nice things this week

Two reviews of Dark And Like A Web – yay! Beth Adams, in her note from the editor for Dark And Like A Web, spoke of ‘the pull of the divine, and the pull of the creative impulse, two forces not so separate as they may seem.’ And as I read other people’s take on these poems, I see more and more what she means. These are related impulses, very closely related. Are they in fact separate?

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, blogging at Kristin Berkey-Abott

Part 1 – “Does the Delivery System Impact My Reading Experience?” Kristin examines the multi-format publishing model used for Dark and Like A Web here.

Part 2 – Kristin looks at the poems themselves. “I like the ambiguity of the lines [of the last poem in the collection]. Is the speaker talking to a lover? To God? Is the speaker God? The poem works on all these levels, and makes me want to go back to reread the whole collection some more, even though I’ve read it several times. Will I discover other submerged religious possibilities?” Full review here.

Donna Vorreyer, blogging at Put Words Together, Make Meaning

“My favorite poems in the book are three that contain prayer beads as an integral image. Prayer beads are concrete, physical manifestations of a very private communication with the divine, and they counterbalance the other focus of these poems, the beloved. In each of these poems, the relationship with the beloved seems ephemeral, but the associations with the beads connected to each one are profound and lasting, almost equating the beloved with the divine.” (Full review here.)


Two other nice things happened this week. One was this comment from Danielle Pafunda on Whale Sound. Danielle was revisting The Girls In The Apartment Upstairs, a poem of hers I read on Whale Sound last year. She wrote on Facebook this week:

Those Whale Sound archives are outta sight, aren’t they? Nic–your readings are so, how do I say it? Like intense analysis has happened and been translated smoothly into performance? Maybe the word for that is GOOD. I’m going to include them in the resources for my Mod & Contemp poetry seminar this fall–maybe one of the students will be inspired to try a similar final project!

This reminded me that another Whale Sound poet, Greg Sellers, (What The Wind Says) added Whale Sound to his “LibGuide for Poetry Writing” at the University of Alabama School of Library & Information Studies.

Define heaven, anyone?

A project of yours is flagged to students by teachers as worthy of attention. Woot, and woot again – I’m in heaven!

‘Town for the Trees’ by Justin Evans

The poems in Justin Evans‘ collection Town for the Trees (Foothills Publishing 2011) are poems of connection and transition. They raise key questions and, by the time we are through reading the poems, the lines between these two phenomena feel blurred. Are they really separate experiences? Isn’t connection transition and transition, connection?

The poems examine the connections between the poet and the natural environment in which he operates, the connections between a community and the natural environment surrounding it and the human connections between individual members of that community.

On a clear night I could read
the stars like Braille, each point
of light piercing the tips of my fingers,
splitting them like cord wood.
(What I Knew As A Child)

The town gathered like a chorus
to sing the flood waters back, keep the world
from escaping.
(Singing Back the River)

Evans’ language is plain and direct, yet suffused with emotion and the voice of memory. These poems are accessible in the best sense of the word – friendly to the grasp on the surface, but with an underlying complexity of thought and feeling. These poems ask where we belong.

I look for a space where I can fit
the perfect constellation of your eyes
into the vast cupboard of night.
(A Season Apart)

They also examine transitions – those places in space and time where lines become blurred. The moments of ambiguity between night and day; between ground and sky; animal and vegetable, between humanity and the raw earth itself. There is often a struggle associated with the moment of transition, with the old reluctant to leave the stage, as if attempting to arrest time itself; and the new pushing to take it over, as if actively reaching for the future.

Low to the East, the crescent moon
is a fracture of sky, outpaced
by the morning star’s rise

It struggles to stay ahead of the sun
as morning light grows, eating away
at its pale circumference.

The movement of time is of particular interest in these poems. The speed at which time moves. The fluidity of the moment when the present becomes the past, or the future becomes the present.

The past is a thief
escaping on the wings of blackbirds.
(Nevada Wildlife)

The collection holds a clock pulse, a heartbeat, a sense of that unchanging cycle of life which is nonetheless always changing. Oscillating between birth and growth, innocence and age, decay and death – and sometimes violent death. Running steadily through the collection, the river becomes a metaphor for continuity and spiritual nourishment:

In the morning when I rise with daylight
the trees will no longer be animal
But the water, this small river, will be the same.
(Lower Sheep Creek)

The Utah town of Springville is very specifically depicted in this collection, its topography carefully named, and its inhabitants and customs closely described. Yet – as we hope for in all art – the particular points to the general and, in all its specificity, Springville, UT becomes to us Anytown, The World – a particular place on this earth where people we recognize are born, live, despair, love and die.

Check it out!

Anis Shivani

The more I read from Anis Shivani, the more I like him. Not necessarily because I agree with what he says (although I do, quite often) but because a) he’s passionate and thoughtful, consistent and courageous and b) he has put in the years and hard work to build the publication and other credentials that give him credibility as a critic.

