Featured Bookmarks: The Literary

Featured Bookmarks: The Literary

July 2018

By DeWitt Henry, Literary Bookmarks Editor

Monthly link highlights to online resources, magazines, and author sites that seem informative and inspiring for working writers. Most are free. Suggestions are welcomed.

Adam Scheffler

The appeal of Adam Scheffler’s work is reflected by his appearances in scores of literary magazines and the selection of his first collection A Dog’s Life by Denise Duhamel as the 2016 winner of Jacar Press’s Full-length Poetry Book Contest. Duhamel cited the collection as “a romp through Americana by way of ‘real’ America, with sly, politically engaged poems.” Scheffler, originally from Berkeley, California, has an MFA from Iowa, and a PhD from Harvard, where his dissertation was about poems about other people, and focused on Frank O’Hara, James Wright, Thom Gunn, and Adrienne Rich.

The Book Cover of A Dog's Life by Adam SchefflerScheffler has both edge and charm. His persona is that of a young man, wayfaring, single and in a relationship, who wishes to be attached rather than bound. No marriage. No kids, though his partner has dogs, which are sort of practice kids.  Dogs are also domesticated creatures, we recall, whose ancestors are wolves, and the ambivalence between perfect and flawed, “vanilla” and grittier tastes, the civilized and wild, appears often in Scheffler’s work.

Five sample poems are featured on the website, beginning with “Woman and Dogs,” where the girlfriend busy writing stories is contrasted to the poet.  She “unlike me has nothing to prove.” He himself has “had too much of poems/petulant, filled with strange achings.” He fears death and is “sick of poems and of life too maybe,” at least until she turns and “gently” calls his name.

In the second poem, “Partner,” he proclaims: “I want you no sidekick or wife,/ but choosing to be with me/ and me with you day by day, stealthy /capable human partners planting/flags in a private happiness.”

The third poem, “Contemporaries,” plays wittily with the concept of comparative lifespans, where the human seems longer than that of other species, yet where all human life is swallowed too by time: “after we are gone, what will linger?”  Generations of other species is the answer, until “only the swimming/things will remember the 20th century.”

The fourth poem mocks media celebrity in the form of a “tribute” to California radio and TV personality Carson Daly (ignorant of the reference, I needed to consult Wikipedia to learn who Daly was and to appreciate the scorn; I also had to look up Christopher Smart’s “A Song for David” to recognize Smart’s list form of holy praise).

The final is my favorite: “1WTC,” where the witnessing and thoughtful poet feels ambivalent about the new tower replacing those destroyed on 9/11.  “I hate the simplicity of its most American message,” he states of the building’s symbolic defiance: “I think how little we’ve learned.”  It can seem innocent and beautiful from the distance, yet in its “monstrousness” up close “teaches you/for the first time, that your beloved is dead.”

Complexly playful, studied, generous, and perhaps more vulnerable than scarred, the poet seems at home, yet importantly estranged; a stray at heart.

Nausheen Eusuf

The book cover of Not Elegy, But Eros by Nausheen EusufMy introduction to Nausheen Eusuf’s work was a sparsely attended poetry reading in my town library, where she was one of five local poets.  Eusuf’s distinctive voice, her sense of form, her wit, intellect, and heart, along with her range of subjects, prompted me to explore her website, which offered background information, credits, information about her first book, and a generous sampling of poems.

The home page displays her picture, brief bio, and credits. She is from Bangladesh, has multiple degrees, poems in such prestigious magazines as The American Scholar, World Literature Today, and Salmagundi, and a first full-length collection, Not Elegy, But Eros (2017). She was born and raised in Dhaka, Bangladesh, took her BA from Wellesley College (where she studied with Frank Bidart), followed by two MAs (Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and English from the U. of Georgia), and now is finishing her PhD at Boston University.

Another tab offers fifteen sample poems (all previously published), ranging from political to personal. For me the standout is about her father: “Shining Shoes.” In simple, plain language we move here from the poet’s memory of her father’s precise ritual of shining his shoes to her adolescent rebellion: “I withdrew from him who/continued to shine his shoes, and go to work,/and put one foot in front of the other.” But when she leaves him at age eighteen, it is her sandals he polishes. And revealing that now he’s been ten years gone, the poet reaches her wrenching, beautiful conclusion: “I recall how/quiet was his love, how mute his farewell.” The poem is openly inspired by Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” (where Hayden closes about his father, “What did I know, what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices?”). Others might praise her protest poems (if that is the term). One registers outrage at a gang rape victim in Delhi, another the victims of the Dhaka cafe attack in 2016, and another the murder of an LGBT activist in Bangladesh (2012): “It was their eyes,/ Their hard, unloving eyes, that undid me.”

