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. I also continue to edit 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 2009 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.