13
Oct 17

Writing Girl after Girl after Girl: Women Poets, Permission and Risk

The poet Lucille Clifton once said that with her poetry, “I hope to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” When I wrote the poems in my new book Girl after Girl after Girl, I thought often of Clifton’s words. In fact, I wrote them on an index card and taped it on the wall above my desk.

I love Clifton’s quote because it speaks to both poetry’s intimacy and the work it can do in the world. Here, Lucille Clifton explains most accurately why I both write and read poetry.

In my new book Girl after Girl after Girl, I was writing about being a daughter in the 70s and 80s, about my own daughters, about raising young girls in the dangerous world in which we live. I was writing about female bodies, and the damage the world inflicts upon them. I was afraid of much of what I wrote in my first drafts of poems: stories of addiction, stories of violence, stories of fear and danger.  I kept Clifton’s words close as I worked.

And then one day as I struggled through the poems in my new book, I recalled Emily Dickinson’s famous dictum—“Tell all the truth but tell it slant.”  I wrote those words beside Clifton’s above my desk.  To “tell it slant,” as Dickinson suggested, I turned to objects to tell the stories of mothers and daughters and girlhood—I read books of recipes, I visited doll and miniature museums, I studied the history of the breast pump, the cocktail, the mourning dress.

In different ways, Clifton and Dickinson gave me permission to write my poems. And as I read and reread their words and wrote my own poems, I also I remembered my second daughter, and how when she was younger and I left the house to give reading, she would stand at the front door, face pressed to the glass panes, as I closed the door between us, and shout, “Don’t go to poetry!” It was heartbreaking to leave her, but it also struck me that her exhortation also gave me a way to think about poetry.

My daughter was right. Poetry is a place I go. Sometimes it’s a deep, cold river where I sink down in darkness alone. Sometimes it’s a site of solace, more interior, a quiet and safe room, and a reminder that others have felt as I have felt. Sometimes it’s a geographical journey—I travel with Muriel Rukeyser to Gauley Bridge, West Virginia or with CD Wright to Angola Prison. I read poems both to come closer to myself and to enter a whole new world.

Most of all, I read poems that give me permission to take a risk, poems that make me wonder, How did she do that? She is not supposed to be able to do that! I want to learn to do that!

So sometimes, in search of poets who give me permission to take risks, I go out with a poetry book as I would with a new friend. I take a collection of poems out for coffee and spend a few hours with the book. The book and I sit together and I write in my notebook and we talk.

I have taken many books out for coffee, and I look to many women poets as guides to poetry. Here, below are six books of permission and risk that I have taken out for conversation many times, six books that I kept—and keep—on my desk as I wrote my poems in Girl after Girl after Girl, six books that I return to again and again.


Anya Krugovoy Silver, From Nothing (LSU Press, 2016). From Nothing is a book that illustrates to me how poetry takes you both from yourself and back into yourself all at once. These poems document the experience of life-threatening illness and the deep love of a mother for a son; these poems elegize dead and dying friends. And they show us the magical worlds of fairy tales and the rituals of Lent and prayer that sustain us. I love the fearlessness of Silver’s book.

CD Wright, One Big Self (Copper Canyon Press, 2013). CD Wright was my first poetry teacher in college, at Brown University. Two years ago, with time off from teaching, I spent days walking around my town listening to her read from One Big Self (on the Penn Sound Archive) and soaking up the poems in this book. She shows us new worlds—the landscape of southern Louisiana and the lives of prison inmates and their families. CD Wright died suddenly last year, and now I return again and again to the book to remember her.

Lucille Clifton, The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010 (Boa Editions, 2015). I may be cheating by including a poet’s Collected Poems here, but when it comes to Lucille Clifton I can’t help myself. Clifton’s poems offer, in my mind, the ultimate permission to writing about the things in the world that most compelled me while I wrote the poems in Girl after Girl after Girl and that most compel me now—the female body, mothers and daughters, race and identity, religion and place.

Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry (Paris Press, 1996). Muriel Rukeyser published so much, in so many genres, and her life spanned the twentieth century, but I love this book most. The Life of Poetry is a book that teaches us how to live in and with poetry. Muriel Rukeyser is my favorite poet and most of all my poetry-mother. I teach her poems, I read them nearly every day, and I keep them close to me. As she says in this book, “For the last time here, I wish to say that we will not be saved by poetry. But poetry is the type of the creation in which we may live and which will save us.”

Solmaz Sharif, Look (Graywolf Press, 2016). Often, I can’t separate out what I read from what I teach, and I have taught this amazing book twice in the past year. Look is a collection that makes me think differently about history, language and what poetry can do. Sharif uses a Defense Department Dictionary as a text that splits open and refashions again and again to show the horrors of war, the devastation of the Middle East, and the violence we do to one another’s bodies.

Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons: Objects, Food, Rooms (City Lights Publishers, 2014). I chose one of the epigraphs to Girl after Girl after Girl from this book, originally published in 1914, because Stein revolutionized the way I think about language. In Tender Buttons, Stein gives us portraits of ordinary things. Coffee. Milk. Beads. Dresses. Every time I read it I wish I could go to a yard sale with Gertrude Stein and talk about objects.  Stein shows us the magic of the things around us that we take for granted.


Nicole Cooley. Credit: Lisa KollbergNicole Cooley is the author of Breach, Milk Dress, The Afflicted Girls, and Resurrection. A native of New Orleans, Cooley directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College–CUNY, where she is a professor of English.

Buy your copy of Girl after Girl after Girl today and don’t forget to follow LSU Press on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook!


01
Feb 17

Happy Release Day, Kelly Cherry!

LSU Press is delighted to announce the release of Kelly Cherry’s new book, Quartet for J. Robert Oppenheimer, which explores in verse the life of the Father of the Atomic Bomb. In celebration of its release, we’re sharing an excerpt!

Scientists Flee Germany

Scientists began to flee Germany,
fearing for their future. For two years
Robert dedicated a portion of
his salary to their aid. If his psyche
mirrored his anxious alliance with his parents—
his craving to escape the shame he felt
at their uncertain efforts to assimilate—
if he himself had fully assimilated—
he saw that his gemütlich life was absurd
compared with lives of Jews in Europe, where,
window by window, lights were going out.

To order your copy, visit our website today!


04
Aug 14

Of Poets & Pets

Fred Chappell’s new collection, Familiars, prompts LSU Press to reflect on poets and their feline companions

Today at LSU Press, we’re celebrating the release of Fred Chappell’s newest poetry collection, Familiars. Chappell salutes the literary cats of decades past—George Herriman’s happy-go-lucky Krazy Kat, Don Marquis’s grande dame mehitabel—and the imagined cats who claim as their companions the characters from Chappell’s own past poems. The cats in Familiars are alert and affectionate, equal parts cherished friends and unknowable mysteries. Learn more, or buy your copy, at our website!

In honor of Familiars, we’ve rounded up some of our favorite cat poems to share with you. First up, head over to the Soma Review to read Margaret Atwood’s strange and understated poem “Our Cat Enters Heaven,” in which a cat has a matter-of-fact conversation with the Almighty about the perks of being dead.

Meow, said our cat.
Meow, said God. Actually it was more like a roar.
I always thought you were a cat, said our cat, but I wasn’t sure.

(We’d like to imagine that the God in this poem appears to Margaret Atwood’s cat in a form not dissimilar to our beloved Mike the Tiger.)

