Welcoming Verlando Brown!

He’s been with us for a few weeks now, but here is the formal welcome for Verlando Brown, BhB’s new Special Adviser for Diversity and Outreach. His story truly is inspirational, so I’ve attached it below to share with you, dear readers. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more from him in the future, so be on the look out!

––Kate, BhB Online Editor

Verlando Brown grew up Maryland in the heart of West Baltimore. He was raised in a single-parent household where his mother was his sole caretaker, and he was her only child.  Growing up in the inner city, his environment was filled with drug dealing, drug addiction, prostitution, crime, poverty, and broken families. Verlando’s mother told him as a child that she did not want him to end up in jail or dead on the streets –– she wanted him to stay in school, get a great education, and be successful.  She did not want him to become like the guys on the corner who sold drugs for a living, she wanted him do better than she had been able to do with only a high school diploma.

Verlando went to Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore. During the time he went there, many kids were failing in their courses, and there was a high rate of drop-outs and teenage pregnancy. There were fights almost every day among the other kids and kids fighting with their teachers. The Maryland state test scores were also low.

Verlando wanted to be successful in life and not be like his peers. He thought about college, but felt unsure of himself; he didn’t think that he could get into college, much less make it through.  Fortunately, his high school guidance counselor saw a lot of potential in him and encouraged him to apply. With that encouragement, Verlando applied to Towson University, was accepted, and became the first in his family to go to college. When he received his acceptance letter from Towson, he dashed home to show to it to his mother. She burst into tears of joy.

At  Towson, Verlando went through a lot of challenges in learning how to adapt. It took him some time to get adjusted –– how to manage his time, how to meet professors’ expectations, and how to network on campus.  Verlando struggled with low self-esteem and a learning disability while he was at Towson, but had the courage to gather a support system of people who believed in him and his capabilities. This support gave him confidence not to give up and to focus on graduating. He also struggled with his weight while he was at Towson, where, initially, he weighed close to 325 pounds. Through learning to eat healthier and concentrating on fitness, he has lost over 100 pounds. He couldn’t have done it without the help of his support system.

With his passion for higher education, Verlando is now a graduate student at the University of Baltimore obtaining his Master’s degree in Human Services Administration.  He is a writer, a motivational speaker, and an advocate for students in his communities. He will be assisting BhB with work ranging from corporate structure analysis and grant seeking through contributions to the BhB blog.

R.I.P. Carolyn Kizer

Unfortunately, the world lost a great poet and writer just last week. On October 9, 2014, Carolyn Kizer passed away, and no article can better give her tribute than this article by Lewis Turco. During Carolyn’s life, BrickHouse’s Clarinda Harriss had the honor of interviewing her for the Goucher Weekly when Clarinda was still a student. She will be deeply missed.

Please welcome our new Poetry Editor!

I’m proud to present our very wonderful and talented new Poetry Editor: Doritt Carroll. She’s written her very own introduction piece, so as to not steal any of her thunder, let’s cut right to the chase here!

––Kate, BhB Online Editor

I first met Clarinda Harriss when I boldly sent her the manuscript for my first chapbook, which was promptly and resoundingly rejected by her graduate student intern.  My stanzas jumped around too much, the graduate student wrote, and the parts of the poem did too many different things.  But then, beneath the rejection, in a handwriting i have come to recognize well, was a second note that said, “I’m not sure that those points aren’t virtues.  – Clarinda.”   Being the kind of person who is rarely accused of subtlety, I called her.  How close to publishable was it, I asked.  Could i attempt some corrections and try again?  Clarinda said yes, and that spring Brickhouse Books published my chapbook In Caves.  Somehow in that process, we began to refer to each other as “twin sisters whose births have been separated by a very brief almost 25 years.”  The kinship has something to do with a shared tendency to take on waaaay too many assignments, as well as shared joy in a daily email discussion about Poetry’s Poem of the Day – a subject about which we almost always agree.  And then of course there is the joint foodie obsession with concocting new recipes, the desperate, and almost always failed, attempts not to act like helicopter parents to our children, and a sense of humor for which “offbeat” is a rather charitable compliment.  Which is a long way of saying that it is with great pleasure that I hereby formalize my relationship with Brickhouse Books, stepping into an official role as Poetry Editor as opposed to simply insisting in sidebar discussions that all of my opinions are correct.  Onward!

Reminder about the Geopoetics event!


Friday, October 10, 2014

Room 3150, College of Liberal Arts, Towson University, 8000 York Rd, Towson, MD
Free and open to the public
See details: http://events.towson.edu/event/geopoetics#.U8xUOHTD_IU

Geopoetics: Poetry in Geography and the Place of Poetry

Geography, literally meaning “description/writing of the Earth”, and the art of poetry, are both brought together here to express the important symbolism of place.  Both can be used to show how places are experienced and interpreted through metaphor, subtleties, and descriptive dexterity.  There is poetry in place, and there is a place for poetry in geography.  Places can evoke powerful emotions in people.  And such emotions can provide innovative and compelling approaches to helping us understand the intricate layers and perspectives in geography.  This multi-and-interdisciplinary discussion strives to understand the experience of place and the important intersections between geography and poetry.

