carolyn forché | the colonel

27 09 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 295 | September 27, 2009


When I do writing workshops occasionally, sometime during that first hour, first session, I toss out the question, especially to beginners:

“What kind of writer do you want to be?”

Always a good opener. Comfort zone. “We’re all in this together” kind of thing. A little laughter—the fairly predictable “rich and famous”—but gradually the room grows quiet. Some soul-searching going on. (This guy’s not smiling…he must be serious.)

They are waiting for me to explain. Give them an answer they can live with.

I think it’s always a valid question—for beginners. Others as well:

“What kind of a writer have you become?

It’s all I can do to try to answer that. All I can do to keep from swinging into a full-blown essay, chapter, ‘blog’… What’s happened? Are we writing what we’re really thinking, feeling, seeing? Any of us? Do we care? Is the subject here? Far away from here? Another country? Does it call us? Would we rather carry on with whatever it is we are writing which seems…self-fulfilling? Where, when, how, do we separate the personal from the social? Should it be separated? Whatever happened to “writers of conscience”? Has the system successfully/finally ‘corporatized’ conscience, turning it into a bad investment? Have the talk shows, the talking heads, the whole modern media bliz silenced writers from telling the true words in stories and poems? Is/was it all just ‘fiction’ after all? That whole Steinbeck, GRAPES OF WRATH thing? That black writer Richard Wright (NATIVE SON) bitching about life back there in Chicago, in his time? All those American and Latino writers (to this day) describing the terrors of life south of all the borders–how we are all a big part of the tyranny and repression. Has literary ‘concern’ over injustice in this country been reduced to the politics of rant rather than an act of art? (A bigger audience for ‘rant’; repression doesn’t sell.)

What kind of a writer do you want to be?

Look at Carolyn Forche’. Her book that covers ‘conscience’ world-wide … the anthology she edited in 1991: AGAINST FORGETTING Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness. This is the bible—a literary history of writers finding and voicing their own words against tyranny, injustice, the status-quo.

On the back cover of her own award winning book of poems, THE COUNTRY BETWEEN US, is a statement by another American poet of conscience, Denise Levertov, which brings this all full circle, a final perspective. —Norbert Blei

“Here’s a poet who’s doing what I want to do, what I want to see all of us poets doing in this time without any close parallels or precedents in history: she is creating poems in which there is no seam between personal and political, lyrical and engaged. And she’s doing it magnificently, with intelligence and musicality, with passion and precision.” –Denise Levertov


Carolyn Forché

WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD is true. I was in his house. His wife carried
a tray of coffee and sugar. His daughter filed her nails, his son went
out for the night. There were daily papers, pet dogs, a pistol on the
cushion beside him. The moon swung bare on its black cord over
the house. On the television was a cop show. It was in English.
Broken bottles were embedded in the walls around the house to
scoop the kneecaps from a man’s legs or cut his hands to lace. On
the windows there were gratings like those in liquor stores. We had
dinner, rack of lamb, good wine, a gold bell was on the table for
calling the maid. The maid brought green mangoes, salt, a type of
bread. I was asked how I enjoyed the country. There was a brief
commercial in Spanish. His wife took everything away. There was
some talk then of how difficult I had become to govern. The parrot
said hello on the terrace. The colonel told it to shut up, and pushed
himself from the table. My friend said to me with his eyes: say
nothing. The colonel returned with a sack used to bring groceries
home. He spilled many human ears on the table. They were like
dried peach halves. There is no other way to say this. He took one
of them in his hands, shook it in our faces, dropped it into a water
glass. It came alive there. I am tired of fooling around he said. As
for the rights of anyone, tell your people they can go fuck themselves.
He swept the ears to the floor with his arm and held the last
of his wine in the air. Something for your poetry, no? he said. Some
of the ears on the floor caught this scrap of his voice. Some of the
ears on the floor were pressed to the ground.

May 1978

[from THE COUNTRY BETWEEN US, Harper & Row, 1981]

Carolyn Forché is an American poet, editor, translator, and human rights advocate. Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan, on April 28, 1950, to Michael Joseph and Louise Nada Blackford Sidlosky. Forché earned a B.A. in International Relations at Michigan State University in 1972. After graduate study at Bowling Green State University in 1975, she taught at a number of universities, including the University of Virginia, Skidmore College, Columbia University, and in the Master of Fine Arts program at George Mason University. She is now Director of the Lannan Center for Poetry and Poetics and holds the Lannan Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. She lives in Maryland with her husband, Harry Mattison, a photographer, and their son, Sean-Christophe Mattison, who is a filmmaker.

