Three cheers for the ‘Fashion Police’

Fellow lovers of glam, glitz and celeb couture faux pas, rejoice! E!’s weekly dish fest “Fashion Police” is back with a new host — comedian and LGBT rights supporter Kathy Griffin — and returning co-hosts Giuliana Rancic and Kelly Osbourne, along with newcomer Brad Goreski. Griffin took over as host after Joan Rivers died in September. Why do I, a poet and lesbian, unlikely to ever afford Versace, Tom Ford or any other haute couture, enjoy FP? Because, I’m my mother’s daughter. Growing up in southern New Jersey, I learned that fashion, celebs and gossip were entertaining. My Mom and I would leaf through Vogue, admiring the perfect dress or wonder why a star on a TV awards show was wearing that gown. After my time in the wilderness of dreary flannel shirts and drab jeans, I returned to the fold. In a world filled with poverty, war, bigotry and other horrors, “Fashion Police” is fun.

Kathi Wolfe, the latest winner of the Stonewall Chapbook Competition, is also a contributor at The Washington Blade. Check out the full article by her here.

Resignation of prose editor Ilse Munro

January 27, 2015

With great regret, BhB announces that, because of health problems,  Ilse Munro resigned this morning from her BhB position as prose editor.   I’m sure our readers and authors will join me and the rest of the staff in our gratitude for the formidable energy, imagination, and talent which Ilse brought to BhB during her brief time with us. We vow to take up where she left off.

Discovering Our Authors: Louie Crowder

Louie Crowder, playwright and novelist, completes this series. Here’s what he has to say:

Louie's 2013 BHB title

Louie’s 2013 BHB title

I quit the theatre again. After years of navigating the wonders of the self-producing playwright, I wrote a novel. The consistent nagging that fueled dialogue fueled the prose; I wasn’t convinced it would but apparently the Muse doesn’t care so much about the medium as she does the release of the information. I’ve found it’s easier to be experimental in prose than onstage. I’ve also found the process of a novel to be more rewarding than the stage. With the theatre, there are too many people involved in the development; in the end the playwright seems to be the least important. The novel is a lonelier process but the payoff is having more control and being an active participant in the final product (at least on the level where I currently reside). I’m not sure it’s always been that way. The film industry redefined the theatre. When theatre became a feeder for film, stage lights across America dimmed in requiem. Haha; it’s true.

Thematically, I’ve also found prose to be more accepting of the things I need to write about: gay equality in the contemporary South, the differences between the Boomers, X’ers, and the Millennials regarding sexuality and civil rights. There are two gay Americas. One is comprised of the coasts and enclaves; the other is made from the South and the Midwest. The coasts and enclaves are progressive and aggressively pro-equality, the South and Midwest are not. Two different sets of civil rights, two different sets of reasonable freedoms. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why the HIV infection rate remains high in the South. Actually, Louisiana has the cities with the #2 and #3 highest infections rates in the country (New Orleans and Baton Rouge).

I consistently hear, “Things are better,” “No one cares about sexuality anymore,” “Gay equality is a non-issue,” “AIDS is the new diabetes.” The Millennials like to say things like that; they are, apparently, the enlightened generation. The greatest tragedy of the Millennial generation is their joyful erasure of gay history, including the ongoing struggles of the Boomers and the X’ers. My generation grew-up in fear of who they were. I can’t imagine a generation of kids not being raised in fear and self-hatred. Recently, after reading In Irons, a friend told me she finally understood what I was trying to achieve with my work, “I get it now, Louie. It’s suffrage you’re talking about: gay suffrage. Because nobody cares if anybody’s a fag or not anymore. Documenting suffrage is important, too.” It’s not suffrage, it’s shining a light on the still darkened places. But at least she’s making an effort to see beyond her straight perspective. My lofty goal in this body of work is to elevate the American gay community; to create a dialogue and better understanding. I suppose that means I’ve become an activist for gay equality, and that suits me just fine.

