Strange Familiar Place returns

Stange Familiar Place - Comic Strip

After a very long hiatus, “Strange Familiar Place” will be back in print. Or at least it will be in a very limited capacity. More details on that later.

The creative non-fiction comic “Strange Familiar Place” first appeared in The Indie. Inspired by the works of Harvey Pekar, Jessica Abel, and Eddie Campbell, I wrote and illustrated “Strange Familiar Place.” Eventually I collaborated with illustrator and comic book artist James E. Lyle on six comic strips.

Comic Stroll, a publication of the local chapter of the National Cartoonist Society, will feature that collection of previously unpublished comic strips. Read the evolution of what started as a couple drawings and became a creative non-fiction comic:

  1. Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction
  2. Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued
  3. Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3
  4. Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4
  5. Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5
  6. Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
  7. Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
  8. Strange Familiar Place comic series

More details about Comic Stroll distribution will be made available later.

Interview: Caleb Beissert on Beautiful translations of Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda

Beautiful by Caleb Beissert Caleb Beissert is a poet, translator and musician. His published work appears in International Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, Asheville Poetry Review and Beatitude: Golden Anniversary, 1959-2009.

This week, Poetry at the Altamont celebrates the release of Caleb Beissert’s first book, Beautiful, a selection of poems by Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca translated into English. During the last few weeks, Beautiful was well received by enthusiastic audiences at Montford Books & More and Malaprop’s Books & Cafe and is a Small Press Distribution best-seller.

The Altamont theater doors open at 7:00 P.M. for Poetry at the Altamont. Admission is $5 at the door. Beer and wine sold at the bar and lounge will remain open for drinks after the reading. Event link.

UPDATE: Caleb Beissert is the featured guest of the Coffee with the Poet Series, Thursday, February 21st at 10:30 a.m. at City Lights Bookstore. Event link

Caleb graciously agreed to an interview to discuss poetry, translation work and Beautiful.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

First, for those who don’t know you, Caleb, please share a little about yourself and how you came to poetry.

Caleb Beissert

I arrived naturally at poetry. I had a strong interest in writing as a child, which stemmed from my mother’s and father’s both being journalists. They read to me constantly, even while I was in utero. I still love being read to, hence the poetry readings I attend. During my fugitive teenage years, I wrote notebooks full of song lyrics—songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Robert Hunter, Kurt Cobain, Roger Waters, and The Beatles among my influences. When I went to college and took a poetry writing class, I discovered I’d been writing poetry for years. Of course songwriting is a different beast, but one does inform the other.

Throughout my time at Western Carolina University, I studied writing, foreign languages, philosophy, music, art—I wasn’t satisfied with the notion of going to college to get a job, rather I wanted to learn everything I could for the sake of knowing. I began publishing my poetry, traveling abroad, corresponding with accomplished writers, and I participated in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.

My literary heritage largely came from the American Beats, especially Allen Ginsberg and Richard Brautigan; the British poets, namely Blake and Coleridge; and mystics, like Hafiz, Rumi, Kabir, Mirabai; as well as Walt Whitman, E.E. Cummings, W.S. Merwin, early on Shel Silverstein, and then later the great Hispanic poets, particularly Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda. Now I’m living in Asheville, writing, producing poetry events, and also working as a musician.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

How did the translation work of these two poets, Federico García Lorca and Pablo Neruda, come about?

Caleb Beissert

As I glossed over previously, I was at WCU studying poetry and foreign language when I began translating these two poets. It must have been my attraction to Surrealism that led me to García Lorca. I had read a few translations in Bly’s Leaping Poetry, eaten up Lorca’s lecture Theory and Play of the Duende, and fallen into Poema del cante jondo. I was fascinated by this idea of the duende and also with the marriage of poetry with music, seen in the influence of Andalusian flamenco music on his work.

An interest in Neruda also came through my gravitating toward Surrealism, though I must acknowledge that neither of these poets wrote exclusively or even primarily in this style. One day my Spanish professor assigned the students to attempt a translation of Neruda’s famous “Poema 20” from Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada. I thoroughly enjoyed the assignment—probably the only one who did—and it was then I realized I could translate. From there, of course, the complexities of poetry translation began to unravel. I studied essays by Gregory Rabassa, John Felstiner, Margaret Sayers Penden, Eliot Weinberger, and read many bilingual or “bisexual” editions, as a good friend likes to call them.

