Posts Tagged ‘Don Bogen’

Contributor News: Wayne Miller

Friday, March 10th, 2017

Here at the Cincinnati Review we’re always rooting for our talented contributors, so we’re especially happy today because of some good news from Poetry Editor Don Bogen:

Don Bogen: Congratulations are in order for poet, translator, editor, and CR contributor Wayne Miller, whose most recent book Post- (Milkweed Editions, 2016) was just awarded the Rainer Maria Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas. The prize is for “a book that demonstrates exceptional artistry and vision written by a mid-career poet.” And while it does not provide free room and board in an aristocrat’s castle, as its name might imply, it includes a reading at UNT and a good-sized check of $10,000. It is much deserved.

Wayne’s work has been all over our pages and our blog, and we’re glad to have it. Post- includes a poem that originally appeared in our Winter 2015 issue, and you can read José Angel Araguz’s microreview of the book & an interview here.  A review of Wayne’s previous book The City, Our City appeared in the Summer 2012 issue, and another poem of his back in Winter 2010. Wayne’s been here in the flesh too.  If you’d like to hear him talking about his work and reading some poems from Post- and The City, Our City, a reading and a Q&A from his 2010 visit to the University of Cincinnati are available in the Elliston Project archives here.

Hearty congratulations to a friend, a contributor, and one terrific poet.


Please note that our reading period ends in less than a week! Submit here before March 15th.

Submissions: The Rising Tide

Thursday, August 25th, 2016

keep-calm-and-all-hands-on-deck-3We’re back in action here at the office. Actually, we’ve been back since Monday, but this is the first chance we’ve had to say hey. Our reading period began August 15, and already we’ve received upwards of 600 submissions. We’ve been reading like mad—not to mention welcoming a new slew of volunteers and showing two new staffers the ropes. Yep, Assistant Editors James Ellenberger and Gwen Kirby are on the job . . . and the amazing José Angel Araguz returns as Associate Editor. Rounding out the office staff,  we have Nicola Mason and Matt O’Keefe (Managing Ed and Senior Associate Ed, respectively). Poetry and Fiction Eds Don Bogen and Michael Griffith are, of course, old hands—but we have an exciting new addition to our team in the delightful form of Kristen Iversen, who now selects all our literary nonfiction. Her first issue is our Fall/Winter number, due out in November. We’ll get back to our regular blogging schedule soon, but for now . . . we gotta tackle a few more submissions. Keep ’em coming, writer types, and thanks for sending us the good stuff!

Remembering C. D. Wright

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016

c-d-wrightDon Bogen: We were saddened to hear of the death last month of our Advisory Board member C. D. Wright. A few days after she passed away, I met my friend the poet C. S. Giscombe at the Creek Monkey Tap House in Martinez, California. Martinez is the kind of town I think C .D. would have enjoyed: small, a little down at heels, and remarkably diverse compared to the pockets of affluence alternating with economic wastelands that mark the San Francisco Bay area and other parts of the country. Its main sources of employment are county business, two hospitals, and an oil refinery. I like it.

Cecil likes the place too. He cycles over the hills from Berkeley when I’m out there, and we meet for beer and a meal before he catches the train back. That evening we drank to C .D.’s memory and talked about her work. Like Cecil, C. D. is a wonderful poet of place, and I’ve often taught his Giscome Road and her Deepstep Come Shining together. But Cecil told me that his favorite was One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana, a coffee-table book (if you can use that term for something so insightful and moving) she put together with the photographer Deborah Luster. C. D. was kind enough to give my wife and me a copy of this book a dozen years ago when she was in Cincinnati as Elliston Poet in Residence.

I reread One Big Self after I got back from California, and I know why Cecil admires it. C. D.’s energies moving in all directions, her humor, her deft intelligence, her commitment to everyday lives, including prisoners’, and refusal to treat any type of authority with undue reverence—these are qualities of her poetic voice and her personality. As a poet, she explored things in their full contexts, and she was great fun to spend time with. As far as I know, C. D. never got to Martinez or the Creek Monkey Tap House, but we did share a lively evening at the oldest bar in Cincinnati. That and her glorious poems will have to do.