The play BrickHouse published (A Better House for Ritchie), the novel Gallatin & Toulouse published (In Irons), as well as the new novel that comes out in the spring (Henry Gereighty) directly take on issues of the contemporary Southern gay experience, the group of gay men who still exist in hiding. I ask my students if they think gay equality can ever happen in the US, because I don’t believe it can. They consistently tell me, “Yes, of course, but it’ll be another couple of generations.”

Discovering Our Authors: J. Tarwood

One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.

And as someone who has traveled more in the first years of her life than many have in a lifetime, I was delighted to hear from poet J. Tarwood, who happened to be in Laos at the moment. Here is what he sent me a few weeks later from who knows where:

J. Tarwood's BHB title

J. Tarwood’s BHB title

As an adult, I’ve worked in Kenya, Turkey, Yemen, Oman, Colombia, and Dubai; I’ve trekked by all sorts of dubious means through most of Africa, Europe, and South America, even darting a few times into Asia. I’ve lived out globalization from aerograms to emails; that’s given me a vision quite different from many contemporary American poets. I like what Rimbaud said: “I is another.”

In high school, I wanted girls. All I had for wooing were words. The right ones, though, said at the right time, in the right way, could work magic: the wow of sex, the blessed chance—

You could go to another world;
You could talk to a pretty girl.

Mother knew words. Born in the Blue Ridge, mired in the Midwest, she yearned for the lost home like a Palestinian. Silence a growing hole in and out, she battled back with savage stories of invisible kin, entrancing me along. Up North was a hungry hell. Only Back Yonder got to be real.

Father hated words. In the kitchen, alone with the light, he would read big borrowed books. “All talk,” he’d curse. Up North was fate. Swallow and shut up.

Up North certainly had no place for me: deindustrialization’s cannon fodder, “No Future” stamped on the forehead at birth. Leave or rot, honeychild.

I left and just didn’t stop. “Grin like a dog, wander aimlessly,” a drunken Tamil quoted to me in Istanbul. I followed adventure or dollars, my life a travelogue of hard to say places. At interviews, I pretended I had a career. Practical people understood it really had been one foot after another.

Yet like the superheroes I had so intensely scrutinized as a boy, I had a calling I held close—as if I were to spy for a goddess, and all this gadabout were both education and mission.

A calling makes sense with divinity. Otherwise—scour the bio for the prof who loaned the book, the gal who wrecked the heart, puzzling out a life obsessed.

Land of luck, that. I prefer a life possessed.

Words alone conjuring worlds? In high school, I drifted through the Upstairs Bookstore, where I bought a paperback of The Waste Land, lightly yellowing, thin as a broke wallet. Eliot never had me in mind as a reader: I had been streamed into Jolly Books of English courses to prepare me for a life of stupor. Nevertheless, his words dazzled me the way my mother’s had and the way I wished mine to dazzle the girls who dazzled me.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

Poetry must be magic, a secret kept by being shared.

Note: The first lines quoted are from The Tubes song “She’s a Beauty.” The last lines quoted are from the first section (“The Burial of the Dead”) of TS Eliot’s The Waste Land.

Discovering Our Authors: Warren Meredith Harris

One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.

But that is only one of the ways that I blur the line between poetry and prose. Another concerns content, where I do not feel that either form has a lock on specific subject matter. Which is why I was delighted when Warren Harris sent me the following surprisingly intellectual approach to his own poetry:

The Night Ballerina

Warren’s BHB title.

Some think humans can be divided between the intelligent and the not-so-intelligent. But my experiences lead me to subscribe to the idea that every individual is intelligent in some things, less so in others—hence the term “multiple intelligences” for a recently developed theory of the mind. However, I believe it’s equally accurate, and often more helpful, to call these individual tendencies “multiple visualizations” of the world.

Some of the ways to visualize are interpersonal (mainly concerned with relationships), naturalistic (mainly concerned with the world of nature), musical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and logical-mathematical. And they can be combined. For example, the visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic in high degree can produce a talented gymnast.

