I’d almost forgotten – well, not really, I just have little time – to mention the anthology Unsheathed: 24 Contemporary Poets Take up the Knife, which came out in October, on almost the same day as UNBURIAL. The anthology is edited by Betsy Mars, and is a collection of original poems inspired by an offhand line of mine, “Knives cut both bread and throats.” Betsy and I were chatting about social media, its virtues and its drawbacks, and I fired off a line she liked. We exchanged poems beginning with the line, and Betsy liked the idea of an anthology so much she even started her own publishing imprint, Kingly Street Press, to make it happen.
Here is my contribution to the anthology:
Knives cut both bread and throats
tongues and fruit, a length of rope
to fashion both knot and noose.
A blade can scissor hope,
whittle back bone, crack
skull, scrape out the pulp
from teeth then sign its name
in flesh soft as an apricot.
It is a weapon, and is not.
I’m thrilled to have an interview up at Frontier Poetryabout the making of Unburial. (Said that way, it sounds like a horror film.) There are few things more interesting than the process of making something, in my eyes: be it a painting, a poem or a photograph. Everything has a story behind it; everything is, in the end, a result of a lucky point in space and time when the right combination of factors happen to converge. Change one of the variables and the whole thing could be wiped away like fingerprints on a pane of glass.
What were the toughest moments you faced while getting the collection to the world and what have you taken away from them?
My poem “Requiem for an Ocean Burial” has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the anthology What Remains: The Many Ways We Say Goodbye! The poem was originally published in Palette Poetry, where it was read by one of the editors of the anthology, who apparently thinks enough of it to have chosen it as one of the six nominees for this year.
Now I’ve never really won anything before, other than a few BMX trophies when I was a kid. In poetry I’ve had an honorable-mention or two, but I’ve almost stopped entering contests because it ends up being a lot of money thrown at the wind. Which is one reason I’m over the moon about this — because I wasn’t actively seeking it out. Someone somewhere thought it was worth nominating for a prize, and did. Whether or not the poem wins this or any other prize is irrelevant to me. S’iz genug. This is enough.
My gratitude goes out to Josh Roark at Palette Poetry and Kenneth Salzmann at What Remains for this honor. You can read the poem here.
Six months passed from acceptance to publication of my first book. If you’d asked me last year how to go about organizing a manuscript of original poetry, I’d have looked at you with squirrel’s eyes. But I worked at it and, as with most things, hard work is like a flashlight in the fog – it gets you through thick and thin. I’ve learned a lot along the way about the small-press publishing industry as well – a few useful dos and don’ts, let’s say. Now it’s in the hands of its readers.
If you’re interested in purchasing a copy, it’s available through your local Amazon distributor. If you like the book, please consider rating it or writing a short review of it at said-distributor’s website, as I have limited marketing resources. Or, if you don’t want to splurge, ask your local library or bookshop if they can order a copy for their poetry section. This, alas, is the flipside of the publishing coin – you have to find a way to get your hard-won words in front of other people’s eyes. And there, they might once have said, isthe rub.
The infant is held aloft, above the priest’s head
and shoulders. “Our trophy!” he cries, to
applause and tears from the congregation. The
baby’s penis looks like a tiny candy in its
wrapper, placed awkwardly between two fresh
human legs. It begins to cry uncontrollably, to
shake. It has been welcomed to the world in
which it will live until its body gives out. Like
all living things, it will die the worse for wear.
Please go to Matador Reviewto read the full poem, and of course all the other poems and stories in the issue. This wasn’t the kind of poem many journals would have taken, so kudos to editor John Lachausse for accepting it at MR.
Well, this is embarrassing. Under the influence of a highly tumultuous summer, I completely forgot to mention the reading I gave in Rome with Francesca Belland Alessandra Bava. It was my first reading ever, unless you count the time I murmured a few poems under my breath at a bar in NYC just after my very first publication in 1999 or so.
It was a miracle this reading even happened – on June 29, which is Roman holiday. Francesca was in town on vacation, and – after a little fancy footwork – we organized this reading at Otherwise Bookshop with Alessandra, a poet and translator who has rendered some of Francesca’s poems in Italian.
It was an amazing experience to walk from my family’s home near St. Peter’s up Via del Governo Vecchio, to read a poem that takes place in that very stretch and which is the gravitational center (and title) of my book. So many important events in my life have happened in that little tangle of streets along the Tiber, and I’ve tried to get some of it into my poems.
Below you can listen to me read four poems from Unburial: “Runaway“, “Unburial” “The Skaters” and “To the Horned Moon” from the June 29th reading. (Warning: I sound like Carnegie Hall-era Lenny Bruce at times.) Somewhere, there is video…
I’m excited to share the cover of Unburial, which is a monotype by Berlin-based artist and friend Beatriz Crespo. It was handpicked by me from hundreds of possibilities—this one struck me. I liked the colors—reminiscent of certain walls in Rome that I love—and the movement, as if some hidden force were pushing upwards to be released. It’s the same motion that drove the composition of the poems in the book, historical forces fighting to bob to the surface where they can finally be seen in clear light.
I’m also indebted to three of the finest poets and translators I know for the blurbs that grace the back cover. Please check out the work of Moira Egan, Aaron Poochigianand Michael Palma. You’ll be glad you did.
—Every so often, though,
he’d open one of those drawers in his desk
pull out a tray of vibrant minerals:
round geodes, spiky quartz and silky slate,
mica which turned to powder in my hands
flecked by a billion years of sediment,
weightless pumice, granite, obsidian,
the names alone enough to set me dreaming
of further atmospheres. These fragments he kept
kept secrets of their own, had fallen to Earth
from spacetime, or grew organically
in igneous niches of our planet’s skin.
I’ve got some deep archives, and they’re a mess. I’ve been writing and submitting poetry since the late 1990s, and this submissions sheet is a reminder of just how much has changed since then. Now almost everything has been updated to online submissions forms – Submittable foremost among them – and only dinosaur journals like the Paris Review still require you to send them a SASE. (I remember knocking on the door of their offices on E. 72nd St. in order to drop off a package for George Plimpton, on assignment for the Gotham Book Mart.) These, anyway, were my first attempts at publishing, and you can see the titles of my very first published poems on the right. It’s funny how the passage of time gives value to the most banal artifacts of our lives. Glad I saved this one.
My poem “Epiphanies” is up in the August issue of Verse-Virtual. It’s about walking through Rome during summer, the light catching my eye, taking it all in. A lot has happened this summer, much of it very sad, and I suppose under such circumstances one is always on the lookout for a kind of epiphany. So here it is.
So much beauty, so much misery
baked into these stones. I walk
and a sharp glint off travertine
gashes my eye, connects
solar lake to solar
plexus, my step as sure
as the silver crosses that shape
nuns’ breasts. How strange
to feel at home in this place –
a pigeon has fashioned its nest
on the brow of a saint!
If epiphany ever comes
it will look like this.
I have a new poem up at Palette Poetry. This is one of the most difficult poems I’ve ever written – actually, unburial is full of those – and one of the most personal. It’s about dementia, and the spiral that loved ones are thrown into when a parent is slowly torn asunder by the waters of Lethe.
Requiem for an Ocean Burial
You wanted a rocky shoreline off the coast of Maine with barbarous waves, a few small fishing boats, a lighthouse reaching out across the fog like a tired hand, waving farewell forever.
What you got was a cramped room in a nursing home which cost a fortune and drained your bank account…