Don Bogen on C. K. Williams

Thursday, September 24th, 2015
Don Bogen (left); C. K. Williams (right)

Don Bogen (left); C. K. Williams (right)

Though I’d read and taught C. K. Williams’s poetry and even reviewed it for The Nation a long time ago, I never really got to know him until his visits as George Elliston Poet in Residence in the winter of 2014. His reading and talks were wonderful (and can be heard at the Elliston Project website:, but what I remember most about his time here are things that go beyond the literary: his engagement with people, his insight, and especially his enthusiasm. Air travel can be exhausting, but he seemed to bring energy with him from the moment he stepped off the plane. Even the traffic jam that socked us in on his last trip back to the airport didn’t faze him: I had one of the most thoughtful—and helpful—conversations ever as I was stuck behind the wheel that afternoon. I was going through a rough patch, and Charlie’s presence made a difference.

You can see some of his vivacity in this picture from a party at the home of my colleagues Jenn Habel and Chris Bachelder. It came out in smaller settings too, like the dinners Charlie and I had at a quiet pan-Asian restaurant in town, some with our current assistant editor, José Angel Araguz. Normally we take Elliston Poets to different restaurants in the evenings after their readings and talks, but Charlie plunged into the Korean, Japanese, and Chinese offerings at this one place and was ready to eat there more or less every night of his residency. Gusto seems the word for his appetite here, both for food and talk. And range. I can’t say we completely covered the menu during his visits, but we came close.

For Charlie, the menu of conversation was inexhaustible, and he approached it with sensitivity, intelligence, and exuberance—more or less the way he approached writing. He’s greatly missed.

Collaborative Feature—Soapbox and CR

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

For our third collaborative feature with Cincinnati’s online magazine Soapbox, we’re featuring Brian Barker’s prose poem “Bats” from issue 9.1. Soapbox tells the new Cincinnati story—a narrative of creative people and businesses, new development, cool places to live, and the best places to work and play. And every other month, Cincinnati Review will contribute some of the best lit—poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—in the country. Here, we’ve reprinted Barker’s “Bats” in full, as well as “bonus material” in the form of comments from the writer and our staff, including the editor who accepted the piece for publication—also on the Soapbox website.


They will crawl out of the ashes of cold barbecue pits. Their wings will be cut from the backs of chimney sweeps. They will hang from the antlers of an elk like a congress of drowsy trapeze artists. At dusk above houses, they will appear and disappear and appear, weaving a jagged cotillion through the trees. Their songs will travel before them like aneurysms on strings, shattering streetlights, car alarms, nerves. When winter comes too early, we will see their faces in our frostbitten fruit. Insomniac, they will be your alphabet at the window. Sleeper, they will be the jewelry of your death, tangled in silk pajamas, in a wet beehive of hair.

Brian Barker: This poem belongs to a sequence of linked prose poems I’ve been working on recently called “Natural Histories.” Each poem in this sequence concerns a different animal, and the poems are linked in that animal images, which occur organically within the poems, dictate the subjects. For example, the poem that precedes “Bats” is “Hippopotamuses,” where I write: “When they belch, fruit bats will glide from the caves of their stomachs and startle the moonlight.” The poem that occurs after “Bats” is “Elk,” following from the line, “They will hang from the antlers of an elk like a congress of drowsy trapeze artists.”

I say that the images occur organically because I’m not working from a list of particular creatures I’d like to write about. The animals appear naturally and feel unforced. This kind of formal constraint, like other formal constraints in poetry, imposes restrictions. That is, at times I end up with animals that I don’t know how to write about, or didn’t anticipate writing about, and I have to find an imaginative way through such impasses.

Bats, on the other hand, felt like a gift. I’ve always had a mixture of fascination about and fear of  bats. They are strange beings with their furry, fox-like faces and exaggerated ears, and those wings—the thin, leathery skin stretched over dainty bones—look a bit like a botched experiment. I’ve spent many summer evenings watching them weave through my neighborhood, a flight that seems to vacillate violently between the graceful and the erratic.

This poem, like all of the poems in the “Natural Histories” series, mixes the factual with the mythic, and exploits the simple future verb tense (“They will”), which lends a mystery to the voice. Who speaks with such authority? Where are we in time? The poems, in my mind, seem to emanate from some otherworldly force out of a black void, as much creation myth as natural history.

