Thursday, October 31, 2013

The local show 11-22-13

We are very happy to be hosting this event with local authors and moderator Stephanie Curtis of MPR.

Tales of Loss in Life and Literature
Stephanie Curtis Leads Local Author Panel Discussion

How do personal losses shape ourselves and the stories we tell? Stephanie Curtis of Minnesota Public Radio will discuss this topic on November 22 with local authors Charlie Quimby, Peter Geye, and Scott Dominic Carpenter, whose novels deal with different aspects of loss. In Carpenter’s Theory of Remainders, the disappearance of a child triggers a family drama within the rich landscapes of rural France; Quimby’s Monument Road, set in the rugged terrain of western Colorado, portrays a husband grappling with the death of his beloved wife; Geye’s The Lighthouse Road traces the saga of a misbegotten immigrant family struggling in early settlements along the Minnesota North Shore.

Friday, November 22 at 7:00 p.m.
Micawber’s Books
2238 Carter Avenue
St. Paul, MN

Stephanie Curtis produces online content for The Daily Circuit program on MPR News. She has produced events, daily news shows, documentaries, conferences and call-ins for MPR News. She also was among the pioneering producers who launched 89.3 The Current. You can hear her discuss movies every Thursday on The Cube Critics.

Peter Geye was born and raised in Minneapolis, where he continues to live with his wife and three kids. He received his BA from the University of New Orleans, and his PhD from Western Michigan University, where he taught creative writing and was editor of Third Coast. He has also been a bartender, bookseller, banker, copywriter, and cook.

“The echoes of the characters’ heartbreak through the generations are as haunting as the howling of the wolves on the wind.”
—Booklist, starred review of The Lighthouse Road

Scott Dominic Carpenter was raised in the UK and the US. After grim jobs in agriculture, uranium mining, and every conceivable aspect of the restaurant business, he decided to try his
hand at teaching and writing. Now a professor at Carleton College, he divides his time between Minnesota and Paris. When not writing (or in the classroom), you can often find him on some rural road astride his bicycle.

“Fully realized characters, a remarkable fluency of language, wit, and an extensive
comprehension of French culture and history, make this literary novel a stellar achievement.”
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review of Theory of Remainders

Charlie Quimby’s writing life has always crossed divides. A playwright turned critic. A protest songwriter who worked for a defense contractor. A blogger about taxpaying and homelessness. He wrote award-winning words for others in Harvard Business Review, Financial World magazine and the NFL Hall of Fame. Naturally, he splits his time between Minneapolis and his native western Colorado.

“Part modern western, part mystery, this first novel will appeal to fans of Louise Erdrich and
Kent Haruf. Quimby’s prose reads so true, it breaks the heart.”
—Booklist, starred review of Monument Road

Friday, October 18, 2013

What is Wrong With Poetry?(#5) I attempt to tackle it.

I should start by thanking the four good souls who helped me start this thing. Thoughtful people, no surprise, led to thoughtful responses. I also should note that I sent this question to a few other people I termed the 'poetry mafia.' More responses could very well still appear here. If anyone out there in Internet land wants to contribute please let me know.

This project, if you will, began with my own general curiosity. Why do so many people fear poetry? How can I better change that sad fact? I come at this topic from two vantage points--one as an amateur lover of poetry and the written word. Second, as a bookseller.

Some poets I love are: Rebecca Lindenberg, Frank Bidart, Ruth Stone, Tracy K. Smith, Jack Gilbert, C.K. Williams, Maurice Manning, Jeffrey Yang(as writer and editor), Barbara Ras, James Wright, Natasha Tretheway, Yehuda Amichai, Major Jackson, Thomas McGrath, Louise Gluck, Yusef Komunyakaa, Brian Turner, James Dickey, Li-Young Lee and Marie Howe. That isn't a list anyone should adhere to. Much like wine or music or style, I strongly believe that all of our tastes change and evolve. So it should go with poetry.

Poetry and short stories are the two oft maligned categories that I fight for. Many readers will say, "oh, I don't read poetry/short stories." It is very much like children who are unwilling to eat certain vegetables. They do not know what they are missing.

As far as poetry goes, I am of the simple opinion that one should try lots of different things and see what you like. Liking something does not equate to relativism.

