Saturday, April 30, 2011

National Poetry Month - Eileen G'Sell

Last day of the month means last poem for National Poetry Month. Today's poem is from Eileen G'Sell and is featured in our Fall/Winter 07-08 (vol. 4, no. 2) issue.

Faith Equivalent to Airplane

I'll make it up for you: two wings
on the way to happiness or some other
distant color, the ghost that goes the same way
we do, ghost-blue and lofty-headed, a little bit
lost and dangerous. This is faith, like a pheromone,
floating through the attics, the top floor of a ruined
heart, filled with bits and pieces, a peaceful
project for engineers, a ghetto-fab apartment.
These are the final minutes before we land
the deal of a lifetime. What else would you like
me to tell you, world? I'll make up a plan you can't
refuse, a trashy jaunt through the wilderness.
In this happy time for headphones, plane of tame
entendres, I plan to make you mine within
the limits of a logo. This cabin-frozen love
for cockpit, for always, for pilot-lit deliverance
basement deep, these wings
will not collapse over night, not now, right
in the spring of things. This skin, chilled
to the musk of touch, will ribbon,
will cloud the alkaline sky.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Reading Period

A quick reminder that our reading period will close tomorrow, April 30. If you have something amazing to send us, do so soon. If you've already submitted work, we'll be getting back to you as soon as we can.

Check out are submission guidelines for more details.

National Poetry Month - Matt Bondurant

National Poetry Month is sadly drawing to a close, but we have a couple more poems to share with you. Today's poem is by Matt Bondurant from our Fall/Winter 07-08 (vol. 4, no. 2) issue.

The Pathos of Charles Shultz

The clearest example the spelling-bee episode,
Charlie Brown traveling to "the big city"

with Snoopy on an empty bus,
a small child and beagle on public transit.

In the final round, to win the whole thing,
Charlie get B-E-A-G-L-E.

Snoopy blinks twice, in his seat deep among children.
Charlie fumbles, sweats. He can't do it.

Riding the bus back with the moon in the window
the color and shape of a cashew nut,

the texture of a lemon slice, a wedge of pear,
shining in a pallid shaft on the two companions

as they travel over the river toward home.
Snoopy play a mournful tune on his mouth-harp

as Charlie looks out the window.
Nobody says anything.

At home, Chuck goes into the pale light of the kitchen
and fixes himself a bowl of cold cereal,

his broad face quiet, his orange-on-a-stick head bowed,
sitting at the kitchen table in the middle of the night,

spooning soggy flakes into his mouth.
Snoopy lays on top of his doghouse and stares up at the stars.

Woodstock flutters from the heavens
to rest on his distended puppy-belly.

This is no gift of resolve or insight,
no cartoonish god-machine,

no possibility, for any of us, to rid ourselves
of this one simple thing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

9L Exclusive - Seth Fried Q&A

Seth Fried. The Great Frustration. May 1.

And now, Ninth Letter brings you an exclusive Q&A with Seth Fried, author of the first blockbuster of the summer, The Great Frustration.

(Thanks Seth!)

Seth Fried has appeared twice in Ninth Letter in vol. 3, no. 2 and vol. 6, no. 1. Be sure to pick up a copy of The Great Frustration on May 1! Stay tuned to the blog for more Seth Fried exclusives in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

National Poetry Month - Sarah E. Smith

Here is the latest poem for National Poetry Month, Sarah E. Smith's "That Year We Replaced Our Mouths With Orchids" from the Fall/Winter 07-08 (vol. 4, no. 2) issue.

That Year We Replaced Our Mouth With Orchids

Nobody won the World Series. We were too busy pollinating
our telephones to watch. The radios grew dense with bee stings, grew
leaves; it was easy to tell who had been kissing too much. Some
girls wore deep bruises and carried paper fans. Myself, I took
to wearing a veil until dusk. Spinsters and virgins, perfect vandas
on their faces, blanched and turned cold in palpable shame. Self-help
books advised to "press the back of your hand against your orchid
to simulate the gentle pressure of a kiss. This will help you appear
less desperate." So it became impossible to know anything simply
by looking at the orchid on someone's face, whether it flourished
or hung loose like a tooth. Nobody married that year. On New Year's
Eve we waited for midnight with secret bottles of champagne, tubes
of lipstick and piles of matches, so ready to have our mouths
again. When the orchids fell off, we ate chocolates and whole fish,
but it was not the end of our problems. Opera singers sung arias
in reverse, and startled children in Detroit knew French. Our voices
fell from our mouths like anvils and we couldn't pretend to be anything
but stupid and vague. We whispered. Some of us wanted to change back.