Forché’s first poetry collection, Gathering the Tribes (1976), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition, leading to publication by Yale University Press. In 1977, she traveled to Spain to translate the work of Salvadoran-exiled poet Claribel Alegría. Upon her return, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to El Salvador, where she worked as a human rights advocate. Her second book, The Country Between Us (1981), was published with the help of Margaret Atwood. It received the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was also the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Nation, Esquire, Mother Jones, and others. Forché has held three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1992 received a Lannan Foundation Literary Fellowship.

Her anthology, Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness, was published in 1993, and her third book of poetry, The Angel of History (1994), was chosen for The Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her works include the famed poem The Colonel. She is also a trustee for the Griffin Poetry Prize.

Though Forché is sometimes described as a political poet, she considers herself a poet who is politically engaged. After first acquiring both fame and notoriety for her second volume of poems, The Country Between Us, she pointed out that this reputation rested on a limited number of poems describing what she personally had experienced in El Salvador during the Salvadoran Civil War. Her aesthetic is more one of rendered experience and at times of mysticism rather than one of ideology or agitprop. Forché is particularly interested in the effect of political trauma on the poet’s use of language. The anthology Against Forgetting was intended to collect the work of poets who had endured the impress of extremity during the twentieth century, whether through their engagements or force of circumstance. These experiences included warfare, military occupation, imprisonment, torture, forced exile, censorship, and house arrest. The anthology, composed of the work of one hundred and forty-five poets writing in English and translated from over thirty languages, begins with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the uprising of the pro-Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square. Although she was not guided in her selections by the political or ideological persuasions of the poets, Forché believes the sharing of painful experience to be radicalizing, returning the poet to an emphasis on community rather than the individual ego. In this she was strongly influenced by Terrence des Pres.

Forché is also influenced by her Slovak family background, particularly the life story of her grandmother, an immigrant whose family included a woman resistance fighter imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of former Czechoslovakia. Forché was raised Roman Catholic and religious themes are frequent in her work. Her fourth book of poems, Blue Hour, was released in 2003. Forthcoming books include a memoir, The Horse on Our Balcony (2010, HarperCollins), a book of essays (2011, HarperCollins) and a fifth collection of poems, In the Lateness of the World (HarperCollins).


  • * Women in American Labor History, 1825-1935: An Annotated Bibliography (Michigan State University, 1972), with Martha Jane Soltow and Murray Massre
  • * Gathering the Tribes (Yale University Press, 1976), ISBN 0300019831
  • * History and Motivations of U.S. Involvement in the Control of the Peasant Movement in El Salvador: The Role of AIFLD in the Agrarian Reform Process, 1970-1980 (EPICA, 1980), with Philip Wheaton
  • * The Country Between Us (Harper & Row, 1981), ISBN 0060149558
  • * El Salvador: Work of Thirty Photographers (W.W. Norton, 1983), ISBN 0863160638
  • * Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (W.W. Norton, 1993), ISBN 0393033724 (ed.)
  • * The Angel of History (HarperCollins, 1994), ISBN 0060170786
  • * Writing Creative Nonfiction: Instruction and Insights from Teachers of the Associated Writing Programs (Story Press, 2001), ISBN 1884910505 (ed. with Philip Gerard)
  • * Blue Hour (HarperCollins, 2003), ISBN 0060099127


norbert blei | addendum

20 09 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 199 | September 20, 2009


to the Word Riot Interview, September 16, 2009

Norbert Blei

Let me begin by thanking everybody who responded to this interview via e-mail or in the commentary section of the Word Riot interview conducted by writer David Hoenigman. I’m humbled, appreciative, encouraged by the community of readers and writers out there—of all ages. Which brings me to the reason for this addendum.

There’s a question that David Hoenigman asked me in the interview that continues to bother me because I feel I did not give it enough serious thought. My reply seems too quick, a little ‘smart-ass’ bordering on arrogant, though that was not my intention. I was caught up no doubt in the momentary rush of “MY answer”—dismissing, in a way, the source and sense of the Word Riot website for something different, distant, more esoteric. Thus my reply, ‘More foreign than American’, instead of a more perceptive answer for “new authors,” American perhaps, though I have no knowledge if the interviewer had this in mind. Nevertheless…David asked (and I replied):

DH: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?

NB: More foreign than American. And they are ‘new’ (most of them) only because I may have either recently discovered them—or finally gotten around to reading them.

As I study Word Riot’s engaging website more carefully, run through all the work and names of new, unknown writers (to me)…working/writing hard to be heard, I am reminded of my own long journey…how many little mags I submitted work to in the 60’s and 70’s, from mimeograph publications, to beautiful literary quarterlies. How I longed for a tidbit of recognition: “That was a good story you wrote.” How many early stories were rejected or occasionally accepted. Just how long this apprenticeship takes—or never ends. How many writers finally give up, drop out, start selling life insurance…settle for less, or something else. The whole process wears you down. Makes you angry. Bitter. Resigned. But you’re either a writer or you’re not. Only you and time can tell. Recognized, unrecognized. Success has nothing to do with it.