Much enjoyed this (long!) interview with Shivani at HTML giant and I could excerpt a dozen things, but this is what I am thinking most about at the moment:

The responsibility of the critic is to use his preferred set of criteria to judge and evaluate whether or not a work of art is good. If it’s not good, he should provide historical context to explain why. One can learn as much, if not more, from so-called negative criticism than from positive criticism. The critic’s responsibility is very moral in this sense. He should be fair to the work or author or national literature in question, not asking more of it than it can reasonably deliver, but he shouldn’t go easy either. The responsibility of the critic is to challenge the reader to not read passively, uncritically, unthinkingly, and to open up for him a whole set of issues that he might not have thought of otherwise. The critic, in my view, is a democrat, in wanting to see different styles of writing flourish, and seeing the good in as many genres as he can possibly keep up with; he shouldn’t be a narrow partisan for a narrow style of writing. It’s the responsibility of the critic to be trained well in his field, just as we expect fiction writers or poets to have mastered their field, so that instead of expressive or spontaneous or on-the-spur emotional reactions, when he critiques he’s as much in conversation with past and present critics as he’s in conversation with the given author’s matrix of influences and connections.

I am sure Shivani has articulated his ‘preferred set of criteria’ somewhere, and I wish I knew where. Reading comments on his posts and interviews around the web, I see lots of general outrage and objection (and ad hominem attacks) in response to his blunt judgments on work he considers flawed, but I have not yet found a commenter who engages him on the actual criteria he espouses as a critic. (Would appreciate any links if you have.)

This comment is challenging too:

It’s absolutely the central role of a critic to define the good and the bad. The idea that one should just leave the bad alone—because time will take care of it, or one should either praise or remain silent—is ludicrous! Understanding the bad helps us understand the good—and in a star-driven culture industry driven by hype and propaganda, this function is all the more important.

and of course, I couldn’t resist this one, given the recent discussion here about the ‘demotion’ of print:

I’ve extensively published my developing ideas in criticism—they didn’t just spring up overnight at the Huffington Post—for a decade. Do people in the online world still read the Georgia Review and Michigan Quarterly Review and Antioch Review and Cambridge Quarterly and London Magazine? I’ve published similar criticism as you now see online in the very best literary journals for a long time, but unfortunately reaching only a minimal audience; I’m grateful to have a much wider audience now with the online opportunity, for the same ideas I’ve been publishing in relative obscurity. The quality print journals can be quietly ignored; not these new venues.

thinking about establishing a nanopress? a special limited offer for you

If you are a poet in this situation and would like to establish your own nanopress to publish your manuscript, here’s an offer for you to consider. Find yourself an editor (with at least some gravitas, ok!? – see comments here) who will agree to edit your manuscript and publish it under both your names, and I will offer – free – publication legwork services. The honing and finalization of the manuscript will be up to you and your editor-partner, and I would also ask that you find and obtain permission to use the cover art. Give me these elements and (if I like the proposed partnership), I will do all the publication legwork free for you – design and publish the manuscript as website, PDF download, e-book, print version and (if you are doing audio) CD — see the typical multi-format production steps here. This will be a non-profit operation. The print and CD versions will be sold via Lulu at cost-price (you will buy your own review copies) and all the other formats will be available free. You can see what the final publication(s) will look like here and here. Marketing and promotion will be up to you, although I will do what I can to help with that. Email me at nic_sebastian at if you have a good proposal.

two nice things

that I’ve Facebooked and Tweeted but not blogged. Why do all three? Well, they say that Facebook and Twitter posts will be on the internet forever, but they are not archived and not searchable, so…

I have a poem, the week before the locust swarm, in Issue 8 of Anti-. My poem the party appeared in Issue 3 of Anti- way back when and, from a composition point of view, I now see what these two pieces have in common. When I’m not going for straight narration and instead get a slant-eyed walking-on-spider-leg-stilts feeling about a topic and write from that perspective. Thanks to Steve for that moment of insight!

The whole of Issue 8 is wonderful reading, but I am particularly taken with Landscape with deerstalker by Adam Tessier and most especially by
She Considers Trading Her Secrets from Catherine Pierce:

Oh, these girls. They are dumb

as bicycles. Their eyes like tree knots. Their smiles
like paper. If they knew that my world is not their world,

is gloaming-colored and damp, echoes with howls and bells,


The other really really nice thing is the first review of Dark And Like A Web, the nanopress publication project I worked on with Beth Adams. Justin Evans’ take on my work joins dots I hadn’t realized existed but now he points them out – of course! He’s right! Check out his review. Warmest thanks on several levels for your time, focus and kind words, Justin!

‘The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid.’

Finally, and this is the point that I don’t see enough people making, printing a very good looking paper journal has now become so easy and affordable that many people out there are doing it in vast, unregulated numbers. The guarantees hardcore print enthusiasts once associated with paper are no longer valid. A paper issue doesn’t necessarily mean you have the backing of a university, an established editorial board, or even a small press. It also doesn’t mean that you have a guaranteed readership—in fact, your work will probably be read by many more readers if you publish it online. A print issue can mean all these things, but it can also simply mean that someone has a good computer and has been visiting

Excerpt from an excellent post from Celia Alvarez, which pulls together and persuasively articulates in its first two paragraphs many publishing things we all vaguely know, but that I, for one, haven’t seen restated with such comprehensive clarity anywhere. I agree wholeheartedly with her point about print, and have argued elsewhere that technology has so reordered today’s publishing landscape that print publication is no longer the holy grail it once was, but has taken its place in line simply as one publishing option among many viable ones.

What really matters in all publication forms is the gravitas brought to the publication equation by the people involved. (Yes, I know – just another way to bring the conversation back around to nanopress publishing again!)

One final thought: The ‘demotion’ of print to the regular ranks of publication brings with it another seminal change – a change in gate-keepers. There will always be gate-keepers, but they are not now who they were and will change even more dramatically as communities absorb and reflect the seismic changes in the publishing landscape.

Who will be the new gatekeepers?