Virtual Salon #6 with Elizabeth Savage & Ann E. Michael

Featured at today’s virtual salon are two lovely new chapbooks, a brand new one from blogger-extraordinaire Ann E. Michael and one from late 2019 by Kestrel Poetry Editor Elizabeth Savage. Both are poets whom I’ve admired for ages. If this were a live reading, you’d also immediately perceive that they are exceptionally kind and generous people, too. I’ll begin with Ann’s book but be sure to keep reading for a mini-interview with Elizabeth, below.

I was moved to revisit a landscape in Barefoot Girls that reminds me of my own girlhood in North Jersey. Ann’s slim book powerfully evokes a landscape just south of there, flat and stretching east to Atlantic beaches. Awkward teenagers, “more than one kind of hungry,” are marked by its barrenness; soothe the ache at roller-rinks and rock concerts; cope with assaults and unwanted pregnancies; and, at pool halls, hustle “drunks who think a girl can’t win.” In this stirring chapbook, however, girls persist dauntlessly, just as “the darning needles swoop/ and dart, hungry, busy, rising up/ against whatever holds them down.”

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

1. Alas, warm Schlitz beer (in a can) or Coke, and hoagies, would be thematically perfect–but I can’t bear the thought. And popsicles, choose your fake flavor. My teen years were not gustatory pleasures. We can update it with gelato and thin-crust pizza.

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

2. Harried, nibbled to death by work-related technology details, not writing much; reading a lot…and spending as much time in the garden as possible. Pulling weeds can be cathartic!

How can your virtual audience find out more?

3. Check out my webpage’s “My Books” tab at www.annemichael.wordpress.com, or go directly to prolificpress.com (“new books”). For context, listen to Bruce Springsteen’s first three albums, read about the gas crisis of the early 70s, or maybe check out http://www.josephszabophotos.com/ and view Szabo’s photographs of teens in the early 70s.

~

Detail by Elizabeth Savage is just as vivid in conjuring place, although its style is way more elliptical, oscillating between scoured-down lyrics and even smaller shards (perhaps Ann has me thinking about the shells and shell-fragments you pick up on the New Jersey shore). Elizabeth’s locations, however, are the Richmond, Virginia of her girlhood, the West Virginia she inhabits now, and, in glimpses, Pacific beaches. Sensory detail transports: one poem “reeks of peaches” while another manifests “a gridded garter snake” who “basks/ trusting the asphalt when a motorized warmth/ pulses suggestively.” The most salient aspect of this collection, though, is its exploration of edges: seasonal hinges, crusts of earth pushed up by crocuses, a beautician’s shears, and more. I confess I reread these poems while gnawing the ears of a dark chocolate bunny, but Details’ refreshments are better.

If you were ordering thematically appropriate refreshments for this shindig, what would they be?

1. Detail is made up of dense, enjambment-driven poems followed by a distillation. Applying this concept to refreshments, the Detail buffet might include some of my cannibal cookies next to tiny Dixie cups of dark chocolate chips and coconut flakes; paella alongside saffron strands; martinis next to glass dishes of green olives; hummus with sea salt and lemon juice sidecars—and all accompanied by cold, bone-dry white wine that comes in a box. Several poems concern Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up, so perhaps ham biscuits accompanied by lard and a tiny statue of J.E.B Stuart should also be made available.   

If, after your breathtaking reading and the subsequent standing ovation, a friend pulled you into a curtained window seat and asked, “How are you really?” or “Are you able to write these days?”, what might you answer?

2. I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.

How can your virtual audience find out more?

3. I love Will Woolfitt’s response to this question, and I think his interpretation of it  fits both my “how” and my “more.” I began the poems in Detail as a way to read Barbara Guest’s Selected Poems, so more is to be found in her poetry. Noah’s Ark is my poetry neighborhood, and I was listening to and thinking through Ingrid Stolzel’s compositions from poetry throughout the years I wrote Detail. Dancing Girl Press published another chap for me that is roughly the inverse experiment, so the poems in Parallax might be of interest. 

