Monday, December 27, 2010

time flew - update

November 2010 saw Joseph Ross and Jullian Bledsoe featured at the Poetry Lab.

In December it was Ann Forstater and Paul Fauteux (Paul did a very cool multi-media presentation)

In Jan 2011 there will be Zack Haber & Jo Barbara Taylor.

The Poetry Lab has already seen poets from Indiana, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Northern Virginia. With Jo Taylor we will be adding North Carolina to the list. In February, Poetry Lab will be occurring during AWP which will be held in Washington DC & will be featuring a number of Plan B Press poets who will be in town for the event. Robert Miltner, Jason Venner, Dan Maguire, Finley Evans, Jo Barbara Taylor, Elizabeth Bodien, and others will fill the Lab with their incredible voices.

Monday, October 25, 2010

6 questions with Joseph Ross

1) I understand that you are originally from California, how has the move east affected your work?

JR: I don't know if the move east affected it specifically. Rather, I think my work is always affected by my place. In Washington, D.C. my world is very diverse and that is reflected in my poetry. My relationship, my love of another man is certainly reflected in my work, not as explicitly as for some gay poets but it's always there. The "outside-ness" of that reality is always there. I think my move to Washington, D.C. was also a move into the unknown and that pilgrimage or search is very present in my poetry.

2) When did you start writing poetry? Who were your original influences?

JR: I began writing poetry in high school and it was awful, of course. I continued in college and it got a little better but not until I was in graduate school at Notre Dame did I begin to feel like I was truly taking it seriously. My strongest influence is probably the Irish poet William Butler Yeats. He's very traditional but his poems have mattered to me all my life. I have to say Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes are both powerful influences and have been since high school. More recently, Martin Espada's poems have affected me a lot.

3) You are associated with what I would call “witness” or “poetry of consciousness”, has your poetry come from your convictions?

JR: I think so, yes. I think some of my poetry comes from my desire to bear witness, to tell the story others cannot tell. My Darfur poems (a series I've written) seeks to do that. I think the poet in the world today needs to speak what he sees. When I look at the world, I don't see "roses and moonlight" as Langston Hughes said. I see a suffering, difficult world and so that is the world I write about.

4) How do you find time to write?

JR: I just make it. I don't have a lot of sympathy for poets who complain that they have no time to write. I might not write everyday, but nearly do. You make time for the things that matter to you and writing matters to me. I can't imagine going without it. I'm grateful that I don't have the deserts of non-writing some poets talk about.

5) What was the first book of poetry you bought for yourself (not for class)?

JR: It was the collected works of William Butler Yeats.

6)Tell me a little about your current projects, I understand you have a mss.

JR: Yes. I have a manuscript called "Meeting Bone Man" which is a reflection on mortality from a variety of perspectives: personal, political, spiritual. I am currently working on a second manuscript which uses lots of religious or spiritual images and themes. It is titled "The Gospel of Dust." I'm very excited about it because it takes me back to religious images whose meanings have changed for me. I deliberately had to go without them for a time but now I am comfortable with them again-- although in a new way.

6 questions with Jillian Bledsoe

1) So, you are married to a writer/poet. I am wondering if you both attempt to write at the same time in the same house, or if you relegate yourself to separate locations to create

JB : It’s funny that you ask about how the two of us write. It’s actually writing that brought us together in the first place, but once we hit grad school our careers took two very different paths. My process is incredibly different from Cort’s. He’s obsessive about writing – he feels like he’s somehow failed at life if he doesn’t write something every day, so he’s up early and keeps the peace with a mug of tea and his laptop first thing in the morning. I really don’t start to function until about 10 am, despite the fact that I’m in the classroom long before that, but that’s okay because I write in stolen minutes and always have, even when I was dedicating years of my life to the study of writing. I like feeling like there’s some element of danger – real or imagined – to what I’m doing while I write. I remember writing a poem while I was driving down 123 in Fairfax, VA at 4 am. That was a great poem, and one I shared with Cort years later, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe I’ve got a little Dickinson in me, secreting myself away in a corner of the house while Cort’s out checking the mail, never to know that I’ve just written a poem or two. For me, it’s less about fulfilling a basic need than succumbing to a guilty pleasure. Cort’s a creature of habit, I’m a little kinky. It works.

2) Are there any topics or themes that repeat themselves in your work?

JB: I find myself writing about loss of innocence a lot. Not in the sexual sense, or even with a feeling of sadness at its passing, but it’s there, nevertheless. This “theme” in my writing happens to be incredibly tied in with a sense of place for me, especially a place that my mother’s family used to go to every summer until I was 18, when my Grandfather finally sold the house on Newfound Lake. In fact, my whole Master’s thesis is centered around the loss of that place and the subsequent loss of my own innocence. Weirdly, the memories that I have of being in that place with my mother’s siblings and parents aren’t happy, by any stretch (we’re a bit dysfunctional to say the least), but it’s the place itself that seems to call to me still. I have great memories of my own nuclear family enjoying each other tremendously, both in and out of the water, but somehow the sale of the house in New Hampshire became enmeshed in my own mind with the slow loss of sanity that my grandmother has undergone as a result of altzheimer’s, the breast cancer my own mother battled, the degredation of my father’s spirit by years of beurocratic bullshit and my own (rather late) separation from my parents as I entered adulthood and the relationship that would turn out to be my marriage. So yeah, loss of innocence on lots of levels pops up again and again in my work, especially since I am constantly surprised at the shit the world can throw at me, even after 32 years living in it.

3) When you decided to begin writing poetry, who were your influences?

JB: First, you should know that when I started college, it was with absolutely no direction, a complete lack of any sort of plan, and it was only by the grace of the GMU admissions department that I was there at all. I applied to one school, just ‘cause, after I “graduated” from high school with a 1.7 gpa and a 790 verbal SAT score (and a 400 math.) I had just stopped playing the violin after 8 years and had turned down early admission to another university, and I was sooooooooo lost. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year that my advisor (having counseled me to try behavioral psych, biology, communications and journalism at one point or another, based on what I told her I liked studying) told me I could major in English. After that? Well, you know the saying. I don’t remember making the decision to write poetry, it was just always something I turned to when I needed to create something beautiful and I couldn’t bear to pick up my violin. My dad is an unbelievably beautiful writer, and I have always loved his words, so the natural extension of that love was simply to write my own. He used to say, and still does say “How do I know what I think until I write it down?” To discover that I could study words and play with them and write them and learn to make them sing AS A MAJOR . . . heaven. The first day of my creative writing workshop, I got to hear Marvin Bell read “Dorothy” to his wife, who stood with me in the back of the campus bookstore. Love at first word, that was. From there, I discovered Pablo Neruda (that was an awesome summer!), then Howard Nemerov’s “Window Pane”, Michael Ondaatje’s “Handwriting” and Margaret Atwood’s “Power Politics”, thanks to Jennifer Atkinson, my excellent teacher and mentor, and then it was on to Adrienne Rich’s “The Fact of a Doorfram”, Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg, Elizabeth Bishop, Gary Snyder and still more.

4) I know that your husband, the poet C L Bledsoe, writes a good deal about his youth in Arkansas. Does "place" play a big role in your work?

JB: pretty much answered this with #3

5) I have witnessed a "team reading" of the Bledsoes. A little back and forth between the two of you as you alternate reading poems. Any chance of seeing some of that on November 5, 2010 when you read at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA?

JB: I would venture to guess it won’t be too hard to get my self-deprecating husband up on stage to have fun with two of the things he loves most in this world: Writing and Me (probably in that order, too!) If there’s cheese dip involved, the man might die of bliss on the spot. We may have something special to share . . . you never can tell with the Bledsoes . . .

