Bodies of Work: A Collaboration Exhibition & Reading

Tomorrow I’m reading from Intimates & Fools at the Apollon. Here’s a link to the press release, but the full details are also below. I hope to see you there!

a bunch of books

The Apollon & Les Femmes Folles Present:

Bodies of Work: A Collaboration Exhibition & Reading
One-night only: April 21, 2014
Apollon Omaha, 1801 Vinton St., Omaha, NE

Featuring a collaborative art series by figurative artist Rachel Mindrup, body-artist Sally Deskins, and poet Fran Higgins and A live reading featuring Higgins and poet Laura Madeline Wiseman, author of Intimates & Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with body-art by Deskins.

Art exhibit opens: 6pm (free)
Reading: 6:30pm (free)

SPECIAL EVENT: Drink n Draw, 8-10pm ($5)

We will also be collecting new bras/undergarments, and/or gently used women’s clothing for Heartland Family Service! Heartland Family Service, founded in Omaha in 1875, is a non-profit, non-sectarian social work agency. We help parents who struggle; couples who want to save their relationship; children who are removed from unsafe homes; teens who made the wrong decisions about alcohol, drugs or crime; survivors of family violence; low-income families–mostly women and children–who fall into homelessness; and many, many more who need a helping hand to get back on track. Annually we serve 35,000 to 40,000 people in twelve counties. heartlandfamilyservice.org

Collaborative Series (above: “Grammar Man”): Poet Fran Higgins, body-artist Sally Deskins and figurative artist Rachel Mindrup come together to create a series of mixed-media work that explores body image, art history, womanhood and motherhood, furthering their “Mother-Artist” project originally debuted Feb. 2013. The trio of artists started with Deskins’ acrylic body-painting; “Inspired by Yves’ Klein’s Anthropometries, I take a feminist approach, as artist, model and director, examining how our outside selves both hides and radiates our mind,” describes Deskins of her approach.  Thereafter, Mindrup was given the twenty large works to draw on at her discretion; “Usually I spend so much time painting figures, paying attention to every resolute detail; with this series, I wanted to draw quickly to echo Sally’s swift body-printing method, and I kept seeing these mythological characters, coming in and out of the body parts like the bodies represented a whole world,” describes Mindrup. Mindrup then passed the work onto  Higgins who, penned ekphrastic poetry on each, based on her own perspective, displaying irony, hilarity, and sometimes raw truth on the female, motherhood, and human experience.

Intimates & Fools: Coupling body art and poetry, ‘Intimates and Fools‘ intimates the complicating pairing of the female form and cultural notions of beauty while playfully seeking to bare and bear such burdens of their weight. Laura Madeline Wiseman’s poetry explores notions of the bra and its place near the hearts of women, while contemplating literary and pop cultural allusions and illusions of such intimate apparel. Sally Deskins’ body art and illustrations make vivid and bright the female form while calling into question the cultural narratives on such various shapes we hold dear, be they natural, consumer, or whimsy. The book is published by Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014 and is available on amazon.com.

Les Femmes Folles is a completely volunteer run organization founded by Sally Deskins in 2011 with the mission to support and promote women in all forms, styles and levels of art with the online journal, books and public events; originally inspired by artist Wanda Ewing and her curated exhibit by the name Les Femmes Folles (Wild Women).  Les Femmes Folles Books is a micro feminist press that publishes 1-2 titles a year by invitation. Other books include Les Femmes Folles: The Women, 2011, 2012 and 2013, also available at this event and at blurb.com. femmesfollesnebraska.tumblr.com

The Apollon is Omaha’s multi-genre arts and entertainment hub where all are welcome to indulge their tastes in a place of welcome and warmth. The Apollon experience is co-created by a vibrant, well-supported arts community and an equally vibrant, well-rewarded audience. apollonomaha.com

Fran Higgins earned her BFA, graduate certificate in Advanced Writing, and a Masters in English from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her work has appeared in Plains Song Review, Celebrate, SlipTongue, NEBRASKAland magazine, and The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets.

Rachel Mindrup is a professional artist and art educator. Her current painting practice is about the study of the figure and portraiture in contemporary art and its relation to medicine. Mindrup’s client list includes: Kiewit Corporation, Boys Town, Creighton University, Boys Town National Research Hospital, and the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Her artwork is held in many private collections including those of Primatologist Jane Goodall and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Rmindrup.com

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). She holds a doctorate from the University of Nebraska and has received an Academy of American Poets Award and the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Margie, and Feminist Studies.

