Friday, October 29, 2010

Interview with " Night Train" Co-founder Rusty Barnes

Questions for Rusty Barnes

***Interviewed by Sue Miller

Rusty Barnes grew up in Appalachia and made his home in the Boston area. He's the author of Breaking It Down, a book of flash fiction (Sunnyoutside Press), and Redneck Poems, a chapbook (MiPOesias). Published widely in both print and oon the web, Rusty's shopping his first novel. He is perhaps best known as the co-founder of Night Train, but he is taking a bigger slice of literary pie these days, with both Fried Chicken and Coffee, a blog focusing on the voices of rural America and the issues that threaten it, and Live Nude Poems, which presents—with commentary--the work of poets that must be read. We had a few questions for Rusty, in advance of his appearance at the upcoming Somerville Writer's Festival on November 13.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
At various points, a preacher, an FBI agent, pro baseball player.

What was the first thing you remember writing?
Other than school assignments and a couple of 'poems,' I don't really recall. It's come to me so easily I felt (and sometimes still feel) as if I was born doing it. I listened a lot as a child, mostly to my family's stories. My extended family used to get together at someone's house, usually my grandmother's trailer on Sundays, brew some coffee, then sit and talk for six or seven hours. No joke. This happened throughout my childhood and up until my grandmother died in 1981. Then it more or less stopped, though on a good day you can still get them (my dad's family) going. This is where I learned to listen for the stories. Writing them down came later.

Who told you were good, and when?
I was encouraged all along by my parents. Our landlord, Edmund Tuton, this mysterious and wonderful man who came from exotic Long Island, often gave me money and books for getting good grades. He told me I was good. I found out how dumb I was in grad school—very—yet I got key encouragement from my teachers Christopher Tilghman and DeWitt Henry when I was ready to quit and go home.

How much time do you spend writing, in a week?
I actually think it's more important to read. My reading time counts 4 or 5 to 1 against writing. I read from midnight to 3 am nearly every day, usually a book of fiction, one of poetry, and one non-fic/memoir/biography at the same time. We have a two-year-old who has had sleeping issues, too, so that time is often spent singing silly songs very quietly or telling stories or walking around with her on my shoulder.

What is most satisfying to you as your fingers hit the keys?
I love building characters and putting them through hell in fiction. I love getting an image or feeling or seeing something strange, and nursing it into a poem. I enjoy the workmanlike feeling I get from non-fiction, of making myself clear when my nature is to speak quickly and get as much out as possible before something shuts my mouth.

I think I'm a poet first, even though my first three published books are (or will be) fiction.

What would you be doing if you weren't a writer?
There are many things I'm competent or even semi-good at, but none of them ever really appealed as a career. Once I made the decision to be a writer, that's what I was, though I worked as a house cleaner, janitor, teacher, editor, tutor in the many interims. I write because I'm not really good enough at anything else.

Which is stronger: the urge to create or the need to destroy?
I constantly struggle against my better self. I am so good at destroying and otherwise fouling up my emotional and inner life, turning it all haywire, so good, but I have to feel like a creator to feel right operating in the world.

Rusty Barnes will be reading November 13, 2010 at the Somerville Writer's Festival VIII, hosted by Timothy Gager at the Center for Arts at the Armory. Advance tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets (617-718-2191). There will be a daytime book fair with readings beginning at 7 p.m. Features: Malachy McCourt, Sam Cornish. Writers and Poets: Jennifer Haigh , Steve Almond, Michelle Hoover, Ethan Gilsdorf,Rusty Barnes, Fred Marchant, Diana Der-Hovanessian, David Ferry, Martha Collins, and Douglas Holder. Sponsored by Porter Square Books and Grub Street

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Press Visiting Author Series Nov. 18, 2010

(Beverly, Mass.)

The Endicott College/Ibbetson Street Visiting Author series will continue Nov. 18, 2010 with poets Miriam Levine and Bert Stern. The series directed by Ibbetson Street Press founder Doug Holder, will be held at Endicott's Halle Library at 4P.M. The series is open to the public, and will include an open mike after the features. Free admission. Check for directions to the college.

"I'm interested in people and their stories,"
says Miriam Levine. Her most recent book is The Dark Opens, winner of the 2007 Autumn House Poetry Prize. She is the author of In Paterson, a novel, Devotion: A Memoir, three poetry collections, and A Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. Her work has appeared in Harvard Review, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, and Ploughshares, among many other places.

A recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts writing fellowship and grants from the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, she was a fellow at Yaddo, Hawthornden Castle, Le Château de Lavigny, Villa Montalvo, Fundación Valparaíso, and the Millay Colony for the Arts.

She is Professor Emerita at Framingham State College, where she chaired the English Department and was Coordinator of the Arts and Humanities Program.
Born in Paterson, New Jersey, Miriam Levine now divides her time between Florida and Massachusetts. Currently she is at work on a new novel and a poetry collection.

Bert Stern is Milligan Professor Emeritus at Wabash College, and has also taught at the University of Thessaloniki and at Peking University. At present, with his wife, Tamlin Neville, he edits Off the Grid Press. Bert also teaches in an alternative sentencing program called Changing Lives through Literature.