In the poem, I have tried to capture the fear and the revulsion that so many people feel about bats. No matter how many insects they may eat, it’s hard to shake the notion that all bats are rabid, cunning bedroom invaders looking for a tender neck to suckle. And yet, they are amazing creatures! The only mammals that can fly, they are equipped with echolocation and spend much of their lives hanging upside down. When I watch them “appear and disappear and appear” above the houses in my neighborhood, it’s hard not to think of them urgently tracing a kind of alphabet in the sky, a message from one mammal to another that must be decoded before the dusk deepens into dark.

Lisa Ampleman: When I think of references to bats in poetry, I hear the final line of Robert Hass’s “Happiness”—“our eyes squinched up like bats”—or Ariel’s song in The Tempest: “On the bat’s back I do fly/ After summer merrily.” Such happy bats in those poems, the graceful divers of summer twilight.

Brian Barker’s bats are not that kind. They dance the cotillion, yes, but Barker aligns them with ashes, chimneys, aneurysms, car alarms, and frostbite. And, he reminds us of our worst fear of them: that they could become entangled in our hair. His are the bats of late October, as the evenings begin to cool and darken, when night-creatures are more threatening.

His form, the prose poem, uses the qualities of both genres: it moves by a series of associations and employs figurative language, while retaining the rhythms and formatting of prose. Though it’s been prevalent in other movements and time periods, the prose poem is closely associated with nineteenth-century French Symbolists, such as Baudelaire and Mallarmé. I like the description of prose poetry that the Academy of American Poets uses, from Peter Johnson, the editor of The Prose Poem: An International Journal: “Just as black humor straddles the fine line between comedy and tragedy, so the prose poem plants one foot in prose, the other in poetry, both heels resting precariously on banana peels.” Barker’s poem feels at once like a lyrical ode and a paragraph in an odd naturalist’s guide.

Brian Brodeur: I love the startling and often disturbing associative leaps in Barker’s prose poem. It opens, not with the phoenix of Eurasian mythology, but with the drowsy resurrection of bats. This local, suburban version of the classical creature “crawl[s]” instead of flies “out of the ashes of barbeque pits.” Moving from these backyard “ashes” to those caked on the “backs of chimney sweeps,” bats become the strange earrings adorning the “antlers of elk,” then transform once again into “a congress of trapeze artists,” a metaphor that suggests the precarious way bats hang by their toes to sleep. Like William Blake’s chimney sweeper, who is “a little black thing among the snow,” Barker’s “little black thing[s]” are conspicuous in spite of their smallness, speed, and nocturnal nature. Indeed, their “songs” are so loud they “shatter . . . streetlights, car alarms, nerves.”

As early practitioners of the prose poem understood, this hybrid form often employs rapid turns and contradictory perceptions, making it a great vehicle for nightmarish ideas and images Barker exploits in “Bats” (e.g., “aneurisms on string”). But I’d wager even Aloysius Bertrand, often cited as being the first to work with the form, would be envious of Barker’s image of these winged mammals as “weaving a jagged cotillion through the trees.”

Don Bogen: When I first came across Brian Barker’s “Bats,” I was struck by the strange use of future tense the poet himself mentions. That, coupled with the generalized “they” and “their” that appear in every sentence—we never see an individual bat but only bats en masse—lend an oracular quality to the piece, as if it were a dark prophecy of their future invasion. And they will be everywhere: from the skies above our houses, to the food in our hands, to the insides of our dreams—or should I say nightmares? The increasingly ominous tone of the poem adds to its sleek movement as it progresses from the mild discomfort of “cold barbecue pits” to “aneurysms,” “frostbitten fruit” (surely an echo of “forbidden fruit”), and at last “the jewelry of your death”—not a generalized “our death” but yours, reader, tonight most likely, in your sleep (cue demonic laughter). Well, it is only a dream, and Barker’s hint of humor throughout keeps us from having to spend the rest of our evening awake behind locked doors.