When I analyzed myself and my writings in these terms, I was not surprised to realize that one of my ways of visualizing the world, like all poets and other kinds of writers, is verbal-linguistic. But I also realized that there had to be another at least as strong, one that determines the specific direction of my writing.

I found it recently when I watched a documentary film on Mahler’s Third Symphony in which Howard Gardner, a leader in this field of thought, says that the composer’s music was distinctive because he combined the musical intelligence with what is called the “existential intelligence.” I instantly understood why I am drawn to Mahler’s music. It’s my strong tendency to that category of visualization, the existential.

This word sounds like something from a philosophy class about thinkers of the early- and mid-1900s. But it refers to something that has always been with us and always will be, especially for those who can’t help imagining—in fact, obsessing over—the immensities of space and time and the nature of ultimate reality (God, Ground of Being, Tao, Nothingness, etc.) and its relationship to the physical universe, the body, and the mind or the psyche.

I had assumed every thoughtful person had such an obsession. And then I shared with a group of six highly intelligent people, half of whom have doctorates, an astronomical microwave map of the universe capturing a ten-billionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. I expected oohs and aahs. Instead, each person glanced at it briefly and passed it along without comment, except for one person who said, “It looks like a mammogram.” All of them no doubt have some interest in existential issues, but it’s apparently not any of their default ways of looking at the world.

What is reality? Why do we exist? Why are we here, and why now? Is there a reality beyond this physical world, and if so, does it affect this world? Is the mind or psyche separate from the physical realm? What makes life worth living? These questions occupy a large portion of the inner thoughts of some people. But who deals with them publicly? To some extent, sci-fi writers, visual artists, and composers do; more so philosophers, theologians, militant atheists, and theoretical physicists.

I hope there is still room for poets as well. I say this because it seems to me that these days most writers and readers of poetry gravitate primarily to interpersonal imaginings of relationships with others and intrapersonal imaginings of one’s own inner moments of joy and suffering. I am one of that minority of poets whose work may touch on such things but at its center is really an attempt to answer the questions posed in the previous paragraph.

In case this is all a bit too abstract, there are examples of my existential poems in Mobius magazine, Big River Poetry Review, the Jewish Literary Journal, and Science & Engineering Poetry.

Note: Warren might be pleased to know that this editor’s eyes not only do not glaze over at that thought of such stuff but that she also identifies it as constituting the core of her work by noting it in the About Me section of her website. (She does happen to be a former NASA consultant.) Also, those readers who happen to live in the Baltimore-Washington area might be interested in knowing that The DC Science Writers Association has held events “versed in science” such as the one featuring area poets Myra Sklarew and Michael Salcman

Discovering Our Authors: Andrei Guruianu

One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissions—among other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.

After posting Adrian Koester’s piece for this series about how her poetry influences her prose, the next logical step was to look into prose poetry. So here’s what BHB author Andrei Guruianu has to say on the topic:

Andrei's BHB 2014 title.

Andrei’s 2014 BHB title.

I write prose poems to not feel restricted by the format of free verse, to not be limited by its form, its near predictability. But that is only part of the answer. All poetry is the constant struggle against the futility and limitations of expression. It is an experiment in using language to bridge the gaps within the self that language itself creates.

My work begins in that gap, in the gulf between language and self. I was raised speaking Romanian but began writing creatively in English. Thus, I feel estranged from the language of my birth, from the mother tongue. With age, I realize that I’ve never quite felt at ease in that language, instead allowed myself to be wrapped up in nostalgia, in sentiment, in the illusion of home.

When I began using English, I was fully aware of the mask I wore, that I was only borrowing the tools I needed to say what I could no longer say in Romanian. As such, Romanian and English have never fully belonged to me and I do not fully belong to them. This is the rift, the perennial split that I cannot mend. The words I use have always been measured, calculated, turned over on the tongue and in the mind until I’ve reached an approximation of meaning. But it has never been enough and likely never will.

