear, Evil Liquor this coming summer.

 

 

 

 

 

Stop Reading Books About How To Write A Book!

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by J. Scott Bugher

I am a writer and have the standard bookshelf dedicated to instructional books, most of which would be more useful as fire kindling or maybe origami practice, depending on the weight of the paper. Most instructional books are titled like outrageous promises found in Cosmopolitan or Men’s Health magazines: “Guaranteed Multiple Orgasms” or “Get Ripped Abs in Seven Days.”

Here’s the skinny. If you want to be edified in the craft of fiction, read Janet Burroway. If memoir is your thing, check out Natalie Goldberg. Like poetry? Then read work by other poets and write your own. Poetry instructional books will just make you hate poetry and life in general.

Now, if you want to be the most fantastical badass of a novelist, be super careful about today’s instructional books. Go old school first and read John Gardner’s book, On Becoming a Novelist, and maybe Henry Miller’s On Writing. In my opinion, I’d cut it out with the novel tutorial books after those guys. If you insist on getting that How to Write and Publish Your First Novel in Two Weeks book written by some guy who published a recalled romance novel in 1987, then practice some discernment.

I’m not going to identify the book I recently read about writing novels, but I’ll call it You Just Wasted Twenty Dollars by Stephen McBlowChunks.

The book begins with character development and advises to make them larger-than-life since, as the author generalizes, larger-than-life characters powerfully attract us. Okay, so this book might offer good advice to a writer planning on developing yet another asshole character with super-powers. Fair enough. But I have to ask: what’s so wrong with characters we can identify with, characters who are lonely and hang out in record shops or characters who think about tying shoes while riding an escalator? I’m lonely, I like record stores, I have random thoughts often (most recently, a thought of my cat inventing new batteries for Proctor and Gamble). So why should I give a shit about a larger-than-life character who can travel through time, shoot fire from their eyes and lick their own elbow?

We then move on to the “Personal Stakes” chapter, and stakes can make a story interesting, but goddammit–– This book advises everything to result in nuclear war. How would Nick Hornby make things worse for the record shop guys in High Fidelity? Give them each a terminal illness? Make them all heroin addicts? Have the mafia chase after them? Feed them a diet of badger shit and vinegar? And Nicholson Baker’s guy on the escalator in The Mezzanine? Would the book be better if the lead character was sodomized by Mr. T on his way up the escalator?

God, and the whole antagonist thing: the villain, the bad guy, the boogieman. The word “villain” makes me want to Google how to tie a noose. Every book on writing tells the practicing writer to include a villain. Hornby. Where’s your Lex Luthor at? Baker. You forgot to include a man-eating zombie-attacker-thingy. Okay, I’ll cap it on the villain rant.

You know what? I’ll cap it on everything. Long blog posts bore me to death, and if you’re still reading, you’re probably over it. I think I am, too. I was about to discuss plot and all the terrible things you can do to it according to this Write a Best-Seller in a Weekend book, but I think I’m done.

Split Lip Magazine: New Editor-in-Chief

amanda_miska

After searching for a significant period of time, and as we waited patiently for the perfect person for the job, Amanda Miska was recruited to serve as Split Lip Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief in December, 2014. She joined with her fists up throwing brass knuckle punches with all sorts of plans to push Split Lip to its next level. She is the former fiction curator at Luna Luna Magazine, one of the most visited online magazines out there, and one that also features media outside of literature like music, fine art and film. Split Lip’s perfect fit.

Amanda received her MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her work is all over the place in fine journals like Whiskey Paper, CHEAP POP, jmww, The Collapsar, Storychord, Five Quarterly, Cactus Heart, Lockjaw Magazine, Pea River Journal, Hippocampus Magazine, Cartridge Lit, Atticus Review and elsewhere. She lives and writes in the Northern part of Virginia, but you can find her procrastinating on Twitter: @akmiska.

 Check out a few of her stories below:

Sorry Not Sorry @ Five Quarterly

Strangers @ CHEAP POP

ISO @ Whiskey Paper

Ed Harkness on Richard Hugo & the MFA Controversy

HUGO

Ed Harkness was selected by Michael Meyerhofer as runner-up in Split Lip’s 2014 UpperCut Chapbook Awards. His new chapbook, Ice Children, to be published by Split Lip Press, is set for release on November 21, 2014. In this quick essay, Harkness talks about his first encounter with poet Richard Hugo and his time studying with him at the University of Montana. Though, in the spirit of Hugo, Harkness is an artist above academic, his essay concludes with Harkness’ defense for the MFA. Find out more about Harkness at www.edharkness.com.