As Brian and Lisa note, the prose poem has a distinguished lineage, especially in French literature. Its energies lie in what Brian calls “associative leaps” between juxtaposed images, connections that are not rational but imaginative. Writing without the support of lines, the poet has to generate not only an effective progression of details but also a verbal music that can lift prose beyond its reputation as a mere carrier of meaning, useful only to tell a story or get a point across. “Bats” achieves this by subtle repetition and variation in sentence length and structure, starting with simple constructions, then adding more clauses and phrases in the middle of the poem, then shifting to direct address at the end.  And inside the sentences themselves there are some gorgeous patterns of sound: the rhythmic lilt of “appear and disappear and appear,” where you can almost hear their dipping flight, or that “congress of drowsy trapeze artists” where the s’s and z’s are as clustered and off kilter as the bats hanging upside down from the elk antlers. “Bats” looks like an everyday paragraph, but it sings like a poem.

We’re running Brian Barker’s “Bats” right next to his “Slugs” in the issue, so it was interesting to hear how he developed organic links between animals as he was working on the “Natural Histories” series.  As “Slugs” refers to “the severed head of a pig,” no doubt a porcine prose poem is also snorting somewhere in the group. But for now we get a glimpse not of the barnyard but the graveyard, with slugs that “suckle at the tear ducts of the dead” and bats tangled in our pajamas as they haunt our dreams. Happy Halloween!

On the Schiff Prize Winners . . .

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Fiction Editor Michael Griffith on choosing Carey Cameron’s “Thursday”:

“Thursday” takes up—in subtle, touching, psychologically acute ways—a subject that seems to get relatively little attention in literary fiction: the slippages and frailties of late middle age, the tectonic grindings and intricate negotiations necessary to long marriage. It’s a sharp, smart story, tender but resolutely unsentimental.

Carey Cameron: You write about what you know, and I wrote “Thursday” because I have a family member dealing with hearing loss, and a family dealing with that family member’s hearing loss. I searched a couple of times on the internet for help—literature, groups—for the families of those experiencing hearing loss—a kind of Al-Anon, but for hearing-loss-affected families—but found nothing. Maybe I was simply not adept enough at searching on the internet, but it led me to want to write something inspired by my family’s experience in the hopes that it might resonate with others. There are a lot of baby boomers out there struggling with hearing loss and other “ordinary” problems of aging, which, however, require extraordinary adjustments.

Cameron is the author of Daddy Boy (Algonquin, 1989) and Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana (Algonquin, 2002, published under the pseudonym “Isadora Tattlin”).

Poetry Editor Don Bogen on choosing Emily Hipchen’s “Boy into Polished Concrete”:

“Boy into Polished Concrete” struck me at first reading by its command of music and structure. The stanzas each have a clear focus as the poem progresses from the schoolroom, to the test, the boy going to bed, and his feelings in bed; and the whole poem is framed brilliantly by the far-away galaxies we cannot see at the start and the close-in memory of the spiral “galaxy” of spilled milk at the end. That milky way spills out as a fluid play on blank verse in the last line, a subtle and effective contrast to the rattling, consonant-laden phrases that express the boy’s anxiety at the start. The craft here is both noteworthy in itself and seemingly natural to the scenes described.

Great craft alone, of course, does not make a poem, but in the case of “Boy into Polished Concrete” it builds an intimate and persuasive character study. I’m impressed by the way the boy’s distinctive integrity grows even as we get closer and closer to his inner thoughts. This poem brings us inside the boy’s world—and his family’s too—with insight and grace. It’s a rich and deeply moving piece of work.

Emily Hipchen: “I just hit things,” my friend said, “hard. Like in football. And for a split second I could think.” He took a sip of beer; I frowned. “Look,” he said, “It’s a cognitive disorder. This is what we had to do: my son’s teachers thought that children needed to sit still to take tests. My son needs to throw himself on the floor. Over and over.”

This is where the poem came from—my trying to understand what that must be like for my friend and his son—but more generally what the relationship is between knowledge and the floor, and the motion of falling to the floor, and the point in that gesture at which knowledge becomes accessible, and why that place? It’s not like I got answers over the raft of revisions I did (the only original line here is the title), which makes all the periods in this version look really bizarre to me. I just had the questions, and this picture in my head of the boy, his fat pencil, the test, the floor; his father, his mother; the way the noise in his head must be like watching a badly-tuned television. The way my father used to pound the side of ours to fix it, which did fix it, most of the time.