Eventually, I timidly showed my translations to a few trusted poet friends/mentors, among them Dr. Mary Adams and Thomas Rain Crowe, who encouraged me to continue the work. It has been a process of frustration, learning and accomplishment. Many late nights of pulling out my hair. I’ve dabbled in other Spanish-writing poets, such as César Vallejo, Rafael Alberti, Pedro Salinas, Vicente Aleixandre, Nicanor Parra, and Manuel González Prada; however, it was García Lorca and Neruda I spent the most time with, grew to know them through their words, heard their voices, conversed in dreams, and eventually compiled enough English-language adaptations for two books.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

How the translation work inform the craft of your own poetry?

Caleb Beissert

I find myself writing odes to people and places I’ve never known. I’ve written poems to or after these poets, places and ideas from their poetry, even employed mimicry for effect sometimes, but going deeper, I’m sure it has changed the way I think about language, construct lines, choose words, though the translation process itself does that as well. I have developed my own poetry while spending a great amount of time with these poets, therefore their impact on my work is tremendous. It is hard for me to see, because often one must step away from his or her work to get an accurate picture of it, but I know the influence is there.

Interview: Luke Hankins on Poems of Devotion

Poems of Devotion

Luke Hankins is Senior Editor at Asheville Poetry Review and the author of a collection of poems, Weak Devotions, a chapbook of translations of French poems by Stella Vinitchi Radulescu, I Was Afraid of Vowels…Their Paleness and editor of Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets. This Sunday, December 9 at 5 p.m., at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Luke will read selections from Poems of Devotion: An Anthology of Recent Poets along with other featured contributors: Malaika King Albrecht, Richard Chess, Morri Creech, Richard Jackson, Suzanne Underwood Rhodes, and Daniel Westover. Luke agreed to a quick interview to discuss the recently published Poems of Devotion.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

Tell me how the anthology, Poems of Devotion, developed from concept to final printed book.

Luke Hankins

In my final year of graduate school, I took an independent study course with the superb poet and teacher Maurice Manning, which essentially meant that I chose an academic/creative project and he offered input on and evaluation of it. I have had a strong interest in spiritual poetry for many years, so it was natural that I would choose a topic that reflected this passion. The essay I wrote for that class was an examination of a particular set of qualities that characterized many of my favorite spiritual poems, qualities which, in my mind, constituted a distinct mode of composition. The essay was an early form of what is now the introductory essay of the anthology, examining what I call the devotional mode in poetry. When I first wrote it, the idea of editing an anthology hadn’t occurred to me, but as I continued to revisit and revise the essay after graduate school, I felt increasingly that the compiling “poems of devotion” would make for a superb collection of poems. As an experiment, I began gathering poems that I would include in a theoretical anthology, and that’s when I began to feel a real impulse — a “call,” if you will — to bring these poems together in an anthology. I sent out a proposal to several publishers, and I eventually signed a contract with Wipf & Stock Publishers.

What followed was — well, let’s just say a year of very hard work! Gathering the poems I wanted to include was one aspect: reading widely, taking recommendations, spending long days in the library or in coffee shops with large stacks of books. But all of that, though difficult, was full of pleasure and felt deeply rewarding. The other aspect was obtaining — and paying for! — permission from copyright holders to reprint the poems. That process was often labyrinthine, frustrating, and, not least of all, expensive. But it was worth it. I’m very excited about the finished anthology, and am moved and challenged anew each time I read it. Truly.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

Maurice Manning is becoming one of my favorite living poets. At the public library, I discovered his book Bucolics and then had an opportunity to attend one of his lectures at Warren Wilson. But I digress. You beat me to the second question which is what did you learn most? Seems like the whole publishing side of the anthology was quite a classroom of experience. If you will, highlight one moment during that year long process that “felt deeply rewarding” for you.

Luke Hankins

I think approaching the copyright aspect of the anthology with a certain level of naivety in many instances worked to my advantage. People were more inclined to take mercy on me and my minuscule budget! But there were a few publishing houses who were absolutely unmovable, and I had to pay out my teeth, so to speak, to include poems I felt were necessary to the anthology. So I learned to rejoice in small mercies where they came, and to practice stoicism about what I saw as exorbitant pricing from some of the major publishing houses.