Sally Deskins is an artist and writer, focusing on women and feminist writers and artists, including herself. Her art has been exhibited in galleries in Omaha, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago; and has been published in publications such as Certain Circuits, Weave Magazine, and Painters & Poets. She has curated various solo and group exhibitions, readings and performances centered on women’s perspective and the body. Her writing has been published internationally in journals such as Stirring, Prick of the Spindle, Bookslut and Bitch. She edits the online journal Les Femmes Folles, has published three anthologies of art and writing and her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, was published in Jan. 2014. Femmesfollesnebraska.tumblr.com, Sallydeskins.tumblr.com

SPECIAL EVENT: DRINK N DRAW, 8-10pm, 19+

Drink n Draw Omaha is a socially creative event inviting artists (painting, sculpting or drawing) to come and practice their craft inspired by two professional art models. Cost is just $5 for artists 19+. Bring your own supplies and take advantage of APOLLON’s beverage service.  No photography permitted. (Photo above by Drink n Draw photographer g thompson higgins.)

More information at facebook.com/drinkndrawomaha

the chapbook interview: Margo Taft Stever on publishing and mentoring chapbook poets

In Ordering the Storm Liz Rosenberg writes in her essay a “Journey without a Map” that she likes collections of poetry “to open outward. The more personal and particular poems tend to come at the beginning of my books, and the more public and larger poems toward the end” (17). I’m curious about the personal and confession in poetry and why there is a tendency to talk about poetry and poems as “truth,” fact, and/or autobiography and not as fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or creative exploration. I think of how often I hear interviewers ask interviewees—Sherman Alexie and Li-Young Lee visited here this past spring at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and I asked my students to read/listen to several recent interviews they’d given; likewise, Richard Blanco was interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” after he gave the inaugural poem—to talk about their personal life and especially their childhood as they way to talk about their poetry. Why is that? Does the audience for poetry interviews expect “truth” as a way to understand poets? Is craft a too difficult topic to address in such interviews? As the editor of the oldest chapbook press, how do you approach the truth/persona aspect of presenting a chapbook you’re publishing?

With all due respect to Liz Rosenberg’s essay, I do not believe that following any particular recipe or dictum can lead to a good collection of poetry. At Slapering Hol Press, the editors search for the most compelling work based on a holistic vision which includes meaning, spirit, and art.

In the history of the English language, the words “shaper” and “maker” stand in for the word “poet.” What the poet shapes or makes is a container for a refined linguistic expression of the truth, very different from prose narrative or dramatic literature. All poetry tells a truth—about the spiritual world, dreams, visitations, the souls of the dead, enlightened communion with nature.

Craft—the shaping and making of the creative container—is critical. At poetry conferences, poets may attend endless talks about craft, but craft and artifice are useless if the poet has no truth to communicate. The poet must have something to say. The poet must write out of passion and necessity rather than an attempt to showcase the latest craft trend.

Often, the poet’s childhood provides the key generative force for creativity. As one of our editors, Peggy Ellsberg says, “Literature does not exist in an existential void—it is an organic manifestation from an organic creator.” In my view, the greatest poets work from childhood memories and experiences generally inaccessible to most people. Many poets use these memories as a springboard to assist them in transcending the purely “confessional,” to write about more than themselves alone, linking their vision to the broader world.

Poetry should inhabit a wider field accessible to general humanity as it has through most of human history. Many poets today, relegated to the university and coteries, become like twins talking to themselves in artisanal languages comprehensible only to themselves.

As the founding editor of Slapering Hol Press, the oldest chapbook press in America, I can state that there is no easy formula to determine what makes the best chapbook. In my experience, a body of poetry, well-shaped and well-made, which communicates something fresh and true deserves the attention of the widest possible audience.

In a recent issue of Poets & Writers in his article “The DIY Author Tour: How to Sell a book in America,” Ron Tanner describes his process in managing his CNF book tour, that included hiring an assistant, buying and outfitting a camper van, sending queries, networking, publicly and developing “a comic monologue” because as his subtitle notes “readings aren’t sexy” (80). He asks “Do people go to readings anymore?” and “the question we must ask ourselves is, How many people do I need at my event to make it worth my time?” a question he follows up with “How many books did I sell?” (81). Certainly memoirs are different genres than poetry collections and chapbooks, but I wonder if chapbook poets ask (or should be asking) the same questions as they give readings. Sherman Alexie spoke/read here at UNL in late January at a free event at the Mary Ross Theater. It was snowing. It was cold. At one point the event was listed to take place in the student union. At some other point it was moved. It was a Tuesday night. The tickets were free, but the theater filled up so quickly people were turned away and half the audience was quarantined in a second theater where the talk that was happening a few hundred feet away was projected onto the movie screen. I was in that theater—it was live, sort of. People obviously go to see/watch Sherman Alexie. Did he consider the readings successful? Likely. Did he sell books? Certainly the campus bookstore had a table there with books and merchandise. But for an author whose primary “ware” is chapbooks, how many people have to attend an event for the event to be successful? How many chapbooks must the poet sell? Or are these the wrong sort of questions? Is a chapbook poet’s goal something other than attendance and sales? Isn’t reading aloud enough? Isn’t sharing poems enough? Isn’t the microphone (or bull horn) and stage (or music stand) enough? If as Bryan Bower says in his American Book Review article “Articles of Chap” that “the chapbook is simply a tool for the poet, which ultimately becomes inconsequential if the poet fails,” what counts as failure (and success) for a chapbook poet—audience, sales, a following? As the editor of a very important chapbook press, what do you tell your poets?