6) What was the first book of poetry that you bought for yourself?

JB: I think the first book of poetry I bought for myself was this awesome Penguin Pocket Anthology of Contemporary American Poets that I have since made my senior English students buy in whatever edition it is currently available. The one I bought for myself has got a light green cover and really cute, swirly writing on it, and it has every poet I’ve ever loved in it, which tells me that’s probably where I first met them. I’ve gone on so many book sprees since then, it’s hard to recall, but all my heavies are in that one volume, and it lives on my desk with my dad’s thesaurus from junior high, a copy of Lewis Thomas’ “The Medussa and the Snail” borrowed from my dad, and my favorite Shakespearean play, Titus Andronicus. If I have those books, I can count myself as one among the human race. Without them? Highly suspect

Friday, October 22, 2010

October (after the fact)

Am conducting "after-the-fact" interviews with christophe casamassima and M. Magnus for their readings at the Poetry Lab on October 1, 2010. The entire reading is on our Plan B Press Youtube presence. Due to an illness on my part, I was not able to conduct my normal interviews ahead of time. So, we will attempt to recreate the anticipation and surprise of this event as it was M. Magnus's first reading of his newest book, Heraclitean Pride.

1) Congratulations on your new book, can you talk about it a bit?

MM: Heraclitean Pride (Furniture Press 2010) is a
re-creation/recreation of Heraclitus' lost book, based on the
fragments and bits of biography that have come down to us from this
ancient Greek philosopher. It is the kind of transformational
repetition best understood in accordance with his most famous
fragment, "You can't step into the same river twice."

Throughout history, Heraclitus' fragments - some popularized in
familiar phrases, such as "Character is Destiny" and "Expect the
Unexpected"- have had an incredible magnetism, and the philosopher
himself emanates a mystique that certainly I've been susceptible to,
and inspired by; on the way to Heraclitean Pride, I immersed myself
in the coursing vitality of his words and insights.

In terms of thematic or infectious force, I consider Heraclitus' lost
book to be a secret - hidden, invisible, nevertheless powerful -
contributing work to the canon of the Cult of the Free Spirit, a
precursor to all sorts of Gnostic shenanigans in Medieval times, and
to the subsequent philosophical-poetic shackle-breaking you find in
Nietzsche, Artaud, Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ). So,
Heraclitean Pride activates the lost book in highly subjective yet
rigorous fashion - a TAZ of the mind, at least.

This last statement I think more flip than strict to the terms (from
Gnosticism to the famous Medieval Heresy to TAZ), but then all the
more in keeping with that thrust of liberation.

2) Your initial reading for the book was at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry on Oct. 1, 2010. You have had some readings since then, how has the response been so far?

MM: Since that initial reading for your Poetry Lab at the Soundry,
Steven, living with Heraclitean Pride in its published form - and
sharing it before its "official" release (it will soon be available
through Small Press Distribution) - has been like sitting next to a
lit fuse.

3) I seem to recall that you are originally for California. Has "place" had any impact on your work?

MM: I do not think "place" has a direct impact on my work. That is,
you won't find much more than some surface imagery of surroundings or
local color. This is probably more relevant to the decade I spent in
New Orleans than my youth up and down California, since much writing
out of New Orleans (pre-Katrina) was all about its local color - and
vampires. My environment and the events that impose themselves on me
tend to get internalized: they remain topologically congruent to the
external geography, but turned-inside out, and usually unrecognizable.

On the other hand, the basically hedonistic sensibilities of
California in the '70s and '80s - and, of course, New Orleans through
the millennium - are part of my bone-structure; although in my own
life I'm tasked with a literary mission best fortified by the Stoics,
I'm put off by Atlantic coast stodginess, the matching of intellectual
credibility with drabness, the gray palette... and truly take
prudishness, moralistic snobbery, artistic conventionality, and
illiberal religious complacency to be forms of life-cowardice.

Now if you had asked about community, that would be a different story.
Literary circles from the D.C. metro area up to Baltimore - esp those
consciously engaging key issues in contemporary poetics - have been

4) How long have you been writing poetry? What started you down this path?

MM: On my 20th birthday, I made a blood-vow level commitment to
myself to be a "real" writer, whatever that meant, and whatever that
brought me. On the principle Goethe uttered, that "at the moment of
commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you," within a few
weeks I started to hear what and how I was going to write. Those
early whisperings were indeed to become poems. Before that, I'd
groped across many a page with my pen, but nothing that gave me a
sense of knowing I was on task. Very New Age, I admit it! But, hey -
California again.

5) What was the first book of poetry that you got for yourself?

MM: Jim Carroll's Living at the Movies. I was probably 14, 15. 10th
grade. Maybe Patti Smith's Witt the same day. I still have the
copies. Yet, of course, there were books of poetry already in my home
- unread until I cracked them open. Leaves of Grass most
particularly. The Iliad. Rimbaud's A Season in Hell and The Drunken
Boat from New Directions had to come from outside of the home at some
point, same general time. "Je ne me sentis plus guide par les

6) You are the driving force behind Yockadot Poetics Theatre, please tell us about that festival.

MM: Yockadot is a wonderful memory. I absolutely cherish the
organizational camaraderie shared with fellow-initiators Bonnie Jones,
Ric Royer, and Lauren Bender.

The concept of "poetics theatre" continues to intrigue me, parallel to
Rodrigo Toscano's Collapsible Poetics Theater, which performed at our
Spring 2007 launch. The website for the festival easily provides an
idea of the excitement of our offerings over two weekends that April
and May: Toscano. Rare stagings of plays by poets
such as Lee Ann Brown, Thalia Field, Tina Darragh. Much more... I
can't believe it turned out to be one of the last times anyone would
see a performance by David Franks.

From 2006 through 2009 Yockadot Poetics Theatre Project also showcased Old Songs, the dance theater piece Melt by Jamie Jewett's Lostwax(incorporating texts by Thalia Field), 20th Century Theatre Classicswith Geodesic Gnome - a premier of a Kharms theatre piece included inthat - and more, along with the poetic bombardment that was the Rod Smith circus, hours and hours of outstanding poetry, Rod Smith himself presiding, appearances by Tom Raworth, Charles Bernstein, and Anselm Berrigan, just to name a few.

The name Yockadot, btw, came to us via Dan Gutstein.

Personally, I couldn't sustain Yockadot, due to structural
difficulties as well as some controversies with funding sources. The
experience did clarify to me what parts of producing such events I
enjoy, and what parts I hope to avoid for the rest of my life. To
that, I am close to decision regarding a new endeavor, with a new

In acknowledging my own work and interests as having always been sui
generis (even in relation to the quickly congealing conventions of the
avant-garde almost as a genre itself), I hope to develop some of my
own work as well as affinitive work by others meant for or conducive
to performance, with a baseline in "poetics theatre," yet not
restricted by definitions. So, if I pull the trigger, the new project
will be called SiGiLPAL: Sui Generis Literary Performing Arts
Laboratory. Like Heraclitean Pride, It too will be a TAZ of the mind,
maybe of a stage or of space or spaces, as well.

In any case, still along the lines of Yockadot and what I hope for
with SiGiLPAL, I'm working with Ward Tietz as co-curator of several
performance events planned over the next few years in association with
his upcoming word sculpture installation Three Recipes at Ben Brennan
Park in Alexandria, Virginia (pending a few more steps in the
development process on the city side). This project actually began
development in relation to the 2007 Yockadot festival, and is now in
the hands of key members of the Alexandria Arts Commission.

