David Wilk interviews Steve Clay of Granary Books

July 26, 2017 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

For the past several years, I’ve been talking to editors and publishers of independent presses about their work, including a number of important literary publishers.

Steve Clay is an old friend, who has been involved with poetry, art and publishing for about the last forty years or so. Steve is the publisher of Granary Books, through which he has done some extraordinary work with an incredible range of poets, artists and crafts people. He has been the instigator of literally hundreds of important standout works of art.

He calls himself an editor, curator, and archivist specializing in the American art and literature of the 1960s,’70s, and ’80s. Steve is also the author, with Rodney Phillips, of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing 1960-1980 (1998) and editor, with Jerome Rothenberg, of A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections about the Book & Writing. He lives in New York City.

But this outline of his work barely scratches the surface of Steve’s work.  In our conversation, I tried to give him the opportunity to talk broadly about the scope of his creative work. He is truly an exemplar of the powerful nexus of writing, editing, and publishing, the “making public” work so critical to art and those who make and experience it. His work is a gift I urge you to spend some time to discover and explore on your own.

A good start is to visit the Granary Books website. Then go to the absolutely essential From a Secret Location: Poetry, Little Mags, Small Presses, and transient documents from the mimeo era and beyond.

There is another useful interview with Steve conducted by the brilliant poet Bill Corbett for the Paris Review here.

When Columbia University, which purchased the Granary Books archive, opened their first exhibit from the Granary archives in 2015, Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress said about Steve: “Beginning in 1985 he has concocted a mix of poets, artists, printers and craftspeople whose work defines an era and fundamentally shapes our understanding of the artists’ book.”

Enjoy!

 

 

Pre-Face image from A Secret Location on the Lower East Side: Adventures in Writing, 1960–1980 (The New York Public Library and Granary Books, 1998), based on Bernadette Mayer, Studying Hunger (New York and Bolinas, CA: Adventures in Poetry and Big Sky, 1975). Cover photograph of the author by Ed Bowes.

David Wilk interviews poet and publisher Bill Mohr

March 24, 2017 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

For the past several years, I’ve been talking to editors and publishers of independent presses about their work, including a number of important literary publishers.

Many years ago, I was introduced to the amazing poetry and writing scene in the Los Angeles area, centered in Venice Beach with the Beyond Baroque Literary Center (which was founded by poet George Drury Smith in 1968) through an old family friend, Alexandra Garrett. Surprisingly to many, Los Angeles has an amazing literary history – there’s much more there than just tinseltown. And of course Charles Bukowski and John Fante lived and worked there, John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press was born in LA, and there have been and now are thriving poetry scenes in various locales throughout the urb over the years. Doug Messerli’s Sun & Moon Press is another notable LA publisher we’ve spoken with.

There were several terrific bookstores in LA in those years, and quite a few great literary magazines and small presses over the years. One of the central individuals in the LA poetry movement of the seventies, eighties and nineties is Bill Mohr, whose magazine and press, Momentum, was a focal point for many writers in and around Los Angeles. Bill and I were friendly in those years but since lost touch, so it was a pleasure to get a chance to talk to him about Momentum for this series of interviews about the independent presses and magazines of the last half century.

Bill was born in Norfolk, Virginia, and grew up there, then moved to Los Angeles to do some acting with various small theater companies, including the Burbage Theater Ensemble. He published and edited Momentum magazine for five years, and then founded Momentum Press in the early 1980s. Between 1975 and 1988, Momentum published about 25 books including Leland Hickman’s Great Slave Lake Suite, which was one of five finalists for the Los Angeles Times book prize in 1980.

Bill also edited two important LA-focused anthologies, The Streets Inside (1978) and Poetry Loves Poetry (1985). During much of this time Bill worked as a blueprint machine operator and a typesetter, and later went to graduate school to start a new career as a scholar and professor. Mohr has been a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, as well as an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. A chapter from his work-in-progress on West Coast poetry during the Cold War was included in The Sons and Daughters of Los: Culture and Community in L.A. (Temple University Press). For over 25 years he has taught creative writing in medium and minimum security prisons in Chino and the University of California, San Diego, and Idyllwild Arts, in Idyllwild, CA.