With all due deference to Ron Tanner and his ideas on how to promote his memoir, I am concerned that this kind of commercialization of the poetry chapbook would portend its death. If poets are not visionaries, seers, makers, shapers, then they are nothing; they should not be salespeople. Centuries ago, itinerants in Scotland, England, and later in America, carried the first chapbooks filled with stories and news of the day from place to place by horseback. Building on Tanner’s model, harkening back to the chapbook’s past, and ratcheting up opportunities for collaboration, I would suggest that chapbook poets form small groups with musicians and tour the country or the world as modern troubadours. Performances would be pre-arranged, and to create greater potential for connection with audience, I would also recommend teaming up with local poets.

Po biz, the celebrity poet, the poet as promoter—all this mimicry of a larger, meaner society—can add only to the meaninglessness of poetry. Rather than viewing the chapbook as a commodity, I would suggest envisioning it as a gift. In the late 60s, when I took a poetry workshop at MIT with the great poet Denise Levertov, she published a poem about each of the workshop participants in her chapbook, A New Year’s Garland.

On first holding that chapbook, and others that Denise shared with us, I understood the tactile sensation of the paper and type and the potential for shared textual and visual artistic expression. The chapbook of today remains an object of art transcending the quick fix of the convenient e-book. In our high tech world, the chapbook is quirky and “high touch,” often with embellishments such as hand-stitching and letter press printing. This is the anti-mass market where print runs typically number only in the hundreds. The most compelling element of the chapbook is that it is not bound by strict definition. More than anything, the form is defined by its length, resulting in structural requirements that can produce a work more concisely wrought and more crisply to the point than a longer collection; the compressed form encourages innovation.

Most poets in America do not make a profit from book sales. For better or worse, they make a living through teaching, or like William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and uncounted others, they earn their keep from professions and write poetry at the same time. If books sales and profits comprise our highest expectations, then the airport novel would be a better risk. I would suggest that rather than scoring sales, the point of a chapbook reading is to hear the poet’s voice, to meet the poet, and to appreciate the chapbook. Poetry readings, with some notable exceptions, are generally small gatherings. For many years, poet and former NEA head Dana Gioia, Bob Holman, and others have suggested including music to enhance audiences’ appreciation.

Of all the many cities where I have lived over the years, perhaps, the most exciting one for poets was Washington, D.C., during the late 70s and early 80s, when the poetry community was open to and interested in new voices. My own involvement with the Bethesda Writers’ Center, at that time located in a dilapidated amusement park, and my yearning to create a similar community, inspired me in 1983 to found the Sleepy Hollow Poetry Series; in 1988, The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center; and in 1990, Slapering Hol Press, the Center’s own small press imprint.

From its inception in the 1990s, the mission of Slapering Hol Press has been to publish emerging poets and to provide them with as much knowledge as possible about how to develop an audience for their work. We encourage chapbook authors to become engaged in the process of getting their chapbooks out in the world through poetry readings, conferences, and reviews. This creates a balance between the inner and outer world, sharing wonder and delight in the ordinary and extraordinary.

Your chapbook Reading the Night Sky—winner of the 1996 Riverstone Poetry Chapbook Contest—and your chapbook The Hudson Line (Main Street Rag, 2012) both give readers a vision of motherhood, the latter Denise Duhamel calls a poetry that is “brutal and tender” and the former, the late Denise Levertov notes is from a “gifted and serious” poet. I’m wondering if you can talk about mothering, about care. How does caring for those in your life translate into nurturing your own poetry, supporting The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and Slapering Hol Press, and guiding young poets into the wider world of poetry? You write in your poem “Stepmother” that “a stepmother is always evil” (Hudson, 29) and in the poem “The Cello” you write, “How everyone is looking for love” (Reading, 17)—I want to know about that balance—the evilness of certain mothering and the lovingness of other mothering and how the poet goes about loving well what is important to her.

Denise Levertov and Denise Duhamel for different reasons have exerted powerful forces on my life as a poet. When I entered Harvard as an undergraduate, in keeping with the national trend, I was an alienated, idealistic adolescent with rebellious and semi-feral instincts. After cross-registering at MIT and getting accepted into Denise Levertov’s workshop, I encountered a set of paradigms that would change the course of my life. While I had served as co-editor of my high school newspaper, president of my senior class, and mainly expressed myself artistically through photography, I had never thought of myself as a poet.