Language fails us daily. That’s not a secret. That through language we get closer to truth is only partially correct. Each utterance severs us from reality—both from the thing it points to, which it can never be, and from ourselves, since no word or sound or image can ever mean a self. With each word, we drift further away from it. Ironically, our only way back is through language: futile, exasperating, sometimes beautiful.

It is with this knowledge that I write, and which, in hindsight, I use to judge what I’ve written. As a stranger in the mother tongue as well as the borrowed tongue, I am always one or two steps removed. I see myself from a distance, and no word so far has gotten me any closer. I can say that I experiment with style and voice then because no single approach has ever sufficed or left me satisfied. So I try and fail and try again.

The failure of language is a humbling realization (at times it is all we have), one that places the writer at the beginning, forces a reckoning with the self. It is also a realization that can be incredibly freeing: it allows for experimentation, for exploration. If language fails then the answer must lie elsewhere, and the search for that place is invigorating, a bit disorienting, but ultimately a fruitful one.

Prose poems, for now, seem to me the closest to an honest and accurate expression of sentiment. It will not last; the world will outrun my ability to keep it still within the confines of a line or a paragraph. But by experimenting with the contours of language, the rooms it inhabits, we give ourselves another means of expression, our readers another way to enter into meaning.

Yes, language fails us, and maybe we have failed language (I am nearly certain of it), but that should give us even more reason to keep looking for the place where it feels most at home, where the word leans up against a wall and for a moment feels secure, feels like it can stand on its own and speak for itself: a tree, a sunset, a howl or birdsong, almost a life.

Note: While two of Andrei’s recent collections published by BrickHouse Books (Made in the Image of Stones and Portrait Without a Mouth) fit the category of free verse, much of his writing over the past couple of years has been prose poetry, loosely defined.

Discovering Our Authors: Adrian Koesters

One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissionsamong other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.

To illustrate this point, I asked Adrian Koesters to write a few words about what she brings from her poetry to her prose. Here is what she shared with us:

Many Parishes

Adrian’s BHB title

Flannery O’Connor has famously said that anybody who lives through childhood will have enough to write about for the rest of her life. I’d add to this that living through a childhood in Baltimore 40 years ago filled my ear with enough distinctive cadences to write through to last through the rest of mine, and these are what come naturally to me as I write. The rich, thick, what one of my sisters calls the “Dundalk” accent but that you might identify as the language of the “Hon”; the loud, long melisma of the vegetable street-cart vendor crying, “Strawberries! Cherries!” as he passed our house (we never-in-all-my-life heard these men called Arabbers); our cries of “Wait-a-minute, wait-a-minute!” after the ice cream car that we’d just gotten permission to run after with our nickels or dimes; my grandmother’s now-soft elisions (the way, for example, she could make the simple, embarrassed courtesy of the word “no” last for four syllables), now-percussive “No, not that!” or “Tuppitware,” as she called it, or “I-never-did-in-all-my-life” or “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” The tall, sexy white girl two doors up who sashayed past us where we sat on the front steps, taunting, “I ain’t got no/Skinny leeeegs!/I ain’t got no/Flat chest!”

When I first began to write poetry as a girl, it was these elisions and percussives that I was most aware of when I sat down to write something, and to the extent that I was at all conscious of what I was doing, those were what I tried for. In the early days, like many young writers, I loved poetry for, as I thought, its get-in-and-get-out permissiveness. The brevity of a poem allowed me to explore for an instant something that was more often than not too frightening to stay with consciously for long. Still, in working a poem in this way, to get the sound I might be able to get out of it, I also over time discovered the great pleasure of simply giving myself over to words, to those moments that you literally lose your “self” in the act of creation.