Errant in the Bewilderness

If I told you I’m just screwing around this week, I’d be exaggerating. This is exam week after our twelve-week winter term, so there’s lots of grading, as well as chores involving grants, event programming, etc. Liberation from the rigors of my former schedule, though–during which I was trying to do much of the same work while also prepping and teaching–is making me feel giddy. It helps that my antibiotics have kicked in, because I came home from a tiring AWP with strep throat. Bonus: it’s really spring!

Each day I’m carving out a little time–maybe just fifteen minutes–to draft something, a poem or the seed of one. This morning I responded to a request from someone who wants poems about Mina Loy. I ended up rereading most of The Lost Lunar Baedeker, which is really teaching-prep, too, because I’ll teach Modern U.S. Poetry in the fall and book orders are just around the corner. I hadn’t spent serious hours with this collection in years and was newly struck by all the beautiful poems about aging. When I was 49, I thought I’d write a suite of poems about my poetic idols when THEY were 49. I ended up writing one sonnet about Edna St. Vincent Millay then quit, because it was so damn depressing. 49 is apparently not the happiest age for women poets. Now, past the hinge of 50, finding Loy’s intelligent take on what she calls the “excessive incognito” of “An Aged Woman” is such a gift. Plus Loy’s coinage “Bewilderness,” which appears in a poem about widowhood called “Letters of the Unliving,” is my new favorite word. I have the most fun when wandering a vague landscape you could call by that name–sort of working, sort of playing around.

One side effect of this work-play is reflection on how I’m spending time. I was just catching up with Dave Bonta’s Poetry Blog Digest and found this great post by Erica Goss about just that–a procedure for carrying the intensities of a major literary conference into a quieter, post-conference writing zone. I think it would mitigate the post-AWP blues I always feel, whether or not I get sick.

Of course, one of the things I’m reflecting about is the very teaching year I’m finishing up (I teach our four-week May term every other year–but not this one!). I honestly don’t know what my creative writing students thought of the first blended-genre workshop I’d taught in years. Many of them did outstanding work, but the vibe in the room was hard to read. My general education course in Protest Poetry, however, was warmly enthusiastic, although plenty of the conversations we had along the way about politics, privilege, and anger itself were very tricky. I posted earlier this term about a benefit reading we organized together. Their final project was to choose their own causes and find a way to advance them through poetry, then write reflective essays about the results. I was so proud and delighted by the variety and quality of their efforts! One student took poetry commissions to benefit Project VOICE; another broadcast a feminist radio show of songs and readings; others waged broadside campaigns about body positivity and the collapse of bee populations. Final products included found poems drawn from community participation; a poetry-infused brochure on the indigenous history of this area; and beautiful little chapbooks on climate change; water crisis; the experiences of queer students at W&L; and addiction and recovery, all distributed to the people who would most appreciate them.

I was so glad I experimented with this assignment, even though, at moments, I was alarmed by my own ambitions. It’s easier for me to play around in my teaching than it is for many others: I’m tenured, my college has great resources, and I teach small classes full of talent. But the Bewilderness, that zone of not knowing what you’re doing and being willing to risk mistakes–it’s where the good stuff happens. I need this breather from the classroom for a while and will make earnest use of it. One of the ways I’ll do so will be dreaming about fall’s wild experiments.