Plus, I'm directing my own work for the first time, a one-woman show
starring Lisa Hawkins, Portraits: Art of the Poetic Monologue, based
on my Idylls for a Bare Stage, forthcoming in 2011 from

Monday, August 23, 2010

6 questions with Bernadette Geyer

6 questions with Bernadette Geyer:

1) You are going to be featured at the Sept. 3 Poetry Lab event at the Soundry in Vienna, VA along with stevenallenmay. The fact that each of you has a 4 year old daughter has led to the evening being dubbed “Kidsanity”. How does the creative process “work” with a 4 year old in the house?

Mostly, the creative process works when she’s not actually in the house or when she’s asleep. This age is a very interactive age, so I spend a lot of time doing activities with her or taking her to various places like art galleries, nature centers, playgrounds, kids concerts, etc. I try to find a wide variety of activities because I, myself, get bored going to the same places all the time. But all of these various exposures do frequently work their way into my own writing. I get a lot of inspiration for poems or individual lines of poetry when we are at, say, the farm or a nature center. She also loves books and reading, so I’ve been able to introduce her to poets John Ciardi and Gertrude Stein thanks to their own books for children. Certainly my sonnet sequence in the voice of Thumbelina’s mother would never have been written if I hadn’t read that story to her. Even if I’m not writing “about” being a parent, so much of my writing is informed by these activities and stories – and emotions – I would not have been otherwise exposed to if I didn’t have a child.

2) Do you appreciate the lyrics to John Lennon’s song “Watching the Wheels” now that you are on a different path than before the birth of your daughter, Frida?

When I graduated from college, I couldn’t wait to get into the workforce. And for the first ten years of my career I was completely driven and achieved a level of responsibility that I thought I always wanted. Fortunately, I came to realize that what I really wanted to do was to work as a freelance writer and editor from home. And I was also fortunate enough to be accruing the experience I would need once I left a 9-to-5 office job. At the point my husband & I decided we were ready to have a child, it seemed like a natural time to make the official career shift. Sometimes, I do wonder what my life would be like if I’d stayed in the full-time workforce. But, it really has been great to see the world through new eyes for the past four years. It has helped me tremendously by increasing the amount of attention I pay to my environment. There’s a tendency for adults to shut out the unnecessary because there are so many more important things to focus on. But for children, everything is so new, even the iridescence of a beetle is fascinating. I’m not only watching the wheels, I’m seeing and hearing and experiencing much more.

3) You have been a fixture at the Poetry Lab since it began at the Soundry in December 2009. Does it surprise you that there is a developing poetry community in Northern VA?

I’m not surprised at all. This is a highly populous area and there’s been very little out here for the literary community. George Mason University has its Fall for the Book Festival but, for the rest of the year, there’s not much for us beyond-the-Beltway poets.

4) I wanted to follow-up with a question that was asked of you in another interview you did; do you find that as you go along through parenting your child that your themes or subject matter has changed? Does your approach toward your work involve the overlapping of poet and mothering roles?

I wouldn’t necessarily say my “themes” and “subject matter” have changed, but that the amount of subject matter available to me has expanded. I don’t think there are any subjects I now consider off-limits that I previously wrote about, but the number I want to address has certainly grown.

5) What was the first book of poetry you bought for yourself?

I remember loving Dorothy Parker in high school and borrowing books of her poems from the library. In college, I took a class on Women’s Literature and was introduced to Adrienne Rich, whose books from that class I still have. I remember buying an old copy of a collection by Yeats, but it’s now on permanent loan to my youngest sister. It wasn’t until I took a poetry workshop led by Naomi Ayala at a local bookstore in 1997 or 1998 that I realized how much I loved poetry, and so I bought her book, Wild Animals on the Moon. That is probably the first book of poetry I bought specifically for myself and not just because I was required to read it for class.

6) As we collectively move into a more technologically driven future, how do you see the Internet affecting one’s sense of “community”?

Being a stay-at-home mother living in the suburbs has really curtailed the number of literary events I am able to attend, so having a virtual literary community – via Facebook and blogs – has helped me stay connected to the local literary scene and to connect to the broader national and international scene. I have a group of poet-friends with whom I exchange poems via email. We are scattered across the United States, but I still feel a real sense of community with them. I would not have the poetry community I do have if not for the Internet.

Monday, July 26, 2010

August 6, 2010 Poetry Lab

it's summer, it's hot - meltingly so. This Poetry Lab will feature "the Dans" (Dan Vera of Washington DC & Dan Maguire of Baltimore, MD)

here's bios of each poet :

Dan Vera lives in Washington, DC. He's the author of The Space Between Our Danger and Delight (Beothuk Books, 2008), editor of the Gay culture journal White Crane, publisher of VRZHU Press and Souvenir Spoon Books. He is the founder of Brookland Area Writers & Artists, and a member of DC Poets Against War, and the Triangle Artists Group. His poetry has appeared in Delaware Poetry Review, DC Poets Against The War, Konch, Gargoyle, Full Moon on K Street: Poems of Washington, D.C., and Pacifica Radio's nationally broadcast Peace Watch program.

"The poetry of Dan Vera is clear, strong, honest and funny. He’s the sharp-eyed observer in the corner who doesn’t say much, but makes every word count. He handles the political and the personal with equal grace, even as the lines blur. Whether he's ruminating on the perils of bilingualism, giving voice to the bewilderment of his Cuban immigrant family, cursing the censors who tried to repress gay writers over the years, waiting for the late great poet Sterling Brown to turn the next corner in Washington, D.C., or taking delight in all things delightful, Dan Vera is damn good company. You’ll see." — Martín Espada

"To read Dan Vera is to believe the world is actually a good place after all – a place where the reputation of poetry is redeemed with humor and kindness. I read this book first to know it; then I read it again for all the reasons poetry brings us closer. This is what we first understood poetry to be, miraculous and humble. In the deepest part of the heart where we truly reside, there is always a wish that poetry will rinse off artifice. This is it. When reading Dan Vera, we are married to the 3 hearts of poetry: intelligence, style, and honor. This is the most satisfying book of poems we can read if we want to witness language with a real poet as its servant."— Grace Cavalieri

"Ranging through landscape and history, family legacy and gay life, Dan Vera’s poems are melodic, lucid, and concise examinations of “the limits of earthly loving.” They remind us of what blessings the world possesses and what flesh-hating forces endanger those delights." Jeff Mann

"Dan Vera's debut just like the cover image -- full of sparks. And also like the sparkler, the poems crackle and burn...reminded me of Ted Kooser, but also the whimsy often found in the work of our poetry grandfather, Walt Whitman."
— Collin Kelley

"Dan's work 'delights' with its humor and irony. And his love poems are understated in the best way." — Francisco Aragon

Dan Vera
Author of The Space Between Our Danger & Delight

Bio: Dan Maguire

Dan Maguire is a native Philadelphian who now lives in Baltimore. His work has won several prizes and awards and has appeared in The Mad Poets Review, The Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Comstock Review, The Paterson Literary Review, Big City Lit, the Philadelphia Inquirer and others.

In May of 2000, the editors of The American Poetry Review selected him for a special workshop with the poet Robert Bly. He was awarded first prize for poetry at the Philadelphia Writer's Conference in 2000, and again in 2001. He has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes.

In February of 2004, he was invited to read at the Library of Congress of the United States. He has led poetry workshops through the Gloucester City (NJ) Adult Education Program, and the 2 Rivers Writers group. In 2005, he led one of the sessions at the first joint-workshop for disabled and non-disabled poets, held at Inglis House in Philadelphia.

Also in 2005, he was selected by poet Gerald Stern as a prize-winner in The Mad Poets Society’s national contest. He led one of the workshops at the National Convention of State Poetry Societies, and in 2006 presided over one of the two poetry groups at the Philadelphia Writers Conference.

