Weight of Just One Small Book

Let’s start with this: I received the first physical copy of my first book of poetry, Big Medicine Comes to Erie, just a day or so ago. And I’m still not entirely sure that the entire whiplash of actually having a published book available to the world has fully sunk in. Mainly, this should be attributed to the fact that point from which I started from in terms of the work for this collection stretches a long way back for me. We’re talking years, and as any other poets out there with full published books will know, that comes at no surprise. From the outside it comes as no surprise. But looking back and considering the entire process and the little bits of me that have fallen into this book of poems, this carries something of weight to it all.

By weight, I hardly mean anything in the negative sense, but rather that this all means something or  should mean something. True, it’s an accomplishment to say the least. I managed to find a publisher in Black Moss Press that believes enough in the work I’ve been very actively engaged with since leaving graduate school. This after being generously supported by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts to take the time to build and then refine this collection. All of this comes as something very refreshing after spending so much energy and time into building something I’ve actually not once second guess writing. It’s funny how all that looks writing this, that this was simply something I had to do. Now that it’s done and this physical book is before me, I’m left considering the weight of this. It’s comforting at some level. But also begs more questions.

How much of writing this book transformed me? How much of the work here is still the essence of who I was when I wrote it? How well will it be received? It ways could it be used to define me? Is there too much of me in there? Is there too little of me in there? No answers, just questions. But there are also things much more certain to hold onto.

I already somewhat know what is next. The benefit of more grants and flexible work schedule as being my own boss, means that I still have two major books projects that I’m chipping away at. Which means another poetry collection (Devil in the Woods) and a historical novel (Waters that Divide) are in the works and I’ll have to start the whole process all over again. This is the part of the process I’ve gotten most comfortable with. The work itself is easy, it’s the thing I do when I get up, it’s the thing I do to get to the end of the project. Now it’s a learning curve again, what do now that I have this physical thing called my book.

So standing here at the finish line for this work, well in terms of writing anyways (there is still the marketing and reading to follow), what exactly does it all amount to? I suppose as much as one wants or needs it be. But the one thing to say for certain is that it took many of folks along the way to believe in and support my work and development as a poet and writer. This weight surely is tied to the thankfulness that I feel for all of those individuals along the way. But in the short term, I think I’ll just lean back a little and enjoy this moment of triumph that every writer dreams of, holding their own book just before seeing it go out into the world.

Big Medicine Comes to Erie (Black Moss Press) will be released in October 2016.  Orders will be available from this site using Paypal and also via Black Moss Press and many Canadian booksellers. 

Way out Big Sky Way : Notes from the Desk of D.A. Lockhart

Been hustling a little as of late, both as a poet/writer and as a publisher. I am sure most folks have heard by now that my first poetry collection is due our in the coming months. I’ve also been rather busy with the publishing side of things, most notable wrapping up work on the release of Jerrod Edson’s The Moon is Real and the Ford City Anthology. Hustling does necessarily mean that things get done when you want them to be. But they’ve all seemed to have cleared their final hurdles, so this leaves me with that small bridge of time between projects.

What better time is there to be had then tuning into your alma mater’s campus radio station and just start playing with some old and new work and just see what comes out? Because of this, I’ve lately been finding myself burning away some open journal sketching and revisits to earlier work with the soundtrack of Bozeman, Montana’s own KGLT kicking into the night. It’s been bringing back some memories of my time in the Treasure State, fondly so, and left me wondering about breathing some new life into my early starts at poetry and fiction about that time way out west.

A lot of this did, honestly start back up , after meeting with fellow local poet Denis Robillard and talking shop about Brautigan and our very different times out Bozeman way.Talk of course leads to more reading and then turning on a feed from the station that provided a soundtrack to your life a decade back. Montana is always sort of there for me because my better half hails from that neck of Turtle Island. But somehow talking about writing and Montana have somehow turned that part of my mind to thinking about my work set out there.

