Split Lip Sunday Night Rumble, February 1st


Editor’s Note:  In the spirit of literary citizenship (and the cheesy title I just thought of for this series), I’m going to be rounding up some weekly favorites from around the web here on the blog.

Happy Super Bowl (some roman numerals) to you all! We don’t have cable because we’re poor, and we also don’t have cool friends who have fun parties, so here I am, on Sunday night, writing a blog that likely no one will be reading.

But maybe you’ll catch it during your Monday morning crockpot-dip hangover.

New Issues

Our friends at Noble/Gas Quarterly released their second, super-stellar issue. Check it out here.

Contributors Killin’ It

Loved and lol’ed at (Issue 7) Tabitha Blankenbiller’s Guy Fieri fanfiction (oh yes she did) over at The Mondegreen (who also released a killer inaugural issue a few weeks ago).

(Note to previous contributors: I try to keep track of you on Twitter, but it’s hard–especially since some of you don’t even use Twitter! If you have news or pubs to share, please feel free to email so I can include them here.)

New Magazines

The inaugural issue of THIS. Magazine blew me away. Gorgeous design, even more gorgeous work. I especially liked Shasta Grant’s piece “Don’t Ever Change.”

Story I Loved

“I Knew I Loved You” by Claire Comstock-Gay in the newest issue of Midnight Breakfast.

Happy reading!



Happy Birthday to The Hook and the Haymaker!

Happy official publication day to Jared Yates Sexton and his short story collection, The Hook and the Haymaker.


Click to Purchase

Want a little try-before-you-buy?  Check out these stories:

+ Maggie from Southern Humanities Review (Pushcart Prize nominee)

“Maggie was a widow of seven years, and every Sunday, her husband’s brother, Dick, dropped in to keep her company and play cards. She would fix a pot of spaghetti, Dick’s favorite, while he drank beer and told her about his week. He worked at the same mine where his brother had been killed, so he was careful with the details.”

+Coming Home from The Account

“There was some­thing won­der­ful about sit­ting down for roast and veg­eta­bles with the fam­ily, drink­ing a glass or two of wine, help­ing with the dishes, and then mak­ing up some excuse as to why I had to go back to the office—papers to grade, classes to prep—and then chok­ing the life out of the evening by crawl­ing bars with Macken­zie and her hot-tempered friends. It was the best of both worlds, the per­fect com­bi­na­tion of ice and fire that made my life so very enjoy­able.”

+ Listen to Jared read Punch-for-Punch from PANK Issue 10 (Then go buy it here.)


We hope you’ll support a talented author and our budding indie press by buying a copy for yourself and one for a friend (or two, if you have more than one friend who likes to read, and we really hope you do) and helping us spread the word.

What People Are Saying:

“Here he is, the successor to Jim Harrison, William Gay, Richard Ford, Jared Yates Sexton is a raw talent, the kind of writer that you need to tell your friends about, the kind of writer you envy and will follow to the ends of the earth. The Hook and The Haymaker is explosive, slicing through us like a literary scythe. His characters traipse through darkness with only the faintest hope of light on the other side, and Sexton leads them – and us – through it all with def precision. This blisteringly smart collection is destined to be an instant classic, and I hope others will rejoice in saying so too.”
– Robert James Russell
Author of Don’t Ask Me To Spell It Out and Sea of Trees

“Jared Yates Sexton lays down a strong confident hand in The Hook and The Haymaker. He is a writer most excellent at details, both huge and tiny – the monstrous wildfires and infinitesimal sparks that warm a life, a relationship, a heart. These stories are sturdy and meaty with smoky ribbons – a substantial collection on which to feast and fill. Delicious.”
– Leesa Cross-Smith
Author of Every Kiss A War

Congratulations, Jared! We couldn’t be prouder. This collection is killer.

Any press/interview/review queries, please email Scott Bugher: editor@splitlippress.com.

20 Questions with Jared Yates Sexton

We here at Split Lip are super stoked about our first full-length collection coming out this Thursday (tomorrow!), Jared Yates Sexton’s The Hook and the Haymaker. In anticipation of the book’s launch, we (well, Amanda, Split Lip Mag’s EIC) sat down with (well, emailed) Jared to talk to him about the book, his writing life, and some other random stuff.

