Primary Scholarship: Following my two pre-tenure books of poetry I have had three full-length books accepted for publication by award-winning independent presses: A Conjoined Book (published by Omnidawn Press in 2014); Of Sphere (winner of the Essay Press Prize, published in November 2017); and Blood Feather (forthcoming from Tupelo Press in 2019).
Secondary Scholarship: Deeply invested in the context of contemporary poetry I have continued to publish reviews and essays online and in anthologies published by venues such as the University of Michigan Press. In addition to my continued work as the reviews editor of the Constant Critic I started SplitLevel Texts, a small press that has published two full-length titles of contemporary poetry each year since 2012.
Primary Scholarship: Book Projects
Below you will find descriptions of my book projects—published (two books), forthcoming (one book), and in process (two books). Individual poems, which most often become part of book projects, can be found listed on my CV; physical copies of post-tenure books listed below are included in the paper appendix to this site, housed with the Personnel Committee. A set of physical copies of post-tenure books is also available near the printer in the Writers Institute copy room.
A note on the poetry book publication process: poets, unlike writers in other genres, rarely have agents. This means that poetry writers pursue book publication directly, sending completed manuscripts out to presses for consideration during open reading periods and sending them to book contests, run by presses as a way of viewing submissions. Open reading periods and contests run by presses of the type I publish with receive between two and three hundred submissions for the smaller-scale presses (publishing one or two poetry titles a year) and one to two thousand submissions for the larger-scale presses (publishing seven to twelve poetry titles a year). Publishers usually take one to two titles for publication from any given contest or reading period and fill in the rest of their list with authors they have published previously. After a book is selected for publication there is between one and three years before the book appears in print. During this waiting time some authors continue to revise and work on their book with the help of their editor.
Large New York houses (Random House, Penguin, Harper Collins) do not hold open reading periods or contests and publish very little contemporary poetry. Most poetry publishing happens through independent presses and through university presses. The number of poetry titles each independent or university press publishes each year varies, but generally ranges from two to fourteen titles a year, depending on the size and finances of the press. For example Graywolf, probably the largest, most awarded, and most familiar independent press of poetry publishes ten poetry titles a year, three of which are the winners of their contests, all of which are restricted to first book publication.
Post-Tenure Book Projects Published and Accepted for Publication
My third poetry project, which was to become A Conjoined Book, I began writing shortly after my move to Central Pennsylvania and continued working on as I traversed the tenure process at Susquehanna. The book was accepted for publication in the summer of 2012 and I spent much of my 2012-2013 sabbatical revising the book, which was published by Omnidawn Press in spring of 2014. Omnidawn is an independent press operating out of the Bay Area that has since 2001 published some of the most celebrated books of experimental lyric poetry, books that have been nominated for prestigious national book awards and that have been reviewed broadly. Needless to say, I have been so pleased to have A Conjoined Book on their list.
I had begun writing the book out of what first struck me as the enormous beauty of the countryside surrounding our small college town: all trees and river. Then I began to research the environmental trauma the landscape had suffered and still suffers from the legacies and traditions of mining, lumbering, and, now, so nearby, fracking. In this book questions surrounding “use” and “ownership” extend into an investigation of place, ecological catastrophe, and the language—particularly the narratives—we use to describe it. As part of this investigation of narrative I weave fragments of the folk tale “The Juniper Tree” into the book along with histories and theories of folk tale narratives—stories that require retelling, as Vladimir Propp so brilliantly outlined in his Theory and History of Folklore.
My most recently published book is soon to be Of Sphere, selected by Carla Harryman for the 2016 Essay Press prize and at the printer as I write. The book is composed of writing generated upon returning from Budapest after my Fulbright, beginning in the summer of 2011and carrying through until 2015, when I began an extensive revision process, submitting the book to the Essay Press contest in 2016. Founded by Eula Biss, Catherine Taylor, and Stephen Cope—three unparalleled innovators in the essay tradition—Essay Press is an independent press that seeks to publish work that challenges genre boundaries. Essay has published some of my favorite works of prose and I am honored to have a book on this list.