Regardless, all of that brought me to collecting together some of my early drafts of my Montana poems and crafting a chapbook manuscript entitled “The Gravel Lot that was Montana” that I have started shopping around. A lot of the work was done during my early time at Indiana University in Bloomington. A lot of it I owe their respectable forms to poets Catherine Bowman and Campbell McGrath’s attention to getting them somewhere. But they needed a lot of updating, still. I mean, I am still digesting a lot of what those two told me years ago. What I managed was some solid revisions of about 25 pages of poems. Some manuscripts are off with some prespective chapbook people and some indiviudal poem drafts have started making some appearances in lit journals (“Rain Falls on the the Copper Kings” is forthcoming in The Cape Rock),  but the act of this work has led me to more questions. Most notably about my fiction set in, around, and about Montana.

This means resurrecting that work I did for thesis with “To Stoke a Bitterroot Fire.” The collection of long short stories does feel like it inhabits a portion of my mind that needs to be finished. I’m only about 3 years removed from limping through the completion of those stories and know that there is still some work to be done before it is in a place I’d like to leave it. There are still stories that need to be added to it. Writing that needs to be updated. But after those poems, and that chapbook, it feels like something that need be finished up. Old work can have way of dragging you back, pulling down on you as try to get through and to new the new stuff. So maybe, a return to this work.

See what talking to poets can do? Or maybe it’s listening to distant college radio stations. But the fondness of a place you left nearly a decade occasionally returns in the most unexpected ways. The view from here at the edge of Canada, where it rests just south of the Medicine Line, is still very pleasant. But the sounds of distant places is just as pleasing. And perhaps enough to draw more work into the light.

 

Money over Craft: Corporate Publishing and the Stagnation of CanLit

8679147466_5cac7fb459_oLet me start this by saying that while I am from Canada and have returned here some two years ago, that the whole CanLit scene is something rather alien to me. True, I’m learning it as any newcomer to a place should have to gain a literacy for the places they come to inhabit. It’s also true that I still know a lot more about the American writing scene, in large because I did my formal training as a writer in that wonderful beast of a country. I will always, without a doubt, hold many American writers as my personal lineage as an artist. Why not, I live less than mile from the US border. But what I’ve come to ferret out about the Canadian writing scene isn’t exactly what I’d been hoping to find thus far.

I believe that Alex Cooke’s essay in CNQ issue 92, “Shackled to a Corpse: The Long, Long Shadow of CanLit” speaks to my current understanding of state of CanLit. (By the way if you’re not reading CNQ and have any interest in CanLit and writing in Canada you should be. Check it out here: CNQ Issue 92) Above anything else, Cooke points out the general sense that I’ve gotten since I started trying to understand my homeland’s literature. Everything from the publishing houses to university lit courses appears to have enshrined the works of Atwood, Munro, and Ondajte as the only CanLit worth reading. They will often call it the golden era of CanLit, but in all reality what they are really saying is “the only era of CanLit.” Truthfully, there was a time when that work was great and vitally important to state of literature in Canada. But if anything the last series of works by these writers have been so hacked together and absolutely without literary merit (Cooke does excellent textual work with Atwood’s Blind Assassin as illustration) that you have to know that few people are bothering to read it before nominating it for awards or praising it. It’s the literary equiviliant of saying Shaq as Boston Celtic was just as great as Shaq as LA Laker. Although, I might argue that at least Shaq was trying as a Celtic even if the product was far from greatness.

In truth though, the late works by these author’s are financial trophies for their publishers. There is little doubt that Atwood’s or Ondajte’s book sale figures are excellent in the least. This is because past that sort of 10-year prime of the career in writing, most of these books are at a stage where the art doesn’t matter only the sales do. As a small publisher of literary works, I would be lying to tell you that sales don’t matter. They do.  But I will say that the entire reason to start a small press is because the work matters most.  As they major publishing houses in Canada along with the behemoth book sellers like Indigo have built their operation standards on making wads and wads of cash, they have left little room for growth of the art itself or producing work of merit.

