Monday, August 30, 2010

New and Awesome!

The Ninth Letter website has been updated with a brand new Where We're At podcast of Shelia Heti's "Egg Market" (vol. 4, no. 2) and "Listen to Cleveland!" a project from artist Benj Gerdes is in the Featured Artist section. Check it out!

Also, don't forget, submission open again on Wednesday, September 1! Are you ready? Please take a look at our submission guidelines before submitting. Thanks!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Contributor News

A short update today to congratulate a couple of our contributors on some good news!

Kim Dana Kupperman's (vol. 4, no. 1) new book of essays, I Just Started Buying Wings Recently, winner of the 2009 Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, is reviewed in The New York Times. She is also featured in the Author Spotlight on the NYT Paper Cuts blog.

Fugue State by vol. 2, no. 2 contributor Brian Evenson is a finalist for the 2009 World Fantasy Award.

Also, a reminder that Ninth Letter's reading period opens again on September 1. That's next Wednesday. So all you poets, fiction writers, and essayists get ready to send us your best stuff!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tuesday Reading

What is Lynn Kilpatrick (vol. 2, no. 2) reading? Find out at the Campaign for the American Reader.

The Indiana Review Blog found out which books Curtis Bauer (vol. 5, no. 1) and Erika Meitner (vol. 7, no. 1) have been reading lately.

Check out 7 Days, 7 Artists, 7 Rings, a writer/artist collaborative project created by Nicole Walker (vol. 4, no. 1) and Rebecca Campbell.

The Education of Oronte Churm is holding a contest, simply write your idea of heaven. While you're there, Oronte's blog, not heaven, you can see how Roy Kesey (vol. 1, no. 2 & vol. 3, no. 2) and our own Jodee Stanley imagine heaven.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Eight Short Films about Architecture

Today's excerpt is from G.C. Waldrep's essay, "Eight Short Films about Architecture." There are actually two Waldrep pieces in the current issue (vol. 7, no. 1). The other is a poem, "In Memory of Domestic Life." The Editorial Board decided to publish one as nonfiction and the other as a poem. Needless to say this caused some discussion around the office.

As Jodee Stanley, editor of Ninth Letter, says in her Editor's Note for the issue, "Here at Ninth Letter, we've never been known for our strict adherence to genre definitions; on the contrary, we've been pretty outspoken about our interest in examining, stretching, blurring, and even shattering the boundaries that define all types of creative genres." Discussing the edges of genre and where and why they blur became an unofficial theme of the issue (see also: the contributor notes where the writers were asked how they define their work in terms of genre and my interview with Cathy Day in the Where We're At section).

Back to Waldrep, why is one a poem and one is an essay? 9L staffer tackles that question in "On Genre: An Introductory Note." But before quoting from Matt's note, here is an excerpt from "Eight Short Films About Architecture."

In the middle of the night certain noises resolve themselves into raccoons, mice, ghosts, or else the proverbial settling of the house, the implication of architecture.

Architecture may be defined as the spatial arrangements of occupancy, that is, the myriad if particular ways of remaining where one already is.

A diurnal architecture resolves itself into windows, feints at the attractive illusion that the architecture itself is not real. That the architecture in the act of revealing itself reveals, in fact, something else, its own absence.

Certain vectors tangent to architecture may include both tenure and transportation. Each of these is responsible for directing its own sublimation into form.

A nocturnal architecture, on the other hand, may involve the improvisational performance of any number of beings and vectors whose admission to the premises cannot be vouched for. Bruce Naumann produced intricate films of such performances.

Film, of course, being itself an architecture, aesthetically pleasing merger of day and night.

* * *

Our interest in the essay and the poem was not only the classification question they prompted. Initial interest was fueled by the beauty of the words, the mood each piece invoked. Matt writes in his introductory note, "But I think these two pieces need each other, to talk back and forth between the pages of this issue. Each is different, perhaps even better, as a result of their 'complicated alchemy.'"