My Time with Richard Hugo by Ed Harkness

I first met Richard Hugo not in Missoula, where he taught at the University of Montana (UM), but rather in Seattle in 1970. He’d come to teach a summer poetry class at the University of Washington, where I was just eking out my BA in English. The precise moment I felt the arc of my life change was when I heard Hugo read on a sweltering August afternoon in Savery Hall. The boom and crack of his voice (“You might come here Sunday on a whim. / Say your life broke down.”) gave me a chill in the overheated auditorium. I had no idea poetry could sound like that: hard, loud, clear and fierce, like a jackhammer in the hands of a musician. I resolved that I’d follow this man anywhere. And that’s what I did.

Robert Wrigley, a poet I much admire and whose work has also appeared in Split Lip Magazine, shares with me a lucky distinction. We both studied with Richard Hugo at the UM way back in the 1970s. I can’t speak for Bob, though I doubt he’d disagree, but my connection to Hugo for those two years in the MFA program were life-changing. I’ve tried many times to explain to others—and mostly failed—what it was about Hugo that made him such a remarkable teacher and mentor. After all, those of us who got to study with Dick were doubly blessed to be students of his colleague and friend, Madeline DeFrees, a wonderful poet in her own right, and, like Hugo, a gifted and nurturing guide for us young writers.

Here, then, is one more effort to say what it was about Hugo that drew many of us to him.

His laugh.

Despite what might seem to be the grim and sometimes glum tone of his poems, Hugo was really funny, in class and out. He loved funnymen like Jack Benny and Groucho Marx and could quote freely from Marx Brothers films like Duck Soup. The line I remember Dick repeating (more than once) is Groucho’s exhortation to his men during a comically absurd battle scene, made, as always, at the expense of the stuffy society woman played by Margaret Dumont, Groucho’s hapless foil in many Marx Brothers films: “Remember,” Hugo said, in his bad imitation of Groucho, “you’re fighting for this woman’s honor, which is probably more than she ever did!” Hugo would explode with his bellowing laugh, and the roar was so loud that it frightened some of us rather serious graduate student into laughing along with him. In turn, if someone in class said something funny, or quoted from the same movie, Dick would roar even louder.

More than once Hugo told me that had he not become a poet and English professor, he would have liked to be a comedy writer. His love of jokes and funny lines from movies and poems kept everyone loose. One line I remember that he claimed came from a student in a class he taught in Seattle went like this: “By the shores of Lake Sammamish [near Seattle], I sat eating a ham sandwich.” He’d pause to let the ridiculous line sink in, then his booming laugh would rattle the classroom windows. We loved it, just as we loved his awful off-color limericks.

Hugo, the academic outsider.

In demeanor, Hugo was the opposite of the stereotype of the erudite scholar standing before the lectern. In fact, I never recall him lecturing. He just talked poetry. Sometimes he’d even poke fun at his colleagues in the UM English department, mocking their slightly formal speech. “At an English meeting the other night,” Dick once told us in class, “a guy next to me looked at his watch and actually said, ‘Considering the lateness of the hour…’ Jesus Christ, why not just say ‘It’s getting late’?” It was Hugo’s way of reminding us of the divide between “us” and “them,” the flakey creative writers and the more serious-minded academics and their pompous way of saying things.

The truth is that Hugo knew more than we ever would about poetic technique and could, if the mood struck him or the moment seemed right, recite whole poems by Roethke or Yeats or Bogan by way of illustrating a point about rhythm or the gunshot-like power of single-syllable words (“…Stumbling upon the blood-dark track once more…” from Yeats’ poem “Hound Voice”). Often, in commenting on a student workshop draft, Dick would go so deep inside the poem it was as if he knew more about what was going than its author did. But his comments were usually less interpretive and more about the mechanics of the poem, its syntax, diction and rhythm, or the “stance” the poem projected. “The words are fine,” he’d say of a student poem, “but there’s no stance.” He’d then add, “If your poem doesn’t have a stance, make one up, the weirder the better.”

In his writing workshops, he wasn’t big on theory but rather stressed the practical matters of writing poems, including such mundane issues of whether to use pen or pencil and what kind of notebooks to buy (pencils only, #2; hard-backed notebooks with green-lined paper, as he recommends in the chapter “Nuts and Bolts” in his classic book of essays on writing, The Triggering Town).

