British Poetry Special, Silk Road Review

Silk Road Review 10Today I received copies of Silk Road Review Issue 10, containing a feature on British Poetry that I edited for the journal. It features a wide range (in terms of age, occupation, background, and geography) of poets whose work I have come to admire in the two years since I relocated to the UK.

From the introduction:

So what is “British” about these poems? First, there is a unique focus on language, its heft and chewiness. To some extent, all good poetry takes up this cause. But in Great Britain, one’s use of language is intimately tied to one’s place of origin. A phenomenal number of dialects, accents, and several distinct languages coexist in close geographic proximity. Place is therefore invoked the moment one opens one’s mouth. From Patience Agbabi’s cold fusion of hip-hop and Chaucer, to Liz Berry’s private defense of her father’s Black Country accent, to Andrew Philip’s Scots-language-infused quatrains — when it comes to place, language is as important as the soil (or concrete) under foot.

Furthermore, in a culture where two strangers can meet and converse for hours before finally (if ever) divulging their own names, deeply confessional poetry is eyed somewhat askance. Yet each poem can still be read as a precise autobiography of the poet’s innermost life. In lieu of the self, these poems are populated with eccentric characters, for the damp climate here seems as conducive to whimsy as it is to mushrooms. From shopkeepers to skeletons, “bear-solemn” organists to the figure of Pippi Longstocking cross-bred with Frankenstein’s monster, antic figures dramatise a panoply of selves.

You can order single copies or subscribe at the Silk Road website.

Silk Road British Poetry Feature

Silk Road ReviewI spent the past several months editing a special feature on British Poetry for the US literary journal Silk Road Review. The project came about as a natural extension of my private efforts to help expose more interested Americans to the remarkable scope and diversity of poetry I have encountered since relocating to London eighteen months ago. And what a scope it is!

I focused on poets writing in English on the isle of Great Britain. Silk Road celebrates literature of place, and in Great Britain, place is invoked the moment one opens one’s mouth — from Patience Agbabi’s cold fusion of hip-hop and Chaucer, to Liz Berry’s private defense of her father’s Black Country accent, to Andrew Philip’s Scots-language-infused quatrains.

The geographic range is wide in this collection — encompassing Scotland, Wales, and various distinct regions of northern and southern England — as the following map attests.

<a href=""><img src="/files/2012/11/silkroad-map.png" alt="Click here for map"></a>

These poets also vary considerably in age, occupation, and background. But above all it is the mix of poems I love — the heft and chewiness of language, the eccentric panoply of characters, the private moments keenly observed. The feature will appear in Silk Road 10, due out late spring/early summer next year. You can subscribe now to ensure that you don’t miss a word.

Silk Road Review 6.1

I received my editor’s copies of Silk Road Review Volume 6.1 today, with its striking new color cover by Orna Ben-Shoshan. Since taking up the post of Senior Poetry Editor last year, I have read scores of poems each week, deliberating with my Associate Editors about what to include, and how. Being on the rejecting side of so many poems at once, I wrote a kind of rejection slip that I wish I could transmit to every aspiring writer who has, inevitably, not made the cut.

The poems that did end up in this issue are a delight to see in print — set in the woods and on the beaches; places as varied as the Peruvian Andes and a chic restaurant in glittering L.A. They each transcend their locality in some way. The prose in this volume was equally a labor of love for my fellow genre editors. And I look forward to reading the interview with the poet Dorianne Laux, whose latest collection, The Book of Men has been rocketing up the top-ten charts for poetry on Amazon.

In the end, it is for love that we write, and love that we compile — not only tenderly, but to provoke, incite, encourage, and unsettle. My hope is that issue 6.1 does all of that and more. To order this issue, or subscribe for a full year so you won’t miss 6.2, send contact details and payment, specifying which issue(s) you would like, to Pacific University.

What I Look For in a Poem

“Aesthetics is for the artist as Ornithology is for the birds.”

-Barnett Newman

A recent short piece I posted on rejection seems to have struck a nerve with friends and readers. Following this hopeful lament of the inevitability of being turned down, I wrote some more practical advice for the Silk Road Blog, touching on what I, as Senior Poetry Editor, look for in a poem that I actually decide to accept. Although I remain uneasy with the aspect of editing that feels like being appointed an arbiter of taste, I none the less share candidly what my own tastes are, and what makes a poem jump out of the slush pile screaming, “Publish me!”


Rejection Slip

“Publication — is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man — “

-Emily Dickinson

In my first month as Senior Poetry Editor of Silk Road Review, I have already read over a hundred poems (selected from hundreds more by assistant editors). In the end, we will reject most of it. As a poet, I am no stranger to rejection myself. But this is my first experience being on the rejecting side of so many poems at once. Responding to this, I wrote the following short piece.

Rejection Slip

I’m sorry for what you lost. A friend. Or your belief in the world as a safe, sane place to live. My stamping a red “rejection” on the blood-specked page you sent to me is hardly the response you deserve. Find someone who sees the poem you will write twenty years from now, on the selfsame topic, that brings us to our knees. Never let that person go. Cling like a barnacle. Cleave also to the belief (which is true) that because you can be hollowed out, as with an ice-cream scooper, by the poems in dogeared volumes on your shelves, that someday, someday, you will have that effect on another. Today it is not this poem. Today it is not me. Though I refer to your piece by its assigned number when delegating to a subeditor the task of contacting you, consider this now my most personal attempt at reaching back. I’m sorry. I live here, too. This place overwhelms my instruments also, pegging the needles of sorrow and beauty on the gauge at the center of my chest. I decided, like you, long ago, to learn the device’s more subtle measures, no matter how often it surged and blew. Keep learning. Note by note. In the future, I will not have to look for you to know you have revised your fate. You will send this message back to me. It will not bring me comfort, even as now I am sure you are not consoled. But maybe this will encourage you to shovel coal into anger’s furnace, and ride upon that heat to a better poem. I do not like this any more than a natural disaster. Yet I must believe that Nature loves us in her way. Go write. Go write some more. Be gorgeous, despite it all.

Senior Poetry Editor, Silk Road Review

Subscribe now for great poetry of place

I am excited to announce that I have accepted the position of Senior Poetry Editor for Silk Road Review, a publication of Pacific University. I will be editing content for two volumes of this excellent literary journal in the 2010-2011 academic year, taking over from Abby Murray. Hers are big shoes to fill; platform shoes with glitter and plastic sunflowers on them, if I know Abby. I only hope I can bring half as much style to the job.

In all seriousness, it is an honor to accept responsibility for continuing this publication’s tradition of both celebrating established poets and introducing new, up-and-coming voices into the ongoing conversation of poetry. The magazine focuses on place as a touchstone for the work it solicits and features. My poem “How Can a Boy Hate Fishing?,” for example, featured in Vol. 4 last year, is set in the desert farming community on the U.S.-Mexico border where I grew up. The current issue takes you to an inherited condo in Florida, a jeepney in the Philippines, a house trailer in rural Michigan, a fire escape in New York, and the Chinese Himalayas. By subscribing now, you will receive both this issue, and the next issue, which will be assembled under my editorship.

I look forward to writing about my experience on the other side of the publication process, as I sift through poems with a talented team of cohorts, panning for those nuggets of earned transcendence. Submissions are currently being accepted through the journal’s online submission manager. Here’s to a year of saying “yes” to great poetry.