To read the rest of "Eight Short Films About Architecture" as well as "In Memory of Domestic Life," Cathy Day's comments on genre, and what are other authors had to say about such classifications, pick up a copy of Ninth Letter (vol. 7, no, 1) in our webstore.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What Rough Beast

This week, we're thrilled to present some excerpts of work featured in the current issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 7, no. 1). The first one is an excerpt from "What Rough Beast" by Stephen Marche.

The revelation arrived seven minutes into the final scene of California Creamin!, Vol. 23. Eric Deman was sodomizing Brigit Badu on a purple leather sofa beside a swimming pool overlooking the Hollywood Hills when the epiphany announced itself in the top right corner of the screen, lasting roughly sixteen seconds. No one noticed the miracle at its filming, which led a few later interpreters to infer that the revelation transpired during the transfer to video rather than during the act. But most people accepted the explanation that the two principals had their backs turned, and that the crew were so bored and exhausted by ten hours of shooting that their attention wandered for those cosmically vital sixteen seconds. A week after the production ended, a young ultraorthodox man in Jerusalem - his name has never been released - rented the DVD of California Creamin! Vol. 23 from an adult video store in the Talpoit neighborhood and, at home in his empty apartment, with his pants down, was the first to behold the very face of God.

* * *

One of the things we loved about this story is how it became more poignant and thought provoking at every turn. The ending kept us talking, but more importantly it moved us.

To read the rest of "What Rough Best," pick up a copy of vol. 7, no. 1, which is now available in our webstore.

Friday, August 06, 2010

5 or so questions with Erika Meitner, part 3

Here is the third and final part of Sara Gelston's interview with Erika Meitner.

9L: I really like what Denise Duhamel has to say about your second book, Ideal Cities, which comes out this month. She calls your poems “road maps, blueprints, dollhouses, dioramas...” which seems so right, considering your knack for crafting these well-constructed, contained scenes. So the question: how has your experience constructing Ideal Cities differed from that of your first book, Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore? What advice do you have when it comes to building a book?

EM: I’m glad you like my scenes! Ideal Cities was a strange book for me. I don’t remember actively writing a lot of it, as the largest chunk of it was written between 11pm and 3am while I was waiting for my son (who was an infant at the time) to wake up for his nighttime feeding. Compared to my other manuscripts, this one came together relatively quickly—in about three years. Because of that, it almost feels like it fell from the sky.

Ideal Cities is actually the third complete manuscript I’ve written, but it’s coming out as my second book. The manuscript I wrote in between Inventory at the All-Night Drugstore and Ideal Cities is called Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls (and it will be out from Anhinga Press in February 2011), and while it will technically be my third book, in my head Makeshift is still my second book, and it took me nearly seven years to finish. I started it right after I finished my MFA in 2001, and worked on it until early 2007, writing, rewriting, and reordering the collection, because it was a finalist or semi-finalist at 11 presses over the five years that I sent it out. Ideal Cities was taken almost immediately for publication, right about when I was starting to lose hope about ever getting another book published. I think that’s one of the hardest things about this business, this process of publishing a book-length collection of poetry—that, really, even after some success, we end up back in the contest grind, sending out these manuscripts again. I feel unbelievably lucky—like New York State Lotto lucky—that I won the National Poetry Series for Ideal Cities, and that Anhinga agreed to put out Makeshift Instructions for Vigilant Girls.

But enough with po-biz, and back to process: I’m not one of those poets who starts out with a project in mind when I start working on a manuscript. I tend to write about what feels most emotionally and intellectually vivid and pressing to me. Once I have a substantial selection of poems, I’ll go through them and try to figure out how they fit together. I knew that this book would be about motherhood to some degree. How could it not be? It also contains quite a few poems about my beloved grandmother, who passed away while I was writing the book. But I was surprised by how much it was also about geography. I had done a rough cut assembly of the book, and then I sent it off to my poet-friend Sandra Beasley, and she told me the collection was about how place shapes relationships, and how relationships shape place, and that made so much sense to me though I wasn’t able to see that without her help. I had started writing the book in Southeast DC—my husband and I were living there through my pregnancy and my son’s birth—and parts of Southeast are kind of rough (drug violence, gang violence, poverty, etc.). That particular landscape colored much of this book, as did the exurban rural landscape of Southwest Virginia, which was where we moved midway through my work on those poems, to take jobs teaching at Virginia Tech. We went, quite suddenly, from junkies and robberies and endlessly fascinating street scenes to Walmart and tract housing and cows. I think that dramatic shifting of place really led directly to the “road maps, blueprints, dollhouses, dioramas” aspects of the collection: these are all contained or controlled ways of dealing with place—ways to find, plot out, wrangle, or reproduce aspects of home and memory and landscape. In that way, Denise (Duhamel) was very right about Ideal Cities.