Monday, April 25, 2011

National Poetry Month - Mary Kiolbasa

Today's poem is Mary Kiolbasa's "The Cordilleran Ice Sheet" from the Spring/Summer 2009 (vol. 6, no. 1) issue.

The Cordilleran Ice Sheet

The dinosaurs in North America were not pleased when it
came -- it covered most of the panhandles and all of the
good ones. They were quiet while the cold rolled over.
They dug their claws into the ice. It was coldest there. It
was cold everywhere. Of course

it melted very quickly, probably in four thousand years or
less. By that time our reptile friends had lost the desire to
stretch, their blood crystallized to rubies, which fell softly,
a cold clink against bone. The panhandles were a ruby
bonanza. They were cherries jubilee.

Contributor Round-Up

Congratulations to the following 9L contributors:

D.A. Powell (vol. 7, no. 2), Eula Biss (vol. 3, no. 1) have been named 2011 Guggenheim Fellows.

Ansel Elkins (forthcoming in vol. 8, no. 1) is one of the winners of the Boston Review's Discovery Poetry Contest.

Brian Oliu's (vol. 6, no. 1) collection of Tuscaloosa Craigslist Missed Connections, So You Know it's Me, will be published by Tiny Hardcore Press.

The Great Frustration by Seth Fried (vol. 3, no. 2 and vol. 6, no. 1) will be released in just a few days on May 1. Be sure to pick up a copy. Also stayed tuned to the blog as later this week we will have a 9L exclusive video featuring Seth as well as some other cool bonus features related to the release of his story collection.

T.A. Noonan (vol. 7, no. 1) is featured on Verse Daily with a poem from her book, Petticoat Government.

Also, if you're in the Urbana-Champaign area, be sure to stop by the Illini Union Bookstore today because Michelle Morano (forthcoming in vol. 8, no. 2) will be reading as part of the Carr Reading Series. The event starts at 4:30pm and is free and open to the public. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

National Poetry Month - Robin Hemley

From our Spring/Summer 2009 issue (vol. 6/1), Robin Hemley's charming "Rejected Book Ideas":

Rejected Book Ideas

For a year, I'll wear one sock inside out.
For a year, I'll eat only Bibb lettuce.
For a year, I'll pretend I'm invisible.
I'll speak with a fake French accent for a year. The Year of Speaking
      with a Fake French Accent.
I will pee sitting down for a month--The Month of Peeing Sitting Down.
I propose becoming a serial killer for a year. For each murder, I'll use
      a different instrument of death, starting with an imitation of
      Lizzie Borden's axe murder of her parents. My parents are dead
      already, but I'll substitute the parents of my editor or agent.
I will be a prostitute for a fortnight. I will lie down with as many men
      and women as possible during that time and I will tell their
      untold stories. The working title will be The John Voice Project.
I won't look for trouble, but if I find it, I'll be ready. I will call this
      book, Ready for Anything! or Come What May! Which do you prefer?
I will have my hair cut, one hair at a time, buy a thousand hair stylists
      around the world. Naturally, we must call the book From Hair to
      Eternity. And each book sold will come with a souvenir hair.
I will travel around the world in a baby carriage. No one has yet
      done that.
Or none of these. I might just write a book by hand on moth wings.
      This will be my memoir. But you will need to bend close as I write
      or I will be lost to you forever.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

QUIDDITY Book Trailer Contest

Our neighbor to the west, Quiddity International Literary Journal, is sponsoring a book trailer contest for writers and small/Independent presses! Two prizes of $500 each will be awarded, and the deadline is December 10, 2011. Visit Quiddity's contest information page for complete guidelines.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

National Poetry Month - David Welch

From our Fall/Winter 2008-2009 issue, our fourth NaPoMo featured poem, by David Welch.

Thanks for Sending Tom Jones to My Door in a Box

       He wouldn't leave.

All night we watched through the slats in the blinds
    and he just sat there, sullen.

       We're told of sexual escapades,

that he's amorous, high-spirited. The evidence is curious.
    Though once, his compact body opened,

       the dusty musk perfuming

the air, briefly, and we watched
    as he clapped himself around the quickening breeze.

       It was cold out, and April,

his thin skin marked up like a ledger,
    beige, a bit torn.

