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Four Murders can only be bought here.

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As I said elsewhere, I can’t begrudge WalMart for giving me a job when I needed one.  Truth is, however: I have not written a lot in the past two years. And, I can’t say I didn’t try. My new eChapbook, Four Murders, was almost completely written over my lunch breaks, usually at a picnic table outside of the store.  The ebook consists of four long-ish poems that take cues from other poets like Akhmatova, Shiki, Carroll, and Crapsey.  Basically, I took a line from somebody else and tricked it out into being a poem title. Then, I wrote with a sense of radical diversion. The result?   … Four Murders.  Really, and honsetly.  Each of the poems included are about a sense of “Murder.”  The eChap is only available via Merchant’s Keep.

Well, I have been through two disasters when it comes to small press genre publishing.  I don’t bring them up to pour salt on anybody’s wound, but to simply point out how happy I was to see Needfire publish Barry Napier’s “A Mouth For Picket Fences.”   My history with Barry is rather simple.  One day, while reading for a poetry anthology, I opened up my email to see a submission from him.   I never talked or interacted with him before.  It was the first time I ever saw his name.  I seriously considered the poem for a moment, and then typed out a kind rejection.  Then, I tried to go on my way.  For some reason, his poem lingered for awhile, even if it didn’t fit the guidelines I was operating under.  Basically, the poem was written in a very contemporary way, which sometimes is a highly rare thing when it comes to horror and poetry.  So, I wrote him back and asked for him to seriously consider sending me something else.  He did, and both poems easily became my two favorite poems in Death in Common.  So, began, via email, to twist his arm into writing a book of poetry.  He seemed interested, so I applied more pressure to twisted arm.  Then, the floor fell out from the publishing arrangement that I had at the time, and then it also crumbled around the follow up attempt to publish that anothology.  With those set backs came the sinking realization that I was harassing a guy into writing a book, and then had no means to publish it.  That changed with my new relationship with Belfire Press and its Needfire imprint.   And, I’m very glad I was able to stick with Barry and see it through to the end, wherever that end took us.  A Mouth For Picket Fences is a really, really good book.  I’m honored that I was able to facilitate Barry’s interest in every way that I could.

Oh, and yeah, it’s available on Amazon.  I highly recommend it.

Well, this book has been a long journey, but I’m very happy its finally out and available on Amazon.  Wrath James White takes a fairly restrictive form of poetry and runs with it to great effect.  This book also features a short preface on “White Space” (pun not intended) by myself, explaining the effect empty page space has on poetry.  (Cover by the always good Bob Freeman)

In about two to three weeks from KHP/Skullvines, a Merchant Keep exclusive e-book:

It’s a quartet, ranging 30ish pages, using other poets as starting points, and then radically diverging from them, including:

Men of Dirt and Dust:

Based off lines taken from Adelaide Crapsey.

City without a Hero:

Based off of a haiku by Masoaka Shiki.

To Be Bandersnatched

Plays around with the made up words from Jabberwocky.

In Contempt of Sleep

Based off of two lines from Anna Akhmatova.

Wherein I talk about things!

Specifically: Wood Life, Death in Common, Into the Cruel Sea, growing up overseas, and my problems with “horror poetry.”

A fragmented (but very readable) book about the messy psychology of a serial killer

Amazon.com

Barnes and Noble.

Books-a-Million

There’s a wacky Jonah Winter poem I love dearly called “Sestina Bob.”  In terms of poetic form, it’s only really a sestina in name only, because instead of creating a system of repeating end words, Winter just puts “Bob” at the end of every line. For example:

According to her housemate, she is out with Bob
tonight, and when she’s out with Bob
you never know when she’ll get in. Bob
is an English professor. Bob
used to be in a motorcycle gang, or something, or maybe Bob
rides a motorcycle now. How radical of you, Bob—

I wish I could ride a motorcycle, Bob,
and also talk about Chaucer intelligently. Bob
is very tall, bearded, reserved. I saw Bob
at a poetry reading last week—he had such a Bob-
like poise—so quintessentially Bob!
The leather jacket, the granny glasses, the beard—Bob!

and you were with my ex-girlfriend, Bob!
And you’re a professor, and I’m nobody, Bob,

And on the poem goes, filling out the exact number of lines a sestina requires.  Even in the concluding envoi, “Bob” is repeated three times per line, where the traditional sestina repeating words would normally be located.  The effect is very manic.  Beyond the silliness, the reader is essentially engaging with an obsessive voice — clearly, the speaker of the poem is very preoccupied Bob and how he feels insufficient in comparison.    Sometimes, with comic poems, this sort of repitetion works like a charm.  As mentioned earlier, it speaks to an obssessive, crazy mind — because obssessive crazy types often repeat themselves over and over and over again.

But this brings up another issue.  Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of old poetry predating the ascent of modernism and post-modernism to the contemporary norm — poets like Walter de la Mare, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, Madison Cawein, and many others.    (As I side project, I’m putting some sort of book project together, but forget that I wrote that).  Still, in reading these poems from long dead writers, one thing struck me clearly.  Some older, traditional forms do not translate well into modern psychology.  Sure, some forms will never go away, like the good old trusty little box of song, the sonnet.   Some of the more repetitive forms, however, just don’t work well a century or more later.  Think of Jonah Winter’s “Sestina” while reading the following excerpts.  First up,  Algernon Charles Swinburne and “Faustine”:

Lean back, and get some minutes’ peace;
Let your head lean
Back to the shoulder with its fleece
Of locks, Faustine.

The shapely silver shoulder stoops,
Weighed over clean
With state of splendid hair that droops
Each side, Faustine.