This is not to say that there are not talented and important writers in this country. Just off the top of my head I think of Robert Earl Stewart and Pier Giorgio Di Cicco as excellent poets deserving of your attention. It’s simply to say that those writers, outside of the various small presses and government artist support networks, receive little attention via big prizes or media praise for their work.  I have done jury work with the Ontario Arts Council as well as read some great submissions from Canadian writers for UFP that beautifully illustrate the excellent work that many Canadians are turning out that has been largely ignored by the sort of upper echelons of Canadian publishers and media.

Perhaps that is the most telling aspect of all this. This sort of upper crust of Canadian publishers and media has become so vastly out of touch with anything but their own bottom lines and bank accounts that they are actually holding back the development of our literary arts. Pushing 40 year old writing and the hack past its prime work line Atwood’s Blind Assassin illustrates the seminal importance of small press like Kegedonce, Brick Books, Biblioasis, and Guernica here in Canada. Maybe its time we as a country stopped supporting the money machine of big publishing houses in this country and give a good look to the work that is being supported by our small presses. There is excellent CanLit work out there. Our various Arts Councils, such as the Ontario Arts Council, continue to do a great thin in providing critical funding to these undervalued artists and organizations. But’s our turn as writers and readers in Canada. Let’s not focus our attention on the corpses of CanLit. Let’s reward these other great artists with our recognition and our dollars. And for academics out there, let’s build courses and syllabi that better reflect what we as a country are producing as writers.

Update from the Desk of D.A. Lockhart: Exactly What Have I Been Up To?

The view from the office now is of trees in full-leaf and the steady hungry scavenging of grackles on the lawn. This means that we survived the great darkness of winter and the muck of spring. But as you know, summer isn’t exactly the great rest period for small press publishers and poets. That’s the thing with working in the craft, generally it’s all just a game of catch up. So let’s catch up.

Urban Farmhouse Press is in full swing and will be bringing three books to print in the next few months. These things always take longer than we want them to. But getting the voices of our great writers out there in the best possible condition is something that no publisher worth their salt strives for. Be sure to check out the fine work of Marvin Shackelford, Scott Weaver, Kenneth Pobo, and Kelley Dulaney this summer. Lots of great links to their work are available on line for free and in the various journals and lit magazines that they have been published in. We are also busy assembling a on-line writing workshop for the fall and winter. I’ve generally found that the freedom afforded writers in an on-line community helps when it comes to the creation of new work. I felt that since I’ve left academia there is a critical need to help foster the writing of those not enrolled in post-secondary institutions with the drive and skills to create fine literature. Let’s face it, university is not the end all and be all of writer’s training in the craft. We want to be part of the solution to those whose voices are being left out or left behind.

As for my own personal work there will soon be some manuscripts and query letters heading out. Many of you that know or follow me might be aware that I was award several grants for poetry creation by the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. While I am finishing work on my first poetry collection, Circle City Satoris, there will also be two other collections soon heading for the final revision stages. Between Shining Waters explores the region of southwestern Ontario through the lyric consciousness of a Lenne Lenape narrator. The work in the collection marks a homecoming for me as I have returned home to the community and culture that I left initially left behind for a decade in America. Devil in the Woods is the other of the two funded projects. It explores contemporary Aboriginal culture through letter and prayers poems addressing key cultural and historical figures in Canada. The hope to create a more central space for First Nations voices in the dominant discourse of contemporary Canadian society. Without doubt, the most complete of the manuscripts is Circle City Satoris. A homage to the Hoosier state that played home base for us for a good chunk of time, the piece explores how connections to a place, city, and landscape works in a place defined as being a thoroughfare or crossroads. Look for this work coming to lit mags and journals in the upcoming months.