I also wrote the majority of Ideal Cities by participating in a loose virtual writing group that I still belong to. We meet two or three times a year online, pick a condensed amount of time (anywhere from a week to a month), write a poem a day, and post it to a closed site so we can read each other’s work (we’ve used a password-protected blog, a secure wiki, and now we use a google group to do this). The initial idea of this kind of writing came from the poet Maureen Thorson, who started NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) back in 2003. The idea was to write a poem a day during the month of April, which also happens to be National Poetry Month. We’ve adapted it to our needs by shifting it around—usually to winter and summer breaks, since most of us teach. Also, sometimes we give each other writing prompts to jumpstart our writing. The nice thing about it is that we don’t comment on each other’s work at all, but we’re accountable to each other. It’s like the best kind of positive peer pressure. And we get to see one another’s work in process, which is unusual for poets who are no longer students.

But to some extent, all of my books involved input from friends, and I think most of us poets are like this. We write them alone, but the assemblage is a group process. My friend Taije Silverman is still one of my best readers—I can send her a stack of poems, and she’ll edit the hell out of them on a line-level and ask all the hard questions about their purpose and intentions. My friends Sandra Beasley, Aimee Nezukumathatil, and Oliver de la Paz all looked at this manuscript for me, as did my friend from college, David Stack, and both Oliver and David recommended ditching the linear (time-wise) narrative of the book so that different themes would pop more due to unexpected poem juxtapositions. Since I teach in the MFA program at Virginia Tech, I’m constantly helping my graduate students build their books. There are some great articles out there on this process of assemblage; I particularly love Katrina Vandenberg’s “Putting Your Poetry in Order: The Mix-Tape Strategy” from Poets & Writers. Natasha Saje’s article “Dynamic Design: The Structure of Books of Poems" (from a 2005 issue of The Iowa Review) is also really helpful. And a classic must-read for anyone trying to assemble a first book is Beth Ann Fennelly’s article from The Writers’ Chronicle called “The Winnowing of Wildness: On First Book Contests and Style;” I also recommend Alberto Rios’s web resource page, “Turning a Manuscript into a First Book,” which lists nearly every possible organizing strategy in existence for a book of poems.

Many thanks to Sara Gelston and Erika Meitner for such a wonderful interview. Remember, Erika Meitner's "Terra Nullis" can be found in the current issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 7, no. 1). Erika's new book, Ideal Cities is available August 17.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

5 or so questions with Erika Meitner, part 2

Welcome to the new and improved look of the 9L blog! Feel free to take a look around. But before doing that, I highly recommend reading part 2 of Sara Gelston's interview with Erika Meitner.

9L: You’ve been on a road trip for much of this interview. How does the changing landscape affect your writing process? Can you write a Walmart, rust belt poem in New Hampshire? What books or music do you bring along for the ride?

EM: Writing on the road is really difficult for me. Usually all I get out of the process of exploring different places and landscapes are some really cryptic notes I scribble down, and quickie snapshots from my camera phone of particular images that strike me. I was recently chatting with the poet John Casteen about how we use the technology we have at hand to help us write poems. He’s been using the voice recorder on his phone to write poems while he drives. I’ve been using my camera phone to save images—a particular red barn, the way the light hits a building from the window of the B train, etc.

I’ve been on the road, too, these last few weeks as we’ve been chatting online, with my husband and my three-year-old son, which means that any time I’m not in the car (and even when I am in the car) I’m handing out snacks, arranging amusements, asking him if he has to go to the potty, wielding hand sanitizer, and generally being pulled in nine directions at once. Traveling with a toddler is a lot like being a personal assistant to a very cranky celebrity.

