Ocean Vuong on War, Sexuality, and Asian American Identity

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“I would sneak out of recess, stay in the library to listen to tapes of famous speeches, and one of them was Martin Luther King,” recounts Ocean Vuong about his childhood in this interview with Michel Martin for Amanpour and Company. “You could hear the static when he was giving the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, and I thought...who is this man talking about dreams in a snowstorm?” Vuong was awarded the 2020 Brooklyn Public Library Fiction & Poetry Prize for his novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press, 2019).

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VS Podcast With Nandi Comer

This week I took time to catch up on the VS podcast, a biweekly series hosted by poets Danez Smith and Franny Choi, presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness. Smith and Choi have interviewed a number of my favorite writers and their November 10 episode featured Detroit writer Nandi Comer.

Comer’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, the Journal of Pan African Studies, Sycamore Review and Third Coast. She is the author of American Family: A Syndrome (Finishing Line Press, 2018) and, most recently, Tapping Out (Northwestern University Press, 2020).

Comer opens the podcast by reading her poem “¡Sangre! ¡Sangre! ¡Sangre!” that puts the reader in the crowd of a wrestling match—the sport of lucha libre being a main subject in Tapping Out. Readers get a snippet, not only of the blood and bruises, but the grace and dance of a brutal sport craved by the author and the crowds that watch these matches. “The first match. I couldn’t have expected the kind of joy just out of that experience,” says Comer, speaking about the first time she attended a live lucha libre match. “A lot of it has to do with that experience of being at that call and response, watching the wrestlers come down the ramp.”

In my favorite portion of this VS episode, when diving into the language of Comer’s collection, Smith asks a fantastic question harping on its bilingual nature: “Is there anything that you learned from Spanish language or Spanish poetry that you sort of found yourself trying to import into the English of this book?” Comer speaks frankly about how she failed a Spanish class, and how the traditional sense of learning a language doesn’t work for everyone. She further explains how she used “imports” from the Spanish language in her book: “I think I was trying to enact moments of utterances that are seamless to me,” says Comer. “Oftentimes I’m not trying to invent another language, but…it’s like when you have two decks of cards and you’re trying to get the right shuffle.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this podcast interview and reading with Comer and highly encourage everyone to listen to this episode and others!

Justin Rogers is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in Detroit. Contact him at Detroit@pw.org or on Twitter, @Detroitpworg.

The Power of Poetry

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Looking for a prescription of poetry? In this Intelligence Squared video, William Sieghart, author of The Poetry Pharmacy: Tried-and-True Prescriptions for the Heart, Mind and Soul (Penguin Books, 2017), and Jeanette Winterson, author of Frankissstein: A Love Story (Grove Press, 2019), introduce poems that have changed their lives as a cast of actors—including Tom Burke, Helena Bonham Carter, Jason Isaacs, and Sue Perkins—recite them.

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Fairground

11.24.20

Hannah Sullivan’s T. S. Eliot Prize-winning collection, Three Poems (Faber & Faber, 2018), begins with “You, Very Young in New York,” where she recounts experiences living in New York with details akin to the intimacy found in some of Frank O’Hara’s poems: “Rosy used to say that New York was a fairground. ‘You will know when it’s time, when the fair is over.’” In a poem that sprawls across twenty-three pages, Sullivan covers a wide range of registers and tones, ranging from the high lyric, philosophical musings on youth, to the comical and familiar recountings on what cocktail or dessert is in fashion. Write a poem divided into three sections that captures the quick-paced and unceremonious experiences of youth. Try to include specific scenes to avoid using grand gestures or falling into nostalgia.

Kallisto Gaia Press Prizes in Poetry and Fiction Open for Submissions

The deadline is approaching for two prizes administered by Kallisto Gaia Press. Given for a poetry chapbook and a collection of short fiction, the Saguaro Poetry Prize and the Acacia Fiction Prize each offer an award of $1,200 and publication. Winners will also receive 20 copies of their chapbook or book, as well as up to 20 galleys to be sent to reviewers and award sponsors of their choosing.

Using only the online submission system, submit a manuscript for either contest with a $25 entry fee by December 31. Poetry manuscripts must be 28 to 48 pages. Fiction manuscripts may be any combination of short stories, flash fiction, or novellas, and must be 40,000 to 75,000 words. ire’ne lara silva will judge in poetry and Richard Z. Santos will judge in fiction. All submitting writers will receive a copy of the winning book or chapbook of their respective contest. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Kallisto Gaia Press is a literary arts nonprofit seeking “to promote finely crafted writing with an expressive and meaningful voice.” In addition to publishing books, the press is also home to two literary journals, the Ocotillo Review and the Texas Poetry Calendar.

W. S. Merwin on Writing Poems and Planting Trees

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“It would be silly to waste time daydreaming about, if only I were twenty years old again. It’s more interesting to figure out, how do I see the world now.” In this 2015 PBS NewsHour video, the late W. S. Merwin reflects on growing old and writing poems on the three acres of land he purchased in the late 1970s, now known as the Merwin Conservancy, an arts and ecology organization located on the island of Maui.

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Poets House Suspends Operations

by
Staff
11.17.20

Poets House, a beloved New York City public poetry library, announced yesterday that it will suspend operations, effective immediately, due to financial issues brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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