Looking Inward from the Fallen World: Some Thoughts of Phaedrus and the Things We Choose to Read

So, in truth, I’ve found myself going back through a great deal of the classics that inhabit the bookshelves of my home office. First, I turned to grand ole Karl Marx. But after just going through the Communist Manifesto, the emotions of being a chronically underemployed and underpaid writer/editor definitely got to me a way that could only be described as anger over the manner in which so many of us today have so little control over our economic well-being. The world has great many greedy people and despite the things we read and say they seem unwilling to adjust their ways. So it comes to down to control of one’s self rather than understanding and continually being upset at the bad-hand given to multiple generations of people by the self-absorbed global elite. Finer men (and women) in history have fled from struggles of those types, if only because they are so far from our control that the only can drive us to the deepest of despair or the greatest anger. It is thus perhaps, better to look upon the things in our lives that we can manage.

So, fortune had me fall upon Plato’s Phaedrus. What is ostensibly a treatise on the notion of love and interpersonal relationships and power structures, I definitely came to this text with more of a fiction writer’s eye than a deeply philosophical exploration of love and interpersonal relationships in mind. That’s to say as I read the rather short text as a type of sample book to continue working on some of my more recent projects. Perhaps, most notably in terms of these projects the early sketchings of my upcoming poetry collection Devil in the Woods as well as the nearly complete first draft of mt Sci-Fi Novel What Lies Beneath. There are narrative as well as profound character explorations at work in Phaedrus, both of which I have thus far found useful for both these works.

To those that have read this classic before you will know that the text is primarily a construction of the conversation between Phaedrus and Socrates in the countryside outside of Athens. Structurally, the conversation revolves around Phaedrus offering up a speech on the presence of love in relationships and Socrates replying in kind with speeches that either add to or refute claims of rationale made by Phaedrus. What involves, simply through the narrative-structure of the work, is a mirroring of the ideal relationship of love/friendship between the two speakers as they work their way philosophically through the moral questions their respective speeches attempt to work through. While it could, and perhaps should be argued, that Phaedrus is not a work of fiction but rather a record of a conversation between these men in the ancient Greek countryside, it is worth noting that because it comes to us as a text through the printed word in English, the act of mentally decoding Phaedrus manages to turn this into a fiction. We are about as likely to encounter either of these men as we are to encounter Jamie Lannister or Gregers Werle in real life. It is the dialog that structure that matter in creating the world as much as our own mind’s ability to decode that it something we recognize. Therefore the structure matters here and can and should be seen as something apt for our own constructions of literature.

Perhaps it is the relationship between Phaedrus and Socrates that we turn to begin bringing out larger society concerns regarding power and relationships. They act with deep respect for each other as can be seen by the large portions of “oh, please tell me” and “I’m not worthy to do so” that hold the speeches into a narrative structure. In looking at the construction of Phaedrus itself, one can begin to get the idea that what we say and say to each other is as important in terms of relationships as those ways in which we act. This is a valuable realization to writers as well as those engaged in enterprises of social concern. For the writers out there, the things that happen on the page must interact with each other as much as they interact with the audience. And for those looking to produce social change (such was the cause with the aforementioned Marx) there is a clear need to produce a social dialog rather than a grand speech. Such may have been our malaise as both poor writers and poor agents of social change. There is a need to make the things we believe into social and humane constructions of our grand notions of social change and equity. Perhaps if our political figures and those that for better or for worse construct our cultural artifacts took into account these narrative and philosophical aspects, the works of men like Marx might not seem so hopeless and society itself might find itself in a more equitable situation.

In short, I would encourage you to give Phaedrus a good read. Do it again if you have already have. There are great notions of ideal relations between individuals and and how and when we should dole out that all important human trait of love.

Epistles from the Land: A Review of Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens

 
Lace & Pyrite: Letters from Two Gardens

Beautiful little chapbook put out by Detroit, MI publisher Organic Weapon Arts. Ross and Nezhukumatathil sparkle in the small number glimmers.

by Ross Gay & Aimee Nezhukumatathil
Organic Weapon Arts, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-9827106-6-1

I recall while attending Indiana University the sort of city-wide obsession with gardening. My wife and I had relocated to south central Indiana from the great wide open of Montana and its forever wild mindset to the sometime near junglesque southern Midwestern prairie. To be in a place that so embraces the garden and working the earth in a manner that is both physically and spiritually sustaining was a very welcoming and endearing aspect to living in a place like Bloomington. So when I heard about this collaborative poetry chapbook from two poets with strong connections to the area and focused on gardening it instantly became a must read.