Chapbooks, fairy tales, and spreading the word

I didn’t know, when writing the fairy-tale-inspired long poem that became my forthcoming chapbook, Propagation, that folktales and chapbooks have a long association. Here’s what Dáithí Ó hÓgáin writes for The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Folktales and Fairy Tales:

Printed little volumes for popular reading, chapbooks were common in several western European languages. These books contained a wide variety of reading material, ranging from stories about the heroes of ancient Greek and Roman literature to accounts of philosophers, saints, and noted historical personages, and to picaresque tales of rogues and entertaining rascals. The term “chapbook” first came into vogue for such publications in the early nineteenth century. It was derived from “chapman,” the usual word for the type of trader or peddler who sold them at fairs or markets and in other public places.
The publishing of small inexpensive tracts began in France near the end of the fifteenth century and soon after became common in Germany, the Netherlands, and England. The German chapbooks—Volksbücher—contained prose versions of medieval romances and other miscellaneous tales; and in Germany, the Netherlands, and France, the adventures of the entertaining trickster Till Eulenspiegel were especially popular. From the seventeenth century onward, a wide variety of chapbooks were available in England, and they spread to Ireland, America, and other places where material in English was read.”

chaps
oh, you pretty things

I’d like to think some magic was at work when I decided to mine Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale for an April’s worth of writing prompts. I knew that chapbooks had been a vehicle for popular literature in various genres for centuries, but not, consciously, that the genre I was working in was especially intertwined with the history of the medium. At any rate, there was enough magic involved that I placed Propagation with one of my dream publishers, Dancing Girl Press. It’s due in the fall and the ms is just about finalized now.

In the meantime–partly inspired by reading a draft of Jeannine Hall Gailey’s excellent forthcoming book PR for PoetsI thought, well, what else do I need to be doing now by way of promotion? (That link, by the way, is to an especially wonderful post that gives heart to anyone who, like me, gets squeamish about the marketing thing.) I thought it might be useful to assemble a list of resources for other chapbook-writers who want to get the word out. Sure, a chapbook–called a “pamphlet” in the U.K.–is smaller and cheaper than a full-length collection, so one way to think of the marketing tasks is, well, they should be smaller and cheaper. One can post about the new arrival on social media, send out notices, give readings, seek reviews, hope it gets a few classroom adoptions–all the basic work (which is never actually small or cheap). But are there ways a chapbook is not just less than but different than?  What opportunities does the form create?

As a reader, I’m attracted to the distilled brevity of chapbooks, and how they feel in the hand. The best are tightly-focused gems you can read at a sitting, which makes them beautifully approachable. I was corresponding with a friend lately–Janet McAdams, author of the mysterious and lovely chap Seven Boxes for the Country After–who thinks that an increasing number of them seem less like baby steps towards full-length books and more like separate creatures, that is, sequences conceived especially for the compression and accessibility of the chapbook format. That’s true in my case. I don’t have any plans for Propagation to be part of a longer volume.

Yet how likely are chapbooks to have the afterlife other books can generate? Certainly there are fewer readings, reviews, class adoptions, and post-publication prizes to keep a light shining on your well-made chapbook after its debut season.

Here’s a list of resources I found–not enough, I’d say. I’d love to know about what I’m missing. Please send me notes and I’ll edit this post to include them.

  • Chapbook ReviewThis cool site includes lists of recently published chapbooks, publishers, and contests.
  • Some literary magazines do chapbook reviews in a micro- or “roundup” model. In addition to the list on the above site, including Rain Taxi and other venues, check out other venues that occasionally feature chapbook reviews: Blackbird, Kenyon Review Online (among the micro-reviews, once in a while), Pleiades, The Mom Egg, The Rumpus, So to Speak, New Pages.
  • The Eric Hoffer Awards have a post-publication prize for chapbooks.
  • Blogs: “Speaking of Marvels” is devoted to chapbooks, novellas, and other odd lengths.

Also, plenty of magazines that don’t feature chapbook reviews in any regular way would probably be open to an omnibus review, if one made a pitch. Any writer who wants attention for his or her own work should be giving back somehow, and reviewing is a great and generous way to do that.

As for Propagation, reply here, or on FB, or drop me an email if you want to be on the publicity list I really should be working on, ahem (with your email address). I’d also be happy to send galleys, eventually, and signed copies to people planning reviews or classroom adoptions–but I don’t even have a cover yet!