My own mother, a beautiful, intelligent manic depressive, had managed to accumulate six of her own children and after my father and a stepfather died in a space of six years, and she married a third husband, she added a total of nine additional stepchildren. Her last husband, Robert Taft, was my father’s cousin and a U.S senator. By everyone’s account, my mother was not a “good” mother, and she was an even worse stepmother. Throughout my adolescence, I lived in a laboratory of bad mothering. Nonetheless, since she was my mother, my observations were necessarily subjective. Multiple factors propelled me to write about my experiences as a backdrop for commenting on the broader issues of humanity. My youngest brother would later die of a drug overdose, and all fifteen children and stepchildren moved out of Cincinnati at their earliest possible convenience.

Denise Levertov mothered her own son, Nick Goodman, and also embodied a powerful mentor and role model for me and others in the MIT workshop. If I had not taken that workshop with Denise, I would never have become a poet. She instilled in me the belief that I could write a poem. I was also involved in the anti-war movement, attended many demonstrations, and got arrested during the Harvard Strike. Visiting us in Maine and staying with us when we lived in D.C., Denise remained a close friend and corresponded with me until her death. Her views on the life of a poet, the poet as witness, the poem as prayer, all combined with her boundless energy and sense of wonder, her anger at injustice, her light and airy humor indelibly etched her spirit upon my own life. She is the rare kind of person who can never truly die, so strong are her power and abiding presence. Denise read for The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and she served as a contest judge for one of our Slapering Hol Press chapbooks.

Denise Duhamel is a friend whom I met at the Sarah Lawrence College MFA program in the early 80s. I watched her persistence and hard work take her from a graduate student to a well regarded poet. Her desire to be a poet was so great that I remember when she lived in the Lower East Side, when it was quite dangerous, and she put a neon sign—POET—in her window. Denise was the first employee of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and we would work on grants together in my family’s attic. When the phone rang, we would try to intuit when to say “Hudson Valley Writers’ Center,” and an important funder was calling, or when it was the school nurse calling about one of my children. For many years, Denise helped run the HVWC reading series, and years later, she was the second master poet whom Slapering Hol Press published in the “Conversation” series. In this, a well-known woman poet chooses an emerging woman poet to appear in the same chapbook with poems in conversation and a conversational interview at the end.

These two poets exemplify for me the nurturing feminine spirit in that they have served as mentors for many people, and they have had the courage to shine a beacon on the path of poetry, which is often shrouded, a place difficult to otherwise find for poets living in America’s consumer and celebrity-driven society.

Throughout my life, one of my principal endeavors has been riding horses in the hunter division of competitive horse shows. So many principles apply to the disciplines of riding and writing such as “less is more,” “seeing a distance,” or “getting into the zone.” When jumping a course of fences, the possibilities abound for losing balance through lack of vision, inadequate collaboration with the horse, and/or allowing external stimuli to interfere. When a rider and horse are perfectly balanced, the sense of union, of being one with the horse, offers the same kind of exhilaration as writing a good poem.

Just as a rider can become as one with the horse, so a poet can become one with the poem. But as Denise Levertov pointed out, the poet must be the medium through which the poem comes forth; he or she must also allow the poem to take on a life of its own. Creating a balance in the process of mothering so that the child is supported but has the freedom to become an independent being in this sense is similar to the writing of a poem, or the bringing of a poem into the world. The poet must nurture the poem, but must also allow the poem to stand and breathe on its own.

In my poem, “Stepmother,” I engage the various mythologies that have described the pitfalls of a fraught relationship in which the stepmother must begin as a failure, since she will never be the real mother; but to become a good stepmother, she must eventually evolve out of the failed state, or she will remain in the mythological abyss. “The Cello” was written about my first son when he began to study the cello, and it is an allegory for creativity.

After experiencing what it is like to live the poet’s life in America, to understand how few people read, comprehend, or have any interest in poetry, and how difficult it is to get one’s poetry published by any kind of press, I developed a desire to provide publishing opportunities for emerging poets. My first intention was to found a press, but I never discovered any grants for small, small presses. In 1983, a grant of $3000 from Arts Westchester (then named Westchester Arts Council) allowed for the beginning of the Sleepy Hollow Poetry Series which later morphed into The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. It would take ten years of planning before it was possible to found Slapering Hol Press, the Center’s small press imprint.

The main way that I have attempted to find a balance in my artistic life is to alternate writing poetry, which is solitary, with engagement in creating collaborations through readings, workshops, special events, and the Slapering Hol Press. Balance, which is an illusory goal, provides a mirage of hope. To my surprise, more times than I anticipated, the effort to find such equilibrium brings out the instinctual energy of that person who first fell in love with poetry, to whom Denise Levertov first provided a place for validation, where Denise Duhamel brought insight and humor to persevere in making a place for writers out of a family attic.