Of Sphere weaves together experimental essays with lyric poetry fragments to meditate on affect, relationality, and environment. In constellation with the lyric prose of writers such as Hélène Cixous, Clarice Lispector, and H.D., the book investigates ways a woman, aware she’s always becoming gendered, might resist sealing into a character according to cultural norms. As the book found its way to publication through a prize for experimental essays run by a press that specializes in innovations with the essay form—and includes lineated poems, long prose poems (which might also be thought of as poetic prose), and researched micro-essays—the book relates to genre in a way that challenges genre boundaries. It is not purely a book of poetry and is not purely a book of essays: it is a hybrid genre work. While I hope the book appeals to those who love the wilderness that the essay can be, readers of my previous books will find essential kinship: the long prose poems of Of Sphere will remind readers of the long prose poems in the second section of Iteration Nets, my second published book. The chiseled, lineated, fragmented poems of Of Sphere might remind readers of the imagistic fragments of my first book, Knowledge, Forms, the Aviary. And the researched micro-essays that compose the 40-page “Notes” section of the book will remind readers of the research incorporated into A Conjoined Book, as well as reminding them of my review and critical essay work.
Here you can read Carla Harryman’s introduction to the book and a sample of its pages.
While I look forward to the arrival of Of Sphere, I am already working with an editor on my next book, Blood Feather, which has just this summer been accepted for publication by Tupelo Press and will be published in 2019. Tupelo Press is well-known to poetry readers, has a broad readership, and has published many poets with national and international reputations. For example, many of our recent visiting poets (Dan Beachy-Quick, Thomas Centolella, and Kazim Ali) publish with Tupelo. I am particularly excited for Blood Feather's potential to reach a broad audience of readers while still engaging readers who enjoy experimental writing: the book maintains my fidelity to experimentation while exploring fictional narrators that give the surface of the work a cinematic accessibility.
I have been working on this book since the fall of 2010 and have revised each of the three movements extensively, completing my most recent revision in the fall of 2016, just prior to submitting the book to Tupelo for consideration. The book is composed of three long persona poems spoken by different female narrators exploring femininity and identity. I composed the early draft of each long poem using a modified traditional poetic form, the sestina, and then revised the poems using counted verse. These formal aspects of process and finished "product" draw attention to the artifice of the work, which is in tension with the book’s naturalistic narrators. I delight in research, and much of the narrators’ lives I have come to through that method, setting the narrators in conversation with female artists and various facets of philosophy. For example, I’ve set one of the narrators in conversation with Maya Deren, an experimental filmmaker from the forties and fifties. I hope the book to be accessible on the level of narrators and themes and complex in energy, philosophy, and layering.
An early version of one of the three poems was selected by Forrest Gander for the Poetry Society of America Cecil Hemley Award for a poem on a philosophical theme. You can read Gander's judge's citation and a very short excerpt here.
Book Projects in Process
My current ongoing projects include what I consider to be a feminist “poet’s novel,” in the tradition of novels written by female modern and post-modern poets such as H.D., Mina Loy, Barbara Guest, and Leslie Scalapino. The book is titled The Budapest Notebook and takes inspiration from my time living and teaching in Budapest, Hungary, which I was fortunate enough to do twice. I was first in Budapest prior to tenure in spring of 2011 as a Fulbright Lecturer in the Department of American Studies at the Eötvös Loránd University and then again, post-tenure, as a visiting professor in the Eötvös Collegium Honors College during my 2012-2013 sabbatical. This project involves both the sense-based lyric experience of Budapest and research into culture, politics, and Central-Eastern European literature. Supported by a University Research Grant I returned to Budapest this past summer and have completed a full revised draft of the book, which clocks in at a little over 77,000 words. I have twice applied for a grant from the Guggenheim Foundation to support further work on the project. This year I will send sections of the book out for journal publication with the goal of sending a complete and polished draft to small press publishers for consideration by the end of this academic year. You can find an excerpt of one of the sections on the Tupelo Quarterly website and recently nominated for a "Best of the Net" award, here, and an early draft of one of the sections is housed on the Conjunctions website, here.
