Tuesday
Dec292015

Suggestions for the #ReadMorePoems challenge

So you want to read more poems, but you're not sure where to begin, or you love poems and read them all the time, but always want more suggestions? Great! Welcome! This post will be updated frequently and offer suggestions for poems to read for each of the 2016 "#ReadMorePoems" poetry challenge. These categories are not meant to be exhaustive, and they are left intentionally broad. As always, I encourage you to choose divese texts for every category. Don't worry if your picks overlap categories. You can either count that book for multiple categories, or, better yet, choose another book for any overlaps.

1) A book of peoms by a Lambda Lit Award winner or finalst

The Lambda Literary foundation keeps a handy list of past winners and finalists, so I encourage you to browse around over there. Some titles I recommend are Saeed Jones's Prelude to a Bruise and Meg Day's Last Psalm at Sea Level. (Full disclosure: my first book, Mysterious Acts by My People won a Lammy in 2014.)

 

2) A book of poems by a woman of color

There are so many incredible books of poetry by women of color, and I left this category broad on purpose. I recommend Turn by Wendy Chin-Tanner to start you off.

 

3) A book of poems by a trans or genderqueer writer

 Oliver Bendorf's book The Spectral Wilderness knocks my socks off. Be sure to check out the amazing anthology Troubling the Line ed. by TC Tolbert and Trace Peterson, too.

 

4) A chapbook

A chapbook is a short book of poems, around 20 pages, usually staple bound or sewn. It's like a mini book, and many are handmade. Many writers publish chapbooks before (well, and after) their first full-length collection debuts. Dancing Girl Press, Hyacinth Girl Press and Gazing Grain Press are all great chapbook presses. You can't go wrong choosing a title from there.

 

5) A book of poems in translation

I'm reading Rilke Shake by Angélica Freitas (tr. by Hilary Kaplan) right now, and loving it.

 

6) A book of poems by a writer not from the USA

I haven't read it yet, but on my list is Uyghurland, the Furthest Exile by Ahmatjan Osman, (Translated from the Uyghur and Arabic by Jeffrey Yang with the author), a poet from Turkistan.  

7) A book of poems by someone from the Midwest or South

Because not everyone lives in NYC, and it is a cruel myth that you need to move to a coast to create art! Ideally you'd pick someone who isn't just in the Midwest or South for grad school, but is actually from there and still living there, but that might be me being picky. I'm born and raised in Iowa and happily returned here as soon as I could. Squares and Rebels press put out some great anthologies of queer Midwesterners: When We Become Weavers ed. by Kate Lynn Hibbard and Among the Leaves by Raymond Luczack, and Douglas Ray edited the amazing The Queer South antohology recently. (Another disclosure: I'm in both Hibbard's and Ray's anthologies.) In terms of single volumes of poetry, I recommend Kristen Stone's Domestication Handbook and Rebecca Lehmann's Between the Crackups.

 

8) A book of poems by a disabled writer.

Raymond Luczak is one of my favorite poets. Check out his book How to Kill Poetry. There's also an incredible anthology, QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology and Beauty is a Verb, ed. by Sheila Black and Jennifer Bartlett.

 

9) A literary journal that focuses on poetry.

Yes, you could read Poetry magazine, but let's broaden our horizons a bit, shall we? Check out Adrienne or Assaracus or Nepantla.

 

10) A book of poems published in the last five years.

When I first suggested this challenge to a friend, he starting naming his favorite books of poems, but none of them had been published after 2000. Most of my suggestions are recently-published books, but if you feel you always read recent publications, switch this around and read something older. How about He Do the Gay Men in Different Voices by Stephen S. Mills , or if you want something older, check out June Jordon

 

All of these are just some suggestions, and I'd love to keep adding to this list, but I wanted to start off with one or two ideas for each category for anyone who wants to jump right in. Don't forget to use the hashtag #readmorepoems if you share your reading on social media, and stay tuned for the Read More Poems podcast.

Tuesday
Dec292015

#ReadMorePoems!