 

Slapering Hol Press produces beautifully made and varied chapbooks. In my short stack are Katie Phillip’s lonely and reflective Driving Montana, Alone, (2010), Mary Armstrong’s honest and working conscious Burn Pit (2011), Michele Poulos’ lyrical and mystic A Disturbance in the Air (2012), and Lynn McGee’s fierce and narrative Bonanza (1996), though I’ve also interviewed other SHP poets here—Susana H. Case and Liz Ahl. I’m wondering if you could talk about the materiality of these chapbooks. Size, shape, layout, design, binding, paper, cover art—there is nothing cookie cutter, nothing a reader could point to and say, “Ah, this is a SHP chap,” unless of course that is what makes SHP titles so unique—the individual, material creation of each book. Though I run the risk of asking what you’ve likely been asked before, I’m going to ask it: Why recreate the template with each new chapbook that SHP publishes?

The main challenge for Slapering Hol Press is to publish the best, most artistic chapbooks. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I concentrated in Visual and Environmental Studies, and the visual part of chapbook publishing has always been of interest, riding just behind the meaning and music of the text. Over the years, the literary leanings of the co-editors have been eclectic, and SHP contest winners are sometimes traditional and other times experimental.

Several years into the Slapering Hol Press publication cycle, I invited Robert Creeley to serve as a member of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center Advisory Board. Having met Creeley through mutual friends in Cambridge during the 60s, I reconnected with him when I invited him to give a reading for the Writers’ Center. In our consultation, he eloquently stressed the importance of choosing type and design to showcase the text, the poetry, without creating distraction with what I have termed “ornamentalism.” While Creeley was not opposed to using visual elements or experimenting with different design or designers, he strenuously emphasized the text as the most significant element of the chapbook. After our discussions which spanned 1999-2001, we changed from stapled to hand-stitched chapbooks; we started using more vivid visuals; and we moved to a different designer.

Another consultancy in 2000 which changed the course of Slapering Hol Press was one that Stephanie Strickland and I initiated (through the Council on Literary Magazines and Presses) with Coffee House Press. Before that, SHP had invited guest editors including Denise Levertov, Billy Collins, and Dennis Nurkse to choose the winning chapbook. To create more identity for SHP rather than having the winner reflect a totally different aesthetic each year, the co-editors decided to become the final judges.

The choice of the designer is critical, and during the entire history of SHP, the press has contracted with only four: Dean Bornstein, the late James Laird, Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press, and Ed Rayher of Swamp Press. For the annual Slapering Hol Press chapbook contest, the design element that has represented the greatest continuity is its standard chapbook size of 6” by 9”. Because 2010 represented SHP’s twentieth anniversary and because Katie Philips had shot exceptional photographs of her trip through Montana (alone), we decided to deviate from the usual format to create a photo diary to accompany the poems.

For The Scottish Café, by Susana Case, Dave Wofford chose the visual of a composition book for the cover to represent the very kind of notebook in which the mathematicians who met at the Scottish Café wrote their theorems which they buried during World War II to save their intellectual property from the Nazis. About SHP chapbook design, Lynn McGee, SHP’s 1996 chapbook contest winner stated, “Bonanza looks like a book that a publisher took really seriously. It looks richer, with that contrasting matte and foil cover, than many perfect-bound volumes out of big publishing companies.”

Our designers or co-editors have researched the visual element for the cover of SHP chapbooks, but in one exceptional case, our most recent SHP contest winner, Michele Poulos, author of A Disturbance in the Air, suggested the stunning photograph by the well-known photographer, Kiki Smith, and Poulos obtained permission for its use.

The artist we chose for the cover of the second “Conversation” chapbook, Enjoy Hot or Iced, is the late Kentaro Fujioka, a brilliant young Japanese-American artist whom I had met while working with him on a photographic exhibition. His painting, “Elements,” provided the perfect backdrop for the collection. The designer Ed Rayher featured the painting through die cuts, several windows and layers unfolding, which brought textural quality and a sense of mystery to the narrative course of the poems.

For our special chapbook series, we have published two “Conversation” chapbooks and one chapbook, Hudson River Haiku, to celebrate the Hudson River Quadricentennial. For this project, we disbanded restriction and have published chapbooks with widely divergent sizes. One of the main ways to create a unique chapbook is to find the right visual for the cover, which can often end up as a treasure hunt. For instance, after receiving the manuscript from the first “Conversation” chapbook by Elizabeth Alexander and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, I went to the library and checked out a book of paintings and prints by Romare Bearden and with a tremendous amount of effort, tracked down how to gain permission to reprint “Reclining Nude,” which is also one the titles of the poems.

Through use of the same designer and through keeping the contest’s winning manuscripts to the standard 6” by 9” chapbook size, the editors have attempted to create continuity. Beyond that consistency, to which we do not adhere for the special chapbook series, we view each chapbook as unique with distinct possibilities for visual expression. SHP chapbook contest winner David Tucker said about SHP, “Slapering Hol Press has a national reputation for doing it right. The editing of manuscripts is as professional as that by big publishing houses…, the presentation is elegant and meticulous, and the advice and support for writers are extraordinary…,

 

I love the idea of poets talking about their work, perhaps that’s why I love Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics, Menacing Hedge’s Poet-on-Poet interviews, and interview features in other literary journals. So of course I adore the SHP series “poems in conversation and a conversation,” especially Enjoy Hot or Iced (2011) by Denise Duhamel and Amy Lemmon and the inaugural chapbook by Elizabeth Alexander and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon in 2008, chapbooks where Clief-Stefanon says she’s trying to “write towards mystery” (26) and Lemmon talks about writing “with my students” and the importance of “deadlines” and of “being in a poetry group for several years” (28). Why did SHP decide to inaugurate such a series, a series that makes real for writers the writing life and how poets make time and space to make their poems.