I just finished Jared’s collection An End to All Things a couple weeks ago, and I’ve read a lot of the stories coming out in this newest collection online. I have been a huge fan of JYS’s writing since we were featured in the same magazine a year or so ago (shoutout to our friends at Buffalo Almanack!) and I was able to follow his work–which is no easy task considering how prolific he is (check his website if you don’t believe me).  He’s a master at realistic dialogue and subtle action. And his endings always slay me. The stories in his upcoming collection, especially, I think, highlight the extraordinary moments in seemingly ordinary lives. Seriously, even though I am admittedly biased, I can’t wait to have this book in my hands.

I asked Jared twenty questions, in honor of his book coming out soon–some serious, some not. He was a good sport…except for all the punting in questions 18 and 19.

20 Questions with Jared Yates Sexton, Author of The Hook and the Haymaker

Jared Yates Sexton1. Everyone always asks which story is your favorite, or which story is the most “you”, but I’m more curious: which story do you feel the most distance from? Or, I guess to ask it a different way, which one is most absent of autobiography?

That’d probably be “Maggie,” considering I don’t have a brother, dead or alive. However, I always had this strangely vivid picture in my head of a man standing in front of a mirror with another man’s razor and shaving his face. I’m not sure why that is, but for as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by bathrooms and how it’s the one room of the house where we leave all of these intimate objects and things around to be discovered by people who have carte blanche and the time to explore. That got imagined maybe five or six years ago and I’ve started it, finished it, and came back to it too many times to count, but it’s always had some kind of pull.

2. What was the last book you read? 

A couple of days ago I just reread Freedom for the second time. It’s been useful for crafting language and tone for the novel I’m writing now. Before that was Foucault’s Discipline and Punishment and the last fiction book was Roth’s American Pastoral, which was a punch to the gut. Right now I’m reading Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on the suggestion of a buddy of mine.

3. Name something/someone who might be a surprising (to readers) influence on your writing.

Stephen King. I grew up reading him at way too young of an age and I think that did me a ton of good. It basically gave me the green light to write anything I ever wanted, which is important. Not to mention, the guy’s a hell of a craftsman. Outside of him, probably Flannery O’Connor. She was brutal.

 4. How was putting together your second collection different than putting together the first?

The first collection was this thing that I looked up one day and suddenly there was a book. The stories all kind of hunkered around the same theme because it was written, primarily, during the Great Recession, meaning there were apocalypses aplenty. This one had a little bit of a different birth in that I’ve started writing a lot of different genres and styles, only my realistic fiction, I noticed, was centered around characters and their second and third and so on and so on chances. Or, men and women who want them, who’ve squandered them, who don’t even realize they’re possible. If the hub of the wheel with An End To All Things was environmental, then maybe this one was more incidental.

 5. What career would you choose other than writing/teaching/editing?

Sometimes I have these flights of fancy where I think I could start up a brewing company or learn to cook. Cooking’s a thing that, if I hadn’t have gone to get my MFA, I think I would’ve liked to have pursued, whether it was going into a program or just focusing on it more.

6. Any weird writing rituals—food or drink habits, meditations, readings, knuckle-cracking, pen selections?
I have to read. I tell students all the time that reading is fuel for the engine. I have to sit there and pick through sentences and hope that maybe I can pick up some inspiration or some kind of focus. When I was little, and used to bang away on this old sky-blue typewriter, I decided, for whatever reason, that whenever I wrote I’d have a bowl of white grapes on my desk. Needless to say, that was kind of dumb and probably had more to do with the grapes in the fridge at the time.

 7. Who would you to play you in a movie of the life and times of famous author Jared Yates Sexton?

I get told I favor Charlie Day sometimes, but I think that’s due to the beard.

 8. Follow-up: Who would play (Split Lip Press Editor) Scott Bugher?

This is an excellent question. There’s this guy who was in a Mad Max movie I saw one time who was a spitting image, but I couldn’t even begin to tell you the name.

9. A lot of the stories in your last book (An End to All Things) were apocalyptic, focused on the end of the world or the end of (cough) all things. Kinda dark. This collection is less dark, but would you say there is an overarching theme or focus? Or are they more connected by style?