Keynote speaker:
John Hessler, Library of Congress, “In Parry’s Shadow: Ramblings on the Poetics of Geographic Space”

Introduction by Michael Ratcliffe (U.S. Census Bureau)

Readings by Poets:
Shirley Brewer
Leslie Harrison
Clarinda Harriss
Barbara Morrison

Art by Mark Cottman

Complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres will be served
Sponsored by the Department of Geography and Environmental Planning

John W. Hessler is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and Curator of the Jay I. Kislak Collection of the Archaeology and History of the Early Americas at the Library of Congress. He is the author of over 100 articles and books and has written extensively on archaeology, cartography and the environment. His research has been featured in national media outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post and most recently he was the subject of a profile in Discover Magazine (June, 2014). An avid mountaineer he is a regular contributor to the climbing and exploration journal Alpinist and his latest book, entitled, Columbus’ Book of Privileges, 1502: the Claiming of a New World, was published in September, 2014. Hessler is also a Lecturer in Early American Archaeology and the Environment at the Graduate School of Advanced Studies at Johns Hopkins University. You can read more about him here.

Michael Ratcliffe is an assistant division chief in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Geography Division. Throughout his career, he has worked at the intersection of the conceptual and the operational, defining boundaries for places, urban and rural areas, and metropolitan areas.  Ratcliffe’s first published poem, “Jessup,” appeared in You Are Here:  The Journal of Creative Geography.  Since then, his poems have appeared in various print and on-line journals, including Deep South Magazine, Commonthought Magazine, Kumquat Poetry, Free State Review, and Dead Beats Literary Blog.

Poets BIOS:
Shirley J. Brewer was born and raised in Rochester, New York, and moved to Maryland for careers in speech therapy and poetry. She loves to travel, but cannot fold a map. Recent poems have appeared in the Comstock Review, Little Patuxent Review, Pearl, Passager, The Cortland Review, and other journals. Her two books of poetry are A Little Breast Music, 2008, Passager Books, and After Words, 2013, Apprentice House/Loyola University. 

Leslie Harrison is the author of Displacement, selected by Eavan Boland as the 2008 Katherine Nason Bakeless prize winner in poetry from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Displacement was published by Mariner Books, a division of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, in 2009. She was born in Germany and raised mostly in New Hampshire. She holds graduate degrees from The Johns Hopkins University and The University of California, Irvine. Poems have appeared in journals including Poetry, The New Republic, The Kenyon Review, FIELD, Subtropics, Pleiades, Orion and elsewhere. A former photojournalist, book designer and publishing manager, Harrison has held a scholarship and fellowship at The Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a fellowship at The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In 2011 she was awarded a fellowship in literature from The National Endowment for the Arts. She was the 2010 Philip Roth resident in poetry at Bucknell University, and then a visiting assistant professor in poetry and creative nonfiction at Washington College. In the fall of 2012 she joined the full-time faculty at Towson University.

Clarinda Harriss is a professor emerita of English at Towson University where for many decades she was the faculty “overseer” of GRUB STREET, Towson’s award-winning literary magazine.  She is the author of 8 books, including, most recently, DIRTY BLUE VOICE, MORTMAIN, and THE WHITE RAIL.  She has directed BrickHouse Books, Inc., Baltimore’s oldest literary press, for many years.  One of her main research interest continues to be prison writers.

Barbara Morrison, who writes under the name B. Morrison, is the author of a memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother, and two poetry collections, Terrarium and Here at Least. She conducts writing workshops and, as the owner of a small press, speaks about publishing and marketing. She tweets regularly about poetry @bmorrison9, and her award-winning work has been published in anthologies and magazines. Visit her website and Monday Morning Books blog at http://www.bmorrison.com.

Mark Cottman In 1999, after a successful career as an architectural engineer, Mark Cottman decided to become a full time artist.  He knew then his decision would lead to a more fulfilling existence. Born and raised in Baltimore, this self taught, award winning artist, favors a large variety of subject matter. “Through my art and words”, Cottman says, “I feel it’s necessary to contribute something of meaning in this world. I believe there is no ‘us’ or ‘them’ only ‘we’. We all share the Earth as our home. Only through a conscious mind can we really know ourselves and find peace.”In 2010, Cottman founded and established the Mark Cottman Gallery.  Mark Cottman Gallery is committed to raising consciousness through Mark’s artwork and writings. The gallery also gives back to the community through partnering with non-profit and community based organizations.1 x 144  Traveledn on canvasmounted on masonite

What to Do When Stranded by Ilse Munro

Today is a very special occasion, because here I am to officially welcome Ilse Munro to the BrickHouse Books staff as the new fiction editor! She is a phenomenal writer, and if you’d like proof, you can feel free to dig up some of her fiction. She’s been published in TriQuarterly, Atticus Review and Wake, and she was a twice finalist in Glimmer Train competitions. We’re incredibly honored to have her here with us, so without further ado, enjoy a piece written by her that originally appeared on her own website.