When I first proposed the idea of the “Conversation” series, I already had Elizabeth Alexander in mind for the first “master” poet who would choose an “emerging” poet for the same chapbook with an interview at the end. Alexander was clearly a good choice since President Barak Obama, following our lead, picked Alexander soon after the chapbook publication for his first inaugural poet. Alexander and Van Clief-Stefanon decided on the title, “Poems in Conversation and a Conversation,” which became the title for the series.

Rather than imposing our own standard for what comprises an “emerging” poet, the SHP co-editors decided to allow the master poet to create her own definition. Because we believe that opportunities for women poets still lag behind that of our male counterparts, we decided to create the series only for women poets. This is a women’s own series, one to provide space and time for women to show how valuable their relationships are to each other as poets.

One of the current SHP co-editors, B.K. Fischer, has said about the first “Conversation” chapbook, “When Alexander and Stefanon scrutinize the variegated surfaces of Romare Bearden’s art, the intensity of their gazes give way to speech. In the blues of “Reclining Nudes,” Stefanon’s speaker discovers, ‘I could hear / her breath.’ Alexander finds images that transmute into sounds: ‘Flowered dresses. / A woman’s holler. River of guitar.’ In the hands of these poets, ekphrasis is an act of inquiry, a mode of poetic transformation as well as cultural analysis. For both, lacunae inherent in acts of reading and looking are openings for empathy, uncertainty, discourse.”

For Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation,” Denise Duhamel, instrumental in the early Writers’ Center history, proved an exciting choice for the second “master” poet, and she selected the poetry of the talented Amy Lemmon to publish in the same chapbook. Duhamel said of their “Conversation” chapbook, “At the humble beginnings of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, before the train station restoration, before Slapering Hol Press and the chapbook series, before the workshops, and before email, when the Writers’ Center was located in a small attic room, I was one of the first workers for what has become one of the amazing art centers of America. Now, after so many years, I am delighted to be one of the first in the Slapering Hol Press Conversation Series for a small, small press that has accomplished much more than its size belies.”

Second to none, the most exciting aspect of serving as the SHP founding editor is the possibility of providing a small stepping stone for young and/or emerging poets, and to mark the growth of their careers after the publication of their chapbooks. The “Conversation” series has allowed us to broaden SHP’s impact by sticking within our mission of encouraging emerging poets, but providing another avenue for discovering and showcasing the mentor/mentee relationship for women poets. For this series, the poems themselves, and the interview at the end, give the opportunity for the reader to understand the poets’ writing processes and some of the issues inherent in their writing.

 

What is inspiring you these days?

What inspires me the most is the bravery of animals who live in the face of human predation and cruelty; and humans who support animal and plant lives. In general, I am in deep mourning because of the rapaciously destructive role of humans against nature.

How are you trying to get better as a poet?

After studying with Denise Levertov at MIT and Sidney Goldfarb at Harvard University, I had the opportunity in the early 80s to earn an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and to study with many inspiring poets such as Brooks Haxton, Jane Cooper, Jean Valentine, Kate Knapp Johnson, Thomas Lux, and Michael Burkard. I also became friends with many fine poets such as Anneliese Wagner and Stephanie Strickland who were instrumental in helping to found The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and Slapering Hol Press.

Other ways that I work as a poet involve attempting to observe the world around me and figuring out ways to write about what I see.

Since Sarah Lawrence Days, I have had the opportunity to study with many excellent poets at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, including Vijay Seshadri, Li-Young Lee, and Eamon Grennan. At the current time, I am fortunate to be in a writing workshop with Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Jo Ann Clark, Peggy Ellsberg, Joan Falk, and Jennifer Franklin, all talented poets and critics. Writers benefit greatly when gifted readers hear and critique their work while it is in process.

Number of chapbooks you own: Probably around 500.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: If you include the chapbook manuscripts submitted to Slapering Hol Press over the years, I could have read 10,000, but I don’t know the actual number.

Ways you promote other poets: The prize for Slapering Hol Press is $1,000 and a reading at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. While the SHP author is in town, we also arrange a reading at Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village and at other venues, if possible. During the publication year, we work with the poet to assist in arranging readings in their home and places where they intend to visit. We send out the winning chapbook to an extensive list of literary magazines for review. Our editors and HVWC/SHP staff also attend book fairs and AWP during the year where we promote new and old chapbooks. SHP chapbooks are also sold at HVWC readings throughout the year.