In 2009, he won the Almeda Boulton Memorial Award from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, and in 2010, coming full circle, he judged the poetry competition at the Philadelphia Writers Conference.

His most recent publication, Finding the Words, was published by Plan B Press in the fall of 2008. It's now on its 5th printing

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

July 2, 2010 Poetry Lab

(reb livingston, stevenallenmay, natalie lyalin)

Friday, June 18, 2010

6 questions with Natalie Lyalin

1) Like a number of poets who have participated in the Poetry Lab, I notice that you are also an editor. What led you to the role of editor, and is there a bit of DIY in that decision? Taking control of the "means of production"?

I really wanted to create spaces for the poems and poets that I loved. That is the inspiration for both of my editing projects - GlitterPony Magazine and Agnes Fox Press.

2) You are on a "book tour" currently - how did that come about?

On the suggestion of my friend Heather Christle, I contacted Mike Young and Rachel B Glaser. Their books are coming out from Publishing Genius this fall, and we all decided to do this tour/road trip together. Mike and Rachel and amazing, so I knew that going on the road with them would be super great. And it has been!

3) Recently you spent time in Jerusalem, how did that affect your writing? Is PLACE important in your work?

Place is definitely important to my work, but not in a geographical sense. I mean that I don't necessarily want to write about a location, but more so my impression of the location. I make things up a lot and superimpose my own sense on geography. Jerusalem allowed me a lot of time to write, but I did not write about Jerusalem. I did write about Moses, so maybe Jerusalem did have some influence on me.

4) I saw an altered Gucci ad - (text provided by you?) Are you drawn to ad copy as an inspiration or as a reaction? Or was the specific image that led to the piece?

The text is mine. That piece was a reaction and a bit of inspiration. I like the absurdity of fashion advertisement. The bigger the brand, the more insane the add -- like the Marc Jacobs ads with Victoria Beckham. But the add you are asking about, in that case I felt like the image was so odd that something had to be said other than "buy these clothes."

5) We left the Philly for DC area in 2004. My understanding is that there has been a great deal of poetic prowess happening in Philadelphia since, What has your experience been like living in Philadelphia?

I love philadelphia. There are some supremely exciting poets living there -- CA Conrad, Michelle Taransky, Sueyeun Juliette Lee, Ish Klein, and many many others. I think it is a special poetry place. There are new venues and reading series popping up. You should come visit!

6) When did you start writing and what was the first book of poetry you bought for yourself?

I would say that college, my junior and senior year, was when the "real" poems started surfacing. And my first book? I can't recall. But I remember being fascinated by Edna St.Vincent Millay's "Not In A Silver Casket." I think that's on

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

6 questions with Reb Livingston

1) How long have you been writing poetry? When did you realize it was something you "couldn't avoid"?

Since college, so almost 20 years. I could avoid writing poems, but I'd have to find something else to make in its place. I become depressed when I'm not creating something.

2) Have dreams always been central to your writing? Is it the imagery or the surrealist nature of dreams that most affect you?

I only occasionally incorporate dreams into my poetry. In my most recent book, God Damsel, I think there are two phrases that come directly from dreams and there's only one poem in Your Ten Favorite Words, "No Bra Required," that's influenced by a dream. I'm trying to incorporate more dream material into my current project, but I'm not so sure how well that's working. Perhaps it's because dreams are much more than "writing material." I get a lot of advice and guidance from my dreams, in writing and in everyday life. Dreams are our connection with our oracle. I take them very seriously.

3) What was your motivation in starting No Tell Motel?

I always wanted to edit a magazine. Seven years ago I noticed poets my age or younger launching their own publications and I felt both jealous and smug (because I thought they were "doing it wrong.") Finally it occurred to me that I didn't have to be jealous or smug, I could start my own magazine and show everyone how it's done.

4) Who have been your influences along the way?

Anne Sexton was my first major influence as an undergrad. Later Nicholas Christopher, Amy Gerstler, Federico Garcia Lorca. Now, I don't know, I feel lost. Maybe there's some influence from Alice Notely and Fanny Howe? I'm influenced by C.G. Jung, Marie-Louise von Franz, fairy tales, tarot and certainly dreams.

5) How has parenthood affected your writing?

Time. What happened to it? I also find that I tend to repeat things in my poems like I repeat myself in daily life. "What did I just say?!?"

6) What was the first book of poetry you bought for yourself?

The first poetry books I purchased were for an introductory poetry course, Cornelius Eady's The Gathering of My Name and The Best American Poetry 1990 (edited by Jorie Graham). Eady's poems were probably the first that I ever felt any connection. The first book of poetry I purchased for myself voluntarily was The Complete Poems: Anne Sexton.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 2010 Poetry Lab

(from left: stevenallenmay, Lauren Bender, Allison Clapp, Mike Maggio, Graham Pilato)

I knew what I was getting with Lauren Bender. I have seen her perform/present 3 times previously and each time was completely different from the time before. I say "perform/present" instead of "read" since that's what she does. Reading my interview with her is instructive. Her background in visual arts helped to create her aesthetics as well. Twice I took in Lauren's performance at DCAC in Washington and at that time I had merely a glimpse of an idea to find a space similar where I could also present artists like Ms. Bender. My lucky break was finding The Soundry. The primary difference between DCAC and The Soundry is that The Soundry is an arts incubator while DCAC is a gallery and performance space.

When I started The Poetry Lab, Lauren Bender was one of the first people I contacted. I was put in touch with Mike Maggio through a posting on the George Mason English Dept. listserv. When I contacted him, he readily accepted my invitation. Only afterwards did he mention cloudism which never was clearly defined, nor actually should it have been. What I gleamed from his work I got again from my interview with him and some postings of his work online.

But he said "Happening" and I knew what that was. Not that I ever attended a Happening, but I was very aware of them. Also, Mike Maggio stated that one of his influences is Yoko Ono. 'Okay', I said to myself, 'Fluxus as well.'

When the event itself began, my cohort and myself discovered the perimeters of where a performance at The Soundry could begin; The Front Door! A white cord ran from the edge of the counter in the front of the building and wove its way to the room where the event took place. Past painters working on their canvasses, down hallways, around corners.

We were led to the performance of "cloudism" by a mime in a bowler (hints of "Ghosts Before Breakfast"?), holding onto the cord as we proceeded. Once we entered the room, we found a TV set on white noise. A cellist. A mannequin's torso. A ladder leading into the clouds. Pens dangling from the ceiling. A human sized shadow wearing a T-shirt which would, in short order, be written on (the shadow turned out to be Mike Maggio). The mime pulled members of the "audience", actually witnesses more than audience members as there were no seats. People climbed the ladder to see a large blue eye gazing down on them. People used the dangling pens to write on the shadow and the torso. The cellist began to play, the white noise on the TV rose to annoyance.

Nothing like this had taken place before at the Poetry Lab (all of 5 months old), and it led to some awkward moments as people coming to attend a "poetry reading" found themselves in a much difference space. Some time later the shadow fled the scene, and confused members of the audience followed - outside, into the parking lot and back through the front door. The performance was over, although no one was certain. Unlike a movie, there were no "end credits".

Allow me to offer some here : cloudism is Mike Maggio, Allison Clapp, and Graham Pilato. The cellist is Tina Hughes.

After a brief intermission, Lauren Bender took the stage and presented a new text/video piece called "Epic Ochre
Subverts Other", which was about fear, travel, the desert, and telepathy. While a film was shown on a large screen, Bender read a prepared text. It was completely different from the preceding event yet equally engaging and challenging. Overall, the evening was nearly exactly what I had imagined the Poetry Lab would become back in November 2009 as I dreamt this all into being.

Bravos all around.