–Kate, BhB online editor


Poetry at the Angel Tavern in the Fells Point area of Baltimore, MD, a series that Dyane Fancey and Clarinda Harriss ran in the 1970s. L to R: Jessica Locklear, Frank Evens and Clarinda. (Source: The Baltimore Sun)

Funny how these things happen.

I recently finished writing a story, “The Land Bridge Problem.” It was about a car thief who, while attempting escape on foot, unwittingly made his way onto an island in the middle of a raging river, probably by means of a slender strip of land that he could no longer locate, and had to scream for someone to come rescue him. It occurred in front of the house belonging to a narrator much like me, so I could not resist drawing parallels between a displaced person stranded in a strange land and the terrified car thief. The story began and ended with the character “Clarinda,” who was based on my friend and literary collaborator Clarinda Harriss, to whom the narrator tells her tale. And in the telling comes to see that there is a solution other than rescue to being stranded: someone who could make the inhospitable place seem more like home could be airdropped from the sky.

On the surface, Clarinda could not be less like me. For one, she is Baltimore born and bred, not someone who has had 35 separate addresses. For another, she has been involved with literature all her life, not someone who took up creative writing at an advanced age.

Her father was RP Harriss. He was was brought to Baltimore straight out of college to be HL Mencken’s special assistant. He went on to become an editor at The Evening Sun, then the editor of The Paris Herald. He also had short stories and a novel published. Clarinda followed in his footsteps, producing an epic poem by age eight and composing dirty ditties for her school chums. Her first publications were short stories, which she still writes and has recently collected in The White Rail. Her primary focus, however, has been poetry. She published her first collection, The Bone Tree, in 1971 through the New Poets Series, the predecessor of BrickHouse Books. That was followed by others, including Dirty Blue Voice and Mortmain. She also edited collections such as Hot Sonnets with Moira Egan.

It was Moira’s father, Michael Egan, who founded the New Poets Series in 1970 to give Maryland poets a voice. At that time, there was little opportunity for local poetsor writers of any sortto find an interested publisher. Michael wanted to change that, and Clarinda was there to help. She started fundraising for the Series, obtaining financial support from luminaries such as Baltimore’s own Josephine Jacobsen, the first female United States Poet Laureate, and Ogden Nash, the master of light verse. Clarinda then took over as both editor and director, incorporating the press and securing nonprofit status. Renamed BrickHouse Books, it welcomed not only poetry but also fiction, drama and creative nonfiction. Today, it has the distinction of being Maryland’s oldest continuously operating small press.

I came across Clarinda in the summer of 2011, when I was the online editor at Little Patuxent Review. She had published a couple of poems in the Make Believe issue, and I wanted to do a piece on them for my“Concerning Craft” series. I sent an email message asking whether she would write up some material for me. When I got a draft within hours, I knew this was a woman after my own heart. That led to further collaboration, notably the outrageous “Self-Interview: Clarinda Harriss,” a takeoff on authors such as Vladimir Nabokov who fabricated entire interviews out of whole cloth. Soon I was proposing crazy-assed schemes beyond the bounds of LPR, usually in emails that started with the innocent question, “Wanna have some fun?”

When Clarinda invited me to the 2012  BrickHouse Books 40th birthday party, hosted by the inimitable Lorraine Whittlesey, the thought crossed my mind that I could contribute my talents to this congenial group. I immediately dismissed it, telling myself that what I needed to do was to concentrate on my own writing. To show how serious I was, I stepped down from my position at LPR in 2013. And retreated to my virtual island, where I wrote and wrote. And wondered how on Earth a little girl from Latvia had ended up inEllicott City, MD.  And whether there was still a chance she could escape.

Then on 24 September 2014, Clarinda dropped downif not from the sky, then surely from the etherand under the guise of an email message entitled “something else to think about,” which referenced the fact that all I had on my mind for weeks was the workmen who were tearing up my historic house and taking my money, offered me the position of Fiction Editor at BHB. I shot back something flippant and then added a bit more graciously, “I would be honored.” And with that, the need to locate some submerged land bridge became less urgent. And my barren island began to fill up with all manner of Baltimore lore and literary legacy. And, for the first time, I felt that I was actually a part of it. So I decided it might be worth staying, after all.