Where do you spend your poetry earnings: I spend my annual poetry earnings on a few subway tickets and at the candy counter on Opera Cremes.

Inspirations and influences: James Wright, Denise Levertov, Hayden Carruth, Robert Creeley, Maxine Kumin, Archibald MacLeish, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke

Residence: Sleepy Hollow, New York

Job: My current job is co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. I am also co-chair of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center benefit. We are celebrating our 25th Silver Anniversary on October 3, 2013. I am working on finding a publisher for the English language version of LOOKING EAST: William Howard Taft and the 1905 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Asia (Zhejiang University Press, 2012), which I co-authored with my son, James Taft Stever, and which includes a forward by Professor Hong Shen. I am also looking for a publisher for my most recent poetry manuscript, THE CRACKED PIANO, and I am writing new poetry.

Education:

Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York. M.F.A. in Poetry, 1988.

Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ed.M. Degree.  Reading and Human Development, 1974.

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. A.B. Degree, 1972. Cum Laude.

Biographical Statement: Margo Taft Stever’s chapbook, The Hudson Line, was a 2012 editor’s choice for Main Street Review. Her full-length book, Frozen Spring (2002), was the winner of the Mid-List Press First Series Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Reading the Night Sky (Introduction by Denise Levertov), won the 1996 Riverstone Poetry Chapbook Competition. She is the founder of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center (www.writerscenter.org) and the founding editor of the Slapering Hol Press. Ms. Stever has read at numerous locations, including the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival, the Blacksmith House, and the Shanghai International Studies University.

Read two of Margo’s poems here.

 

 

WWR reviewed by the Washington Independent Review of Books

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Exciting! The Washington Independent Review of Books has just released their review of Women Write Resistance. The reviewer, Grace Cavalieri, writes:

Let us now praise valiant women.

She also writes:

Each poet spins an experienced reality with felt life. There’s a personal mantra I tell students: don’t write poetry unless you have to. These poets write for readers, but not because of them, with clear messages and great imperatives about ignorance and consequence.

The review also features poet Ann Bracken’s important poem “Marital Privilege.”

Wow! Thank you.

recent interviews, news, and poetry

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I gave an interview yesterday with The Nebraska Girls Lit Hour. It was such fun! I’ve been listening to the interviews Wyatt Underwood and Melissa Alvarado post for some time and have enjoyed listening to them speak with Molly Peacock, Eloise Klein Healy, and many other fabulous poets and writers others. In my interview, I spoke about the letterpress books Farm Hands (2:10-7:50) and Unclose the Door (7:56-46:00), the full-length book Sprung, (58:58-60:52) and the anthology I edited Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (46:04-56:28). (I’m including the times, in case you want to zip to a particular book in the interview.) Thanks Melissa and Wyatt!

 

I was also included in a feature by Shelby Fleig “Spring Stanzas: Professors Pick Poetry Month Favorites” in the Daily Nebraskan with Ted Kooser, Grace Bauer, and Stacey Waite. We discussed our favorite poem. Here’s the picks: “The Listeners” by Walter de la Mare, “Musée des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden. “Poem For People That Are Understandably Too Busy To Read Poetry” by Stephen Dunn, and “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton.

 

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Finally, in poetry related news, a feature by Shelby Fleig “UNL lecturer Laura Wiseman curates collection of women’s ‘resistance’ poetry” that runs in the Daily Nebraskan today includes interviews with WWR poets Deborah McGinn, Lucy Adkins, and Marjorie Saiser. Here’s Deborah :

“It was not the appeal of gathering tragedies, but gathering truth, restoration, healing and moving on when possible,” McGinn said. “Nothing is hidden in shame.”

Marge:

“The message we get from our culture is that poems about violence toward women should not be published,” Saiser said. “Keep still and write about something nice. Violence against women: don’t talk about it.”

Lucy:

“This collection deals courageously with difficult and dangerous subjects in a way I have not encountered before,” Adkins said. “The different voices, coming one after another, after another have a cumulative power that I believe will endure for a long, long time.”

Wow. I am endlessly amazed by the fine poets in this anthology. They truly astonish me and I am grateful for their work.

Recent press and events for UNCLOSE THE DOOR and WWR

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My letterpress book UNCLOSE THE DOOR was selected to be included in the show Heart & Hands:

Unclose the Door in Heart & Hands 2013 Exhibition
April 8 – May 31, 2013
Love Library, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Lincoln, NE

Unclose the Door in Heart & Hands 2013 Exhibition
October 11 – November 14, 2013
Criss Library, University of Nebraska-Omaha
Omaha, Nebraska

Hearts and Hands will include: Artists’ Books | Altered Books | Collaborations | Digitally Printed Books | Fine Press Editions | One-of-a-Kind Books |Sculptural Book Objects.