Monday, June 7, 2010

dirty laundry

Curating a series is not for the faint of heart. Neither is hosting the series. Any number of things can happen to change one's plans; 2 foot blizzards can cancel events, for example. Features might fail to show up. Sociopaths might come and pretend to be poets in order to slime an audience with their filth - wait, I just had to deal with this one.

When an audience goes from over a dozen women one month to ZERO women the following month, you know there's a problem. I identified the problem right away : a "poet" in the open reading segment of the series was sleazing the audience with his, um, "art". I knew I had to do something. Don't get me wrong : I am a strong believer in freedom of speech. However, one's right to offend doesn't have blanket protection when as a host it drives people out the door. A "poet" screaming about being censored is not protected when he assaults the audience. There are limits. People who attend events at least ought to be warned that they MIGHT be abused - no, actually, no they ought not be subjected to abuse. There is no component within the Poetry Lab FOR abuse. And to heap abuse on women specifically is totally unacceptable.

I have written provocative and sexual material but I would never read these pieces in a room with small children in it. Some people seem to believe that their right to write obscene material trumps a person's right not to be exposed to said material. I have a wife and a daughter, I am sensitive to these sort of woman hating poisonous barbs.

And as host, I won't stand for it. The very nature of the Poetry Lab is to be slightly off-kilter. Granted. But don't attend with your venom towards women, or gays, or afro-americans, or arabs - leave it at home or leave yourself at home. You won't get your 5 minutes here.

curator and host
The Poetry Lab
Vienna, VA

Monday, May 31, 2010

6 questions with Mike Maggio

Mike Maggio along with Lauren Bender are the features to our June 4th event. He is presenting something called "cloudism" which figured into my 6 questions :

1) What is “cloudism”?
Cloudism is a conceptual piece which reaches back for its inspiration to the avant-garde art movements of the 20th century, specifically fluxus and dadism. It attempts to expand intellectually on those movements and, hopefully, succeeds in doing so.

Cloudism started as a piece I wrote a couple of years ago but has since become a collaborative effort and, as such, the emphasis is on malleability—on obfuscation – on what is seen and what is not. It is important to mention that Cloudism as it exists right now is much different from its original iteration due to the collaborative effort with Graham Pilato, Allison Clapp and Tina Hughes. And it will be still different once the audience members, who are really participants in the process, become part and parcel of the creative force.

Cloudism can be likened to the happenings of the 60’s in which the lines between audience and artist are blurred. We are creating an atmosphere which will allow participants to explore space and to interpret concept and then contribute to the final piece, a collaborative creation in which the end product – the poem – becomes an anonymous object. Anonymity is key – thus the phrase Cloudism by Cloudism. We hope to expand further on this by taking the poem object and displaying it in galleries where others can continue to respond. Thus, like the clouds in the sky, the possibilities are endless and Cloudism will never end.

What about the space within the Soundry prompted the creation of “cloudism”?
The original piece was created before we were presented with the space. However, the space at the Soundry has definitely influenced it. When you enter the Soundry, four of the five sense are immediately operative: taste, smell, sight and sound. So that as you walk in you, are immediately drawn into a sensual experience – whether it’s indulging in a cup of Mexican hot chocolate, listening to a live band or taking in the various art works that are displayed throughout. To this, we are adding touch, as this will be an essential component of “Cloudism.”

3) When did you start writing poetry? What’s that evolution been like for you?

I started writing poetry when I was in high school – quite a long time ago. At the time, I didn’t’ know what I was doing except that I was imitating the rhythms and rhymes we all grow up with in school. When I got to college, where I majored in English/Creative Writing, I started understanding something more about poetry – the use of imagery, for example, and the use of natural speech rhythms as a unit of measure -- and, in 2008, I completed my MFA at Mason which certainly exposed me to many more aspects of poetry, many of which I knew on an intuitive level had experimented with but which I did not have an intellectual grounding in. My poetry has gone from the explicit use of imagery to the experimental use of language, from the literal to the increasingly abstract.

Who have your influence/heroes been?
The biggest, I would have to say, is Yoko Ono. I have followed her from the beginning: her music, her performances, her art. She is constantly part of the repertoire of work I review constantly. Other influences are also musical: Leonard Cohen, whose lyrics are brilliant, and Joni Mitchell whose use of language, I think, has really raised the bar as far as lyrics are concerned. Poets include e e cummings, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg, But I am also interested in the classics: English and Scottish ballads have always been of interest to me and have influenced some of my recent work. There is the whole rich treasure trove of English and American literature and of course the international greats like Gogol and Kafka to name a few. I could also mention film literature which has greatly influence me: directors like Fellini, Antonioni, Pasolini and Bergman whose work constantly intrigues me.

5) Tell me a little about your books to date, you have brought out three collections. Is that correct?

Yes, there are three, though in fact a fourth one is actually my first: a collection of poems on cassette called Your Secret Is Safe With Me, released back in 1988 by the now defunct Black Bear Publications. This collection, along with my latest, deMOCKracy, which was released in 2007, represent what most people associate me with: socio-political poems that address war, injustice, etc. deMOCKracy can best be described as viral, though there are some experimental and a couple of rather tame pieces in there as well. Oranges From Palestine is a chapbook which contains my Middle Eastern poems, many of which were written while I was living in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Sifting Through the Madness is a collection of short fiction – both the flash and the longer varieties -- many of which are experimental in nature and which contain a host of what some would consider rather bizarre characters.

6) Is there a “next step” in your creative journey? What might that be?

Well, I have lots of plans. I am planning another performance piece called “Big Black Reversal.” I have completed a novel, In the Valley of Granite and Steel, which I’m desperately seeking a publisher for and a new collection of collage/visual/concrete poems called I Flew a Kite which I’m also looking to publish. There are a couple of unpublished chapbooks – "Biodegradable" and "Haunted Garden" – as well. I’m also thinking of editing a volume of poems about computers, the internet and the influence the digital age has had on our lives. I’m currently working on short fiction more than poetry but it’s the performance arena that is drawing me in the most.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

6 questions with Lauren Bender

1) When did it occur to you as a budding poet that you felt compelled to be more “performative” than others?

I don't think I ever thought to be more of something than someone else. Part of it was probably insecurity in my writing as just writing. Also, I didn't start writing creatively until I was out of college. I was a painter, and was seeing a lot of "performance art" work, and so I don't think it was possible for me to move in a binary way from a completely visual world to a completely verbal one. I had tried to work text into painting but felt disappointed and limited probably by virtue of the object. It made more intuitive sense in my mind to "perform" a text--I think there's more subtlety to be explored there--than to be an illustrator.

2) Who were your influences as you started to write?

My influences were my friends! I started going to readings not knowing anyone, but then little by little I found myself amongst some amazing artists and writers. Here are some names of folks who were instrumental in me feeling more comfortable and finding my way: Justin Sirois, Aaron Cohick, Rupert Wondolowski, Ric Royer. Now there are so many more, which is great.

3) It seems that you make a point of avoiding the traditional “coffeehouse and bookstore” reading circuits, any validity to that? If so, why?

Validity to your question, or to my avoidance? There is probably more validity to your question. I'm actually at a point with my work where I'm trying to reconcile this intentional obscurity, or conceptual veiling, in a way, with unencumbered appreciation for overtly traditional forms. I'll let you know how that works out. In the meantime, I see any reading as a performance (how can it not be)--and I don't mean that in an "all the world's a stage" way, I mean it in a "there is so much tension" way--so to not comment on that by reading in a more performative way and add some context seems like it's missing something to me. That said, there is something comforting or maybe just necessary in bringing it all the way back around to a straight-up reading, in terms of ultimately subverting my own personal...stuff.

4) How has Baltimore itself affected your development as an artist? (Support systems, interesting artists, etc.)