But Hugo also understood the complicated psychology of being a writer, and many of us loved to listen to him explain to us what it was we were doing, and why, since some of us (me) didn’t have a clue. Hugo offered much-needed “reasons” that justified our efforts at trying to be poets, a main one being the need to assert, in our poems, that our lives mattered, even when the world said otherwise. These justifications were both illuminating and comforting and can be summed up by things he said in class and later wrote in The Triggering Town: “You owe reality nothing and the truth about your feelings everything,” “Never let facts get in the way of the imagination,” “To write a poem you must have a streak of arrogance—not in real life I hope. In real life try to be nice.” He encouraged us to be fearless, to risk being melodramatic, even sentimental in our poems—edging up to the line between sentiment and sentimentality, but not crossing the line. “All great art,” he’d say, “has an element of schmaltz or corn.” He’d challenge us to “write off the subject.” That last phrase, made famous in The Triggering Town, may be Hugo’s most subversive idea about the creative process. It was his way of saying “Stop making sense!” What he asked was that we teach ourselves, to discover, in the act of writing, our own voices and ways of sounding, and to give at least as much attention to the music of words as to their meanings.

Hugo as mentor and friend.

During my time (early ‘70s) at the UM, Hugo lived alone, having divorced his first wife some years earlier. In that span of several years before he met and married Ripley Schemm in 1974, Dick sought out social connections, first by spending much time at local bars, where he became a regular, and later, when he stopped drinking, looked for companionship from his graduate students and teaching colleagues, male and female, to go out to dinner or to a movie, or on the weekend go fishing at one of the many lakes and reservoirs near Missoula, or go on a drive to one small Montana town or other. One such drive inspired what may be Hugo’s best-known and most powerful poems, “Degrees of Gray in Phillipsburg.”

One afternoon Dick asked if I’d like to accompany him on a drive up to the Flathead Reservation north of Missoula. Of course I said yes. The aim of this drive, Hugo told me, was to deliver a copy of his just-released book, The Lady in Kicking Horse Resevoir, to Victor Charlo, a Salish elder and poet. One of the poems in the book was dedicated to Charlo. In fact, Dick dedicated at least half of the poems in that book to specific individuals—friends—and titled two sections of the book tellingly: “Montana With Friends,” and “Touring With Friends.”

Another time Hugo took me fishing to that very reservoir, Kicking Horse, a subject I wrote about in detail in a reminiscence I published in Fine Madness (Vol. 2, #1) shortly after Dick’s death in 1982, titled “‘Someday I plan to Visit Everyone I Love’: Remembering Dick.”

Here, then, was another way that Hugo was, for many, unlike any teacher they’d ever had. He removed the artificial wall between his role as professor and personal friend. You’d attend his class, and that Saturday he’d invite you to go with him to the local park and watch a fast-pitch softball game. Even after he remarried, Dick and Ripley maintained friendships with his students and writer friends, inviting them to barbeques at their house on Wylie Street in Missoula.

***

University writing programs, like the MFA program at the University of Montana, sometimes come under attack for producing a kind of standardized, homogenized poetry, characterized—according to the critics—by an arch cleverness, blandness and a lack of emotional punch. I don’t buy that sweeping claim, but I’ll save that debate for another day. For those who like to talk about all that “bad” contemporary MFA poetry, go find a book called A Heap O’ Livin,’ by Edgar Guest, a wildly popular American poet of the 1920s, decades before the invention of the MFA degree, and see if you can read Guest without gagging. My experience as a student in the UM MFA program, where I got to know and learn from Richard Hugo and Madeline DeFrees, and from other writing teachers as well, including the novelist and short story writer Bill Kittredge, was a two-year treasure I wouldn’t trade for the world.

An Interview with Kristina Marie Darling

4 Books Published in One Month? Unheard of.

4 Books Publishedin One Month? Unheard of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been a fan of Kristina Marie Darling for a couple of years ever since poet David Tomaloff turned me onto her work. As a writer who favors short fiction by folks like Richard Yates and Raymond Carver, and poetry by folks like Stephen Dobyns and Richard Hugo, it’s kind of surprising I’m a fan of Darling’s approach to writing. It was weird. She sent me a review copy of Brushes with, and though intimidated by its cerebral nature, I dug in. I mean, I really, really dug in. Her work makes me want to read closely and critically, something I’d rather not do with most poetry. Whatever she’s doing, and despite my poor interpretations of her material, it’s working in her favor. She’s on fire, too! 17 published books with 3 more forthcoming. Let’s ask a couple of questions and see what’s up with her.

So, congratulations on your newest three books! When can we expect their release? What can you tell us about each title?