Hipchen is a Fulbright scholar, the editor of Adoption & Culture, one of the editors of a/b: Autobiography Studies, and the author of a memoir, Coming Apart Together: Fragments from an Adoption (2005). Her essays, short stories, and poems have appeared in Fourth Genre, Northwest Review, Arts & Letters, and elsewhere. She is an associate professor at The University of West Georgia.

Don’s “Greetings Reading” Report

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Don Bogen: The second Greetings from Cincinnati Review reading—at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle—was a grand success. Thanks to our fabulous contributors in the Pacific Northwest (especially Carolyne Wright, Martha Silano, and Jeannine Hall-Gailey who did the legwork) a standing-room-only crowd was on hand to hear seven—count ’em, seven—poets on Wednesday, August 1st.  I was asked to introduce the readers and serve as general emcee and poem jockey—just call me Dr. Don.

We heard poems about radioactive cesium and electromagnetism; about bridges and the bridge pose; about love, death, gravy, and a Victorian museum, all from the pages of CR. Along with the three folks above, Kelly Davio, Rebecca Hoogs, Priscilla Long, and Megan Snyder-Camp took part. Former tireless volunteer Suzanne Warren, who’s now a visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Puget Sound, turned up for the occasion. Contributors’ books sold out, free copies and subscription forms were snatched up, and the small bar at the Hugo House was hopping. After the reading, we moved on to a large bar in the neighborhood to continue the festivities.

CR will return to the scene of the crime for our tenth-anniversary celebration at the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle.  Before then, we hope to do more of these readings at cafés, bookstores, literary centers, and bars large and small.  Word is out to St. Louis and points east, including Boston and Washington, DC. We’ve got great fiction and poetry contributors across the US and abroad, and we’re always happy to send copies and maybe throw in an editor or two.

Click here to see the video on YouTube.

Dispatch from California

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

CR’s own prodigal editor, Don Bogen (who also goes by the monikers “The Bogues,” “Bogedy,” and “Dr. Bojangles” ) was in San Francisco last Monday for the CR reading at the Stable Cafe. Here’s Don’s account of the event:

By sheer coincidence, I had a chance to attend the first Greetings from Cincinnati Review reading last Monday, March 26, in San Francisco.  Thanks to the imagination and tireless energies of Nick Johnson, a poet and contributor to our most recent issue (8.2), I found myself among some sixty people huddled around space heaters in the courtyard of the Stable Cafe–things cool off at night in San Francisco.  Nick read along with two other poets in 8.2—Dan Bellm and Rebekah Bloyd—and the evening came to a close with some short prose sketches by Ian Tuttle, who, though not yet a contributor, cajoled his listeners with some satiric looks at the yuppified cafe crowds at various spots in the city, including the Stable itself.  We kept warm with wine, beer, snacks, and great writing, and though the outside lamp failed as the sun set, Dan Bellm’s trusty pocket flashlight saved the day—or the night.  Many books sold, much conviviality, and many toasts raised to the magazine and its contributors.

There are more writers than you can shake a stick at in the Bay Area, and a good number of them have been in The Cincinnati Review.  Rebecca Foust, who was in issue 5.2, made the trip down from Marin, and others sent regrets:  D. A. Powell (7.1) and C. S. Giscombe (5.2) were out of town doing visiting stints at the University of Iowa and Temple respectively, Randall Mann (7.2) was flying to Zurich for his job, and Dean Rader (7.2) was in the blurry time zone of life with a newborn.

Fortunately, there are rumors of a repeat event on the Berkeley side of the Bay sometime later this year, and, further north, talk of taking the show to Seattle, another hotbed of contributors.  Jeff Von Ward, who came up with the truly great Cincinnati poster for the reading—postcard, technicolor stripes and all—has been kind enough to offer it as a template for later events.  So contributors and friends beyond the West Coast who wish to do their own version of a Greetings from Cincinnati Review reading have things all set up.  It’s a great way to get the word out about the fine work we publish from all over.

Also, there are videos of the reading on youtube. Here’s one of event organizer and CR contributor Nick Johnson:

Collaborative Feature—Soapbox and CR!

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

We’re trying something new and different—a collaboration with the amazing online magazine Soapbox.

Soapbox tells the new Cincinnati story—a narrative of creative people and businesses, new development, cool places to live, and the best places to work and play. And each month, Cincinnati Review will contribute some of the best lit—poetry, fiction, and nonfiction—in the country. The full text of a poem or story will run in Soapbox, and we at Cincinnati Review will post  on our blog “bonus material” in the form of comments from the writer and our staff, including the editor who accepted the piece for publication.

