Category Archives: MFA programs

Post-MFA Links for the New Year: Indicia Magazine; and David Garyan

January 2, 2019

Contrary to the steadfast beliefs of AWP, MFA poetry programs have not necessarily been the best thing for the health of American poetry in the past three decades. (Let us remember once again how FEW such academic programs existed in 1980 in the United States. In point of fact, it was the “small press” movement that truly invigorated American poetry in the 1970s.) Nevertheless, MFA programs in the past four decades have enabled many young poets to gain some basic training in versification.

The program at the university where I teach, primarily in the Literature section, has begun to produce graduates who flourish after receiving their MFA degrees. Jax NTP has had several poems published in Caliban magazine, for instance, which I regard as one of the best magazines around. Eric Morago has taken over the editorship of Moontide Press, and edited and published a significant anthology of genre-oriented poetry entitled Dark Ink. The Whittier Art Museum hosted its publication reading, and there will be a follow-up event at Beyond Baroque on Feb. 9th. His next major project will be a volume of poems by Alex Umlas, who is one of the best of the new poets working within traditional forms.

In the brief time that 2019 has been the operative year, I have received additional notices that I want to pass on to you as links. A.J. Urquidi and Marcus Clayton, both recent graduates of CSULB’s MFA program, have edited and published the fifth issue of their magazine, Indicia. Their actual titles are “executive editors,” which is probably a smart move on their parts in terms of keeping the magazine going. Anyone who tries this kind of venture single-handed these days had better need very little sleep. To assist them, Urquidi and Clayton have appointed two CSULB alumni, Jax NTP and Toren Wallace as poetry editors. The collaboration of these editors with the fiction editor, Marissa Branson, has been unusually acute.

The issue opens with “Rising” by Laura Rivera Rodriguez, which deserves to be quoted in its entirety, but since I am a lazy blogger, I would rather reiterate that it is the perfect poem to lead the issue off than retype lines that would probably end up with too many typos. The quality is maintained as one works one’s way into the issue. Each poem could make a strong case for its desirability by editors of other magazines. I certainly would have seriously considered the following poems for publication in Momentum back in the days when I edited a poetry magazine: Rachel Sandle’s “What to Do If”; and Laura Dolphin’s scathing redaction of the National Football League’s “Concussion Protocol. In addition, Allegra Armstrong’s willingness to risk sentimentality caught me off guard, and made her “List of Things I know How to Cook” a tender, brief account of fate’s whimsicality. Vincent Hao’s four-page poem, “Variation on the Paradoxical Vase, Faces Turned Apart” is like a large, glowing painting of a mother-son relationship. Short (very short!) poems by Rose Knapp and Darren C. Demure prove to be concurrently effusive in their ability to act as performative acts, the very focus called for in the issue’s epigraph by John L. Austin. It’s not just the poetry, however, that sustains one’s attention in this issue.

The art work by xiang is impressively committed to finding the nanosecond that can’t be disturbed without shifting the tonal range of its interior’s outburst. The other visual artist is equally deft. Bill Wolak’s pair of pieces, including “As Silk Glides Quivering through the Wind,” will make you wish you had enlarged versions framed on your bedroom wall.

In the interests of full disclosure, two of the professors in the MFA program at CSULB, Patty Seyburn and myself, have poems in this issue, but I would be impressed by the work the editors selected regardless of that inclusion. You can judge for yourself by taking a look at the issue in its entirety:

https://e.issuu.com/anonymous-embed.html?u=indicialit&d=indicia_issue_3_1

Finally, I have received a link from another of CSULB’s MFA graduates, David Garyan, who has both an essay and a 20 page poem in an issue of the American Journal of Poetry.

https://theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/v6-garyan_essay.html

https://theamericanjournalofpoetry.com/v6-garyan.html

I hope the current students, who are studying in 2018-2019 with Patty Seyburn and Charles Harper Webb, are inspired by these accomplishments and that they plan on emulating their elders in the early years of the coming decade.

Magra Books: To Italy and Back

Chalkboard August Harmony
(Chalkboard near Fourth Street and Temple Avenue, Long Beach, CA)

August 27, 2017

Paul Vangelisti and John McBride were among the most productive editors and publishers of the golden age of small press publishing in the 1970s. The proliferation of MFA programs since 1980 has unfortunately all but erased recent literary history: how MFA program were barely worth mentioning to the majority of those committed to a life as a poet in the mid-1970s. The notion of a “career” as a poet back then was laughable. The production of books and magazines on an antinomian basis was quite serious, however; in fact, that’s all that mattered.