I see poetry everywhere. In church and fast food joint signs. I like about 10% of spoken word and graffiti. Good books of poems are like a record. No single covers what it can be. What I love about poetry is that it makes me pay attention to the line, to a detail, to a word. It demands and deserves ones time.

Yet what is wrong with poetry? It can be insular. It can be obtuse. It can mirror the problems any other form of art must combat. And this one simple fact: it doesn't sell well enough to carry it's weight in almost every single bookstore in the world. Maybe that is okay in the eyes of many. It can be a labor of love. Bookstores, however, cannot be museums of words. The books must actually be bought by customers. Or else the entire thing is a failure.

I love you, poetry. I do truly and wholeheartedly. But we have some shit to get through. Mary Oliver and Billy Collins might not be adored by the poetry cognoscenti. They may, in fact, be looked down upon. But I feel that is the wrong angle to take. Reading them could lead to other poems. Reading them could to something else. Or not.Either way, I'm good with it

To close, I give you a prose poem that I adore. I carried a copy of it in my wallet for many years. Now I have a copy on my desk. I know it by heart.

"Part of Eve's Discussion"
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand,
and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still
and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when
a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop,
very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you
your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like
the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say,
it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only
all the time.

--Marie Howe

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is Wrong With Poetry(#4)

Dobby Gibson will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Micawber's. He did the first piece on Micawber's after we bought the store and he made us look good.

He is the author of "Polar", "Skirmish" and "It Becomes You." I would also vote for him as most dapper male author in MN(Marlon James is 1b).

His response to my question was, "Is something wrong with poetry? Serious question. I have no idea how to answer that. I feel like I'm being asked: 'What's wrong with the sky?'."

Here is a film about Dobby and poetry that I just saw for the first time this past weekend.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What is Wrong With Poetry(#3)

√Čireann Lorsung is a woman of many talents. She is a poet. She runs a small publishing house and creates amazing small press books(among other things of wonder). Check out her myriad talents here. Her two books of poems have both been published by Milkweed Editions.

Here is what she sent to me--

What is Wrong with Poetry?
Three problems, to begin with; not with Poetry, but with this Interlocutor:
1. I do not like confict, and I doubly dislike confict as it takes place on the internet. Even staking a claim (or stating a strong opinion) often makes me feel dangerously close to an invisible horde of strangers who at their best will demonstrate shortcomings in my thought, and at their worst will threaten to fnd my house and burn it down with me in it.

2. When I am asked to defend or take a position on a statement, I almost immediately
see how the reverse of the statement is true, even if I already agree with the original idea—and this is generally true for me, not exclusive to assignments like “write an essay about—”; it happens even in ordinary moments, like the habitual consensusmaking utterances English people follow their sentences with (don't they). An easier way to put this is that I'm contrary. The high-falutin' explanation probably has to do with having studied deconstruction for too long.

3. A congenital unwillingness to be pinned down, a desire to remain elusive (even to
myself), and a taste for the contradictory or the in-between means I have not
necessarily developed my skills in arguing something for the sake of arguing it. This
is certainly complicated by the fact that [see 1. and 2.].
So, reader, with those caveats I'll begin. And begin by saying that Poetry, like Granite or Wheat or Water or Nitrogen or Sailboats, is a category which does not, in itself exist; it exists in its exemplars. I suppose it might be possible to
judge each exemplar individually to fnd out what precisely is wrong with it and to make a graph of these wrongs in order to arrive at a general or cumulative idea of what is wrong with poems, but that would (a) take a long time, and (b) require some sort of scale by which to judge. The scale that has been used in the place I come from (which begins with the Romans and ends with the Moderns, pretty much, although that's a chronological expression of it, rather than an evaluative one) doesn't
work for me, in part because it has tended to leave out poems that do things it's unconcerned with, including feel. And those things matter to me. But in any case, that scale, like any other I or anyone could devise, is about measuring the poem in its singular instance, rather than the category Poetry, and so I'll leave it for another time, and likely someone else. Yes: Poetry as category. As a category, Poetry does not exist. It is impossible to touch Poetry, just as it is impossible to touch Sailboats, even though at this very moment I am within arm's reach of many
poems (even collected into books of poetry) and once, many summers ago, I sat in a tiny and imperfect sailboat painted yellow on the inside, with the name The Old Took in scrolling print on its dark blue hull. The poem is not Poetry; the sailboat is not Sailboats. Poetry is perfect in its nonexistence: it's a Platonic form of itself. The problem, then, is when it becomes real, singular,touchable. In short, what's wrong with Poetry is the moment it becomes human.The human touching Poetry, making a poem at her desk or on the subway, walking down the street,sitting at a tacky table in a cheap restaurant somewhere, that's what's wrong with Poetry. The human, introducer of contaminants and biases, of polemic and perspective. The human, active carrier of the virus we call Flaw, which marks all she touches with her mark and makes it no longer
the form of itself—perfect and nonexistent—but an instance of itself, individual, real, and intimately broken.

