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Backlist Wednesday

Backlist Wednesday: Winter Hours by Thomas R. Smith

Winter Hours by Thomas R. Smith
Winter Hours by Thomas R. Smith

The poet Thomas R. Smith visited this morning to go over some proof pages and to answer some questions I had about design possibilities for his forthcoming collection, The Glory. While we worked inside, winter held sway outside. The weather and the visit put me in mind of an earlier collection of poems by Smith, one published ten years ago, Winter Hours. Of Smith’s numerous books, this might be the most overlooked.

The design is as stark as a January parking lot at midnight in a blizzard. A lot of white space, a minimal amount of ornamentation. The author has playfully referred to the book as his “White Album.”

The book itself consists of forty poems. Each poem is seven lines long. Written during the winter of 1998-1999, these small poems lodge some daily aspect of our yearly travail through this often difficult season. Fittingly, there are a fair number of grim realities, but I think the uplifting surprises win out, glittering snow, bright sunlight, warm company. Here’s a poem that contains a little wishful thinking during our current week of below zero temperatures:

BEGINNING TO PUT WINTER BEHIND US

The sun comes out with a flash, as if taking
earth’s photo. The sky preens its blue feathers
on the telephone line, and sings. One can hear
a drone of lawnmowers, from the future….
Why don’t I feel happier? A small, weak hand
is tugging at my sleeve, the way an old person
who can no longer speak up says, “I’m still here….”

Backlist Wednesday

Backlist Wednesday: Perfect Harmony by Ibn El Arabi

Perfect Harmony title page
Perfect Harmony title page

Because the soul can be lost by a single glance…

With Valentine’s Day just ahead, it seems a good moment to revisit a chapbook filled to the brim with desire, overflowing with thoughts about longing, love, and eros. The chapbook is Perfect Harmony and it contains a poem written eight centuries ago by Ibn El Arabi, an Andalusian Sufi mystic and poet. Over the course of this poem, love at first sight is elevated to the level of philosophy and religion, ecstasy intensified “to the point of perfect harmony.” That this poem remains immediate and passionate all these centuries later and in another language has much to do with labors of Timothy Young; always good to have a poet translate a poet.

Perfect Harmony excerpt
Perfect Harmony excerpt

100 copies were printed in 2009 with the assistance in the print shop by the translator. The Spectrum type was set by hand, letter by letter, then inked and impressed upon pages of Ingres paper. Autonomous drawings by Dalyce Elliott accompany the text. These pages are sewn into Khadi wraps. The paper and type alone are a kind of Valentine.

In addition to the chapbook version, this poem is included in Timothy Young’s most recent book, To the Palace of Kings: Selected Longer Poems (Red Dragonfly Press, 2014) and is available on a CD, Perfect Harmony. The latter, an union of spoken word and brilliant musical accompaniment, comes highly recommended, is only available direct from the translator: mail $10 per CD plus $3 shipping to Timothy Young, 1610 Fernwood St., St. Paul, MN 55108.

Backlist Wednesday, e-books

Backlist Wednesday: Library Land by Jane Graham George

Library Land by Jane Graham George
Library Land by Jane Graham George

Library Land was published in 2008. At that time the author, Jane Graham George, lived and worked in Minnesota, her job a reference librarian at the Dakota County Public Library in Eagan. Not unlike the stacks and shelves among which the author moved during her workday, the poems hold a lot of variety in small compass, from swine judging to the Book of Kells. Shortly after the book’s publication, the author changed residence, moving with husband and horse to the Kapiti Coast, northwest of Wellington, New Zealand. Here’s the opening poem:

BELGIAN HORSE

Houses vault up like medieval cathedrals
on land where once there were pastures,
oaks, raspberries, space for long walks.
Chevron-winged killdeer heralded the chaos
of buying and selling, backhoes and downed trees.

Today through the picture window of the largest home,
I imagine the heavy Belgian who used to pull a plow
in the sorghum and sweet corn right here in the 60s,
flying now over a white leather sofa, a dream version
of himself, chestnut Pegasus in slow motion.

Floor lamps and tables shatter behind his mane,
plate glass shards strike me as if they were the myrrh
of a priest’s censer, the house made transparent,
drafty and strangely like its own aspirations, Chartres
and St. Michel, the haunt of angels or ghosts.

Not of that faith, the Belgian and I stand outside,
bound as in the days of chivalry and before,
where we do no harm, are pure in friendship
and the knowledge we haven’t yet lost all ground
and live still in the green time of the world.

I’ve always admired the way the glass of the suburban window gets shattered by the poet’s vision. It’s not justice, exactly, but an elegiac acknowledgment of the overtaking sprawl of growing populations that overwrites most any pastoral or wild landscape. And I value the poet’s stance, almost optimistic, certainly fierce, when she states that “we haven’t yet lost all ground / and live still in the green time of the world.”