Our first collaboration features a poem that appeared in issue 8.1: “For I Will Consider” by Terese Coe. If you don’t have a copy on hand, you can read it in Soapbox by clicking here. Look for our next feature—a fiction selection—in February!

Terese Coe’s poems and translations have recently appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, Poetry, Agenda, New American Writing, Orbis, and Cyphers, among numerous others, and will soon appear in Alaska Quarterly Review and The Connecticut Review. Her first collection of poems, The Everyday Uncommon, won a Word Press publication prize and was published in 2005.

Terese Coe: Normally I don’t care to track how my poems were written, but this case is different. It came to me suddenly after rereading Christopher Smart. The lines flew off my pen. There were more than twice as many as now. At first it was a straight intuitive/objective exploration of the individual, a loading of facts and now and then an attempt at reasoning them out. Smart’s “For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry” is partially a search for cause and effect, as in the Psalms, but for me that search emerged more clearly in the writing process. I put together a list of one cause that lead to another—as if it could make sense, or explicate existence. But nothing can make sense of existence. Nothing can make sense of the outlandish crevasse between life and death.

Some months later I began trying to reorder the lines, cutting whatever seemed out of place and trying different permutations. I did not add; I simply cut. I knew the poem needed gravitas. I wanted irony only at the end.

It is a story told in the form of litany, or dialogue with oneself, which makes it essentially dramatic. I find the lines are more open to variation in performance than I had expected, and that is characteristic of drama. The meaning varies according to vocal inflection, tone, and mood variations, like dialogue. Of course, it is also a dramatic monologue in which the lines have immediacy and flexibility. And the poem is peculiar in that it doesn’t seem to matter that most of the lines are quite unlike contemporary dramatic dialogue. Smart’s style adds something enigmatic to the subject/protagonist, and that produces a counterpoint to his evident interest in nature and the natural.

Lisa Ampleman, Assistant Editor: Although the long lines and anaphora of Coe’s poem may call up Walt Whitman’s ghost for some readers, “For I Will Consider” is more directly indebted to Christopher Smart, an eighteenth-century writer best known for “his reckless drinking and spending habits” and “religious mania” (as the Academy of American Poets puts it)—and for writing a poem celebrating his cat, Jeoffry.

That poem (link:, from Jubilate Agno, captures the cat-ness of the cat as he “sharpens his paws by wood” and “can catch the cork and toss it again.” This cat, however, also is “hated by the hypocrite and miser” and “knows that God is his Saviour”—atypical feline traits.

As we read Coe’s poem, we think about how Shay seems cat-like: fishing is his way of nourishment, he needs little to survive, and he sleeps on the carpet and is pleased.  However, he is also one with his dog and tinkers with the Kawasaki—things Jeoffry would be unlikely to enjoy.

Matt McBride, Associate Editor: I like to think of poems as perpetual motion machines, little Rube Goldberg devices of language that accomplish the impossible—they add up to more than the sum of their parts; they make something out of nothing. The most engaging thing, for me, about Terese Coe’s poem is the way it generates itself, the way it pushes itself along by its own momentum.

Coe does this through the use of repetition. By beginning each line with “For,” Coe sets us up for a poem that will be nothing more than a list with each object weighted equally. However, we quickly see that is not the case. Repetition inherently lends import. This import, though, can quickly become hollow, a weight without substance (see for example every political slogan ever). Coe prevents this by subtly raising the stakes as the poem progresses, matching the poem’s content with the power generated by the repetition, so the “For at the first glance of a girl in his direction he worships dutifully” becomes, a few lines later, “For thirdly he works not upon relationship but extends himself quietly.” The “For fishing is his way of nourishment” becomes “For the sea is in him” in the next line.

And this is what makes this piece so beautiful for me, the way it accrues. Coe’s poem is like snow, or the Dirty Harry films. Any single discrete part of the larger whole is not in itself amazing, but somehow these seemingly unimpressive parts (though many of the individual lines do have a kind of beauty in their sentiment and expression) add up to a value larger than the constituent elements.