Writers are new and unknown. And just as many of them: older and unknown …forgotten… ‘successful’ (some of them) in that they may have established a good track record of publications through the years–books, articles, essays, stories, poems. But almost nobody knows their name. I try to be mindful of this with my own small press, mixing the new with the old … occasionally presenting ‘veteran’ writers such as the late Curt Johnson, his work, his dedication to the small press movement in America.

Though books by strangers arrive in my mail frequently, subscriptions to various little mags call for my attention, it’s clear I can no longer keep up with all the new writers, given the even wider distribution of work in our times: online writing, print-by-demand, YouTube. I can only look in awe at the whole process, catch hold of whatever drifts into my hands, before my eyes–often by pure chance. The same way Word Riot was passed on to me via a link by writer John Bennett—and an unknown writer (to me), David Hoenigman, wondered if I would write something, submit to a few questions.

That’s precisely the way the small press/little mag publication (now, online publishing) has always worked. That’s the lifeblood. The ‘underground’ circulation. Writers aware of each other—and spreading the word, if and when the spirit moves them. Of course there’s competition, jealousy, mean-spiritedness, maybe guilt…but there’s also generosity. People in the arts, especially, need to be reminded of this. It’s not always, just about ‘you’—but maybe that strange bird out there in Mississippi writing such real/raw/incredible stories, his sentences running on and on with no tolerance for punctuation, or that shy woman in Massachusetts, dressed all in white, knocking out those small, mystifying poems, stashing most of them in her dresser drawer till the day she dies.

I didn’t/don’t know David Hoenigman, who interviewed me, and still don’t. Though, because he asked something of me, I’ve since discovered a little here and there about him. He’s the ‘younger generation’ of that I’m sure. Probably ‘lost’—where every new generation of writers finds itself. Years galore no doubt separate David from me, though the beauty of the writing-life: this doesn’t matter. He lives ands writes from Japan, though how and why he (an American from Cleveland) landed there, I have not a clue. He has, to my knowledge, one book to his name so far. Not a book I know or have read—but will, eventually. And I’m going to BUY a copy—for his sake, a new writer.

You can learn more about David on two great websites/publications. The fact that he got some ink in Rain Taxi almost make me jealous. A superb publication. I’ve never appeared there—and wish now that I had tried. Time, time, time….

You’ll find an excellent interview concerning David and his work in Rain Taxi at

and can read an excerpt from his book, BURN YOUR BELONGINGS in Smoke Box at

Judging from the interview of him and the engaging excerpt from his book, I see and am reminded that David (and occasionally other new writers) seems taken with what we once called ‘experimental writing.’ Which I find a good and necessary thing. If you journeyed your way through writing-as-a-life with some success but never stopped to smell the roses of experimental writing—your education remains incomplete. It may be too late; then again, it may not.

While this remains a playing field for the young, for awhile…some of our ‘elders’ who stayed with it found such meaning and satisfaction there, they never left. But remained, sometimes confused, mumbling to themselves, their work perhaps unreadable/unread–or, turned over the soil so deep, reached new heights at such depths, blossomed in a way or a work or language exclusively their own. Let me throw out the name James Joyce. His one book which changed the course of modern literature.

But I’m getting carried away with the subject, with myself. Let me wrap this up.

For David, and other new, ‘experimental’ writers. I envy your interest and work in that area. I loved, and occasionally still practice it myself. It is a great teacher of narrative, of image, of patterns. It can open the mind like the breath of a fresh haiku.

However—-never think you have discovered anything new. It’s ALL been done before. From automatic writing to flash fiction to…you name it. Lit critics are as good as New York fashion folk in slapping new names to old concepts. Have you ever read Raymond Queneau? Jean-Francois Bory? Henri Michaux? Apollinaire? How concrete can writing get? kitasono katue’, Gerhard Ruhn, Carlo Belloli, ??? If you’ve never met Francis Ponge upon the page—you’re in for one hell of an introduction. He’ll steal your mind away. The diaries of Gombrowwicz will take you to places you cannot imagine. If essay is your calling: what’s a feuilleton (see Ludvik Vaculik) or a cronica (see Clarice Lispector)—which may be different names for things we already know, though conceived in different ways.

Bern Porter comes to mind too…once published by Something Else Press in the early 70’s—which was really something else. Both the press and the lively literary times. Find every Something Else Press book or pamphlet you can lay your hands on. Look up Dick Higgins sometime—boy, could he/did he set the table for a language feast. What else can a writer do and learn about us—experimenting with our everyday language of life?