Library Land is now available as an e-book.
(Print copies are still available as well: click here)

Publication Announcement

Continuous Performance: The Selected Poems of Maggie Jaffe

Jaffe-grafiti-cover

Edited by poets Marilyn Zuckerman, Christopher Butters, and Robert Edwards, Continuous Performance: The Selected Poems of Maggie Jaffe presents a substantial collection of this poet’s most important work. As Robert Edwards intimates in his introduction to this collection, “Once Maggie found her voice, she created a kind of poetry that was relentlessly stripped to the essentials, everything superfluous burned away in the underlying fury that inhabits these poems.”

“Maggie Jaffe’s poems have a rare power and beauty. She writes about Mayakovsky, Van Gogh, Kafka, Jean Seaberg, and other extraordinary figures of our time…but never in a predictably political way, always in a way that astonishes us and that says something profound about the world we live in.” – Howard Zinn

Purchase from Red Dragonfly Press: Continuous Performance ($17; free shipping)

Purchase from Small Press Distribution: Continuous Performance

Author page: Maggie Jaffe

Maggie Jaffe (1948 – 2011) was author of six books of poetry. Both 7th Circle and The Prisons, won the San Diego Book Award for Poetry. She taught at San Diego State University in the English and Comparative Literature Department. She was also the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, and a California Arts Council Grant.

Print Shop

David Martinson – Meadowhawk Prize

I’m pleased to announce the winner of the 2014 David Martinson – Meadowhawk PrizeWhat Thread? by Francine Sterle.

What Thread? is an ambitious collection, but also dazzling. I was immediately fascinated by the variegated nature of this collection. “From well-fed flowers/to the wrecked bouquet,” the poetry moves back and forth, from elegy and loss toward quest and question. Look for What Thread? around April next year. Meanwhile, here’s a small sample from the poem ‘One Thought Attracts Another’:

“I applaud the green foliage of our language.
Who knows what we’ll find on the other side?
This is the fugue that repeats then crumbles:
our numbered days,
death’s ashen spark.
A branch becomes a vein.
A spider embellishes its web.
This rain is ruin and our ruin rides.
But after days of it,
after the serpentine
passages of water dry,
after marsh marigolds and wild violets,
up come the moon-faced sunflowers
drunk with light.”

A native of Minnesota, Francine Sterle holds an MFA degree in poetry from Warren Wilson College and has studied writing in a variety of settings, including Oxford University, Spoleto Writers’ Workshop, Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. She has three previous collections: The White Bridge (Poetry Harbor, 1999), Every Bird Is One Bird (Tupelo Press, 2001), and Nude in Winter (Tupelo Press, 2006). She lives in Iron, Minnesota, on the West Two River.

Thanks are due, also, to the many other poets who submitted manuscripts this year. I was overwhelmed, but as I set about reading, continually surprised, often moved, and, finally, downright astonished by the number of superb submissions. And while the quality and variety made the reading enjoyable, it makes choosing a single manuscript downright daunting.

Manuscripts for the 2015 David Martinson – Meadowhawk Prize can be submitted beginning in April, 2015.

Scott King

Print Shop

Emergence Chapbook Series Prize

I’m pleased to announce the winner of the 2014 Emergence Chapbook Series PrizeBottom-Right Corner by Justin Watkins of Rochester, Minnesota. This collection brings together a number of poems about the land and quirky inhabitants of southeast Minnesota.

According to Justin’s bio, he was raised in the top-right corner of the state, but has lived and worked in the bottom-right corner since 1994. He enjoys sitting with his wife beneath a walnut tree and watching their kids wonder and learn. Another enjoyment is hiking and fishing the trout streams in southeast Minnesota, but Justin admits to spending a good number of his summer days looking in on common carp as well. All good pastimes for a poet.

So congratulations to Justin, but I also want to thank everyone who submitted chapbooks. The range and accomplishment of the entries, all from Minnesota, is promising and impressive. Manuscripts for the 2015 Emergence Chapbook Series Prize can be submitted beginning in March.

Scott King

Book review

Book Review: The Grand Piano by Floyce Alexander

Floyce Alexander.  The Grand Piano.  Voice of the Poet Series: volume one

Northfield, MN:  Red Dragonfly Press, 2014. 55 pages. ($10 paper. $5.90 audio ebook for ipad; $2.99 audiobook)

Reviewed in North Dakota Quarterly, vol.80.1 by Dale Jacobson

Floyce Alexander grew up in the lower Yakima valley of Washington state, where his father homesteaded a grape farm after working as a coal miner in Arkansas.  His poems visit both areas of the country and are always conscious of his working class roots.  He holds an MFA and Ph.D., but I find even more significant his study of poetry with Theodore Roethke.  At 74, he has been writing poetry for the majority of his life.