       We argued for hours

over whether to take him in,
    offer cigarettes or an orange,

       a change of clothes;

whether to call the authorities or take care of him ourselves.
    The slim cuts on our hands became their own story.

       A possum limped about the lawn

as the skyline crept purple.
    And somewhere, the leaves shook their veracity,

       as when in spring scents rise

and fade with quickened ease. As when a body is paper
    it sits there, believing the fluttering wind.

Friday, April 15, 2011

National Poetry Month - Cheyenne Nimes

From our Fall/Winter 2008-2009 issue, our third NaPoMo featured poem, by Cheyenne Nimes.

Learning Arabic.

ANY WATER IS good, but fresh is better. At the edge of
seas. The far sea. Taller palm trees than you've ever
seen. The High Priestesses. Intermediary between
physical and spiritual realms. Cross the bridge
between life and death at will. Read Arabic right o
left with the sun's direction. Action and sense words.
Dust: al-atriba. This is my first sandstorm. Is the
doctor coming now, or later? Don't extract it please.
Entertainments and spectacles. Wavelengths from red
to violet. Straw hat with a plastic palm tree growing out
the top. Sways to white sand in name only. Crying
wolf. Iraqi phrase book. My mouth's on fire: hunaa.
Sorry, we broke one of them. Let's leave here:
li-natruk. Map oasis marked by 2 palms; 4 fronds each.
Cease-fire line. Oil pipe line. Salt-flat. We didn't
know it was forbidden. Yes, there was a lot of blood.
This is a feast! Is the guide actually reading the
hieroglyphics? "Media Arabic." Conflicting news
stories then deny it in the next. Espionage and
intelligence. Pajama Party. Tongues. The words are the
same. The scorpion bit him right there. Help me get
this tar off my feet. We must take you with us for
questioning. Very old towns. How all ancient things
that never change have their own crossing. Come here,
I'll teach you some manners! We've had enough history
for now. In which direction shall I head now? There's
an arrow on the ceiling pointing to Makkah. In the
position to call for rats handed down from skies.
What time do we arrive? Do we have to cross the river?
Burns, dehydration, sunstroke. To burn: To explode:
Read in the original language only. State Department.
When the world no longer takes the American dollar.
Our car is stuck in the sand over there. Take your
hands off. Stop following me or I'll scream. To put on
red alert. In a state of readiness for. Do you know
what you're saying? Maybe you should know something
about me. Oldest empires in the world. Check-Point.
Original city gates. And wallet snapshots. Expressions
of feeling. Ham it up. We have to move her to the
shade. Why did you push me? Explain to me why. The
particular ways to end one phrase to go into another.
Prayer and realize it. Shall we meet now? Whether some
think they have come too far, or not far enough.
Silent night, holy night. All is well, all is --.
Mispronounce. Look the other way for a second. The
dark and a headlight skidding through. Silver gleaming
sadness. Just dust flat against the windshield. Black
marks against the windshield. Past tense masculine
singular. To throw light on. That's sickening. Do you know
that? Returns light back to the light source. Homecoming.
So, we meet again!

Monday, April 11, 2011

National Poetry Month - Geri Doran

From our Spring/Summer 2006 issue, our second NaPoMo featured poem, by one of our favorite poets and people, Geri Doran.

A Landing Place for Birds

Trick grass moves like quail, becomes quail.
Half a yard away, a stellar's jay
blues into the underbrush.

Here is a squander hart, I say,
meaning heart--
but the deer's in the picture now, too,

its fine hair dampened by mist
ferried in from the nearby sea.
Everything gathers. Starfish

line the beach, yesterday's cobalt
leached into the welcoming sand.
Today, white and skeletal,

the bodies remain in place of themselves.
In the hand-made casket--birch,
like you wanted--we put our tenderest gifts.

Who speaks with any knowing?
If soul perishes, how do I explain
the brilliant softness of your hair?

There's an arch here you'd like--
carved from virgin redwood.
We overlook the ocean, the arch,

the hart and me. And everywhere
come birds, come dreams
of birds.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

5 (or so) Questions with Matt Bell

Recently, 9L staffer Aaron Burch spoke with vol. 7, no. 2 contributor Matt Bell to discuss, among other things, the advantages of constraints, creating story arcs, and the structure his book Cataclysm Baby, which contains the stories, "Meshach, Meshach, Meshach," "Rohan, Rohit, Roho," and "Virgil, Virotte, Vitalis" from the current issue of Ninth Letter. Enjoy!