Which takes me to what I suggest that you do if you write fiction and feel that you are isolated from the literary mainstream and maybe much more: send Clarinda and me a message, either here or at BrickHouse Books, and show us what you have. For my part, I prefer writers who have a distinctive voice and something meaningful to say, who have an obvious love of language and a subtle sense of play and who, beneath it all, show that they have good technique and an understanding of what constitutes literary fiction, even if they write in another genre. That said, I also like being surprised and having my preconceived notions blown away. If this is you, we might drop in on your remote island. And things might never be the same after that!

Apart from her role as a writer and a publisher, Clarinda Harriss is aprofessor emerita in English at Towson University, where she was once the department head, and the honoree of the The Clarinda Harriss Poetry Prize and Chapbook Contest, sponsored by Baltimore’s CityLit Project. In addition, she maintains an active interest in prison writers and restorative justice projects as well as a wide range of other social justice issues.

Regarding the above image, Clarinda’s mention of readings at The Angel for my LPR piece “Reader Response: The REAL Lucille Clifton” got me searching the Web. The only photo that I found was one on eBay, and Clarinda promptly purchased it. According to her, the “100” is written in the thick copy pencil that she remembers from her dad’s newspaper days.

Once Upon a Time When I Hated Reading by Brittney Vrzak

Over the years, there have been many authors and books that made me stop and say to myself “yeah, this person has created a wonderful thing, has moved me with his/her words and I want to do that too. I want to make someone move with my words (even if that someone is only just myself).” Yes, there has been many an author and many a book that made me go ‘ooh’ but I can’t pinpoint the first one that made me decide I wanted to be a writer. I can’t say exactly when or how the idea that I wanted to be a writer sprouted out of my unconscious and crept into conscious consideration. There were too many contributing factors to that eventual decision and I can’t definitively say which one was the first that inspired my writing career. But I can, however, say without doubt or hesitation what the first book I ever loved was.

My love affair with this book began in third grade. At the time, I hated reading. Reading and writing all seemed like such a horrendous waste of time. Don’t get me wrong, I liked being read to, I liked hearing stories. I loved it when my parents would read to me and my siblings at night but reading by myself was never something I was interested in and certainly not for leisure; that was out of the question. I had better things to do with my time – I had tag to play and monkey bars to climb. I hated reading the boring books my class and I were required to read. Every day after recess, during the time of day when most of the kids would sit and listen to the teacher read to the class, I was sent to special reading classes because I was so terrible at it. It wasn’t that I had a disability – I was a relatively capable student – I was simply unmotivated and resolutely uninterested. And being the little brat that I was (and sometimes still am) no one could make me do anything I didn’t want to do, even if it was required by the school curriculum. And although our class went to the library every week so the librarian could advocate for the wonder of books, I was always thoroughly, almost willfully unimpressed… until I found the Pokémon Handbook.

It was during this third grade year of mine that I became aware of the Pokémon phenomenon. Like many other hooligans my age, I too was taken with this story about ten year old children traveling the countryside without supervision, beating wild, super-powered animals into submission, capturing them and training them to beat up other people’s super-powered pets – it was awesome (although I think the violent overtones were lost on me and my peers at the time). I wanted to watch the show and play the games. I had to know everything I could about this Pokémon thing.

One day while at the mall with my mother on some kind of errand, I laid eyes on the Pokémon Handbook which contained within its covers everything there was to know about the Pokémon universe. I decided immediately that I wanted it. I quickly gathered my courage and asked my mother if she would get it for me. This was something I almost never did because anytime I asked my parents for anything unnecessary, when it wasn’t my birthday or Christmas time, they almost always said no. On this particular occasion, my mother said yes and gave me what I wanted, probably only because she was pleasantly shocked that I wanted a book, a piece of reading material, a leafy thing stuffed full of words!

I devoured that book. I read it front to back over and over again. I loved the front cover off that thing. If I didn’t understand what something meant (which happened frequently given my limited reading experience) I would ask someone what it meant and if they didn’t know, I would look it up.  Much to the shock of my teachers and parents, I was soon reading fluently, easily understanding words and concepts that were well above my reading level when only weeks before I had been a novice white-belt in the art of reading. My parents could finally breathe a sigh of relief – thank god, she isn’t illiterate. I was invested in that book, in unlocking the top secret information held inside. As you may have concluded, the book wasn’t truly top secret but it felt that way to me. It felt like that book was sharing something… private, like the information this Pokémon Handbook had to impart was for me and me alone. This was something I had never experienced before because I had never sat down to read a book by myself before. It was the first book I really wanted to read, not just have someone read it to me. It was the first book that I really loved because I discovered its secrets all for myself.

Now, many years later, not only am I not illiterate but I’ve somehow managed to become a college student who is about to graduate with a degree in English. I’ve become a ravenous reader, a decent writer (if I don’t say so myself) and I’m interning as an editing assistant. Life’s funny like that.

What about you? What was your first book-love?