Baltimore is so great. Of course, I have no context--I've lived here all of my adult life. But when I travel and meet other artists and writers, I realize how lucky I am. I think Baltimore's scene is at a really interesting place--so much truly interdisciplinary and collaborative work, so much crossover between little pockets and hives of people making interesting things. I think the artistic culture here has really allowed me to explore in a more profoundly fun way than I might have elsewhere.

5) To you, what is “the ideal audience”?

I've never really thought about that. I like a reactive audience, a human audience. I don't like forced collaboration, and it's really difficult to ask your audience to participate. There's always this imposition. Conceptually I get it but it hardly ever works well. I like an audience of like-minded folks but realize that this is somewhat unhealthy and incestuous, but it kind of goes back to #3, above (feeling out of place or misunderstood, or like a weirdo). The ideal audience realizes their fundamental necessity, and is critical, and forgiving. They are there with me.

6) Can you name the book of poetry that have graced your bookshelf the longest?

Leaves of Grass, probably. To be honest, I really don't read a lot of poetry. I've been working on that reconciliation thing (again, #3) and so have been reading Walden for the past couple of weeks.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Poetry Lab #5 : May 7, 2010

Five minutes before leaving his house, Tommy Tavenner, our techie, decided he was going to attempt to stream the event live that evening, so he did - it's available to be viewed here : Poetry Lab streams. What a great night to capture as well. Tony Mancus began the night some deep work, Paul Siegell explored his inner Phish, and Daniel Collins was brilliant as well.
Tony is co-founder of Flying Guillotine Press, Paul has three books out in three years (each a little more visual/concrete poetry than the previous), and Daniel is working his tail off getting his filmmaking, music gigging, and poetry off the ground. Ah, the internet. Here's a link to Daniel Collins Music. He is also the author of of go & why.

The open reading contacted the likes and work of Bernadette Geyer, Ann Forstater, and a handful of first timers.

Friday, April 30, 2010

6 questions with Daniel Collins, the 3rd feature on May 7th

Daniel Collins will be the third performer/poet at the May 7th Poetry Lab event at the Soundry in Vienna, VA

here's our 6 question mini-interview :

1) For you, which came first: the words or the music?

I was a writer first, I suppose. I remember writing stories and poems as soon as I was old enough to hold a pen (though I’m told I used to belt out a mean version of “Louie Louie” by the Kingsmen when I was still in the crib). But I began approaching music and writing seriously at about the same time, and for the same reason, to try to decipher the overwhelming madness, joy, hope and desperation that come along with being a teenager. My first band was a punk-rock group when I was about 13 years old. I started my first poetry journal around that same time. Music and poetry were essential to me in order to discover my own identity, and gain the courage to explore the world both internally and externally. They still are.

2) Can you briefly discuss how all the elements of the “artistic Daniel Collins” work together; film and poetry and music? Has there be a determined approach on your part to merge the three into a single expression of your work?

I do them all pretty much every day, and yet I approach them all differently. In one sense, I may film a performance of a song that I’ve written for online distribution, and I’m using all three art forms at once. But I have different artistic processes for each medium. I write songs differently than poetry, and filmmaking feels like more of a skill than an art much of the time. I also work as a filmmaker, I’m paid to do it, and discipline is essential to my success. I can approach the music and poetry in a different way. But I’m really drawn to the idea that film has the ability to bring other forms of expression to a wider audience, and in that sense I’d like to use film much more effectively as a way to share my own work and the work of others with the world.

3) Do you feel that the Philly area is your “home” now, or do your feet still get itchy for travel?

I’ve got a great network of friends and fellow artists in Philadelphia, and I’m comfortable here in a lot of ways. I’ve been gigging and reading poetry here for years, so there’s a comfort level there. And it’s a great location. I can do a show in New York City on a Wednesday night and be at work the next morning. I can come to D.C. for a reading and still be back in time for a show in Philly the next night. But I travel every chance I get. Traveling is the most inspiring thing in my life. I try to leave the country a couple of times a year to get some perspective and get out of the grind. Living in the Northeast is like being in a rat trap sometimes. The traffic alone is enough to make you insane. Sooner than later I’d like to leave Philly for a while and spend some time living far away from all of the routines, customs and habits that I’ve become used to.

4) Can you tell the story of how you have become friends with John Sinclair?

John is one of many amazing people I’ve met through a wonderful non-profit organization called Common Ground on the Hill. It’s a two-week summer program at McDaniel College in Maryland that combines studies of traditional arts and social justice. I began attending as a volunteer and student in the late 90s, and now I’m part of the faculty there, teaching a course about documentary film as a tool for social change. I highly recommend checking it out. It’s a life changing experience!
Anyway, I think it was in 1999 that I met John. He was pointed out to me by some musician friends, and I honestly knew next to nothing about his life and work. My friend and fellow poet/musician Josh McCardle was with me and we started in with John about our ideas regarding poetry, music, and the like – we discussed a mutual love of roots blues music, revolutionary writers, and that kind of thing. The first thing he said to us was “Daaaaaaaamn! I been waiting 25 years to meet some young cats like you!”
So we’ve done a few shows together over the years in Philly, including a few great nights at the Tritone club. In 2001, we asked a local musician friend to get together a house band for the poetry performance, and next thing we knew we had a super-group made up out of members of Calvin Weston’s Big Tree and the Sun Ra Arkestra. It was a hell of a night for a young poet to get up on stage with a crew like that!
But John’s writing is often overshadowed by his political activities. He’s a blues scholar, much of his poetry is almost documentary in a sense. Dig into his book “Fattening Frogs for Snakes” and you have an oral history of the greatest bluesmen who ever lived. He’s a big inspiration.

5) What was the first book of poetry that you ever bought?

I can’t remember the first book that I bought. But I distinctly remember a few that had a major impact on my life. When I was about 16 I stumbled across a book (I think I stole it from an ex girlfriend) called “A Day in the Life: Tales from the Lower East”. It was a collection of poems from New York’s lower east side. It had Ted Berrigan, Emily XYZ, Allen Ginsberg, and a bunch of other writers. I’d never heard of any of them. That book took my mind out of rural Maine and plopped it in the middle of alphabet city. I made up my mind on the spot that I’d move to New York as soon as I got a chance. I’ve been chasing the images I discovered in that book for years. Around that same time, I came across a copy of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Pictures of the Gone World”; soon after I discovered Gary Snyder’s “Earth House Hold”. Those two writers have had the greatest influence on my poetic voice, I think.

6) In some of your bios given around the time of the publication of of go and why you mentioned that “chasing the muse” is one of your pursuits, have you ever caught that muse? Or is the thrill in the chase?

Its funny, I dedicated that book to the “one & only & everpresent muse”, and a lot of people have taken that to be a specific person, a woman or man that I love, a friend that’s dead, an aesthetic I aspire to, a memory I hold onto, a specific artistic inspiration, etc. To me the muse is all of those things and more, and I’ve been chasing it since I can remember. What is it that wakes me up at 3 a.m. to stumble out to the dark table and have a poem appear fully on the page in a single minute? What is it that keeps me out until dawn strolling down empty streets following the blinking of streetlights or the path of the moon? It’s the muse. It often causes me more trouble than happiness, and sometimes it stays away for days, weeks, or months on end. But I always know when it’s calling, and I always follow. It’s the only thing I’ve ever been absolutely sure of in my entire life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

6 questions with Tony Mancus

1) When did you begin to write poetry?