There is nothing really wrong with Poetry itself; it is a fairly neutral and uninteresting substance, the way perfect things mostly are. It exists as a distraction from what is happening on the ground—from the making of poems and from the interaction between time and the poem, which we can't witness but have to trust. Griping about Poetry (about its exclusivity/its accessibility; its banality/its remove
from everyday life; its uselessness/its appropriation by those who use it for ends of which we don't approve), we neglect the fact that the poem, despite its problems, is going on. Which is the important thing. The fawed and singular poem, which cannot stand for much beyond itself and certainly is not a perfect form—not a banner under which the gilded armies of Art can gather—which happens at the point that the element Poetry meets the crucible of the person: that is the important thing.

Often Poetry is used as a stand-in for 'access to education in the arts' or 'access to publishing and recognition'; it represents the division of people who make one kind of work from those who make another. Poetry as an impenetrable category, a fortress of concealed meanings to which you probably don't have the key; Poetry as What I Do but Not What You Do—these positions, adopted for who knows what reason by perhaps each of us at some point, primarily serve to batten down our hatches, create some illusion of capability or assurance about whatever it is that we're working on.
Their effect is the establishment of a brittle territory fought over by those whose work would be better served by making the work and, in so doing, broadening the territory itself, rather than making space for themselves by barring others from the land they think they own. But again, this is not something wrong with Poetry the category; it is the point of contact between the human and the work of writing and the way we imagine Poetry.

Imagining Poetry I think of a man in ballooning tights, carrying a lute and wearing a funny hat. It is impossible to contain the history and the future and the extant corpus of work and the potential corpus of work and the billions of personal and cultural defnitions and uses that defne this thing—Poetry; it is impossible to touch them with a fnger, to stick a fagpole in the land and descend the mountain with a claim to know What Is. Which is, I acknowledge, diffcult. It is always easier, given
our puny human brains, to encounter things we can encapsulate and know and fgure out. That way,we can trust ourselves to say what's wrong with them, and maybe to fx them. Or at least to become good critics of them, which seems to have worth—if only in getting rid of things that function poorly or have no use-value.
Poetry is used when people mean writing or what has been or is being written, as in

What Is Wrong With Poetry Is That It Makes Nothing Happen, as though visible, quantitative results are the only things to be aimed for in this life, and the only worthwhile occupations are those that fll the time with fnancially rewarding, demonstrably valuable pursuits. Making Nothing happen is a shorthand dismissal of something for ineffectiveness or invisibility—which depends on the assumption that
productivity, effectiveness, effciency, visibility, and non-exorbitance are absolute goods. Poetry making Nothing happen pokes a small hole in the fabric of that assumption; despite its exorbitance,the frivolity of something existing only to make Nothing happen, it does exist. As a writer I am happy with the Nothing that happens in and on the body of the reader, including my body when I read, and if Poetry as a category can make that Nothing happen, then from my perspective this is not something that is Wrong With It but something actually quite Right. If I have, after all this thinking and avoiding, to say that something is wrong with Poetry, I fgure I will have to say that what is wrong with it is what's wrong with anything we cannot touch and yet have expectations of: it's bound to disappoint. It's bound to be used to keep some people out. It's bound to be made a border between what's valuable or not, a border I don't trust because the system that sets it up has values I don't agree with, values that are mostly to do with what a thing is worth in a market that makes no sense to me. But it's my tendency, too, to say In or Out with things I love and don't; insofar as Poetry stands for the little societies we build on earth and their
exclusivities and pettinesses, that's its problem. But then what's wrong with It is what is wrong with Us, and I come again to the intersection of the frail, fallible human and the poem: that point of sparks and possibility and danger and failing, the point we love in poems we love and the point that fails for us in poems we don't.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What is Wrong With Poetry(#2)

Jeff Shotts is an executive editor at Graywolf Press. I could go on and on about the fine list of authors he has worked with and the awards many of those books have won. However, Laurie Hertzel's Star Tribune piece on him does a better job.