Here’s what I’ve scrawled down in the last day in my very tiny red notebook:
“Why you need Jesus? You have a past. You need a friend.” (This was the white board message outside a church somewhere in rural Virginia that we passed, on our way out the 460 West towards OH.)

“Shadyfest Bar – army/navy sign – next to brown and white field stubble” (This was a bar that we pass every time we drive to see my in-laws in Oberlin, OH—the bar is literally in the middle of a field, and has this chalk sign out front that says “army/navy.” I would love to have one beer in that bar. I would also be terrified to have one beer in that bar.)

“LeBron?” (This was the sign outside a pizza parlor somewhere else in rural Northeast Ohio. I’m finding the whole ‘will LeBron stay in Cleveland?’ question really poignant right now for some reason. I think there’s a poem in there. Right after I saw this sign, an Amish family drove past us in a buggy. The mother was in the middle of putting on a grey cape, and the way she swung it around her shoulders as the buggy swished past us made her look like a utilitarian superhero.)

Today we went to see my husband’s 96-year-old grandmother in Cleveland Heights. We stopped at the art museum for a half-hour so I could look at Andrew Borowiec’s pictures of the Cleveland Flats—these beautiful blown out black and white photos of industrial spaces and machinery, and backyards. I wanted to sit down and absorb them a little, maybe take a few notes, but my son kept pulling me to look at the Claes Oldenberg sculpture of a giant tube of toothpaste in the next room. I do remember a few of the photos clearly—one of a chain-link fence punctuated with white hanging baskets of flowers, another of mismatched chairs arranged on a roof-deck sandwiched between two freeways. My father-in-law was telling me all about what some of the buildings in the photos used to be like in Cleveland’s brighter days—like Terminal Tower, which used to be the grand train station in the city. Then we went to the Science Museum to see an Imax film about the deep sea, because my son is currently obsessed with both jellyfish and stingrays. On the way back to my in-laws’ house, while my son drooled on my shoulder in the backseat, my father-in-law took us past some of the giant shuttered steel mills in Lorain, which seemed to go on for miles—rusted out piping and smokestacks and bridges. When we got back to the house, my mother-in-law and I went to Walmart to find me a bathing suit, since I left mine at home and we’re headed to the beach tomorrow. We navigated around two women on rascal scooters parked at the racks and I bought literally the only suit that was left that wasn’t a Fourth of July themed bikini or a 2x sized swimsuit with a skirt. If there is a poem in this day, I won’t be able to get at it until we get home. I’ll collect the images, the mini-narratives, the experiences, but I won’t be able to make them into anything while we’re in motion.

When we’re on the road, we listen to a lot of NPR in the car. When we lose radio reception, which happens often, we’ve been listening to a lot of Gogol Bordello, some Kings of Leon and Drive-By Truckers (because my son loves both bands). When things get desperate (which happens often if you keep a three-year-old in a car for more than five hours), we’re forced to listen to my son’s favorite songs to placate him: Yellow Submarine by the Beatles, Rocketship Run by Laurie Berkner, Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard by Paul Simon. Sometimes even this doesn’t work, and we’ve run out of good snacks, so we just listen to my son yowl at us. And then we join in.

9L: Let’s say one day you actually stop in for that beer at the Shadyfest Bar. You saddle up next to some grizzly character and he asks you ‘what you do.’ What’s your answer?

EM: This past week I was on a tour of the Ford Rouge factory—specifically of the part of the plant where they assemble F150 trucks. I was taking notes, because I have a terrible time remembering nomenclature, and I’m working on a poetry project about Detroit. Every last one of the factory tour guides stopped me to ask why I was taking notes. I told the first one I was a writer. He looked sort of suspicious about that. The second guide, a woman, asked me the same question, and when I told her I was a poet, I got a slightly warmer reception. Writers are dangerous somehow, but poets are harmless, apparently, when it comes to proprietary auto plant factory settings. I used the poet answer on the third guide, also a woman, and she told me she was a poet too—and used to work in an auto plant. We had a great conversation about poetry on a catwalk somewhere above the Door Build Line, with all these half-finished truck-doors hanging on big orange clamshell lifts around us. She said she had never thought of writing an auto plant poem. I told her she should definitely write auto plant poems.