When I much later came to prose, the drummings of poetry in common talk stood me in great stead, as you can see a bit in this first line of an early unpublished story titled “The Ape Guy,” where I attempted a story with words of only one syllable: “There’s a blue page on the wall with a guy that’s been dead a long time.” If you scan that line, you’ll see how the stresses fall: There’s/a blue page/on the wall/with a guy/that’s been dead/a long time. If I read that line, I myself can’t visualize the guy or the blue page but I readily hear the series of anapaests (two short beats and a long) ended up with a spondee (a short beat and two longs), without even knowing that I hear it.

And for me, this remains the greatest pleasure of writing. When I find myself sliding into those moments in a run of dialogue, a block of narrative, or a stanza of a poem, where the beats of the language that filled me up in my first days emerge somehow to make another, new small bit of music that talks to me, and, I hope, my reader: that’s when I know I’m doing what I most want to do. It’s also where I find myself, again, at home.

Adrian Koesters is a native of Baltimore, Maryland. She attended high school in Bellingham, Washington, and has lived most of her life in Nebraska, where she has worked in Omaha and Lincoln as a high school teacher, secretary, sign language interpreter, academic advisor, editorial specialist, and university professor. She holds an MFA in poetry from the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University and a Ph.D. in English (fiction and poetry writing) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she teaches writing and is the host of the online reading series for Prairie Schooner magazine. She has been an assistant editor for Ted Kooser’s syndicated newspaper column “American Life in Poetry” and is the fiction editor at A River & Sound Review journal.

Adrian’s BHB title Many Parishes is on sale at a discount through the end of this year.

For more on the aural aspects of poetry, see “Discovering Our Authors: Peter Weltner.”

Discovering Our Authors: Peter Weltner

One of the pleasures of being the new prose editor at BrickHouse Books is discovering the people who have published with us, including the poets. After all, I have said that what I look for in prose submissionsamong other things—is “a distinctive voice . . . and an obvious love of language.” Meaning a touch of poetry.

So while corresponding with Peter Weltner on the mundane matter of our first year-end book sale, I asked him to tell me a bit about his craft. His response was so pertinent to both poetry and prose that I am sharing it with you here:

To The Last Cinder

Peter’s latest BHB title.

When someone is dying, it has been said, hearing is the last sense to fail. I hope that contention is true since it suggests that the world reaches us most enduringly through sound, the way music, perhaps, touches depths in us that no other art can reach. Music is essential to all arts, even sculpture, the pulse by which they beat and by which they live, the rhythm they breathe and move in.

No poem, I think, can be entirely plotless. Even the simplest lyric has some narrative to it, even the purest poem of Mallarmé or the jauntiest by Ashbery. But no poem can be reduced to a story or even to what is often called its meaning. No poem is a poem unless there is music in it, and each good poem must find its own peculiar music, what song belongs to it and maybe to it alone.

Lyricism is attention intensified into music. A poem, every poem I write at least, is an attempt to find the right shape and form for that moment. Even traditional forms, when used, must be specific for the occasion, the emotion or experience that has led to the poem, with nothing arbitrary about them. So, too, does there lie in a poem’s music, its particular rhythms and song, an implicit drama, a story to be told.

When I was twelve, I listened to the radio every night before I went to bed: Dinah Washington, say, remorseful, disappointed, singing because she wanted to be happy, or Joan Weber whose singing of “Let Me Go Lover” I can still hear in my head 60 years later. Across the yard, on the other side of two driveways, a boy named Paul, four years older than me and my best friend, would stand at different times late each evening looking out his window, even when it was raining or cold, as if he were waiting for someone or something. Lying in bed, listening to music on my radio, gazing out across the yard that separated us at night, I’d wait for his light to shine and then wait for it to go out again.

It was then I first learned, I think, that when hearing is intensified, the other senses work more keenly as well so that the world, otherwise fragmentary, becomes, if not exactly whole, at least more real in that way in which poetry, like desire, even when it distorts the world, also makes it more real.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to add additional voices to what seems to be turning into a “Discovering Our Authors” series. I already have one lined up: “Discovering Our Authors: Adrian Koesters.”