Well, let's see...I think I started in high school. I had this green 5 subject notebook that i supposedly used for class stuff and somewhere around 10th grade I got onto this big time Jim Morrison kick and thought that "American Prayer" was the coolest thing ever--so back in Archbald, in my Dad's garage there's a box with this notebook in it with all of this awkward teenage posturing and opaque rhyming nonsense. It doesn't look like I've actually made it too far from there, all things considered. Maybe a bit less rhyme-y. But for some reason the fiddling with words stuck. I remember this one party I was at a few years later and there was this guy who was in school studying writing--a real writer, you know. And I asked him what I should do to get good and he said to start small--to write about an electrical outlet, and then go from there. For some reason that stuck and I can't stop seeing things in outlets, even now. I wouldn't revise stuff then. I think through college and such, I started to figure out that revision was where the game was. I'd say that was when it really became writing, or at least I took it seriously as something of a craft. In a couple of months I've got to go and clean out that garage. It's going to be mortifying and hilarious!

2) What led you to move into the realm of publishing?

In Pittsburgh a bunch of kids I knew there were trying to get an arts collective started and it kind of worked for a bit--we had a small magazine, called Magazino. I did some editorial stuff with them, but nothing too terribly serious. Most of what we did was readings and performances. There were a few other people who were doing some really neat stuff--Ally Malinenko started up this little zine called Avenues, I think and Jerome Crooks was doing his damndest to get a press together, well before all of the small press stuff really took off. Speed and Briscoe--he published short runs of a bunch of the kids in the writing program at the time. This was late '90s and he stuck around the burgh and has continued to publish some stellar writers. FGP happened a good bit later--post grad school and started out of a conversation. I can't really pinpoint when and where it was though. Sommer Browning and I decided that we'd like to try our hands at making some books and we started off with a friend's manuscript. Melissa Koosman. Stellar writer. She's in South Africa now. But anyway, we'd decided we'd try to publish people who we admired and whose work we admired and that's pretty much where it started. When we first started we were talking about some weird and interesting publishing things, like sending people clods of dirt with grass in it and a poem, or a book published wholly on a roll of toilet paper. But for Mel's book we got some linocut materials and the idea of a bird. I cut my fingers up pretty ridiculously, but the cover wound up turning out alright and we've not really looked back since. A lot of sideways glances, but never any backwards ones.

3) Has being a publisher changed the way you, as a poet, viewed things?

My short answer is maybe. Since beginning to work with layouts a bit, I've come to find that I like really sparse work because it lends to all kinds of fun possibilities. Publishing and being introduced to other people who make books also has come to affect my idea of what a book is or what it could be. Like before I'd seen Pilot Press's books, I'd never thought about making a hinged metal cover or dealing with different types of translucent paper. They've made some terribly gorgeous things. So maybe that conversation about toilette paper and grass clumps Sommer and I had will eventually yield something, who knows. But I have come to find that my own writing is getting a bit more clipped and I'm working in smaller spaces. I can't say if this is because of publishing stuff, or what I'm reading, or if it's just the reasonable aftereffects of time and not wholly losing one's mind and finding littler compartments to hold things in.

4) Can you explain the naming of your Press (Flying Guillotine Press), it’s a uniquely named Press, btw

Unfortunately, for this I can't take much credit. Sommer is a big fan of "The Master of the Flying Guillotine" and we were tossing name ideas around and she suggested that name and we were both like, yes. Yes. And afterwards someone said that it reminded them of the Emily Dickinson quote about good poetry--that it's supposed to lift off the top of your head--or something to that effect. So it's almost literary. So close. If it were a horseshoe it might explode.

5) Has your change of locations : from North-East Pa to Pittsburgh to Brooklyn to Northern VA impacted your work?

Yeah. I think fairly significantly. There was a spot of the desert thrown in there before NY and though I've never lived in Brooklyn, I visited quite frequently. I lived in Queens--Sunnyside and Astoria. And now here I am in Rosslyn. I never thought I'd be a southerner, but I guess it's better than Jersey! Actually, I really do like it here quite a bit and when I was in college my mom went to a psychic and she'd said that I'd eventually end up in Virginia. But that might just be because I was born in September. The woman was a card reader--she read playing cards. I never had the chance to go talk to her. And I'm just jokingly badmouthing Jersey. There are some lovely places in that poorly stereotyped state. I guess each place has left its mark on me. I mean, I'm always going to be a kid from a small town in coal country--or what was left over after the coal had been removed. Pittsburgh showed me what artistic community was/is/could be and it was college and crazy. Tucson was very very very warm and the land there wants to kill everyone who enters but the monsoons and the mornings and the people were all amazing--there are colors about that place I miss, and the smells--the orange blossoms, jeez. And what is there to say about New York that hasn't already been said by a thousand people who burn all their dreams and find them crinkled and black in the sink the next morning? As for how that's affected my writing, I'd guess its the same as all of the other chosen and unchosen variables--it seems each place has its own pace and that somehow works its way into my work. It may not be while I'm there though. My head lags. So the short clipped lines might have to do with the constriction I felt in NY and the breadth of the lines I'd been writing in NY may have had something to do with the openness of the landscape in Arizona. I can't rightly say, but I don't think that people are ultimately human if they're unaffected by place on some level.

6) You are reading on May 7, 2010 at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA with your college buddy Paul Siegell. What have been your impressions of the Poetry Lab to date, and how might the event with Paul go? Do you have any surprises up your sleeves for that night?

So far, for me, every event has been different at the Lab. It's one of the most welcoming, non-postured spaces I've ever been to and lord knows poetry events can get very well postured. You're doing something that needs to be done and I'm very happy to be invited and involved. For this, I must say thank you. And thank you, too, for letting Paul and I do this reading together. I'm really excited to hang out with him again. It's been too long. A decade. That doesn't seem right at all. It's going to be great to fill in the years some. And I read in his interview that bit about Columbine. Man what a weird friggin day that was. I bet Paul will knock all the socks off at this reading. I mean he's been this rocketship for the past few years and rightfully so, and righteously so. I actually can't wait to hear how he reads some of the more concrete pieces. It's going to get awesome! As of now, there's no big surprise plan, but I'll try to get my gears running. It's late as I'm typing this, so i apologize for any undue tangents. Thanks again, Steven for doing what you do and I hope that I can hold up my end of the stick on the 7th.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

an interview with Paul Siegell, one of the May 2010 features

1. When did it occur to you that writing was an itch you couldn’t scratch?

Sometime senior year at the University of Pittsburgh I was in Jan Beatty’s poetry workshop and I remember saying something like, What the hell are we all doing? (I must have been going through a thing that week or something.) The class laughed and then I explained myself with: What’s the point of writing poetry? After a few minutes of discussion I told the class, my friends, that there was no way I was gonna stop writing poetry, but that I was just questioning it. It’s purpose. It’s value. I remember even saying, “I’m not like a crack baby about it or anything, but I’m not gonna stop unless poetry wants me to.” Class laughed again. To answer your question, I’m gonna say about two years before that night at workshop, when I was 19 and had just written my first real’ish poem.

2. As you realized your own poetic style, who were your influences along with way? (I understand that Phish is one of them)

A Clockwork Orange (“What’s it gonna be then, eh?”), Tender Buttons, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (“That’s good thinking there, Cool Breeze.”), On the Road (“I first met Dean Moriarty after my wife and I split up.”), HOWL, Kaddish, Leaves of Grass, GASOLINE, and when Mrs. Rajkowski assigned Emerson and Thoreau to us in 7th grade. Washington Irving, too. Reading cereal boxes and the comics section while my dad read the New York Newsday during breakfast before school. Playing with my legos and hearing classic rock bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, Dylan and the Grateful Dead coming through the wall from my oldest sister’s room. Later playing Nintendo like Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda and hearing new wave bands like The Cure, Erasure, Depeche Mode and Alphaville coming through the wall from my other sister’s room. My mom watching Wheel of Fortune and This Old House, and my dad watching the news. She cried when Family Ties ended. He went nuts when the ‘86 Mets won. Cubism, Picasso, Cezanne. Kandinsky. All the museums my dad took me to on birthdays. PITT poetry pros Jeff Oaks, Jan Beatty and Lynn Emanuel. Billboards and road signs along the highway. Thot it was so funny when Sal Paradise raised the flag upside down. Lyricists like Robert Hunter, John Barlow, Tom Marshall, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon. Traveling. My friends. Reading tons and tons of poetry being written and published by tons and tons of amazing poets right this very second. Stuff like that.