In addition to working through The Budapest Notebook I have begun working on what will be my next book of poems, a project based around the work of the filmmaker Maya Deren and incorporating postmodern and contemporary dance. Through the process of researching Deren for Blood Feather I became enthralled with her work and, thanks to a Susquehanna Mini-Grant spent two weeks during the summer of 2015 with her papers, which are held in Boston University’s archives. This led to initial poems, four of which were published this past spring in Bomb Magazine. Bomb has also put the poems online and you can read them here. Deren’s fascination with the dancing body features heavily in her films and has led me to research the work of Anna Halprin, Simone Forti, and Yvonne Rainer, pioneers of contemporary postmodern dance from the sixties and seventies. My review of a recent exhibition of their work at the New York Public Library can be read here.
This statement of work might well read as a statement of evolution: work that begins in the mind, tuned to a precision of syllables and form and has come to exist in the broader field of the city, of historical lives, of research. It might also read cyclically: I began my life as an artist with ballet and see my way forward via an interdisciplinary poetic project centering on Maya Deren and dance. While I consider each book to be a distinct exploration—not a stepping stone to a “better” next book—to some extent the idea of “evolution” might hold true: each project carries forward the concerns and earnings of what I have written. And while I hope my work continues to transform and expand I also know that I continue to remain true to a vision of poetry that is felt both in the gut and in the mind, a poetry that stimulates, questions, imagines, and evokes.
Secondary Scholarship: Poet-critic, Editor, Publisher
The tradition of writing closest to my practice holds many examples of creative writers who also contribute to the art as critics, editors, and publishers. The modernists were exceptional at this: in 1923 Virginia Woolf, one of my greatest role models, was hand-setting T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land for her and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press while at the same time writing notebook drafts that would become in 1925 Mrs. Dalloway and revising essays for her collection The Common Reader. Nearly one hundred years later it is just as essential to the life of literature that creative writers also participate in the larger context of its production, interpretation, and reception. I do my best to participate in this tradition and to act as a role model to my students and readers. As such, I actively write reviews and essays that appear in online journals, anthologies, and at conferences. Since 2010 I have edited the Constant Critic, Fence Books’ online journal of poetry reviews. Since 2011 I have also been the founder and co-publisher of SplitLevel Texts, a small press that publishes two print books a year. My creative writing and my world are greatly expanded by my participation in the performance environment of poetry readings and conferences; in the expansive digital environment of the Internet; and in the materiality of producing printed books. Below you will find more information about my essays, editing, and publishing.
My essays focus on contemporary poetry, poetics, and pedagogy. Much of the work that I write about is situated at the juncture of lyric, experiment, and culture. I am particularly invested in foregrounding translations and experimental writing by women. My CV includes lists of reviews, essays, poetry readings, and conference papers, but here I will draw your attention to highlights.
Since 2010 I have enjoyed a standing engagement reviewing poetry books for Fence Books' poetry review site, the Constant Critic, and have recently written on Hao Nguyen, Alejandra Pizarnik, and Margret Ross. I select books that have yet to get the attention they deserve, and also that both delight and challenge me. Part of the thrill of reviewing is coming to understand something that I didn't understand before beginning the conversation. You can find my Constant Critic work here. Reviews have also appeared in such journals as the Poetry Project Newsletter, American Book Review, Rain Taxi, and Slope. In 2013 I participated in an online survey-discussion about the role of the poet-critic run by The Volta. My response can be read here.