Vangelisti and McBride not only published dozens of books through their imprint, Red Hill Press, but also over two dozen issues of Invisible City, a magazine that deserves to have its entire print run issued in a single full-length volume. The magazine came out on newspaper-size sheets of paper, and although the paper stock is of very high quality, any scholar having to work with two or ore issues at the same time can find the process of notating comparisons a bit cumbersome. It’s a project that a university press (such as the University of California press) should undertake at some point, although it may unfortunately have to wait until the copyright to the poems expires. Fortunately, on the whole, the poems that appeared in Invisible City are exceptional examples of writing that will still hold up in another half-century.

As well as being a prolific and internationally recognized poet, Vangelisti is an inveterate publisher. At Otis College of Art and Design, he founded Seismicity Editions, as well as a pair of magazines, New Review of Literature and OR magazine. He will be retiring from Otis at the end of this coming academic year, but he has already launched another publishing project. Magra Books is a chapbook project, printed in Italy, that will come out on a steady basis as a quartet of chapbooks. In any given increment, all four will have the same color stocks for their covers. The first quartet had a pale blue; the second, a quietly luscious orange that teased the shadows cast by a nearby embankment of red clay.

The poets featured in each set will be familiar to readers of Invisible City and OR magazines. You can find out more information about this project at the website for Magra Books: http://magrabooks.com.

FIRST QUARTET (January, 2017)
Martha Ronk — The Unfamiliar Familiar
Ray Di Palma — For a Curved Surface
Dennis Phillips — Desert Sequence
Marcus Valerius Martialis — Epigrams (translated, with an afterthought, by Art Beck)

Of this quarter, I would especially recommend Beck’s translations of Martial’s epigrams. Beck’s “afterthought” is hardly as casual as the word usually connotes; as an epistolary poem, it uses the cumulative tone of the translated epigrams as a surfer uses an ocean swell, and the resulting glide initiates us as honorary members of his extended family.

Many poets associated with Los Angeles don’t actually write that much about living here, but Martha Ronk embeds herself in this city with quiet candor and rueful compassion for everyone who must endure the casuistries of daily life here. In examining “loss, its flannelly familiarity,” Ronk explores some of the same insinuating wrinkles that bunch up around the domesticated ordinariness of the partially suburban. Her poems in this collection remind me of Dick Barnes’s collaborations with Judy Fiskin. Indeed, “The Unfamiliar Familiar” contains a sequence of poems about photographs of houses, so there might be an influence. In any case, “Twilight Tracks House #3” is one of those rare poems where the rhythm and the images left me hungry to absorb the poem entirely, which is to say that I longed to memorize this elegaic aubade to the keen pitch of having its syllables roll around in my consciousness like sated lovers about to be aroused again. Ronk’s chapbook concludes with poems I remember seeing recently published: a set of homages to Raymond Chandler’s classic novels about Los Angeles.

The late Ray Di Palma’s writing consistently contributed to the dialogue in Los Angeles and on the West Coast from the early 1970s onwards through his appearance in Vangelisti’s sequence of magazines, starting with Invisible City. This chapbook is a fine example of a collage call-and-response between the epigrammatic titles and sardonic clarification.

Dennis Phillips has been writing long poems for a half-century. Of all the poets I’ve ever met in Los Angeles, he is the one who most benefits from having his poems heard with as much duration as possible. As if to urge us to do so, the poems in Desert Sequence are assigned to a quintet of voices, the first of which acknowledges in a prose poem that this chapbook is part of a larger project, Mappa Mundi.
“Here. Hold this open for a long minute because we both know it’s about to go away.
If this is a map then all maps are maps of the world and any sentence is a narrative, but:”
In Phillips’s absorption of the desert’s map in the conjunctions that follow, we are given important cautionary reminders about the cartography of the imagination.

SECOND QUARTET (July, 2017)
Gillian ConoleyPreparing One’s Consciousness for the Avatar
Robert Crosson — The Price of Lemons: Or; Some of the Worst Movies Ever Made
Corrado Costa — The Dodo or The School for Night
Paul Vangelisti and William Xerra — Toodle-oo

I have to confess that I’ve always had some hesitations about Conoley’s poems. While moments in her poems have usually caught my attention, some aspect of her associative logic would inevitably throw me off course. Perhaps, finally, I am beginning to acclimate myself to her distinctive cadences. Oddly enough, it isn’t the title poem of her chapbook that delivers this entryway, but rather “Life on Earth” and “The Right to Be Forgotten.” If I were putting together an anthology of outstanding recent poems, this pair would easily make my short list.