Bill is now a professor in the Department of English at California State University, Long Beach. He has a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of California, San Diego, and has taught at CSU Long Beach since 2006. His poems, prose poems and creative prose have appeared in dozens of magazines in the past 40 years, including 5 AM, Antioch Review, Beyond Baroque, Blue Collar Review, Blue Mesa Review, Caliban (On-line), Miramar, ONTHEBUS, OR, Santa Monica Review, Skidrow Penthouse, Solo Nolo, Sonora Review, Spot, Upstreet, Wormwood Review, and ZYZZYVA. His volumes of poetry include Hidden Proofs (1982); Penetralia (1984); Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (2006); and a bilingual volume published in Mexico, Pruebas Ocultas (Bonobos Editores, 2015). A CD and cassette release of spoken word was produced by Harvey Robert Kubernik and released by New Alliance Records in 1993.

This conversation was great fun for me, and I hope will be an important addition to the oral history of independent publishing over the last decades.

David Wilk interviews publisher and poet Merrill Leffler

December 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

mphotomerrillPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. I’ve talked with many people about how publishing is evolving as our culture is affected by technology within the larger context of changes in civilization and economics.

I’ve broadened the series to include conversations with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing both in the past and into the present. Through these talks, I hope to continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all forms and formats, as change continues to affect our lives.

For the past several years, I’ve been talking to editors and publishers of independent presses about their work, including a number of important literary publishers. Most recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Merrill Leffler, the co-founder and publisher of Dryad Press. Leffler and his publishing program have been fixtures in the Washington, D.C. area poetry and indie press scene, but are by no means local in interests or scope of work.

Merrill and his friend Neil Lehrman published the first issue of Dryad, a small poetry magazine, in 1968. Their journal, like many others in that era, began as a quarterly. After the first several issues, their publication dates became more variable, and in roughly 1975, Dryad evolved into Dryad Press — two issues of the magazine were sent to subscribers as books. In a further evolution over the years Dryad expanded from publishing poetry to include fiction and non-fiction as well.

With almost a half century of self-taught publishing behind him, Merrill Leffler, a writer and poet of some note himself, has much to talk about. In this conversation, we talked about the history of Dryad and its evolution as part of the modern era of independent publishing, as well as poetry, fiction, and much more.

Compared to many other writers and independent press publishers, Leffler has an unusual and singular background. He was trained as a physicist, worked for NASA’s rocket program and was the senior science writer at the University of Maryland Sea Grant Program, where he focused on research involving the biology of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, for a number of years he taught English at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.

Merrill Leffler has also published three collections of his poetry, most recently a collection called Mark the Music. There’s a great article about him (“Can a poet lose weight by snacking on poems?”) that mentions his role as the Poet Laureate of Takoma Park, Maryland here. And an excellent piece about Dryad and its history by Leffler at a DC area literary website called Splendid Wake.

Leffler is warm, generous, and was a pleasure for me to speak with. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did! topbanner1-cdryadwoman

David Wilk interviews poet and publisher Bill Corbett

October 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

william_corbett03Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

For the past several years, I’ve been talking to editors and publishers of independent presses about their work, including a number of important literary publishers. It’s a great pleasure for me to add Bill Corbett to this group. He’s been a key figure in the Boston literary scene for more than forty years, though he has now moved to Brooklyn.

Corbett’s house in the South End was an essential literary salon for local and many visiting artists, poets, and writers. Corbett has been active in what has been known as the “New York School” of poets, with a deep and abiding interest in the intersections of art and poetry. In a review of Corbett’s All Prose, Kevin Gallagher said “Corbett is ambassador to a strange land.”

Editing and publishing have also been central to Corbett’s work. He edited the literary journal Fire Exit with Fanny Howe and The Boston Eagle, with Lewis Warsh and Lee Harwood, wrote for the Boston Phoenix, and has been involved with literary magazines Ploughshares, Agni, and Grand Street. In 1999, Corbett founded Pressed Wafer, a small press publishing poetry, essays, and art writing. Corbett taught writing at MIT, and also has taught at Harvard and Emerson.