I’ve already answered this question, but I think the one thing I could point to is that I’ve grown as a person since that book. It stands as a pretty good testament to what it’s like to be in a place of depression and hopelessness, both as a person and citizen, while this book’s got some more hope, some more solid ground beneath its feet. Nobody could mistake it as being overly optimistic, but the sun comes shining in every so often.

10. Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

Before I could read and write I used to write this gigantic, Star Wars-like space sagas where I drew these spaceships – usually just triangles pointing at each other from across the page – and would make up backgrounds for the pilots. Then I’d take markers and draw lasers blowing up the ships. If I remember, those battles got pretty hairy.

 11. What do you like about the short story form (vs. the novel, which you also write)?

The short story is such a beautiful little artifact in its own right. You get these glimpses into lives that allow the reader to fill in holes, visualize some of the more vivid details, and have these intense moments of connection. They’re little flings that are multi-faceted and passionate, but fleeting in certain ways. The novel’s exhaustive. A several decade-long relationship that twists, turns, and develops and falters. By the time you’re done with both you should feel changed, more in touch with yourself and the rest of humanity, but they take different routes getting there.

12. What do you find to be the hardest part of the writing life?

The self-doubt. There’s no getting around it either. Every artist I’ve ever met or studied has been plagued with it. Regardless of how something’s reviewed, revered, or how it sells, the doubt is still lingering there in the back of your head. Sometimes it’s your career or canon as a whole, others it’s every single, solitary word you write. There’s just no real way to overcome it in full. Not that I’ve ever come across, anyway.

13. Follow up: the best part?

The thing I tell students who are thinking about going into writing is this: it’s the worst thing you’ll ever do and the best. That’s just how it is. With all of the doubt and self-flagellation, there’s a wonderful opportunity to externally digest the meat and grit of existence. Everything I’ve ever suffered or gone through is available as fodder for the mill, and maybe if I meet it head on and work through it on the page, I’ll be able to heal, understand, and overcome in everyday life.

14. What do you do when you feel like you can’t write anything?

I don’t believe in blocks, truth be told. If I can’t write, usually it’s because I haven’t been reading or writing with regularity. If that’s the case, then I push forward. I grab something off the shelf that always inspires me and read. I make myself write some terribly stilted prose and hope eventually the motor will kick in. Worse than that? I walk away. Go for a walk. Listen to some music. Pray it’s only temporary.

15. You’ve been known to tell your own creative writing students (at Georgia Southern University) to write what terrifies them. What are your worst fears (Top 3)?

Top three really narrows it down. I think every writer is terrified that it will just stop. Because someday it will. Someday you and I will write our last piece and that will be the summation of everything we’ve ever done. That’s a powerful realization, a living death that’s almost impossible not to think about and almost impossible to function while thinking about.

With that, I think all artists are afraid they won’t ever truly be happy. The condition that allows writers to write their stories or poetry is the same condition that makes existence occasionally bleak and unbearable. There’s some kind of quiet hope that maybe someday this malaise will break completely and forever leave us be, but I’m not sure that’s the case.

And last, but not least: losing everyone I love.

16. Best piece of writing advice anyone’s ever given you? (or was it to write what terrifies you and you’re just recycling that because it’s great?)

 The story will tell you what to do. I heard my graduate advisor Beth Lordan say that in graduate school and I didn’t understand it until maybe four years ago.

17. Fine, I still want to know, even though you’ll probably get tired of answering this question: your favorite story in the collection?

That’s almost impossible to answer. I have favorites, but for varying reasons. I think the title piece is one of the lushest things I’ve written and it came from a marathon writing session one afternoon where everything broke the right way. “Yankee” (from Hobart)  was this thing that took me almost no time at all and arrived fully-formed and virtually perfect. And “Punch-For-Punch” (in PANK). I just like the hell out of that one.

 18. Who are some up-and-comers writing right now (and no, you can’t say me—that one’s obvious) who inspire you?

I’m going to punt on this one because it’s just going to turn into a list of the people I love. There are just so many writers who are hustling their asses off and getting words on the page that say more about existence than anything on our TVs, phones, commercials, or websites. And it’s not even close.