Robert Crosson’s memoir of his life as a young aspiring actor and modest success is one of the most charming and candidly droll accounts of being an artistic ephebe in the early 1950s. It’s the perfect counter-balance to read, after watching your favorite film noir.

Corrado Costa’s Th Dodoreminds me of Ionesco’s early plays, and in all the right ways.

One of the most remarkable qualities of Toodle-oo‘s meditative lyricism (or should I say “its lyrical meditation”) is that it refuses to make the least effort to seduce the reader. To no avail, for I could not help but succumb to the primary gravitational force of the poem: the candor of the immediate. In identifying that factor, it’s crucial not to confuse “the immediate” with “spontaneity” — that trompe l’oeil of mid-century avant-garde nostalgia for some Dionysian avatar. This poem follows much more subtle, actual scents, and as I read, I breathed deeply, slowly, releasing the agitation of my ordinary day.

Robin Myers, Poet-Translator: CONFLATIONS/Almagama

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Robin Myers, Poet-Translator: CONFLATIONS/Almagam

“Si tengo con qué escribir, sé que voy a detenerme a poner atención, a buscar entender cómo las cosas que me rodean se hablan entre sí.” — Robin Myers

Undergraduate students in creative writing often ask me about attending a MFA program. Since I myself do not have a MFA and often find myself in opposition to the constricted poetics that has dominated the Association of Writing Programs the past half-century, I am hardly the best person to go to for advice. I certainly encourage students to get the training that they feel is most appropriate for their talents and career goals. It’s important, for instance, for students to realize that the MFA is essentially a union card. It entitles one to apprenticeship status in the “brain factory,” which is to say that a person with a MFA can get teaching work at a college. Many MFA students who have attended CSULB have gone on to teach in the region’s community colleges, and a few have even taught at the four-year schools. Not only do they teach, but they continue writing, and several have gone on to publish novels and a fair amount of poetry. The success of the students is not surprising, given the quality of the MFA faculty. The other three poets who teach in the MFA program at CSULB (in seniority order, Charles Harper Webb, Patty Seyburn, and David Hernandez) all have national reputations; the fiction faculty includes two writers who have won N.E.A. creative writing fellowships. A student would be very hard pressed to find a better creative writing faculty at a public college, or many private colleges for that matter.

Any there other options, though? While it does require both aptitude and courage, one option is to empower oneself with thorough knowledge of a second language and to work as a translator. One young American poet who has done that is Robin Myers, who lives and works in Mexico City. She does not have a M.F.A., but she has developed something far more beneficial in the past several years; she has found a community of poets in Mexico whose commitment and knowledge of the art of poetry have enabled her to grow as a poet. Ultimately, one of the weaknesses of MFA programs in general is that they create networks and not communities. In undertaking this alternative course of maturing as a writer, Robin Myers has made herself part of a community which her affirmation of, in turn, has embraced her creative work.

Myers has just had her first book of poems, CONFLATIONS/Almagam, published in a bilingual edition in Mexico. I had the privilege of reading many of the poems in this book two years ago when the manuscript was still being finalized, and this collection deserves to be recognized as a superb debut by a poet who has just turned 30 years old. While this book might be difficult to obtain in the United States, you can find an interview with her that was published yesterday in the Los Angeles Review of Books:
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/a-sudden-taking-in-of-air-an-interview-with-poet-and-translator-robin-myers/

Her interviewer, Daniel Saldaña París, is an essayist, poet and novelist. Among Strange Victims was just published this month by Coffee House Press; it is his first novel to appear in the United States.

Here is the catalogue copy for Robin Myers’s book:

http://www.edicionesantilope.com
Amalgama / Conflations
Robin Myers
Amalgama, la palabra, está definida en el diccionario como la unión o mezcla de cosas de naturaleza contraria o distinta. Y eso es justamente Amalgama, el libro: un inventario que Robin Myers levanta para luego recordar no sólo las cosas en sí, sino la sensación de asombro al encontrarlas todas juntas. Con una sensibilidad poco común, la poeta observa el mundo y va recogiendo lo que encuentra para darle después un lugar a través del lenguaje. “Si tengo con qué escribir”, dice Myers, “sé que voy a detenerme a poner atención, a buscar entender cómo las cosas que me rodean se hablan entre sí”.