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.”

‘Tis the Season . . .

Slide2. . . to buy books, of course. For yourself, to read when the white stuff starts falling again. And for others, since ’tis also the season for giving. So in the spirit of the season, we’d like to give you some things, as well. A 30 percent discount on all our titles from now until year’s end, for starters.

This applies to each of our 20 in-print poetry titles, from authors Doritt Carroll, Wesli Court (Lewis Turco), Richard Fein, Warren Harris, Andrei GuruianuAdrian KoestersCarlo Matos, John Mingo, Donald Richardson, Brad Sachs, Jan-Mitchell Sherrill, Elisabeth Stevens, Bradley R. Strahan, J. Tarwood and Peter Weltner. And our nine in-print prose titles, from Clarence Brown, Louie Crowder, Richard Fein, Rachel HennickMiriam N. Kotzin, Louis Macaluso, Alexander Motyl and Elisabeth Stevens.

All you have to do is (1) go to Itasca Books, our distributor’s site; (2) make your selections from the BHB books listed there; and (3) use the code BHB2014 at checkout. If you have any problems, simply contact us and we will be happy to help you.

In addition, we have reworked our website so that it is easier for you to buy our books year-round. We now have a page that describes all your options as well as individual pages for poetry, prose and out-of-print books. On both the Poetry and Prose pages, we have not only listed all our in-print books but also included their cover images and descriptions. And convenient links for each book to its Itasca, Amazon and Barnes & Noble pages. Which means that you can do quick price comparisons and be aware of other special discounts that apply such as the 30 percent one Amazon now also offers.

Note: In the coming year, I will be working with our online editor, Katelyn Surles, to make our site a better place not only for our customers but also our submitters and authors, supporters and book-lovers, in general.