Next check out DonMarquis.com for their excerpts from Don Marquis’s unforgettable duo Archy (a literary cockroach) and his friend Mehitabel (an alley cat with the motto Toujours gai). The world first met Mehitabel in “Mehitabel Was Once Cleopatra,” but we particularly enjoyed learning more about her in “The Song of Mehitabel”:

mehitabel . . . claims
that formerly her spirit
was incarnated in the body
of cleopatra
that was a long time ago
and one must not be
surprised if mehitabel
has forgotten some of her
more regal manners

As a publisher of French history, we can’t omit Baudelaire’s “Le Chat,” which you can read in French and in four different English translations at Fleurdumals.org. We are slightly partial to Lewis Piaget Shanks’s translation, who maintains the rhyme scheme and assumes the cat’s female:

she prowls around my shadowy brain

as though it were her dwelling-place

— a great soft beast of charming ways,

meowling in a mellow strain

Of course, no list of literary cats would be complete without a mention of T. S. Eliot, whose Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats formed the basis of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Cats (don’t judge us, we love it). Over on Brainpickings.org, the always-wonderful Maria Popova has posted a SoundCloud recording of T. S. Eliot reading “The Naming of Cats.” Eliot reads his poem like the fussy poet grandpa you never knew you wanted.

But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,

And that is the name that you never will guess;

The name that no human research can discover –

But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.

Finally, we have the newest addition to the canon of cats immortalized in verse: Fred Chappell’s Familiars. Below is an excerpt from “After Hours,” a poem about Nora, the library cat.

Midnight in the main branch library,

The hour when Nora makes her faithful rounds,

Tasting smells, investigating sounds

That could mean threats to the security

Of the stiff wisdom of laborious sages

Who sputtered ink on all these frowsty pages.

 

She’s velvet black and melts into the blacks

That lie in oblongs on the lobby floor,

Thrown by streetlight through the windowed door.

They pave the way to the darkness of the stacks

Wherein she enters now with stealthy tread

Among the dog-eared Read and crisp Unread.

Want to read more? Buy your copy of Familiars today!


22
Jul 13

Anna Journey Examines Personal and Imagined History in Vulgar Remedies

Poet’s Second Collection Available from LSU Press in August 2013

Anna Journey is the author If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting, selected by Thomas Lux for the National Poetry Series. Her poems have appeared in The Southern Review, American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships in poetry from Yaddo and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“I think Anna Journey’s poetry is really magical.”—David Lynch, director of Blue Velvet and creator of Twin Peaks

“Anna Journey, in her new book of poems, Vulgar Remedies, creates an alchemical self whose shimmering limbic/alembic lyrics distill the mysterious terrors of childhood, the dangerous passions of adults, into her own honey-dusk ‘voodun’: protective, purified to gold. Poetry is always a time machine: here we are invisible travelers to a bewitched past, a beautifully occluded future. These poems are erotic, vertiginous, revelatory, their dazzling lyric force reflecting profound hermetic life.”—Carol Muske-Dukes, author of Twin Cities

 “Anna Journey’s second collection of poems is wonderful and brings something precise and wild out of a vivid night, an imagery that finds its own necessary music, like sudden isolated birdsongs at dawn. The multiplying shadows of the mind are made exterior here, surprisingly illustrated with anecdotal thought. And Dante no longer concludes that all lovers are martyrs. I’m so happy to have this work in my life.”—Norman Dubie, author of The Volcano

August 2013

88 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

978-0-8071-5219-5

Paper $17.95

LSU Press Paperback Original


20
Jul 13

David Kirby Dramatizes the Artistic Mind in Latest Poetry Collection

Inspired by the carpenter’s biscuit joint—a seamless, undetectable fit between pieces of wood—David Kirby’s latest collection dramatizes the artistic mind as a hidden connection that links the mundane with the remarkable. Even in our most ordinary actions, Kirby shows, there lies a wealth of creative inspiration: “the poem that is written every day if we’re there / to read it.”

Well known for his garrulous and comic musings, Kirby follows a wandering yet calculated path. In “What’s the Plan, Artists?” a girl yawning in a picture gallery leads to meditations on subjects as diverse as musical composition, the less-than-beautiful human figure, and “the simple pleasures / of living.” The Biscuit Joint traverses seemingly random thoughts so methodically that the journey from beginning to end always proves satisfying and surprising.

David Kirby is the author of numerous books, including The House on Boulevard St.: New and Selected Poems, a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award, and Talking about Movies with Jesus, winner of the 2011 L. E. Phillabaum Poetry Prize. The Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University, he is a recipient of National Endowment of the Arts and Guggenheim fellowships, among other honors.