Patrick Pritchett summed up Corbett’s work rather well as follows:

For several decades now, Corbett has been one of our leading men of letters – the phrase itself has been rendered almost extinct in this age of ubiquitous bloggery and relentless peer-review – but I use it here to indicate a breadth of range and a fineness of attention that once upon a time was the norm, rather than the exception. As poet, essayist, memoirist, art critic, literary historian, publisher and tireless promoter of other writer’s work, Corbett is – yet ought not to be – sui generis. But even if the present time were more thickly populated by writers of comparable range, he would still be a force to be reckoned with, in a category of his own.

In this conversation, we talked about a wide range of topics, but it seems we may have barely scratched the surface of Corbett’s work in art and writing. I hope we will have a chance to talk again soon.

Links:

Pritchett essay about Bill Corbett on the blog Writing the Messianic

Pressed Wafer books “poetry fiction essays art memoir etc”

Bill Corbett’s Tumblr

 

David Wilk Interviews Richard Grossinger of North Atlantic Books

May 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks, The Future

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Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to a number of independent publishers in an effort to document the extraordinary period of the past 40 years, which has been a sort of golden age of innovation and creativity, as publishing has literally been redefined. The number of great publishers established during this time in almost every category of publishing is pretty incredible.

One of the presses that has had a special impact on my own work is North Atlantic Books, founded by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, as a transformation of their literary journal, Io, which they began together in 1965 as undergraduates at Amherst and Smith Colleges respectively. Richard and Lindy have been important mentors, friends, and colleagues to me for more than forty years, and their influence on my thinking about writing, ideas and books has been profound.

Since both Richard and Lindy are writers and editors with their own individual interests and styles, I thought it would make sense to interview each of them separately for this Publishing Talks series of conversations. Each of these conversations can stand independently or together. They tell two versions of an almost mythologic story, which I hope listeners will find as compelling as it was for me when I spoke to them.

Io is one of a number of influential literary magazines established in the sixties and seventies, publishing poets, film-makers and visual artists, many of whom were related to what has become known as the New American Poets, with influences ranging from Black Mountain College and the New York School to hermeticism and mystical spirituality. Io was singular in that it was most frequently a one-subject magazine, and this led eventually to the establishment of North Atlantic Books, which was incorporated in 1974 as a non-profit literary publisher in California.

Richard Grossinger was born November 3, 1944, and grew up in Manhattan. He graduated from Amherst College in June 1966 with a B.A. in English. That same month he married Lindy Hough, who attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts.

He received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Michigan for an ethnography incorporating economic and ecological studies of fishing communities in Eastern Maine and subsequently taught anthropology and other subjects at the University of Maine and Goddard College.

Io published 23 issues through 1976 before merging with North Atlantic and converting its publications to anthologies thereafter. Richard and Lindy served as the co-publishers of North Atlantic Books from 1974 onward, and Grossinger now functions mainly as acquisitions editor, while the press is run by its staff and board of directors.

Grossinger is the author of many books including Planet Medicine, The Night Sky, Embryogenesis, New Moon, Migraine Auras, On the Integration of Nature, and The Bardo of Waking Life.

This is the “official” description of North Atlantic Books, taken from its website:
North Atlantic Books is a nonprofit publisher committed to an eclectic exploration of the relationships between mind, body, spirit, and nature. Founded in 1974 by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, NAB aims to nurture a holistic view of the arts, sciences, humanities, and healing. Over the decades, it has been at the forefront of publishing a diverse range of books in alternative medicine, ecology, and spirituality. NAB is the publishing program of the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization that promotes cross-cultural perspectives linking scientific, social, and artistic fields. With more than one thousand books in print, NAB has operated from Berkeley, California, since 1977.

My conversation with Richard Grossinger was recorded in December, 2016. This interview runs 52 minutes.

More about Richard Grossinger here.

Richard’s history of North Atlantic Books is on his website here. Companion interview with co-editor and co-publisher Lindy Hough is here.