I think of Jeff as a steward for poetry. He's a professional, certainly, but he also recognizes and values the impact poetry can have on all of us. Here is what he sent to me:


Since you asked, there is nothing wrong with poetry, with writing poetry, with reading poetry, with letting poetry move you, challenge you, influence you, define you, change you over and over.

We have always questioned poetry, what it does, what it can do, how it can lift up and suppress, how it makes shadows on the wall. It has provided our greatest forms of written or spoken expression and of written or spoken propaganda. It is so important, so vital to our collective imagination that we can ignore it and it hums on everywhere.

You can live a life without knowing who [enter name of poet] is. But it is impossible to live a life that isn’t asking the same questions that [enter name of poet] is.

Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
-Tomas Transtrómer

There is nothing wrong with poetry. It is a shame to have to write that sentence, and that our culture questions its art and artists with such skepticism, such suspicion. Questioning empowers the art. Skepticism and suspicion degrade it.

Listen. Do you hear that? The scrolling of social media. The ticker of news feeds. The permutations of search engines.

Poetry has been written for millennia, and spoken for longer. It survives whoever writes it or speaks it.

Every person is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.

A note to my sons: Hello, boys! You are five and two as I write this, but if you look hard enough, you may find this years from now, somehow. If you do, I want you to know that I was always thinking of you. It must sometimes have seemed otherwise, a father’s face turned to a screen, or to a book, or to a poem. But I saw you too, and loved you, and love you still, in these places.

Poetry has such particular uses.

Sorry, what was the question? What is wrong with poetry?

There is nothing wrong with poetry. But it does what we do. Like love or fear.

Our world is a clamor. Our poetry is a clamor. They try, but no one can pull these sounds apart.

Monday, October 14, 2013

What is wrong with poetry?(Part #1)

Awhile back I asked this question to several people who live in the world of poetry. Writers of it, editors of it, professional advocates for this praised and defamed form. The question can be looked at in a variety of ways: is it earnest or antagonistic or foolish or too difficult to answer? I got some great responses and have decided to split this post into five parts. Batting lead-off is Patricia Kirkpatrick--whose most recent book, "Odessa" from Milkweed Editions, won the MN Book Award for Poetry.


Nothing is wrong with poetry. National Poetry Month occurs in April. Garrison Keillor reads poetry daily on the radio. Poetry appears online. Poetry slams bring people who haven’t come–or been invited–to poetry before. The Poetry Foundation website–among others–offers lists of poems about gardening or getting married. College creative writing programs are burgeoning and the enrollments–and tuition payments-of students who want to study writing and become writers keep traditional English
programs afloat. Teachers complain that more people want to write poetry than
to read it, and there’s some truth to that. But poetry is alive if not always well. I sense that poetry is showing up more often and more meaningfully in the daily lives of Americans than it has for a long time. I’m guessing that the question “What is wrong with poetry?” has something to do with the fact that not a lot of people, other than poets and sometimes not even poets, want to read it. Does ‘wrong’ mean ‘difficult?’ Does ‘difficult’mean ‘inaccessible?’Does ‘inaccessible’ mean ‘wrong?’What is right about poetry is that, as Kurt Vonnegut once noted, poets extend the language and we live with, if not in, language. What is right about poetry is that,confused or grief-stricken, inspired or passionate, dreaming or melancholy, we share it when we fall in love, a child dies, or a bridge is built. And beautiful, charged, mysterious, and crafted poems are being written. Of course poetry can be difficult to read and even obscure. Sometimes a poem baffles me so completely, I change the question to ‘what is wrong with me?’