Regarding your second question, I wouldn’t want to try to single out one moment that felt rewarding. I’ll just say that the process of discovering poets I came to love, whose work I had never read or had only read cursorily, was one of the most rewarding aspects. Re-reading poets whose work has been very impactful for me was another aspect. Also, there was an overall sense of being blessed to be able to dedicate myself to an undertaking that felt like an important fulfillment of who I am. I felt that I was working with real purpose. I felt that I was doing what I was meant to do.

Coffeehouse Junkie Blog

One final question, what’s the biggest thing you hope readers take away from Poems of Devotion?

Luke Hankins

I hope that readers — whether religious or non-religious, theistic or non-theistic — come away with a conviction that the devotional mode is a powerful, ongoing, vital mode in literature. I believe in these poems and their ability to do just that.

Tonight, Juniper Bends reading series returns to Downtown Books & News

Juniper Bends reading series – August 2012

Tonight, 7PM at the Downtown Books & News, the Juniper Bends quarterly literary reading series presents Catherine Campbell, David Hopes, Majo John Madden and Nina Hart.

More information on the Juniper Bends Facebook events page. Link.

Hope to see you there!

A bookless American library

Empty shelves at the downtown city library

Why can’t I find a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five at a local public library? I’m wandering through the aisles of bookshelves thinking, It’s not an obscure title. Is it? Earlier, I visited a couple library branches and couldn’t find a single copy. How is that possible? Later I would find a copy at a bookstore (actually, I would find copies at three of the local bookstores, but I would be out of cash and wouldn’t be able to afford to buy a copy… more on that later… like, wait-for-my-memoir later…).

Is it possible? Are American libraries moving toward booklessness? At the main, downtown city library I stare at a whole wall of bookshelves emptied of books (see photo). Glancing around the place it appears that the only thing people do at that library is use the toilet, enjoy the air conditioned space on hot summer days, and rent CDs and DVDs. The magazine racks are full and there is an man, probably in his 60s, reading the latest copy of the New Yorker. Beyond the reference desk, I see that every computer terminal is occupied. My mood is turning away from searching for a copy of Slaughterhouse-Five, to mischievous. I want to walk over to the reference desk librarian and ask, “Where might I find a book about Tralfamadore?” From experience, I know what the reference desk librarian will do. The scene will go something like this:

“Excuse me, but where might I find a book about Tralfamadore?”

“Tralfamadore? Let me see,” he says as he opens a web browser on the computer and sounds out the word tral-fam-a-dore under his breath. “Oh, Tralfamadore. From Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five.”

“Did you just google that?” I ask.

He looks at me and doesn’t say anything.

“Shouldn’t that be unholy sacrilege to use Google in a library?” I ask. “I mean, this is supposed to be a house of intellect.”

He folds his hands in front of the keyboard and says, “I used Wikipedia.”

“Wikipedia?” I snort.

The reference desk librarian catches the eyes of the library’s security guard who walks toward us.

The scene concludes with me mumbling something about the democratization of content leaves an intellectual void that is too quickly filled with bits of data rather than depth of knowledge and wisdom.

But I don’t walk to the reference desk. I get lost somewhere in the fiction aisles–somewhere in the section where books by authors with last names beginning with “k” are placed. The whole thing–the search for a single copy of a book and the failure to locate it at a public library–is loathsome to me. I have this uneasy feeling ‪that Ray Bradbury’s‬ ‪Fahrenheit 451‬ may be prophetic. And I want to start memorizing large volumes of literature for the mere preservation of it to share with the next generation. Isn’t that why books are written? To share not just with this present age, but to extend beyond the life of the writer? My eye’s find a book about bean trees–or rather, a novel. It’s not a very thick novel, but it seems to have found me and I can’t just leave it on the bookshelf and I don’t want to leave the library empty-handed.

After the book is processed silently by a librarian, I walk to catch a bus home. Reading the first few pages at the transit center I know I have found a new friend in this book. It’s a feeling I can’t say I have regarding Google or Wikipedia. To me, they are repositories of data–vapid of personality in the same fashion as the  Borg–to be mined or to be assimilated.