Before continuing I should say that I happen to be rather partial to epistolary poems. One of my all-time favourite collections being Richard Hugo’s 31 Letters and 13 Dreams. Being a fan of the genre, so to say, helps a great deal in liking a particular collection. But these letter poems operate different. While they are advertised as letter poems, I would argue that these are more aptly described as poems that have been sent as letter. They perhaps function as letters should, but are most successful on the poetic level. The letter facet feeds into the collection in that each poem is a sort of epistolary response to the previous poem. Thus these a poems that speak to each other as much as they speak to the reader. Oddly enough, the reader is actually often called on by these poems to be two distinct people because they are constantly in the act of reading the poem directed at the other writer. Basically, you could say that can find a sort of experiential role as reader/writer in this piece. It is a nice drawing in factor for the work.

The individual poems in this chapbook are memorable and in many ways excellent. They are divided into seasons and act a sort of correspondence between the two gardens of their respective writers. Each piece ends with a sign-off that is rather reminiscent of Richard Hugo’s epistolary works. On the page, though, they don’t strike you as epistolary in nature. These pieces are decided poetic in nature and follow that form above all else. They are epistolary, however, in their lyric and narrative senses and do well to pull you in to the poetic worlds (basically gardens in south central Indiana and upstate New York)  these pieces inhabit.  The images are wonderful in the pieces and do so much to bring back memories of summer. Take this stanza from one of Nezhukumatathil’s pieces

”                   I cannot explain the click-step of beetles.
You are on your own for that. I grew up with patience
for soils and stars. Lace & pyrite. I believe
in an underworld littered with gems.
In another life, I have to. Sometimes I lose track
of all the bees and their singing.”

These worlds are deep, beautiful worlds were gardens give way to treasures and memories and fear and belonging. In short, there are these poems a deep-rooted lyric consciousness that pulls at soil and air to understand the places they inhabit.

My one single largest complaint is that chapbook is rather short. I know, I know, it’s a chapbook. But it’s quite short for a chapbook. While the book itself in quite handsome and professional in appearance, poetry graces a sparse 12 pages of it. There is a lot of white space with this particular chapbook. While this could be a good thing, I feel like it simply takes away from the wonderful poems that do grace the pages. This is because I want more, I want to understand, and feel the earth driven world that graces the lives of these poets and their poems. Sure, I’m greedy in some senses. But I feel like a need a certain minimum of poetry pieces to make this chapbook feel whole.  I suppose, what you could say, is that the work here is so beautiful and the book itself so well laid out, I want and need more.  And yes, this is a ringing endorsement, but I just want more.

Manuscripts Abound and the Waning Darkness of Winter: From the Desk of D.A. Lockhart

Not quite the same as the ones I’m looking at. But who doesn’t get a little jacked up over a manuscript?

It’s been a busy week at ’round the desk.  The press has picked up a second book this week and we’re putting the final touches on the Nicholson manuscript. The press is also officially situated in Detroit with some serious thought to opening a Windsor/Canadian branch in the near future.  In short,  we are going to be looking at the logistics and paperwork of running an international literary press. If it’s doable, expect to hear more about this. In the meantime, know that the press is on target for getting three books out this year. So busy, yeah.

And as for the rest? Well,  starting to turn up the heat on finishing up the early draft of the Circle City Satoris poetry collection.  It’s a tentative title, in the way that any early manuscript needs to have a title to designate from that mass of other poems you have floating out there. This is important because after only a relatively short go in terms of numbers of years, the amounts of useful poetic material starts to pile up.  The librarian in me needs to put these things in order,  so names work in that sense. Guess you could say that one third of all writing amounts to organizing the copious amounts of crap that come out of process. There are also the beginnings of an Ontario collection entitled “Between Shining Waters.” Well, you get the drift. The organization and hopefully final touches are on their way.