9L: I guess question number one is: do we have any kind of announcement we can make?

Matt Bell: The book these three stories belong to is a novella-in-shorts titled Cataclysm Baby, and while it has been accepted for publication, it hasn't yet been widely announced. So I should probably keep the secret a little while longer. That said, I'm very excited about the publisher I'm working with, and I think it's a great fit for me and the book. I'm looking forward to sharing the news soon.

9L: I'll admit up front here, I'm at least, if not more, curious and intrigued by the book's structure and workings as a whole as I am with each individual piece. The larger project works as a series of 26 shorts, each with three names like these three in Ninth Letter, one for each letter of the alphabet. I'm curious if you can talk a bit about the genesis of the project . At what point did you know the shape it would take -- meaning, I guess, did you know from the get go that there would be 26 alphabetical sections; or did you write one, and then a second, and then keep going; or...?

MB: The first story I wrote is also the first in the book, "Abelard, Abraham, Absalom," which was later published in the Sleepingfish issue guest-edited by Gary Lutz. When I wrote that story, I didn't have any idea that I was beginning something larger, or at least not until I was nearly done with the first revision of it. There's a passage in that story that in, some ways, generated the larger book: "For our baby, a name chosen from a book of names. Each name exhausted one after the other. Sequenced failure." Once that emerged from the writing, I saw that it could be the structure for a series of the shorts, in which I could write out all these failed families, these futures that mostly didn't pan out. So from describing the project, it might sound like I had a "project" in mind that I then set about figuring how to write, and maybe that's partially true. But it was still a project that generated itself, from the first blind writing I did on it.

9L: Along those lines and as something of a follow-up, I know the pieces often got accepted and published at journals in a series or collection or whathaveyou. How much thought went into those groupings? Is there a specific reason why these three work especially well together, or was it more psuedo-random?

MB: Actually, they mostly got published individually: The only grouping that were published were the three in Ninth Letter, plus a set of three in Annalemma and two in Sleepingfish. If I remember right, it was only Annalemma that I actually submitted a set to, because they don't generally publish shorts in their print magazine, and so I needed to have a longer submission. For that one, I did put a lot of time into the selection and ordering, because I was submitting to a issue themed around "sacrifice," and so I needed to pick ones that added to something that could match the theme. I will say that when I was picking that grouping, I was very intent on establishing an arc of some kind with the shorts, so that while they would also have a life individually, something else would happen when read together, and again something else would happen when those stories were read later, in the context of the full book, which again has its own kind of arc over the course of the twenty-six shorts, even though characters don't repeat. I like thinking of the book and its stories in this way: That each short has an arc, and that there are groupings inside the book that make their own arcs, and that the book as a whole has an emotional and thematic arc even though there's no single character's storyline that reaches from the first page to the last. In many important ways, this is the same method I applied to organizing my short story collection, where it was very important to me that the collection as whole read best cover to cover, and that the ordering of the stories built something larger and more rewarding for the reader. Having already done that provided a helpful way to think of how to arrange the shorts in Cataclysm Baby, and to know when the book as a whole was done, as opposed to just getting each individual story working on its own.

9L: Finally (to some extent, these three questions are all similar and interrelated): I'm assuming in the full manuscript they will be ordered A-Z. I guess maybe I shouldn't assume that to start with. Should I? And, building from the earlier questions, is there anything about the composition of the pieces that you can share, knowing that there was something of a self-imposed constraint (there would be 26 sections; the order, if going alphabetically, was kind of predetermined; etc.)?

MB: I didn't write the stories in order: I wrote A first, and then D, and then M, and in those stories their place had more to do with names that I found to fit the content of the stories than with the right order of the book. Later I started to see how the mini-arcs I mentioned earlier were forming, and that steered the content somewhat, but not every story was generated in exactly the same way. Sometimes I had the names first, and wrote towards them, inspired by something I found in the lists of names that started with Y or X or N, some meaning or sound able to set the fiction in motion, hidden among all these awful baby naming websites. Sometimes I wrote the pieces, and then their content dictated a certain kind of name or even a series of names. And, of course, some of the names don't match up in a straightforward way -- I'd probably say most don't.