Poetrio, this Sunday, at Malaprop’s Bookstore

August Poetrio — 2012

This sunday, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café continues the monthly poetry reading series, Poetrio, with Meta Commerse, Cassie Premo Steele, and Pauletta Hansel.

In an email from Virginia McKinley, of Malaprop’s, here’s a write up about August’s featured poets:

Meta Commerse. . . is the author of six books, including a novel intended to be a book of hope for middle-school-aged black girls.  That book began as her culminating project for the MFA degree in creative writing at Goddard College.  RAINSONGS: POEMS OF A WOMAN’S LIFE is her most recent book of poetry. . . .

Cassie Premo Steele’s poetry has appeared in numerous anthologies, magazines, and journals, including such publications as Sagewoman and Calyx. Her work has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. . .  Her most recent book of poetry, THE POMEGRANATE PAPERS, is based on the Persephone/ Demeter myth and addresses the themes of mothers, daughters, creative cycles, loss, healing, and living in harmony with the seasons. . . .

According to Jackie Demaline of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Pauletta Hansel has been “an arts administrator and an unflagging arts advocate, [but] doesn’t like to talk about herself.”  Yet she seems happy to talk about the work she finds most interesting: “community organizing and community arts.”  . . . . Pauletta Hansel has published poems in . . . journals . . . and . . . has three previous collections of poetry, Divining, First Person, and What I Did There; at Malaprop’s she will read from her most recent book, THE LIVES WE LIVE IN HOUSES. . . .

Hope to see you Sunday, August 5, at 3:00 p.m. for Poetrio!

On summer or winter in books and writing

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and The Call of the Wild

“Do you prefer Summer or Winter in books and writing?” asks blogger Lea At Sea. What do you think? I had to think about that for a while.

I finished a few books recently by authors Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver. Saturday, On Chesil Beach and The Bean Trees all have specific seasons and locations central to each novel. As I thought of how the seasons permeate a novel, two novels come to mind: ‪

by ‪Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬ by Jack London. [1] It never occurred to me to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ because it begins on a cold winter morning. The character and narrative interested me. The gulag in winter is a prominent element of the story, but that isn’t the reason I read the book. It was the story.

By nature I’m a fall/winter sort of person. Maybe that’s why I recalled those two books:One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich‬ and ‪The Call of the Wild‬. But my reading choice is not directly influenced by that predisposition otherwise I would not have picked up a book set in spring/summer of the American southwest. However, I am curious to learn if your reading selections are influenced by that perimeter. Do you choose a book because it is seasonally based? Further, if you are a poet and/or writer, do you specifically write for a specific season?

NOTES: [1] Technically, ‪The Call of the Wild‬ and On Chesil Beach are novellas. Maybe I should refer to the works as books rather than their literary distinctions. Writing Forums offers distinctions between short story, novella and novel lengths. Basically, word count. Short Short Stories & Flash Fiction; usually under 1,000 words; Short Stories, 7,499 words to 15,000 words; Novelette, 7,500 to 17,499 words; Novella, 17,500 words to 39,999 words; Novel, minimum word count of 40,000 words. It is my understanding that a proper novel runs an average of 80,000 words. Since we’re on the topic of word count, Fiction Factor offers How Long Should Your Story Be? by Lee Masterson and Writer’s Relief presents Short Story Or Novella? What’s The Difference And Where To Publish Shorter Fiction.

The English novel versus the American novel

Which do you prefer, the English novel or the American novel? I’ve been thinking about that after reading some of Ian McEwan’s and Barbara Kingsolver’s books. Maybe it is the difference in the writers and not so much the country from which they live. There is a tone or manner that seems a marked distinction between the two styles. What do you think?

Tonight’s Malaprop’s reading featuring Sebastian Matthews, Sybil Baker and Chris Hale

Just received this email from Malaprop’s regarding tonight’s, June 1st, reading at 7 p.m.

Triple reading event, featuring new poems by Sebastian Matthews, and selected poems from his most recent collection: MIRACLE DAY: MID-LIFE SONGS; a reading by Sybil Baker from her novel INTO THIS WORLD; and a reading by novelist Chris Hale from her just-completed memoir, LINE OF SIGHT.

I’m very excited to learn of Sebastian Matthews’s new collection of poems.