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Unclose the Door was recently in the news. Bradley’s “In the Spotlight” piece notes:

A new collection of poems about the life of an Illinois-born suffragist carries the handiwork of Bradley students…Wiseman’s poems are based around the life and career of Matilda Fletcher, a 19th-century suffragist and distant ancestor of the author. Fletcher, a writer and lecturer who lived in the Midwest, traveled the country advocating for the women’s rights movement and shared the stage with noted feminists such as Susan B. Anthony.

Unclose the Door, in ether

The Peoria Journal Star notes:

…the book and the written word are still honored as the core purpose of the printing press.

and from the press’s editor Robert Rowe:

“There’s something deeply satisfying about making a finely crafted object,” said Rowe.

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Unclose the Door  and my broadside “The Pomegranate” was featured at the Gold Quoin Press table at the Mission Creek Festival in Iowa City.

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Also, Les Femmes Folles reviewed the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. It’s definitely worth quoting in full:

Poetry, like visual art, illuminates with the potential of societal change. Judy Chicago’s 2006 sculpture, “Snake Arm”—a raised a fist coiled by a golden snake—calls to mind fertility and connection while also questioning aggression and war. Her series, “The Holocaust Project” (1985-93) brought the darkened tragedy of the Holocaust’s violent “medical experiments” and sexual violation of women to attention. Faith Ringgold’s “The Flag is Bleeding #2,” (1973), a piece on violence against women, offers the American flag, a symbol for militarism and racial violence, and a stoic black mother who attempts to protect her children, while she, the children, and the flag bleed. These artistsdeal with violence and political issues head-on, garnering revolutionary enlightenment and societal change. Each of the diverse, enthralling poems in Wiseman’s Women Write Resistance is a work of art, revealing hope and cultural transformation. Exhilarating and groundbreaking, Women Write Resistance combines true heart-wrenching stories of gender abuse with revelatory “sassing” language demanding meaningful conversation on the universal issue and, hopefully, change. ~Sally Deskins, founding editor of Les Femmes Folles, journal of women in art

Wow! Thank you for this wonderful press!

Oh, and if you haven’t heard, there’s WWR events taking place in the next few weeks in NYC, Philly, and in Nebraska. I hope to see you there!

Recent Readings

I gave three readings the first week of April to begin April’s poetry month celebration. I read with several readers in an Art Block Party at the LUX Center of the Arts.

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I also read with Twyla Hansen at Indigo Bridge Books on the theme of women and land. I was able to read a few poems from my forthcoming collection MEN AND THEIR WHIMS.

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I read with Marjorie Saiser at Tuesdays with Writers on the theme of women and creativity. The event included art by Wendy Bantam.

Part of that event included an interview on “Friday Live” at the Mill by William Stibor (starts 26:50, or 28:23) with both Marge and Wendy. It was completely fun to be on the radio and to be in that environment at the Mill in the morning.

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To celebrate Women’s History Month, I was asked to be the visiting writer at Bradley University. I read from my letterpress books UNCLOSE THE DOOR and FARM HANDS.

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The Collum-Davis Library there displayed my letterpress books.

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I also gave a poetry workshop and was the visiting writer at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.

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They filmed the reading I gave in entirety at Teti Library. It’s featured in In Place LIVE. Fabulous.

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To officially release Women Write Resistance, several WWR poets joined me in “Shakespeare’s Sister” for Women’s Week on UNL’s campus, including Becky Faber, Grace Bauer, Sarah A. Chavez, Deborah McGinn, Lucy Adkins, Twyla Hansen, and more. I also read from the critical introduction and preface to Women Write Resistance in No Limits.

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Finally, I read in March’s First Friday event in Femme Qui Bercent with Cat Dixon, Marilyn Coffey, Mary Spittler, Denise Eileen Brady, and more at Noyes Gallery.

And, because I forgot to mention this in February’s news, I also read in Poetry at the Moon with Fran Higgins.

February News

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An excerpt of the letterpress book Unclose the Door isin Extract(s). A poem plus a feature from my forthcoming chapbook Men and their Whims is in Escape into Life. I have poems in the current issues of Martian Lit, The Meadowland Review, and  Thirteen Myna Birds, the latter contains a poem that is forthcoming in my chapbook from Finishing Line Press. My review “Wishes for New Orleans: The Wishing Tomb by Amanda Autcher,” is in the spring 2013 issue of Prairie Schooner. I have poems forthcoming in Sliver of Stone, Strange Horizons, Martian Lit, The Penwood Review, and in the anthology Out of the Depths. Two poems from Sprung and three poems from First Wife are forthcoming as the feature in Poetry Magazine, Summer 2013. I’m also up in the department’s January newsletter.

I read in One Billion Rising: Lincoln on Valentine’s Day from my full-length book Sprung and from the  anthology I have edited Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013).

I read in a reading at Meadowlark to raise money for the local production of the Vagina Monologues.

I also read in What Will Her Kids Think?, Sally Deskins’ show at the end of the month.

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A busy, but fun month!