“The world that Kirby takes into his imagination and the one that arises from it merge to become a creation like no other, something like the world we inhabit but funnier and more full of wonder and terror.”—Philip Levine

“[Kirby] is a poet who peels away the layers of our skin to show us who we are: our weaknesses, our strengths, and our hilarious obsessions.”—Micah Zevin, New Pages

August 2013

64 pages 6 x 9

Cloth 978-0-8071-5106-8, $50.00

Paper 978-0-8071-5107-5, $16.95


09
Jul 13

LSU Press Author Ava Leavell Haymon Named Louisiana Poet Laureate

Ava Leavell Haymon

LSU Press Poet Ava Leavell Haymon was recently selected as Louisiana’s new poet laureate. She will serve a two-year term from 2013–2015.

“I’m honored and thrilled to be appointed poet laureate of the state of Louisiana,” Haymon said. “Past laureates, distinguished poets all, have worked hard during their appointments to encourage the natural love of words and poems that exists already in adults and children alike. I take these former laureates as models, with gratitude. To be enthusiastic about this great art form comes easily to me, and to evangelize for it utilizes some of my preacher’s-daughter fervor.”

Haymon is the author of the poetry collections Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread, Kitchen Heat, The Strict Economy of Fire, and the forthcoming Eldest Daughter, all published by LSU Press. She teaches poetry writing in Baton Rouge, and directs a writers’ retreat center in the mountains of New Mexico.

Haymon’s latest book, Eldest Daughter, will be published by LSU Press in August. The poems display her mastery of the craft and engage readers with the poetic gifts they have come to expect from her. As in previous collections, she combines the sensory and the spiritual in wild verbal fireworks. Concrete descriptions of a woman’s life in the mid-twentieth-century American South mix with wider concerns about family lies and truths, and a culture that supports or forbids clear speech.


13
May 13

Matt Rasmussen’s Debut Poetry Collection, Black Aperture, Winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

Black Aperture addresses, with meticulous balance, a single event from multiple directions. Autobiographical, speculative, imaginal, at times bitterly comic, often lyrically surreal, Matt Rasmussen’s transformative poems look outward—they are built on the observable leaf, field, hand, bird, and act. But this book’s central task is the alchemizing of experience by language: the subject here is the suicide of a brother. What cannot be altered remains; yet by changing saying, seeing is also made wider, more openly porous. The liberations of tongue, word, and conception held in these poems restore the possibility-sense that’s as essential to us as oxygen, when a person stands in the chambers of unacceptable loss.”—Jane Hirshfield

In his moving debut collection, Matt Rasmussen faces the tragedy of his brother’s suicide, refusing to focus on the expected pathos, blurring the edge between grief and humor. In “Outgoing,” the speaker erases his brother’s answering machine message to save his family from “the shame of dead you / answering calls.” In other poems, once-ordinary objects become dreamlike. A buried light bulb blooms downward, “a flower / of smoldering filaments.” A refrigerator holds an evening landscape, “a tinfoil lake,” “vegetables / dying in the crisper.” Destructive and redemptive, Black Aperture opens to the complicated entanglements of mourning: damage and healing, sorrow and laughter, and torment balanced with moments of relief.

Matt Rasmussen’s poetry has appeared in Gulf Coast, H_NGM_N, and at Poets.org. A founding coeditor of Birds LLC, a small, independent poetry press, he is a 2012–2013 McKnight Artist Fellow and teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College.

May 13, 2013
72 pages, 5.5 x 8.5
978-0-8071-5086-3
Paper $17.95
LSU Press Paperback Original


22
Apr 13

The Glacier’s Wake Wins the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize

“Didden’s is a capacious voice, able at once to deliver both wit and wonder, canny insight and meditative mystery.”—Scott Cairns, author of Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected

In her first poetry collection The Glacier’s Wake, Katy Didden attends to the large-scale tectonics of the natural world as she considers the sources and aftershocks of mortality, longing, and loss. A number of the poems in the collection are monologues in recurring voices—specifically those of a glacier, a sycamore, and a wasp—offering an inventive, prismatic approach to Didden’s ambitious subject matter. In The Glacier’s Wake, the scientific, the elegiac, and the fantastical intertwine in the service of considering our human place—constructive and destructive, powerful and impermanent—amidst the massive shiftings that are occurring endlessly all around us.