9781623170134_0175eb72NorthAtlanticBooks

David Wilk interviews Lindy Hough of North Atlantic Books and Io Magazine

lindyPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

Over the past few years, I’ve talked to several independent publishers in an effort to document the extraordinary period of the past 40 years, which has been a kind of golden age of innovation and creativity as publishing has literally been redefined. The list of great publishers established during this time in almost every category of publishing is amazing.

One of those presses that has had a special impact on my own work is North Atlantic Books, founded by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough as an outgrowth of their literary journal called Io, which they began together in 1965 when they were undergraduates at Amherst and Smith Colleges respectively. Richard and Lindy have been mentors, friends, and colleagues of mine for more than forty years, and their influence on my thinking about writing, ideas and books has been profound.

Since both Richard and Lindy are writers and editors with their own individual interests and styles, I thought it would make sense to interview each of them separately for this series of conversations. These two conversations can stand independently or together. They tell two versions of an amazing and almost mythologic story, which I hope listeners will find as compelling as it was for me when I spoke to them.

Io Magazine traveled with Lindy and Richard, moving to Michigan, Maine, Vermont and eventually California. Io is one of a number of influential literary magazines established in the sixties and seventies, publishing poets, film-makers and visual artists, many of whom were related to what has become known as the New American Poets, with influences ranging from Black Mountain College and the New York School to hermeticism and mystical spirituality. Io was singular in that it was most frequently a one-subject magazine, and this led eventually to the establishment of North Atlantic Books, which was incorporated in 1974 as a non-profit literary publisher in California.

North Atlantic Books has become one of the most successful and influential independent presses in America with a strong focus on spirituality and alternative health, while continuing its commitment to literary publishing.

Lindy graduated from Smith College and received an MFA in Creative Writing at Goddard College. She is the author of seven books of poetry, non-fiction, and fiction (including one book I published in 1978, the excellent Outlands & Inlands). She has taught literature and writing in Michigan, Maine, Vermont and California, and is currently finishing a novel.

This is the “official” description of North Atlantic Books, taken from its website:
North Atlantic Books is a nonprofit publisher committed to an eclectic exploration of the relationships between mind, body, spirit, and nature. Founded in 1974 by Richard Grossinger and Lindy Hough, NAB aims to nurture a holistic view of the arts, sciences, humanities, and healing. Over the decades, it has been at the forefront of publishing a diverse range of books in alternative medicine, ecology, and spirituality. NAB is the publishing program of the Society for the Study of Native Arts and Sciences, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization that promotes cross-cultural perspectives linking scientific, social, and artistic fields. With more than one thousand books in print, NAB has operated from Berkeley, California, since 1977.

Richard and Lindy are now retired from full time work with the press they founded, and each is now actively writing and editing books.

Our conversation was recorded in December, 2016. (55 minutes runtime)

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occupy-spiritualitynab-logoRichard-and-Lindy

David Wilk Talks with Wendy Burk of the University of Arizona Poetry Center

March 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Wendy-Burk_2013_Photo-by-Cybele-KnowlesPublishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

I first visited the University of Arizona Poetry Center more than 35 years ago, and am happy to have had the opportunity to visit this great place again a few weeks ago. The Poetry Center has thrived and grown over the years, and is now housed in a beautifully designed modern building on the campus of the university, with a spectacular poetry library, rooms for teaching, readings, and even an apartment for visiting poets. Tucson and the university are lucky to have this fantastic resource in their community.

Founded in 1960 by poet and Walgreen heiress Ruth Stephan, with the goal of connecting people to poetry “without intermediaries,” the Poetry Center has grown from a somewhat humble beginning to become an exceptionally vibrant organization, bringing poets from all over the world to the beautiful Tucson environment.

Stanley Kunitz was the first poet to read there in 1962, and since then hundreds of poets have come to Tucson to read their work and interact with the community. The Poetry Center recorded most of their readings, and having spent considerable time and energy to digitize its collection, these readings are now available online in the Voca program, a mind boggling and wonderful resource for anyone interested in the range of modern poetry.