Let me go over your good gifts
That crown you queen;
A queen whose kingdom ebbs and shifts
Each week, Faustine.

Bright heavy brows well gathered up:
White gloss and sheen;
Carved lips that make my lips a cup
To drink, Faustine,
And this poem goes on and on and on and on and on — 41 stanzas, and all of them end in “Faustine.”   I really cannot guess how Swinburne’s readership took the poem in his century, but I’d wager to guess about readers in the Twenty First.   The speaker really does sound a lot like Jonah Winter in “Sestina Bob” — obsessive.  Sure, there may be formal considerations that dictated how Swinburne had to write this, but those formal considerations didn’t age very well.
To that end, I’m reminded of one of the many times I attempted writing a love poem to my wife.  I was trying my hand at ghazals:
I will love you even under blue-gray skies,
and sometimes, I wonder if I knew gray skies.

I haven’t wings and I know nothing of flight
but together, we’ve been through gray skies…
I actually cringe retyping that CRAP here, but if one wants to be a writer, you have to intellectually own the tossed aside garbage just as much as the published material.   However, after I had written a draft of that poem, I had an “ooh! ooh!” moment and rushed to my wife, who dutifully put American Idol on mute to listen to my poem.  I could tell by her facial expression that she was trying hard to respect “the feeling” expressed, but had a hard time with the poem itself.  I quickly caught on, because reading it out loud, something didn’t seem right to me.   At the end, I said, “I don’t know — it was fun to write, but I guess it didn’t work.”  She agreed, and then said something very perceptive about poetry in general:

Sometimes, when you’re repeating yourself in a poem, it’s like you’re beating cerimonial gong; what you’re repeating has to live up to the solemn effect that was probably intended, originally.

I agreed and returned to the computer.  She went back to watching American Idol.  Years later, I still know for a fact that she’s 100% correct.   Swinburne’s “Faustine” doesn’t work for me, because of this.  “Faustine” as a repeated word, a motif, or a “struck gong” just doesn’t work.  It could be the bevity of the stanza, the fact that the “gonging” of “faustine” goes on for 41 stanzas, or a hundred of other reasons.  Swinburne was likely going for solemnity, but ends up sounding obsessively silly.  At least Winter intended to sound silly and crazy.

Recently, in talking to a friend and fellow writer about publishing photocopied, side stapled chapbooks, I remembered New Michigan Press from many, many years ago.  Back then, I was impressed by the amount of care they put into pamphlets that were cheaply produced, and yet, somehow looked elegant.  So, I decided to check in on them, and I’m happy to see that they’re still around.  Also, it looks like they’ve moved to POD publishing, too.  And, it looks like the care in artist direction has carried over.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any money blow, but I really do want to get the Paul Guest and Arielle Greenberg chaps some day soon.  At anyrate, here’s a short blurby review I wrote of Mistranslating Neruda by Matt Mason.  The review is like five years old and originally appeared in The Main Street Rag.

Mistranslating Neruda
By Matt Mason
New Michigan Press (2002) $5, 35 pgs.
http://www.thediagram.com/nmp/
Poetry Chapbook

Stephen Tapscott, in his translation of Pablo Neruda’s “Love Sonnets # 37,” writes O love, O crazy sunbeam and purple premonition, / you come to me and climb your cool stairway, / the castle that time has crowned with fog, / pale walls of a closed heart. Tapscott captures something – no matter who translates – inherent in Neruda’s poetry: a collection of strange images, weird word combinations, and a strong sense of emotion. Neruda’s work always has had a knack for clothing itself in off-kilter metaphors while still confronting vivid emotions. Yes, a lot of 100 Love Sonnets is inherently surreal, but surrealism isn’t usually a tool for romantic verse. Still, Neruda always succeeds, and that has inspired decades of imitation.

In that regard, Mistranslating Neruda is Matt Mason’s homage to Pablo Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair. Not only does Mason mimic the sequence in length, but he also tries duplicating the inventive use of language: Like angel hair pasta waving goodbye to the boiling water, / the sausages from the refrigerator fly into your hands. // Innumerable hearts of the sausage / fortify inside the rare silences of young love. Equally emblematic for the rest of the sequence, Mason writes, early on: Body of a woman, white as flour, as egg whites, / you break into the world with the immediacy of warm cookies.
Lines like these make Mason’s chapbook a hoot to read. While he actively tries to mimic Neruda, to “mistranslate” him, Mason’s own sense of absurdity takes off, pulling the reader along. These poems also display the depths of Mason’s imagination, but do they stand up to the master inspiring them?
No, but they weren’t intended to, either. In his preface, Mason claims everybody has read a horrible act of translation, be it in high school English texts or elsewhere, and this chapbook was to be a satire on “mistranslations.” That doesn’t change the joy of language Mason revels in, and to this collection, that’s a gift.

As has been noted elsewhere, I’m taking a job at Belfire Press as “Poetry Editor.” The details are still being worked out, but the terms were more than agreeable. So far, it entails heading up a poetry imprint called Needfire, which will publish a fixed amount of titles a year. Death in Common: Poems from Unlikely Victims will follow me to Needfire and will be one of those titles. These Apparitions: Haunted Reflections of Ezra Pound is also following me to Needfire.

At Bandersnatch, the Pound book was planned as a chapbook; however, since every press has different circumstances, the current length of the anthology is too short, and it needs significant expansion. So, I’m going to tweak the guidelines, the contact info, and then repost them.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank Jodi Lee and Louise Bohmer not only for the opportunity to work with them on a steady basis, but for believing in my abilities.

EDIT TO ADD:  And I’m a dolt for forgetting Bob Freeman as somebody whom I’m always grateful to work with.