3. Can you explain your “concrete or visual poetry” development? What was your first piece? Which came first the image or the poem?

Fifth grade, Mrs. Grossman’s class. We where doing a poetry section for a week or so and at the end everyone had to write a poem. My 10-year-old head had nothing. Everyone else was scribbling away, acrostics and whatnot, and I was sitting there waiting for recess. Mrs. Grossman came over and asked me to name an animal. Last name’s Siegell so I said a bird. She said: Great, fill the page with the outline of a bird. I drew a bird. Then she goes, Write in as many types of birds as you can think of all the way around along the outline. So I did. When I was done she said, now erase the line. Boom.

4. What has your experience in Philadelphia been like?

I get mine wiz wit. Plus hot peppers.

5. What was the first book of poetry you ever bought?

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. Then HOWL.

6. You are reading at the Poetry Lab at the Soundry in Vienna, VA on May 7th. I understand this is going to be a “reunion” reading. Care to explain?

Tony Mancus and I were in a few poetry classes together at the University of Pittsburgh. One thing I’ll never forget was the break between classes that he, myself and another poet in our group, Jerome Crooks, shared on 04/20/99, day of the Columbine killings. The three of us sat on a bench outside the Cathedral of Learning, did what we did and sat there, stunned. Sharing our thoughts on what we couldn’t believe.

We’ve stayed in touch over the years via email, as a nice handful of that group of poets have, but other than his incredible, true-hearted poems all over the Internet, I haven’t sEEn Tony since graduation, 2000. I am very much looking forward to catching up with him in person, meeting his fiancee and introducing him to mine.

Thanks again for putting us together, Steven! It’s going to be a great night for poetry and friends, new and old.


Paul Siegell is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010), jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). He is an editor at Painted Bride Quarterly, and has contributed to The American Poetry Review, Coconut, Rattle and many other fine journals. He has also been featured in two national music and culture magazines, Paste and Relix, as well as elsewhere exciting. Kindly find more of Paul's work (poems, poemics, reviews) at ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 2, 2010 Poetry Lab

Joseph Kerschbaum and Tony Brewer visited the Poetry Lab on April 2, 2010 as part of their Bottomless Cheetah Blood Tourette (mini-tour). Each has a new chapbook out from Plan B Press; Kerschbaum's is Your Casual Survival and Brewer's is Little Glove in a Big Hand. Together they comprise half of the Indiana-based Reservoir Dogwoods. It was their first time east and they were amazing.

In addition to these two fabulous poets were Tony Mancus reading from two chapbooks off his Flying Guillotine Press, C L Bledsoe and his wife Jillian did a tag-team reading, and I did an audience participation piece called "Squonk". It's a piece that I wrote in 1998 in response to the disconnect I experienced between some academic poets and "uninformed" audiences. The piece was recorded on the 1999 limited release CD Soundbytes from the Millenium.

The developing vibe comes directly from the poets, from the Soundry itself, from the space. I had the good fortune to find the space earlier than others. First in, as it were. As things progress, one will be able to sense the presence of John Cage and the Living Theatre, Bertolt Brecht and what C L Bledsoe has called "punk house for poets".

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

December 2009

My own recollection of an event a mere four months ago was that the stage was set, literally, for something different to occur and it did. The array of poets was incredible considering that some of the most impressive talent there came from a walking distance of the Soundry itself. Bernadette Geyer and Allison Brown frequent the Soundry often. Ann Forstater was brilliant. Peace was great. I got to meet Tony Mancus of Flying Guillotine Press and to hear Peace and Saul Rosenberg perform.

It was at least an almost magical evening. A fantastic beginning. More than I had conceived possible. WOW!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

starting from scratch...

It's been an incredibly fast track leading to this blog and posting. It was only in November of 2009 that I even conceived of doing a "series" at the Soundry in Vienna, VA. Having discovered the Soundry by chance from a listing on the DC-based Beltway Poetry Quarterly, I first attended one of their Friday night "Verbal Assault" events in early September 2009.

I returned a few weeks later and began to get the itch to get back into the hosting/curating mode that had led me to the Master of Art Management program at George Mason University in the first place. That was 2004. With the exception of a few readings I attended at DCAC and Georgetown University, I had avoided the poetry scene in Washington DC & Northern VA rather successfully. That is - until I attended the Verbal Assault at the Soundry. While the talent in the room was mixed and the event was unfocused, I began to see the possibilities manifest before my disbelieving eyes.

I saw what I came to be called "The Poetry Lab" - I jotted down The Poetry Lab will be a poetic "Black Box" . Black Box - wired for sound (the space is set up for bands to rehearse and perform) - the walls double as an art gallery. The space oozed of art and creativity. I felt I had to do something here. It felt perfect. So, I approached the owner, Jennifer Crawford, to see if she would be interested in allowing one of the Verbal Assault nights to evolve into something else. She agreed, and asked what I was planning to call the event. The Poetry Lab was born in that second. It was decided that the first Friday of each month would be dedicated to this "experiment". The possibilities were limitless. The first event was set to occur on December 4, 2009.

What happened next feels like divine providence. I was invited to attend a reading at the Reston Used Bookstore in Reston, VA in late November where I met Saul Rosenberg, Travis Leith, and Peace. Less than 2 weeks later, Saul wrote the following about the first Poetry Lab event:

"Well, for those who didn't make it last night (Peace and I were there, representin' Reston), Steve has put together a really good event at the Soundry in a perfect place for a poetry gathering. Imagine this.. a building that at one time was used as an auto garage. cleaned up and repainted and turned into an artists loft, an art galery, a performance stage and a coffee shop with free wireless Internet. (The stage and cafe are in separate parts of the building so you don't get the background noise with coffee grinders, blenders and espresso machines as in other places, I have read. There is nothing worse that that.) I have been to Business networking meetings where as a presenter, I was limited to what I could do by the location in that there wasn't Internet available of any kind, including GSM/cell. Of course I am thinking of the possibilities of Internet to support the Poetry Lab event Steve has talked about for April.

"The Soundry has more of an industrial feel than the "tea an biscuts" (Peace's words) literary feel of that in Reston. However, that is what makes it really appealing. The moment that you walk through the door, your realize that this is a different kind of place, set aside for those who create. As you walk the winding art lined path back to the performance room, you get the distinct impression that you are about to become part of the communal, artistic, organic life-form that is the Soundry.

This is an open mic event, that really has a mic. Unless you can project your voice really well -- because of the size of the space, and the semi industrial accoustics and at times the heater kicks on. when reading there, one should consider that its use is not optional, as people will not be able to hear everything you are saying otherwise.

On a side note, the small coffee shop at the Soundry makes a good cup of coffee (free refills) that is distinguished by the lack of Starbuckian, or Carrabou Coffeean stigmas of corporate branding. The protective cardboard cup ring that prevents you from burning your fingers, blatantly reads "F*CK THE MACHINE", which helps the coffee taste that much better.

It is a significant event. A place to bring newly written poetry, let it rip, and press upon the boundaries of poetry that are often limited by what you can do in a coffeehouse or other place of business."

A fuse was lit that night. Burning FAST