Which all means that there must be a lifting of winter darkness somewhere in the air. Daylight savings is in effect which generally improves the light situation. Although, given the current snowfall in the Midwest it seems to have done little to chase away the winter. If we are looking for something positive of this snowfall, we could consider the snow to be God’s way of patching up all those potholes.  Well, back to these manuscripts.

Writing Poems Circular and Love Fiction MMA: From the Desk of D.A. Lockhart

The scene of the fictional MMA bout in one of Windsor’s Higher Caliber places.

Honestly, I hope that title confuses you as much it does me. Well, as much as it does at certain moments. Because there are moments of clarity. I would want you to be a little confused not because I’m cruel in the things I share, but rather, because of the fact something appears to be working in that confusion. Why the confusion? Well, I’m scattered between projects and teaching and nearly reading whole books.  It’s fruitful, if not disorganized. Yet,  the words and sentences and stories are all moving forward.

So, maybe they are fuel each other.  Yeah, this work on the Circle City Satoris series of poems and this somewhat alarming return to fiction set in Windsor are working with each other in some sense. Maybe it’s that they both feel so different that each feels like an escape from the work of the other. Maybe it’s that the time between when I often want to work on them and when I actually get to them affords that distance. They are both working their ways out and both doing so in their time.  But it’s good to say that they are on their way.

The poems are exploration of our time in Indiana. There has always been something ethereal and timelessly American in that state. Maybe it was the way the air was always heavy with the humid stuff that makes up life itself or maybe it was the place where I more or less grew into whatever semblance my life has taken of adulthood.  To me, they feel like bluegrass and hot summer sunlight through a glass of ice tea. I’m still rooting around in there and still figuring out a lot of what these pieces are supposed to be. But it’s pleasant.

And the fiction, well, that’s a different thing altogether. Because they are fundamental stories and not glimmers, well they find roots in the land around them. But they flower in ways that my poems don’t generally have time to. They breathe the air I breathe and find their details in the world around me.  They are spaces inhabited by events and people, basically a deeper kind of place to live. So the fiction sprouts its scenes around Windsor because it is the place that I find myself in both thought and action. Although, I worry that my mind is warped as I’ve managed to bring in an underground MMA fight around the newest piece that talks about breaking cultural and social lines. Again, the piece is too long. Again, I likely won’t be able to cut it down much. Damn it for being long winded and detail driven in fiction.

For those that are interested, I will be having three new poems coming this year: “Mason 20”  in Reed Magazine,  “Bhavacakra at the Gates of Deer Creek” in Straylight Literary Magazine, and “Lightning Hopkins Emerges from the Woods at Mooresville, IN” in the Rag.  Not really new news, but just a quick bit to say that this jumbled mess of work I’ve been plodding through leads somewhere.  Or it has in the past.  History does have a way of repeating itself.

Small Tribute to Norway’s Current Olympic Showing: Poetry from the Pennisula

Fire on the Mountain. Mountains and snow and sunsets and Norwegian Poetry. credit: “Sunset” by Scott Kublin

Those that know me,  know that I have a place in my heart for Norway.  Sure, the family I married into can trace their roots to the said country. I was lucky enough to study Norwegian under a FLAS while at IU and still to this day I believe the Norge Polar Bear hockey sweater to be amoungst the best out there.  So given their current total count lead and all this snow making me think of the mountains of Montana, I give you Halvar Roll’s Fjellet i mars (The mountains in March):

Fjellet i mars                                                    The mountains in March

Den store vinterrosen                                The great rose of winter
ruller over himmelen                                   rolls across the heavens
og setter fyr pa krystallene                      and sets the crystals on fire
med isnende kyss.                                          with icy kisses.

trans. Judith Jesch.