For the first time since I graduated from my PhD, I find myself looking ahead to 2016 actually excited to read books again. I jumped on the first reading challenge I saw, which was the Pop Sugar challenge, and then my friends, Kate and Beth, launched the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives challenge on their blog, Stacks Exceed Life Expectancy. I have come across a bunch more challenges, and look forward to discovering new books to read after a period of a few years during which I didn't read much after so long in grad school reading nonstop. But one thing that disappoints me is that very few challenges include many books of poetry on their lists. Many people don't read poetry for a variety of reasons, one of which is, I think, not knowing where to begin. So I have come up with a poetry-focused challenged of 10 books to give people a starting point for poems to read as you build your TBR lists for the upcoming year. I will be updating this post or including a new post with book recommendations, and I also encourage you to consider including poetry books in your other lists. A challenge item such as  "a book by a woman of color" could easily lead you to choose a volume of poetry if you're allowing yourself to consider poetry as an option. The goal of this challenge is to encourage people to simply read more poems, whether you read ten volumes or not. At ten items, this list is by no means exhaustive, but there is a nod toward diversity, and my hope is that the list can be used by advanced poetry readers as well as those who haven't ever read poetry by choice before. If you take up the challenge, please use the hashtag #readmorepoems so we can all follow along and cheer each other on! And feel free to snag the infographic below to share the challenge far and wide!

 

Thursday
Jun042015

Winning the Lambda Literary Award

On Monday, June 1, I spent two hours in the car, round trip, driving to and from the dentist’s office. It was one of those incredible late Spring Iowa days. Everything is green. The crops are planted, and starting to grow. The sky is blue. There are white, puffy clouds that add to the beatific scene, but do not threaten rain. I thought about how much I love Iowa, and how happy I am to live here.

Later that evening, while having dinner with my parents at their home, my cell phone started buzzing. Having just returned from the dentist, face still numb, mouth sore, head a little fuzzy, I remembered: The Lambda Literary Award ceremony was tonight! And: according to the messages, my book won. I didn’t believe it at first. Hadn’t the ceremony only just started? I refreshed Twitter, looking for evidence. A friend texted me congratulations. My editor, Bryan Borland called. My parents cheered for me, and I sat there, stunned. My best friend from college phoned. “Did you just win the Lambda?” she asked. “I guess so!” She recalled me as a fledgling poet at Bennington College, talking about the dream of winning a Lammy. “And now you’ve done it! I’m so proud of you!” I teared up. It still didn’t feel real!

I worked on my first two books simultaneously for about ten years. I wrote what will be my second published work, Call Me by My Other Name, which is a very specific project, a novel in verse. Anything that didn’t fit there, got put in the manuscript that, through many revisions and additions, became Mysterious Acts by My People. I had been sending CMBMON out for several years, always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Several editors told me it made a better second book. Though that baffled me at the time, I completely agree now. I started piecing together all those other poems, crafting them into a cohesive collection of loss and pain and joy and love. There are poems in MABMP that are difficult to read. Some I’ll likely never read aloud at events. They’re still too real, too raw. It means so much to me that other people read these poems and liked them.

 

I try hard not to think about this side of things when I’m writing. I don’t want my fears of what a reader will love or hate to cloud the composition process. So finding myself here, being praised feels difficult (I know; what a nice problem to have!) and strange. I have a reputation for being very hard on myself. My MFA advisor, Erin Belieu, teased me about my refrain that praise doesn’t do me any good when I long for criticism. I felt so desperate in the early years of being a poet for knowledge of how to improve. The truth is, it takes time. And praise, especially this kind of formal acknowledgement of my accomplishments, does, in fact, do me quite a bit of good. Almost a decade later, I’ve been writing alone in a room, and I’m tired of my own echo. It does help to know I ought to keep going, keep writing. Knowing that there are people out there who have gotten something out of my poetry is an overwhelming feeling. I think about how much it would have meant to me as a young queer kid in a rural area to come across a book like mine. To know she wasn’t alone. That there were others out there, that it was going to be ok. That would have meant the world to me. In fact, writing and being queer are intimately entwined for me, not because it’s the only thing I care to write about, but because writing poetry coincided with an important shift in identity for me. A realization about myself and who I hoped to be and become in this world. Poetry helped me figure out my desires and my fears, helped me process my past and long for a future. It connected me to a queer community, even if only on the page (though I have been lucky to find and build queer writing community, through the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Emerging Writers Retreat, my queer peers at the University of Utah, and through Adrienne, and Sibling Rivalry Press). And books, of course, are communities as well. For over a decade, I’ve purchased all the Lambda poetry finalists’ books in the Gay and Lesbian categories. They became my friends, some of my favorites. They accompanied me along this journey. I’m so grateful for each of them.