First, thank you for the kind words about my work! Although I’m excited about all three of these new releases, I’m especially thrilled about the publication of Scorched Altar: Selected Poems and Stories 2007-2014. The book includes excerpts of my previous collections, which include Night Songs, Compendium, The Body is a Little Gilded Cage, Petrarchan, Vow, and more. Scorched Altar is available from BlazeVOX Books and can be purchased here.

I’m also delighted about the publication of my flash fiction collection, The Arctic Circle, which is available from BlazeVOX Books too. The collection includes linked stories about a woman who gets married to the man of her dreams… only to find that his first wife was found frozen inside the house. A short excerpt from the manuscript is online at Tupelo Quarterly. Get your copy of the book here.

Lastly, I’m so happy to see my collection of astronomy poems in print. The Sun & the Moon is available from BlazeVOX Books, and invokes the astronomical clock as its central metaphor. As the book unfolds, a marriage between astral bodies crumbles, and the constellations become into ghosts, their dresses covered in ice. The book is available here. It’s worth purchasing even if only for Noah Saterstrom’s beautiful cover art.

I hope you’ll check out any or all of these new books!

I’ve seen several different sides of your writing. I mean, you’ve done straight narrative like the lovely “Self Portrait, Evicted.” Erasures as found in some of your books. Then you do footnotes, glossaries and whatnot like “A History of Transcendence.” Now I’ve been hearing about all sorts of hybrid work you’re putting out. Tell us. Why do you seem to be interested in everything poetically possible? How do you afford your voice to so many different writing methodologies?

That’s a great question. For me, each book is its own idea, its own concept, so it usually calls for a style that’s different from the ways I’ve written before. This is good because it keeps me from getting too comfortable in any one way of writing. The poems I’m the happiest with usually feels like a process of discovery while I’m writing them. I have no idea where the poem, the idea, or the style of writing will take me. Because each book is its own idea, though, that means that the prospect of starting a new project is very intimidating. But once I do, watch out! That project usually takes over my life until it’s finished.

With a publication history of now 20 books and a CV that contends with the length of the old testament, how do you manage to get it all done? The writing, the revising, the editing, the submission process, reaching out for reviews, et cetera.

I get asked that question a lot, and the answer is always the same: I don’t have a one-year old baby. I have a one-year old nephew. If I were a parent, I think my priorities would be much different, and poetry would take a back seat. But for now, I can have fun with my adorable nephew and still write tons of poems.

While on the subject of publishing, how would you advise one who is trying to get their first book published if they approached you about it? The literary world is like the porn industry. A lot of people want in, but most don’t get to play. That sounds harsh, but I think it’s fair to say. Dunno. Anyway, I’d love your thoughts regarding getting a publisher to pick up one’s manuscript. I’m asking “for a friend.” 🙂

It’s good to publish in magazines that are attached to small presses. Like Thrush Journal and Thrush Press. Or Prick of the Spindle and Aqueous Books. Or BlazeVOX Journal and BlazeVOX Books. Or Anemone Sidecar and Ravenna Press. And Wicked Alice and Dancing Girl press for the ladies. The list goes on and on. But it’s always great to test the waters with a magazine submission, then build a relationship with the editors, and later approach them with a manuscript. At least, that’s how it worked for me. I was a contributor to the Gold Wake Press E-Chaps Series for years, and when the editors started a print series, they graciously agreed to take a look at my project.

Now that you have all of those books, are in the process of earning your Ph.D. in poetics, and get a billion search results when Googling your name, what’s next for KMD?

Gainful employment, hopefully. I’m finishing up school, traveling, and getting ready to apply for jobs. I’m hoping to find something that’s a mix of teaching and editing, but I’m open to many different possibilities: curriculum development, arts management, higher education administration, or just about anything else that involves books.

One last question. A fun one. Would you ever consider writing a mainstream or young adult novel? I’m asking since your career reminds me of Julianna Baggott’s, who has 18 published books of poetry, commercial novels and children’s books. Is that a realm you think you’ll ever enter? I heard there’s money in it. Imagine it–– “Footnotes to Hunger Games,” a trilogy by Kristina Marie Darling.

First: Thank you for the flattering comparison! I love Julianna Baggott’s work. Second: You are a mind reader! I’m working on a novel about a woman who’s in love but can’t speak. It’s called Frances the Mute. Because I never really stopped being a teenager, I have a feeling that the book is something teenage girls would really love. Hopefully once I get a working draft in order, anything will be possible.