An aside. There is a current of contemporary poetry thought of as experimental or hybrid which, influenced by philosophy, other media, and science as well as literature, favors the process of writing a poem over its resolution. Such hybrid poems, according to Cole Swenson, “honor the avant-garde mandate to renew the forms and expand the boundaries of poetry—thereby increasing the expressive potential of language itself….” I went to graduate school in San Francisco when the influencial “Language Poets” were prominent, but I was influenced not converted.

Poetry is difficult because we live in difficult times. More difficult than other times? Muriel Rukeyser writes in The Life of Poetry published in 1949, years before people were multitasking with cell phones or American school children were slaughtered in classrooms, “The angry things that have been said about our poetry have also been said about our time. They are both ‘confused,’ ‘chaotic,’ ‘violent,‘obscure.’” Much that is often cited as confusing and chaotic in poetry, the unrhymed lines, the quick jumps and juxtapositions, have been qualities of poetry for hundreds of years.

Poetry is difficult because its concentrated patterns of language and silence create intersections between the visible and invisible worlds. Poetry isn’t journalism or sociology or simply anecdotes. A poem doesn’t have a right answer or mean one thing despite how many teachers have insisted to students that it does. Poetry is difficult because there’s a lot of it out there, some of it not very good, and how do you know where to begin or learn to tell the good from the bad? Poetry is difficult because to write or read it requires time, sometimes patience, often solitude or at the least quiet. People are busy; overworked, underpaid. Some people don’t read anything: novels, the newspaper, the positions of political candidates whose decisions will affect their lives.

South African playwright Athol Fugard once complained that there are so many incredible stories in America and “nobody is telling them.” I don’t take that to mean poets should write more narrative poetry. Poet Jim Moore used to ask his students what books of poetry they would take to the hospital. I ‘ve been to the hospital, where I had a baseball sized brain tumor removed from my skull, and I know what books I took. This is from “If Time is An Engine,” by Eleanor Lerman in The Mystery of Meteors.

“The sky is blue by day, blue in the evening/but I know the way of the hidden stars/and I’m still alive, I still know secrets/There is nothing I have left undone/ So my keys are on the table./ You can sell my/ clothes…”

How difficult should poetry become? Is there a tipping point at which a poetry’s difficulty overtakes its ability to be read or received by someone other than the poet?


I think poets should be concerned with those questions.If you are a poet, who do you want to read your poetry? If you are a reader, when was the last time you read a book of poetry? Gave a poem to a child? Copied a poem in your own handwriting? I love remembering what I once heard Mark Doty say: the longer you can stay underwater, the further you can see in the dark.

If you don’t respond to one poem, choose another. The poets are there: Oliver, Dickinson, Howe. Rasmussen, Clifton, Sheck. Transtromer, Sutphen, Farah. Li Ch’ing-Chao, Sayers, Yau. The poets are there, and I believe the readers are too, especially if the rest of us, writers, teachers, editors, parents, and booksellers, help us find each other.

Patricia Kirkpatrick, August 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Book with planes, trains and automobiles

There was once a time in a land and era far away when one could peek at the bookcase(s) and record and/or cd collections of the person they were dating. This has now changed with the world that is much more digital. Recently I have done some travel via plane, train(MN light-rail and D.C. Metro) and automobile. My research methods are not exhaustive or solid given the sample size but there is one reality that is hard to escape--we have our noses and fingers in our iphones, smartphones, tablets and whatever else they might be called.

Flying to Washington I picked a book out of my bag. The gentleman seated next to me said: "Huh, some people still do that?" I laughed. Then it made me sad. I don't make judgements in terms of what anyone reads. Read mystery. Read literary fiction. Read poems. Read. I really don't care. Yet, over and over on that trip, people were surprised by my presence with a book made from paper.

Reading, to me, is a vehicle to other lands and ways of thought. It enables someone to learn. It can be escapist or a jumping off point for discussion. It makes us belong to a tribe.

Two nights ago Edwidge Danticat quoted Toni Morrison. She said, "Who knew that he was writing for a black girl in Ohio?

I love to people-watch. I watch them read magazines and Gillian Flynn and eveything else that is sold in an airport-bookstore. The book is dying and it is rising like a phoenix.

Whenever someone looks at me with my paper book and seems astonished I try to smile and let them know that the book is a tool against tired thinking. It is a form of rebellion. I read to inform and enjoy the world in places unknown to me.