Over the years, people have cautioned me, not to let myself be pigeonholed into the label of Lesbian Poet, as if that identification somehow, in their eyes, lessens my work and my accomplishments. Some have even told me I must hide all signs of my sexual orientation from prospective employers, which would, of course, mean erasing many of my accomplishments. Fortunately I disagree. I’m a poet who doesn’t just happen to be a lesbian. I am a Queer Poet and that queerness is evident in my poetry, both in form and content. It’s an identity of which I am incredibly proud, a hard-won identity, and a label I’ll gladly claim.  Winner of a Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry? There’s no hiding that, now. Yes. Thank you. Yes. This is the greatest honor. This will keep me writing when I doubt myself (which is all too often). Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you to every professor I had who encouraged me. Thank you to every professor I had who discouraged me, and galvanized me to prove them wrong. Thank you to the Lammy judges! Thank you to every friend and classmate who read my work. Thank you to my pets who put up with me sitting still for hours reading and scribbling in a notebook. Thank you to my family for their absolute, unconditional support, especially my parents, and my brother and sister-in-law, and my beloved niece. Thank you to my publisher, Bryan Borland, and to every single person who bought or borrowed and read my book. Thank you.

 

If you haven't already bought my book, I hope you will. (You can get it directly from the publisher here.) But I hope you will also buy and cherish the books of my fellow nominees. They are all so good, and it's an honor just to be on a list with them.

Haiti Glass by Lenelle Moïse, Janey’s Arcadia by Rachel Zolf, Last Psalm at Sea Level by Meg Day, Like a Beggar by Ellen Bass, MxT by Sina Queyras, Only Ride by Megan Volpert, and Termination Dust by Susanna Mishler.

Wednesday
Mar042015

Lammy Finalist!

I am absolutely floored and honored and blessed to be a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award for Mysterious Acts by My People

 

Congrats to all the other finalists, especially my Lambda Retreat teacher Ellen Bass, and fellow Lambda alums Meg Day, Brandy Wilson, and Douglas Ray, editor of The Queer South, an incredible anthology I happen to have a poem in as well. 

Thank you, too, to everyone who has sent kind words of congratulations! I'm so damn lucky.

Monday
Feb162015

Hooray! A second book is on the way!

 

I'm so pleased to officially announce that my second book, Call Me by My Other Name, will be published in March 2016 by Sibling Rivalry Press, the amazing publisher that put out my second book. I wrote the first poems for Call Me By My Other Name in 2006, while at Bennington College, continued working on them throughout my MFA at Florida State (several poems from the book were finalists for the Ruth Lilly Fellowship), and the book continued to evolve while I finished my doctorate at the University of Utah. The book is so radically different than its initial efforts, but at its heart it centers around how we can form relationships with other humans in a world that wants to do everything it can to prevent us from living our full authentic selves. The book centers around a real queer couple from the late 19th century, and also delves into contemporary debates around gay marriage, and a contemporary relationship's beginnings and endings to investigate questions of desire, loss, gender, and embodiment.

Meg Day recently gave a talk at Columbia College in Chicago featuring the book entitled "'Call Me By My Other Name': ASL poetry, Trans-Embodiment, and Implant Poetics."  In the talk, Day discusses the way that my book's poetic investigation of the 19th century couple's story, is complicated by bodies and the names we give them, but illuminated by the lineated possibility of poetry to include multiple selves at once. Day calls the book an "historical translation and interactive trans* archive that shows poetry's agility in allowing the power of naming to literally trans*late corporal embodiment."  Day also connected my work to Brenda Jo Brueggemann's concept of  "betweenity" of authenticity and said the book is a text rife with possibility for the trans* lens. I'm so eager for 2016 to arrive so I can share Call Me by My Other Name with all of you! I have worked and researched and revised diligently for ten years, and I'm ecstatic the poems will be in the world soon. (You should also snag a copy of Meg's incredible book Last Psalm at Sea Level, published in 2014.)

Call Me by My Other Name was originally part of the same project as the "Mary Sweeney" poems from the "Scent of Shatter" section of my first book, Mysterious Acts by My People.