Founder Ruth Stephan’s mission statement from 1960 is still the guiding force behind everything the Poetry Center does: “Poetry is the food of the spirit, and spirit is the instigator and flow of all revolutions.” The Poetry Center is a living archive, a place where the spirit of poetry serves its community.

The Poetry Center sponsors numerous University and community programs, including readings and lectures, classes and workshops, discussion groups, symposia, writing residencies, poets-in-the-schools, poets-in-the-prisons, contests, exhibitions, and online resources, including standards-based poetry curricula, most of which is open to the public.

In October 2016, the UA Poetry Center will feature eight world-class poets as they address Climate Change & Poetry in a series of investigative readings to address this question: what role does poetry have in envisioning, articulating, or challenging our ecological present? What role does poetry have in anticipating, shaping–or even creating–our future?

The Poetry Center has an exceptional staff, many of whom are poets and writers themselves. When I visited there, I had the great pleasure of talking to Wendy Burk, the librarian of the Poetry Center, and to look around the building. I spent a good deal of time browsing the amazing collection of books, broadsides and photographs in the library too, and since then, I have spent many enjoyable hours listening to some of the great poets included in the Voca archive.

Wendy is the author of Tree Talks: Southern Arizona (Delete Press) and the translator of Tedi López Mills’s Against the Current (Phoneme Media), both forthcoming in 2016. She is the recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Translation Projects Fellowship and a 2015 Artist Research and Development Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. We talked together in her office at the UA Poetry Center.

Robert-Creeley_12-1963_by-LaVerne-Harrell-ClarkLucille-Clifton_10-1975_by-LaVerne-Harrell-Clarkfrancine-j-harris_and_Tarfia Faizullah_09-03-2015_by-Cybele-Knowles

Photos courtesy of The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Copyright Arizona Board of Regents

Robert Creeley, 1963, by LaVerne Harrell Clark

Lucille Clifton, 1975, by LaVerne Harrell Clark

Francine J. Harris and Tarfia Faizullah, 2015, by Cybele Knowles

Wendy Burk, 2015, by Cybele Knowles

David Wilk talks with James Sherry of Segue Foundation

February 22, 2016 by  
Filed under Publishing History, PublishingTalks

Sherry-James_Ch-Bernstein_NY_2006Publishing Talks began as a series of conversations with book industry professionals and others involved in media and technology about the future of publishing, books, and culture. As we continue to experience disruption and change in all media businesses, I’ve been talking with some of the people involved in our industry about how publishing might evolve as our culture is affected by technology and the larger context of civilization and economics.

I’ve now expanded the series to include conversations that go beyond the future of publishing. I’ve talked with editors and publishers who have been innovators and leaders in independent publishing in the past and into the present, and will continue to explore the ebb and flow of writing, books, and publishing in all sorts of forms and formats, as change continues to be the one constant we can count on.

It’s my hope that these conversations can help us understand the outlines of what is happening in publishing and writing, and how we might ourselves interact with and influence the future of publishing as it unfolds.

The latest in this series of interviews with important independent publishers and editors is my talk with yet another old friend, James Sherry, founder of both Roof Books and the Segue Foundation, in New York City. I have followed and admired his writing and publishing for more than three decades now.

Sherry is the author of 14 books of poetry and prose, most recently Oops! Environmental Poetics (2014). He is the publisher of Roof Books, a press he founded in 1979, and the Segue Foundation, a nonprofit chartered in 1977. He lives in New York City.

With Roof Books and Segue, James has been a significant force in the promotion of experimental and innovative writing, both as a publisher, with more than 150 titles now in print, and as a venue for live events and poetry readings. At one point, Segue was the distributor for some of the most significant literary journals and small presses, including, notably, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, edited by Charles Bernstein and Bruce Andrews.

For this interview, I had the opportunity to speak with James Sherry in New York City, where he and Segue are going strong – the Segue calendar of events demonstrates some of the best of contemporary innovative writing, and Roof Books also continues to produce significant publications that anyone interested in modern poetry should be following.