What I tell people I am varies from situation to situation. I’m the mother of a toddler. I’m an assistant professor in the English department at Virginia Tech. I’m still a doctoral student in Religious Studies at the University of Virginia. I’ve worked as a lifeguard, a public school teacher in Brooklyn, a production assistant for a documentary film company, a Hebrew school teacher, a systems consultant, and a computer programmer. In terms of Mr. Grizzly at the Shadyfest Bar, I’d probably tell him I’m a teacher, as that’s my job—that’s what most people want to know when they say, ‘What do you do?’

I find that if I tell people I’m a poet in non-writerly contexts, they assume that poetry is my hobby or an aspiration—sort of like when you have a waiter who says he’s really an actor. And even though I’ve had stuff published, it’s not like I could remotely make a living from my poetry if I didn’t teach. And I do feel really called to teach—it’s not something that I do because I have to. Teaching is something I absolutely love to do.

Check out Erika Meitner's "Terra Nullius," in the current issue of Ninth Letter (vol. 7, no. 1).

The final part of the interview will be posted on Friday.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

5 or so questions with Erika Meitner, part 1

For this edition of 5 or so questions, 9L staffer Sara Gelston spoke with poet Erika Meitner about the process of writing poetry and about her poem "Terra Nullius," which appears in vol. 7, no. 1. Without further ado, here is part 1 of Sara's interview with Erika Meitner.

9L: In your poem "Terra Nullius," you address both the body and the landscape as things "looted" and "busted.” Of course, this echoes the poem's title, which quite literally means "no man's land” or an area with a questionable, disputed border. I find this a fascinating way to frame a poem about a relationship and wonder how this connection came to you?

Erika Meitner: I think this poem came out of a few different strands of thought that all collided at the same time. I had been reading Terrance Hayes’ book Wind in a Box, which I love for many reasons, but the aspect of it that stayed with me over my last read of it was this idea that he has multiple poems called “Wind in a Box.” When I first started writing poetry one of my teachers (maybe Greg Orr?) had told us that when you repeat a word, it seems like a mistake, but if you use it three or four times, it becomes intentional—incantatory repetition. Over the last three years or so of writing poems, I find that I want to hash out phrases, ideas, images in multiple poems. I’ll re-use whole lines in two different poems just to see how they can be recontextualized without being reconfigured. It’s not quite the structured or intentional repetition in something like a crown of sonnets, but something messier. I was, in my writing process, giving myself permission to be redundant, and to follow ideas and lines that I was enamored of—to beat them to death and recycle them.

In the case of terra nullius (as a phrase), I was working on a longer poem that had an image in it of a woman I had seen in a liquor store in Ohio. She had a fuzzy tattoo in this area of her leg that was a non-area—it wasn’t her ankle and it wasn’t her calf—it was in this no man’s land of her leg. But “no man’s land” is clunky. So I started looking up alternate phrases, and found terra nullius—this idea of a no man’s land between countries that are at war in some way. I ended up calling that poem “Terra Nullius,” but then decided that I wasn’t done with the idea. I wanted to chew it over more in another poem.

When I wrote this poem, I had been thinking about a personal memory from a long time ago. I was living in Jerusalem the year after I had graduated college. I was 21 and on a graduate scholarship to Hebrew University, and I had fallen in lust with another graduate student. We weren’t really in a relationship—it was one of those strange flings where we spent the night together and the thing that stayed with me most was the image that made its way into the poem—of us sitting on the screened-in porch of his rental. It was hot—August maybe—and we were in our underwear, smoking, and neither of us wanted to commit to sleep even. This was in Jerusalem, and he lived on a street named after a dead rabbi in a part of town that was totally unfamiliar to me, made of golden stone and shouting children and heavy red and white Egged buses running up and down the road.