Her struggle is not only between countries and cultures, family past and adult present, but as one reviewer points out in the section of reviews, between literary homage and self-invention. Asked by an interviewer about poets that “influenced” her, she prefers the active sense of “imitated and learned from,” and cites Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Hayden, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, Philip Larkin, and Bidart.

Poetry Daily

Founded in 1997 and co-edited by Don Selby and Diane Boller from Charlottesville, Virginia, Poetry Daily serves as an online anthology of poetry and is published by The Daily Poetry Association, a non-profit with support from the Lannan Foundation. The site features a new poem each day “chosen from books or journals currently or imminently available in print or online” (the editors do not publish previously unpublished work). An interactive archive allows readers to revisit daily poems by date, title, or poet for the most recent year. The editors’ selections are based on “literary quality and to provide [the reader] with a window on a very broad range of poetry.” Each daily poem is accompanied with “information about the poet and the poem’s source.” They also feature daily prose selections, similarly archived, which give insights into the value of poetry and range from reviews and interviews, to memoir, to critical essays. They describe their audience as “large, diverse, dedicated to great literature, and fiercely loyal,” albeit without offering statistics.

There is no nomination procedure as there is with, say, the annual print Pushcart series; or various “bests” that rely on publisher submissions. They seek to promote the sites and journals that present poetry “and in the meantime…give you [their reader] a new poem to carry with you through your day and share with others.” The proportion of new or “emerging” writers seems equal to established ones and no particular styles are favored.

The logo for the Poetry Daily websiteSince 2016, they have run an “anniversary” invitation series, where guest poets each pick a favorite poem and comment on it.  This year the editors themselves picked a witty translation of Catullus’s “BYOB.”

One recent prose feature was a non-scholarly memoir by Robert Crossley about first being taught to read Paradise Lost and then teaching and bringing Milton alive for generations of his own students: “Over the years, almost to a person, the students in my epic poetry course mastered the distinctive Miltonic rhythm of lines suspended over vast spaces, the rhetorical energy of the speeches, the thundering polysyllables colliding with brisk bursts of vernacular, the enjambments and the inversions and the heaping of adjectives that make Paradise Lost a tour de force for the human voice.” Another is Tony Hoagland’s review of Beyond Claustrophobia: The Poems of Henri Cole.

Overall the site is edited with sophistication, verve, and taste. What The Wall Street Journal is to investors—a guide to the state of the economy—PD is to lovers of poetry.

From the Fishouse: an audio archive of emerging poets

Matt O’Donnell and Camille Dungy began their audio archive From the Fishouse in 2004, which is based in Maine and offers nearly three hundred “emerging” poets reading their own poems, is free, and is organized and searchable by alphabet. The mission is to “promote the oral tradition of poetry,” “to use online technology…to provide the public with greater access to the voices of emerging poets, and to provide an educational resource to students and teachers of contemporary poetry.” In addition to reading a selection of their own poems, the poets also answer questions about poetry and the writing process.

For instance, take Priscilla Becker, from Manhattan. We have her biography and five sample poems, both in text and voice. Her precise reading of “Monarch” emphasizes pauses between phrases that my eye had missed, and the effect is haunting. Her first book, Internal West (Zoo Press, 2003), won the Paris Review Prize, and the second, Stories That Listen, was published by Four Way Books in 2010. Or try Marcus Wicker, from Memphis, whose first collection, Maybe the Saddest Thing (Harper, 2012), won the National Poetry Series and was a finalist for an NAACP Image Award, and whose second, Silencer (Houghton Mifflin, 2017), won the Society of Midland Authors Award and the Arnold Adolf Poetry Award for New Voices. His reading of “Plea to My Jealous Heart” brings out a music reminiscent of Hart Crane’s, voicing stresses, pauses, and changes of tone that again my silent reading missed. In his Q&A, he gives advice to young writers, 1) to read a lot and “longitudinally,” 2) try new things on the page, 3) revise.

Despite the emphasis on “emerging” (by which the archivists mean poets with fewer than two published books of poetry at the time of recording), some of the poets have grown into “established” careers and others have been included as “more established” as opportunity permits.

The logo/header of the From the Fishouse website

Another tab offers eighty-four podcasts of reading series, drawing on nearby venues in Maine (Cate Marvin at U. of Maine, Farmington; Thorpe Moeckel at Bowdoin; Gerald Stern at Colby; Jeffrey Thomson at Bates) and sometimes nationally (Dan Albergotti at UNC-Greensboro; Camille T. Dungy at City Lights). There is also a tab for translations, including poems from the Albanian, Chinese, Danish, Filipino, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

I recommend this is a splendid, substantial resource for writers and readers. However, given their small staff and resources, they discourage submissions.

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