A Washington, D.C. native, Katy Didden holds degrees from Washington University, the University of Maryland, and the University of Missouri. Her poems have appeared widely in such publications as Best New Poets 2009, Crazyhorse, Ecotone, The Journal, Shenandoah, Smartish Pace, Image, The Kenyon Review, and Poetry. Former poetry editor for The Missouri Review, Didden currently lives in St. Louis, where she is a postdoctoral fellow at St. Louis University.

April 22, 2013
92 pages, 6 x 9
978-0-8071-5200-3
Paper $17.95
Distributed for Winthrop University and Pleiades Press


08
Apr 13

Next to Last Words Showcases the Late Work of One of America’s Foremost Men of Letters

Next to Last Words shows Daniel Hoffman to be at the height of his long and distinguished career. He makes us see the world in a new way, compelling for his visual accuracy and consummate technique. . . .”—Grace Schulman

“‘Oh but I was a songster in the days before the flood!’ croaks Daniel Hoffman’s raven, a doughty survivor. Stubborn joy and pulsing, minute attention movingly suffuse these late poems; we can be grateful that Hoffman’s world ‘is filled with importunate distractions.’”—Rachel Hadas

For sixty years Daniel Hoffman (1923-2013) drew on a lifetime of experiences to engage readers with his powerful imagination. The poems in Next to Last Words—illuminated by the poet’s unique vision and leavened by touches of humor—continue this tradition. Equally skilled in formal and free verse, Hoffman explores our place in the cosmos, our kinship with nature, the violent world in which we must live, and the intense love and grief common to everyone’s life.

Former poet laureate, Daniel Hoffman published fourteen books of poetry, including The Whole Nine Yards, Beyond Silence, and Brotherly Love, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. His honors include the Arthur Anse prize for “a distinctive poet” from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and, from the Sewanee Review, the Aiken-Taylor Award for Contemporary American Poetry. He is the author of many critical studies, including Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, also a National Book Award finalist. He taught at Swarthmore College and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the Felix Schelling Professor of English Emeritus.

April 8, 2013
96 pages, 6 x 9
978-0-8071-5022-1
Paper $16.95


01
Apr 13

Daniel Hoffman (1923-2013)

HoffmanDanielAP

With deep sadness, we must report the passing of Daniel Hoffman, an LSU Press author who was also one of America’s foremost men of letters.

Primarily a poet, Dan published fourteen books of poetry, six of them with LSU Press, including Next to Last Words, which has just appeared this spring. His early book-length poem Brotherly Love became a finalist for the National Book Award, and in 1973-74 he served as Consultant in Poetry of the Library of Congress, the appointment now called Poet Laureate of the United States.

Dan also wrote other kinds of books. In 1989 we published his critical work Faulkner’s Country Matters: Folklore and Fable in Yoknapatawpha. An earlier book of criticism was Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe, also a finalist for the National Book Award, reprinted by LSU Press in 1998. We are also proud to have published his unusual and elegant World War II memoir, Zone of the Interior.

From the time of his first LSU Press book in 1988, Hang-Gliding from Helicon: New and Selected Poems, Dan served as a prolific author and valued advisor to us. We are very proud of and grateful for our friendship with him, and we will certainly miss him.

Well, Wendell looks at the form.
He reads it real close, and then
he tells Jeanette to never mind,
let’s take us one last drive before we turn it in.

That night I never seen them coming round this curve,
I heard the orange rocketship blast off
already past me half a mile down the road
doing 90!

From “Shocks”
In The Whole Nine Yards: Longer Poems (2009)

Per Conta recently published a Festschrift for Daniel G. Hoffman in Celebration of His 90th Birthday