This book presents three poems, each a sequence, “The Grand Piano,” “Another Young American Pilgrim,” and “Irene Casteñada.”  The poems all are interrelated, moving through different periods of the poet’s life.  One of Alexander’s projects in much of his poetry is to record– and some way save– his past, perhaps even redeem it from the worst aspects of its, and our, history.  This effort leads him to confront his own feelings toward relatives, and particularly women who have been important to him since love is the leitmotif of much of his work.  One might say that this book is a great love poem, despite our national culture which promotes so much division and hatred.  The poems are acutely aware of loves lost to the caprices of time, which remain very much alive to him.

This focus alone would make the book immensely worthy, but it does more, for personal love is not the limit of its concern.  Interwoven are larger societal and historical loves, or their lack.  The poet understands that love does not exist in political and cultural isolation.  And it is at this intersection that we confront our national obstructions to love, in particular  racism, but also our “love” of war, and by contrast, our inability to love the poor enough help them.

In “The Grand Piano” love is equated with music, a language for our passions just as physical sensation can be, if passion exists.  When it doesn’t exist, both become brutality, but when it does, the poems want to open our passions beyond what the country ordinarily allows, “a change of uniforms, an end to war.”  (20).  This suggestion that we can change our perspective toward what we love is one of the qualities of this work I admire most.  In fact, I have long opposed the idealization and elevation of “the ordinary” in our culture, which seems nearly ubiquitous, as if what is ordinary is the same of political democracy.  The truth is, oppression is the ordinary quotidian in our culture.  I very much admire poems that want to dislodge the ordinary, as do these.

And yet, the difficulties of our country don’t go away in Alexander’s poems.  There is no false sense that individual romantic love, however much the poet prizes it, can overcome the political realities that stand in its way.  While personal love is possible, racism was also largely responsible for denying him his first passionate romance.  In addition, the poet’s own memory is the past the country constructed, the racism of the South:  “My father’s / father hated this black man who hated / him back.  I saw why in my grandfather’s face.”  (21).   Later, we find a poem on Guantanamo, where music (and Christianity) is converted to an accompaniment for torture and death.

Alexander is not a poet who claims “love” answers history, one of those easy formulas we often hear, perhaps a hand-me-down from Jesus, nor does he assert it as a political weapon against the dark and greedy passions of war.  But these poems are perhaps an effort to understand at least three things:  where we have been, who we are as a nation (with our current limitations), and what is possible if we can surpass those limitations.  In some sense, then, one might think of the love expressed for the women in this book as more than personal, but also love for imagination itself, as we find in Whitman, the muse as love.   There is great optimism (despite great resignation) in these poems, as in these lines:

Ah love, the sky is our house and this earth

its floor, the sun and moon our bright windows

opening to the fire and to the stars…

Ah love, I love you:  you know all the words

I say will never carry the meaning

of our silence, your radiant presence…

(49-50)

Sometimes publishers get it right.  This is one of those times.

– Dale Jacobson

Print Shop

Twin Cities Book Festival

Red Dragonfly Press will have a table at the annual Twin Cities Book Festival hosted by Rain Taxi this coming Saturday, October 11, 2014. The book fair will be located at the Fairgrounds Progress Center. Six Red Dragonfly Press poets will be signing books at the table throughout the day.

11am to noon: Joyce Sutphen and Lyle Daggett
noon to 1pm: Mike Hazard
1pm to 2pm: Timothy Young
3:30pm: Athena Kildegaard
4pm to 5pm: Su Smallen

Visit the Book Festival Website for more details.

Publication Announcement

New Publication: Wrestling with the Angel by Edith Rylander

Wrestling with the Angel by Edith Rylander
Wrestling with the Angel by Edith Rylander

Wrestling with the Angel is Edith Rylander’s fourth collection of poetry. The poems in this collection confront Death largely by celebrating Life. The poet takes stock of what’s gone by and reaffirms what richness remains, presenting us with mournful poems and poems of strong earthen joy.

Purchase from Red Dragonfly Press: Wrestling with the Angel ($15; free shipping)

Purchase from Small Press Distribution: Wrestling with the Angel

Author page: Edith Rylander

Edith Rylander has now been writing poetry since 1943. Her life as wife, mother, gardener, stock raiser, woods dweller, and thoughtful observer of nature and life is reflected in her poems, which have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She received Bush Fellowships for Poetry in 1980 and 1991 and a Loft-McKnight Award for Poetry in 1994.

Print Shop

David Martinson – Meadowhawk Prize

David Martinson – Meadowhawk Prize

Deadline: July 31, 2014

Red Dragonfly Press is currently accepting submissions for the David Martinson – Meadowhawk Prize. This is an annual prize from Red Dragonfly Press for an unpublished collection of poems by an author who has not previously been published by the press. The chosen poet will receive a $300 cash award, book publication, and ten copies. There are no geographical restrictions. Entrance/reading fee of $35.

Last year’s prize was awarded to Chad Hanson of Casper, Wyoming for his book of prose poems Patches of Light (2014).

For complete details or to submit a manuscript visit the Red Dragonfly Press Submittable website: https://reddragonflypress.submittable.com/submit/19971