In the final manuscript, the stories are ordered alphabetically: I thought about doing it differently at various points, but never really tried it, in part because that structure of the advancing names and the advancing alphabet provides a sort of structure, a timeline for the book, and one I hope creates some kind of tension: When you're reading the book, the series of names becomes a constant reminder of where you're at, in the bigger scheme of things, and also a dwindling amount of potential. There's a place in the middle of the book where new families and new social structures are emerging to sort of deal with the diminished world that's left, and for me, it always seems a really hopeful part of the book, which I didn't know would exist until it emerged on its own from the writing: Despite all that's gone wrong in the book, families still find a way to exist, to take care of each other, to interact with other families. "Virigl, Virotte, Vitalis," the last of the pieces here in Ninth Letter, is already past that point. It's so late in the book, and in the world of the book. Despite what I see as the determination and the bravery of that story's father, he doesn't have any true hope to give to his daughter except what she might have felt elsewhere, away from him and the world she's known. She's the last living daughter in the book -- after that it's only sons, only fathers, only ghosts -- and as those last remaining letters tick off, I hope that the form of the sequence suggests to the reader that the odds against the remaining characters are getting worse, that there's less and less future to work with. Hopefully, this creates the stage for a kind of climax to the book that's separate from what happens in any individual story, and that allows the book to end powerfully, even though the form dictates it can only be ended by another self-contained short.

For me, this is often the great thing about constraints, and about honestly working with them: It seems like they should rob the vitality of a book, that they should tie your hands, that somehow they should inhibit your creativity. I think I used to believe that myself, but now I've come to learn that, for me at least, it's constraints of structure and language that help to produce much of what works best in my fiction. It's good sometimes to be backed into a corner. It's even better to be made to fight your way back out, and to find a way to succeed.

Thanks to Matt and Aaron for an intriguing conversation. To read "Meshach, Meshach, Meshach," "Rohan, Rohit, Roho," and "Virgil, Virotte, Vitalis" visit our webstore to pick up a copy of the current issue of Ninth Letter, vol. 7, no. 2.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

National Poetry Month - William Wenthe

In honor of National Poetry Month 2011, we will spend the rest of April revisiting some of the fine poems published in Ninth Letter in years past. First up, "Great-Tailed Grackle" by William Wenthe, originally published in 9L volume 3 no. 1, Spring/Summer 2006, and forthcoming in Wenthe's new collection Words Before Dawn (LSU, 2012).

Great-Tailed Grackle

Had the Greeks such grackles,
                Socrates might have cackled
                                with proof, to hear you squawk

you name. But speak again
                and rebuke him: such barbaric
                                banging on a brazen pot,

such clatter as Cratylus
                could stuff down the wattled throat
                                of the bickering Athenian.

Let them prattle of truth. For who
                is more surprised than you
                                by your own voice?

How you huff your shoulders
                like a bodybuilder, lower
                                your head, crane your neck

till feathers prickle,
                and yellow eyes boggle

--two whistles, lark-sweet,
                a radio static crackle
                                and hiss, a bacon-fat

squeal and gurgle, punctuated
                by a sort of self-inflicted
                                Heimlich Manuever.

At home in the most
                unheimlich of places--
                                airport and parking garage--

you drag that purple
                prow of tail feathers, magpie-
                                proud, and promenading, stage

your courtship display, pointing
                skyward your beak,
                                as if to gimlet

a hole in heaven
                until that telltale tail
                                molts away in autumn,

leaves you strutting
                like a stunted, bobble-
                                headed chicken;

but even then, you wear
                a minor goddess
                                on your back--Iris

of iridescence--and you
                who stand for nothing
                                else: you wallow in your noise.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

new content @

Click on over to the 9L main site for some exciting new content! The new Where We're At podcast features John Gallaher (vol. 7, no. 1) reading poems from Your Father on the Train of Ghosts at the recent Ninth Letter/VOICE event. In the Featured Writer/Artist section you'll find "Attic," a collaboration between Jill Summers (vol. 4, no. 2) and graphic designer Susie Kirkwood.

As part of National Poetry Month, John and his Your Father on a Train of Ghosts collaborator, G.C. Waldrep (most recently vol. 7, no. 1) are blogging about their process and poetry in general for the Publisher's Weekly blog, PWxyz.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Scenes from the Ninth Letter/VOICE art event

Here are some pictures from Thursday's spectacular Ninth Letter/VOICE multimedia art event. It was a chance to see the great designs from issues up close and personal and to hear one our contributors, John Gallaher (vol. 7, no. 1) read. John, who is pictured below with 9L editor Jodee Stanley and fellow event organizers Sara Gelston and Max Somers, was a fantastic, entertaining reader and the event overall was a lot of fun. Thanks to everyone who came out!