Bert’s poems have appeared in Poetry, Hunger Mountain, The American Poetry Review, Beloit Poetry Review, Ibbetson Street, and in many other journals and anthologies. Steerage, his recent poetry collection, is on the “Must Read” list selected by the Massachusetts Book Award. He has been nominated tfour times for a Pushcart Prize, and is the recipient of an Artist’s Grant from the Somerville Arts Council.

Interview with Miriam Levine by Doug Holder

Bert Stern's Blog

Interview with Miriam Levine by Doug Holder

Monday, October 25, 2010

Profane Uncertainties by Luis Raul Calvo, translated by Flavia Cosma

Profane Uncertainties
by Luis Raul Calvo, translated by Flavia Cosma
Cervena Barva Press
Somerville MA
Copyright © 2010 by Luis Raul Calvo
Softcover, $15, 45 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Argentina was the home of some great poets: Borges, Barbarito and Benitez. Now, thanks to Gloria Mindock and Cervena Barva Press and translator Flavia Cosma, we have a chance to read a poet every bit as good as any Argentine poet, Luis Raul Calvo, who sees the world not as utopian, not as hellish, but for what it is. His is a reality show of its own.

For example in the section entitled Lowest Depth of the Soul, poem XII tells us:

The man who sleeps today
In the middle of the road,
Once knew how to indulge
In the earthly pleasures

Once he loved submissive women,
Bought himself the finest liquors,
And squandered left and right
What belonged to him,
And what didn’t.
He lived as if wishing to negate the saying
That affirmed That nothing is eternal
In this life,

In times past,
Watching others sleeping on the pavement,
He would have said, loudly and firmly,
“They must have done something
to deserve their fate.”

These are words of the keen, observant eye, the writer who records what he sees and with
pen tells us bares the truth of the scene.

Then there were the days people used to say if you go far enough on the right, you are on the left and vice versa. Calvo’s take of this is:

Diffuse Limits

There is a plateau that separates
Words form gestures,
Hearts from pinciples,
Holiness from sins.

The diffused limits of love
Work out the differences

Calvo’s profoundness lies in his ability to take the complicated and make it simple; to take life and make it accessible. He is one of the poets who create their own language to explain life, who (to steal the concept of left and right in a circle) are so deep they are simple; so simple they are deep. I am left only with the impression that nothing of Calvo’s poetry is either profane or uncertain. Which leaves a bottom line: Calvo’s poetry is that the reader is left satisfied; the reader-poet inspired to write. Who needs more?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Clear-Eye Tea by Mary Bonina

Clear-Eye Tea
Mary Bonina
Cervena Barva Press

The wonderful thing about poetry is that it so often speaks to you through the reading. And Mary Bonina’s book Clear-Eye Tea did, indeed, speak to me. In particular her poem, “Small Town: A Death,” rang its bell loud and clear, triggering memories of a friend lost to a train, the same way the small girl Bonina writes about was lost.

The commuter train this morning
on the tracks that run behind the school
blows its whistle as it passes by, for the girl
who was killed the afternoon before,
crossing over, taking a short cut home,
a hole in the fence patched up from time to time.

I didn’t say that what you heard would always be happy. But, when you hear it in the reading, it’s a soft affirmation, a hug that can comfort in the empathy that you, as a reader, receive or give. In “Small Town: A Death,” Bonina takes a look at how the tragic loss of a life in such a public manner changes the landscape of grieving,

But at the girl’s house, a police car was posted,
out front the vans and wired poles and lights. . .
while others searching
for a story gathered around the corner.

then Bonina ends with a sucker-punch to our already sore gut

How cruel the piled up fallen leaves
coloring the driveway, blanketing the front lawn.

But death and grieving are not Bonina’s only subjects in this work that gives honor to the everyday experiences of life, to the ordinary moments that raise their poetic wings in flight. In “The Reindeer of Green Hill,” Bonina celebrates visiting a father at a factory. Her words the echo of four small children poignant in their love

The whistle blew and my father
appeared with the herd of men
outside the loading dock.

We brought him sweets:
a cookie or a plum
pushed through the fence.

We collected his kisses.
Mary Bonina shows us vivid images. She confronts us with what is real and asks us not to avert our eyes from the weeping or the laughter. The words ask us to meditate on the images, on the tactile emotions that pour themselves through the strophes, and the words ask us to find the gap that leads us to the clear eye tea of her title. A tea that will take us to a place of Zen, if we allow the paradoxes to steep within us, just as the tea ceremonies of Japan are meant to do.

There is water and there is fire within this book. Sound the gong when you pick it up and allow yourself to experience the mantra of the words. You will not want to sound the gong again until you have read cover-to-cover. Then you will have come to know the inspiration of the joy, the sadness, the emptiness and fullness of life as Mary Bonina has described it for us.

***Rene Schwiesow is a writer and poet. She is the co-host of The Art of Words poetry venue in Plymouth, MA