Don Bogen, Poetry Editor: Back in Issue 4.1 (Winter 2007), we published Terese Coe’s “Boy Hustler”—a smart, tough sonnet spoken by the title character—and I was delighted to have another rich and energetic piece of work for the latest issue. Except for the fact that they are both young men, the figures the two poems present have little in common.  The forms of the poems are different as well, but in both cases Coe really livens up the conventions. Those lines about the cat Jeoffry from Christopher Smart’s Jubilate Agno are among my all-time favorites, and (full disclosure) we’ve had a cat in our household for many years now, so I was skeptical at first that Shay could live up to his illustrious feline predecessor. But, as Lisa mentioned, the young man has a certain cat-like mixture of grace and separation from the world that is immediately appealing.

Coe’s variations in pace, tone, focus, and line length keep the poem and the figure at its center constantly shifting and developing. I suppose one key challenge in a “perpetual motion machine” of this sort (to use Matt’s term) is how you get it to stop.  Coe’s last line is a quick jolt off in a new direction that caps the poem perfectly. What moves me most in the poem, though, is the depth of characterization embodied in the details—Shay’s take on girls, on the outdoors, on needs in general, and, my favorite, on self-defense: “For when attacked, he will grab the other’s wrists and hold them tightly rather than fight. / For I have seen this twice and was glad of it.” The observation is sharp, the character distinct, and the feelings of both mother and son rendered brilliantly.

On the Winners . . .

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

And now, what you’ve been waiting for: Statements from judges Don Bogen and Michael Griffith about the winners of the 2011 Schiff Prize in Prose and Poetry, as well as words from the winners themselves, Tresha Haefner and Elisabeth Cohen, on how their pieces came to be.

Don Bogen: What impresses me most about “A Walk Through the Parking Lot at Midnight” is the way it moves through a range of perspectives—below ground, on the surface, above the surface; outside the body, inside it—in a patient series of closed stanzas up to the very end of the poem. Each of these stanzas has its own particular angle, a new way of seeing the mundane that enlivens it. As the poem calmly and strangely unfolds, the perspectives interact, and the result is a landscape that is simultaneously defamiliarized and enriched. We may be in a parking lot, but the poet is not just parked there.

Tresha Haefner: When I first moved out on my own, I didn’t have a television, didn’t have much to do in my free time, and didn’t know anyone in town. I spent most of my nights walking around my apartment complex, which was across the street from a parking lot. I was just learning to write poetry, and most of my poems contained imagery of the night, and things I saw or thought about on my walks. A worm coming out in the rain. The nature of life, death, history, the body and brain and bones. The truth is, all the lines in “A Walk through the Parking Lot at Midnight” were originally parts of my other (failed) poems, which I had been hitting my head against for years.  Things came together when my friend (poet, Kelly Cressio-Moeller) directed me to an essay on “Free Line Poems” (written by Sally Ashton), which suggests looking at your old, “orphaned” lines to see if they are working together to say something. Mine were all about light and darkness, all the many places wherein there exists this faceless luminescence, both internally and externally. Rereading the poem and rewriting it I kept thinking about the prophet Zoaster, who was the first to speculate that there are two gods, a god of light and a god of darkness. The darkness, he said, is inside of us, but the light is all around.

Michael Griffith: Elisabeth Cohen’s story is a stylish voice piece about a parent trying to get an awkward, scabby youngest child into a tony private school. The voice is wry and witty and rueful, and Cohen’s social satire is beautifully executed. But what I like most about this story is the risky and surprising way it turns out to be about parental love, and not the greeting-card-homily kind but the real thing: guilty, sometimes ambivalent or miserable, frustrated, ringed round by anxiety and loathing of self and the world, but fierce and unkillable.

Elisabeth Cohen: Growing up, one of my brothers used to have these oceanic nosebleeds, which is where the end of “Mollusks and Optics” came from. They were these torrents of blood—there’s really no other word for it—profuse, seemingly endless, requiring lots of old towels. It was like something from the last of the Romanovs. My parents were outwardly calm during these episodes even as our kitchen began to look more and more like a slaughterhouse. The memory came back to me when I was trying to finish this story, and it seemed like a pretty good way to end a story  about the emotional price you pay as a parent, when you let someone outside of you, over whom you have the most tenuous illusion of control, carry your heart around.