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Joy Harjo: Crazy Brave – A Memoir

February 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction, Poetry, WritersCast

crazyBrave_mech2.indd978-0-393-34543-8 – W.W. Norton – paperback – 176 pages – $14.95 (eBook versions available at lower prices)

Joy Harjo has been one of my poet heroes for a really long time. I have been reading her poems for so many years I have lost count. Her writing is inspiring, mystical, deeply human and politically explosive. The perfect word to describe Joy’s work is “unflinching,” which she is with herself and with her commitment to following poetry and spirit wherever it takes her.

Recently I read her very personal memoir of self becoming called Crazy Brave, and was stunned by the language, heart and soul of this book. This is the story of Joy Harjo’s becoming a person, unfolding into poetry, and discovering her true self.

The writing in this book is literally transcendent, as Harjo recounts the her earliest memories and family life.

Here are the basics: Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her mother remarried a deeply abusive man, and Harjo was lucky to escape to an Indian arts boarding school and from there went on to get her BA from the University of New Mexico and eventually an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

Crazy Brave is about all of this, but it is really the telling of her path into poetry, the words that saved her, the voice that enabled her to become. It’s a beautiful, power-full, magical book I urge you to read as soon as possible. This is a book whose inner song will stay with you for a long time. Joy Harjo once said this about her own work: I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings. In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.

It was a heartfelt pleasure for me to speak to Joy Harjo about this book and her work as a writer. If you’ve never read her poetry, you can find some of her work online, including reading her fine poem, She Had Some Horses.

And here, a poem I really love:

Perhaps the World Ends Here

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.
The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.
We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.
It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.
At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.
Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.
This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.
Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.
We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.
At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.
Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” from The Woman Who Fell From the Sky by Joy Harjo. Copyright © 1994 by Joy Harjo

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Ursula Le Guin: Late in the Day (Poems 2010-2014)

January 16, 2016 by  
Filed under Fiction, Poetry, WritersCast

Ursula K Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin has had a long and wonderful career as a writer. Her extraordinary work has influenced many other writers, particularly in science fiction, for which she is probably best known, but Ursula has also written extensively about the art and craft of writing, as well as children’s books, and books for young adults. She is also a poet of some note, with four poetry collections published. Altogether she has had published almost fifty books and more than a hundred short stories.

Ursula was born and raised in Berkeley, California, where her parents were the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and the writer Theodora Kroeber, author of the very famous book, Ishi. She went to Radcliffe College and did graduate work at Columbia University. Ursula married Charles A. Le Guin, a historian, in 1953; they have lived in Portland, Oregon since 1958.

Le Guin’s best known fantasy works, the six Books of Earthsea, have sold millions of copies in America and England. Her first major work of science fiction was The Left Hand of Darkness, whose radical investigation of gender roles and literary complexity have made the book a classic and a must read work of literature. Among her books for children, the Catwings series has become extremely popular. She also published a translation of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching, after forty years of working on it and practicing Taoist principles in her life.

Three of Le Guin’s books have been finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, SFWA’s Grand Master, the PEN/Malamud Award, and in 2014 she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

While Le Guin is no longer writing fiction, she continues to write poetry, as she has done virtually her entire life. With the appearance of this new collection of poems from 2010-2014, Late in the Day, published by the excellent PM Press, I had the opportunity to speak with her about her writing and her recent writing. In these poems she explores a variety of poetic forms, all of which she easily masters. The poems are most often about relationships, connecting to the natural world, to myth, story, and of course, other humans, always with a careful eye and a deft understanding of the complexity of all things.

And the Afterword on poetic form and free verse is itself a small masterpiece of explication and joy. Ursula Le Guin is truly one of the great writers of our time. It is my great honor to have had the chance to speak with her here for Writerscast. If you are not aware of Ms. Le Guin’s work as a poet, this new collection of sharp and compassionate compressed expression is definitely worth your time to read. We talked about many subjects, including writing, her career, Oregon, the recent occupation at Malheur, a place with which she is very familiar, and of course the poems in this book, one of which she was kind enough to read aloud for us.

There is an excellent interview transcription with Ursula by Choire Sicha in Interview Magazinethe author’s own website is a rich source of material by and about her great body of work.detail_744_le_guin_enlarged

 

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