19. Online journal/s you get excited about reading (besides Split Lip, which would, again, be obvious)?

This falls into the same category, I think. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a journal online, or read one on a bookstand, where I didn’t find at least one thing that got me excited about writing.

20. What’s next for you in the literary world?

That’s a hell of a question in its own right. I don’t know. I’ve got another collection coming out from Split Lip next year – an experimental one called I Am The Oil Of The Engine Of The World – and a crime-novel forthcoming from New Pulp Press called Bring Me The Head of Yorkie Goodman. I’ve got another three novels finished and am working on another right now. It’s an exciting time, for sure, the future filled with book ideas for as far as the eye can see. Certainly better than the alternative.

Hell yes it is, JYS.

Thanks to Jared for taking time out of his super busy teaching/writing schedule to answer these inane questions. The Hook and the Haymaker will be available tomorrow, Thursday, January 15th, and we couldn’t be prouder to have him as part of the Split Lip family.




Welcome Our New Poetry Editors

We here at Split Lip Magazine are thrilled to introduce not just one, but two amazing new poetry editors to the rockstar team. They’ve already gotten to work at killing it, just like I knew they would, and I’m so thankful for their enthusiasm and some new blood to liven up this place.

Poetry Editor Christina Drill


Christina Drill is a writer and poet based out of Brooklyn, NY. Originally from Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Christina’s work focuses primarily on the adolescent experience and what it means to “grow up female” in America. Her chapbook NEW BOWS was published by Five/Quarterly in 2013, and her poems have been published in places like Word Riot, Dogzplot, CHEAP POP, and Two Serious Ladies. She currently works as a program coordinator for Girls Write Now. You can find her (occasionally) on Twitter @stidrill and at www.christinadrill.com.

Poetry Editor Tafisha A. Edwards


Tafisha A. Edwards is a Guyanese-Canadian poet who lives and works in Washington D.C, but can infrequently be found in New York City and certain other palmetto dotted cities on the Eastern Seaboard. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications such as Bodega Magazine, The Little Patuxent Review, Fledgling Rag and Stylus among other journals. She is a Cave Canem fellow, a graduate of the University of Maryland’s Jiminéz-Porter Writers’ House and a former educator at the American Poetry Museum, where she taught poetry to primary school children. She has received scholarships to the Juniper Summer Writing Institute, The Minnesota Northwoods Writers’ Conference and Cave Canem. She is currently penning her first collection of poetry, Confusing the Wind and has read the entirety of the A Song of Ice and Fire series to date, which is an accomplishment she feels is great enough to share. You can find her on Twitter at: @ThePetiteTaff.

I couldn’t be more excited to have these amazing women/poets on board. Please welcome them warmly by sending your best poetry submissions our way! (The free reading period is now open.)

Happy New Year! So many good things ahead in 2015 for Split Lip, both the magazine and the press. We can’t wait to share them all with you!



Stop Reading Books About How To Write A Book!


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.

From the Desk of the New Editor-in-Chief: Some Notes On Editing and Lip Splitting

Confession #1: I have never had a split lip 1) because I’ve never been in a real physical fight and 2) because I am near religious about my lip balm application in all seasons.

Confession #2: Even though I am the newest editor of Split Lip magazine, a publication known for its edge and grit, I’m actually quite tenderhearted. But fiercely so. As in:  if I love you, I am ready and willing to kick someone’s ass if they hurt you, and I’m incredibly loyal once you’ve won me.

Confession #3: I am easily won by things like: kindness. humor. well-chosen gifts. well-chosen words.

At the heart of my editing is my…heart.  I want to be moved by your work. The direction doesn’t matter. Break it or make it swell.

And I’m still looking for the things Split Lip has always been looking for: sting. torque. bite.

A favorite line from a song by Father John Misty (video NSFW) that I often end up singing to myself in my head (okay, sometimes out loud if I’m all alone) when I have a a rough day goes: Oh, pour me another drink/and punch me in the face/You can call me Nancy. 

When it comes to writing: Sometimes I want a slow burn like liquor. Sometimes I want the chance to be somebody else. And sometimes, I just really want to be punched in the face.

So, come on over here and split my lip. (You’ll have to get through my team of stellar editors first).




Split Lip Magazine: New Editor-in-Chief


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


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.