Essays in anthologies post-tenure include "To Gesture at Absence," a piece on Anne Carson's book Economy of the Unlost (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan) for, Ecstatic Lyre, the University of Michigan Press volume on her work. My essay comes out of a conference paper I had written for the 2013 "Poetry vs. Philosophy" conference at Texas A & M and was published in the University of Michigan Press anthology in 2015. You can read a copy of my Anne Carson piece here. I also have an essay on the poet Barbara Guest's only novel, Seeking Air, for The Poet's Novel: Context & Metronome, an anthology on the poet's novel forthcoming from Nightboat Books.
In addition to writing essays for the digital and print world, I also have actively participated in conferences. Recent highlights include a May 2016 conference at Plymouth University in the UK, where I gave a paper on Claudia Rankin’s Citizen for the Contemporary Poetry: Thinking and Feeling conference. Along with expanding my sense of contemporary English-language writing engaged, like I am, with the dyad "lyric" and "philosophy," the conference was a valuable networking opportunity. At the conference I met Elizabeth Jane-Burnett, a UK critic who writes about experimental writers of color and who I have since asked to be part of the Constant Critic project. This fall I will participate in UC Berkeley’s Communal Presence conference on New Narrative Writing, presenting a paper on Bernadette Mayer’s The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters and Gail Scott’s My Paris. This is a particularly exciting opportunity for me because last year SplitLevel published a second edition of the Mayer book and the Scott book has been an essential model for my work on The Budapest Notebook.
Editing the Constant Critic
Since 2010 I have edited the Constant Critic, Fence Books’ online journal of poetry reviews. In editing the journal I work with the journal's stable of five to six poet-critics to select books to write about and develop pieces. I also copy edit each piece and format it to our site. Current poet-critics include Ray McDaniel, Elizabeth-Jane Burnett, Martha Ronk, Stephen Motika, and myself; Tyrone Williams will be writing for the project beginning in 2018. We focus on reviewing books published by small presses and feature work that engages today's contemporary audience with intelligence, innovation, and insight. Our reviews are between 1,500-3,000 words and push beyond general impressions into poetics and cultural criticism. The online platform as well as Fence Books’ enormous data base of readers and publishers (Fence magazine and books have been a staple for contemporary poetry for two decades) makes the Constant Critic a particularly effective way to contribute to the reception of contemporary poetry. The past couple of years my focus has been on diversifying the pool of critics who write for the site to include writers at various stages in their careers and who are invested in a variety of aesthetics and who come from a variety of subject-positions.
Editing and publishing SplitLevel Texts
In 2011 I started SplitLevel Texts with Aaron McCollough, a poet I met while completing my MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop. We began the press as a way to contribute something material back to the poetry world that we love. We also wanted to pay homage, editorially and in our design aesthetic, to other small presses we'd always admired like Talisman House, Burning Deck, White Pine, and New Directions. We wanted to be open to experiments in the way we published our books (we started by publishing on an Espresso Book Machine before moving on to other digital and offset printing models). Finally, we wanted to price our books modestly. With SplitLevel I also wanted to renew the publishing work that I had begun doing, pre-tenure, with my chapbook press, Imprint, which published limited edition runs of two art-poetry collaborations between 2007-2009.
SplitLevel is run on a shoe-string budget with a very small staff. We publish two full-length books a year. Aaron and I read submissions, select the manuscripts, and work with our writers to refine their visions. I have typeset each book. We hire a designer for our covers. Aaron manages the website and we both work with printers to produce our books and with Small Press Distribution, the bay-area organization that distributes books for many of America's independent presses. As an example, you can see one of our titles, listed and ready for sale at SPD, here. Aaron and I work with our writers to get books into independent bookstores and to set up readings in bookstores and galleries. The intense labor of this process has enriched my writing world and has given me new appreciation for the editors, publishers, and booksellers of this world. Some of our titles are first or second books. Other titles are by poets you might find in any anthology of contemporary American poetry. You can visit the press website, here.