And I was thinking about how our bodies belonged to each other that night, but also didn’t—how, for a brief moment, while we were pressed together, we were terra nullius—something liminal. This poem is about broken-ness, but also about liminal space and time. I first stumbled on that word, liminal, when I started my doctorate in Religious Studies. After three years of coursework, I must have read the same two pieces written in the late 60’s by anthropologist Victor Turner on the idea 8 or 9 times (“Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites de Passage,” and “Liminality and Communitas”). Turner defines the liminal as a middle, transitional stage of a rite of passage. Liminal individuals are “neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony” (from “Liminality and Communitas”).

The couple in this poem are not in Jerusalem—they’re in the rust belt somewhere near the highway. And isn’t the rustbelt—the entire Midwest, for that matter—in some way a liminal space? While I was writing this, I was also looking at Alec Soth’s series of photos called “Niagara,” which documents seedy motels and bars and honeymoon suites in Niagara Falls, as well as all these couples who have just gotten married there. And the people in his photographs—some of them are so young, but have lived so hard. I’ve also been working, for a long time, under the influence of The Song of Songs (I’m particularly fond of the translation done by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch). In the biblical text, a woman’s body is literally a city—especially in verse 8:10: “I am a wall and my breasts are towers. But for my lover I am a city of peace.” This idea of body as place, and the way our geography is reflected in our bodies somehow—that feels really right to me.

9L: Let’s talk about messy repetition vs. beating lines to death. A healthy dose of obsession seems integral to the process of writing poetry, but it also makes it difficult to know when to put an idea to bed. How do you know when it’s time to let go? Are poets even designed with the ability to “let go” or are we destined to dwell?

EM: In the first year of my MFA program at UVA—I think it was in the spring of 2000—I was in a workshop with Charles Wright, and I went to him for our requisite semester conference, and I started telling him how concerned I was about the fact that I couldn’t stop writing poems about sex and bad relationships. And I’m very badly paraphrasing here, but he told me to keep writing if the subject still felt compelling to me; he claimed that by the time I went through all the poems when they were finished, I’d probably end up with about 4 or 5 worth keeping, that would survive the test of time.

And in some ways, Charles was right. When I’m on to a broader idea that manifests in particular ways, through specific obsessions, I usually get about 4 or 5 good poems out of it. But those broader ideas are what I can’t seem to stop chewing on, or pulling apart, or hashing and rehashing. I don’t know that I’ll ever stop being intrigued by what it means to move through the world in a corporeal way as a woman—the pleasures and dangers associated with that bodily experience. In my first book, I explored this by writing about sex. In my book Ideal Cities, that’s due out in August, I approached these ideas via the experience of pregnancy and childbirth—how women’s bodies are inscribed and marked, but in a different way. Right now I’m really obsessed with geography and consumerism, and the confluence of those two topics. It’s manifested in my current obsessions—writing poems about Walmart, and the rust belt. I think I won’t be done with geography or consumerism any time soon, but I do think that there are only so many good poems I can find at the Walmart. I’ve been hanging out there and writing. The best thing that I’ve discovered is that on Saturdays there’s a panel truck from one of the local tattoo parlors that parks in the Walmart lot and does some good business. Aren’t tattoos about dwelling too? Or do we write things down so we’re free to forget them? Like our shopping lists? Like our poems?

There are definitely topics that trail after me like tin cans dragging behind a wedding car in a movie, or toilet paper stuck to the bottom of a shoe. In every manuscript I work on, there’s always one or two adolescent girl/sex/coming-of-age poems that deal with that hyperkinetic time when we were all jacked up on hormones. Every time I think I’m done with adolescence it comes back in some manifestation. Based on my extensive journal collections that date back to the mid-80’s, my propensity for keeping things like scraps of diner receipts and single earrings, I would say that I fall squarely into the “dwelling” camp, but hopefully I don’t veer too far into the “beating a dead horse” category of poets.

Vol. 7, no. 1, featuring "Terra Nullius," is available in our webstore.

Stop by the blog tomorrow for part 2!