No, you have not discovered something new. You are only fine-tuning the process but—with any luck, making it a little more your own. Which is no little thing.

Sooner or later, as I said before, it all comes back to story. Where it begins. If you lose that in the process of experimenting with words to make meaning, you’ve lost your reader and yourself.

ULYSSES is just an old, old story. Made different, anew, alive in the language of Joyce.

jim kacian | country mouse

18 09 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 294 | September 18, 2009

Jim Kacian

Dogs and frogs and cats and mice and bugs and birds…
God bless the creatures all (country cousins, city slickers) the way our poets do, holding them in the light of words for all to see.

After recently posting Charles Simic’s “The Toad”…I was brought to attention by Jim Kacian’s “Country Mouse”, and its “hour upon the stage.” Applause, applause… —Norbert Blei

Country Mouse

I’m just a simple poet
bum, live in the sticks,
grow my own
spinach, but each year
I make my pilgrimage
to the Big Apple,
to ease the tedium.
Just one night
on the town
and I’m suddenly
urban. All subways lead
to Greenwich
where I sweat and shout
poems from a make-shift
stage that slide
through the night’s throat
like bourbon.

[Source: from a small collection called “Chants of a Lifetime”, published in the author’s early years, privately printed and op]

James Michael Kacian, an American haiku poet, editor, publisher, and public speaker was born on July 26, 1953, in Worcester, Massachusetts, then adopted and raised in Gardner, Massachusetts. He has lived in London, Nashville, Bridgton (Maine) and now resides in Winchester, Virginia. Kacian wrote his first mainstream poems in his teens, and published them in small poetry magazines beginning in 1970. He also wrote, recorded, and sold songs during his time in Nashville in the 1980s. Upon his return to Virginia in 1985 he discovered English-language haiku, for which he is best known.

In 1993, he founded Red Moon Press, and in the same year began editing the haiku journal South by Southeast. Kacian’s Red Moon Press is the largest publisher of haiku and haiku-related books outside Japan, with a current catalog of over 60 titles in print, and producing some dozen titles a year, including 12 years of the award-winning annual Red Moon Anthology. This was followed in 1998 with the editorship of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America.

Having proposed a new global haiku association in 1999, Kacian co-founded the World Haiku Association with Ban’ya Natsuishi and Dimitar Anakiev. In September of 2000 the WHA held its inaugural conference in Tolmin, Slovenia. From August to November of 2000, Kacian traveled to nine countries — the UK, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan promoting a global haiku. Having invited haiku poets from around the world to submit their haiku to Frogpond, Kacian compiled and edited 2001’s XXIV:1 issue, featuring haiku from 24 countries.

In late 2008 Kacian formed and created The Haiku Foundation, a non-profit organization which focuses on archiving English-language haiku’s first century while expanding its second, with an official start-date of January 6, 2009.

Poetry collections

Kacian has written fourteen books of poetry, twelve of which are dedicated to haiku or haiku-related genres. His poems have been translated into many languages.

clouds seen
through clouds
seen through

(along with 29 other chosen haiku) is etched in a stone along the Katikati Haiku Pathway beside the Uretara Stream in New Zealand. (Poems were selected by the Katikati Haiku Pathway Focus Committee, New Zealand Poetry Society, and Catherine Mair).

His essays have been cited in such works as:

  • * “Rowland, Philip (Autumn 2008). “From Haiku to the Short Poem: Bridging the divide”. Modern Haiku 39(3), pp.23-45 ISSN 0026-7821
  • * Yovu, Peter (Winter 2008). “Do Something Different”. Frogpond XXXI, pp.51-61 ISSN 8755-156X

Kacian’s efforts on behalf of global haiku have been featured in:

  • * Global Haiku and the work of Jim Kacian (Richard Gilbert, 2003)

And 30 of his selected haiku are featured at:

  • * Mann Library’s Daily Haiku

with an additional 17 personally selected in December, 2008 at:

  • * Jim Kacian — Essays & Selected Haiku

Kacian’s work has also been anthologized in, among others:

  • * The Haiku Anthology, 3rd ed. (Cor van den Heuvel) Norton, 1999 ISBN 0-393-04743-1
  • * Haiku Moment (ed. Bruce Ross) Tuttle, 1993 ISBN 0 8048 1820 7
  • * Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac (ed. William J. Higginson)
  • * The New Haiku (eds. John Barlow & Martin Lucas)
  • * Haiku Mind (ed. Patricia Donegan)
  • * Journey to the Interior: American Versions of Haibun (ed. Bruce Ross)
  • * How to Haiku (Bruce Ross)
  • * Haiku: A Poet’s Guide (Lee Gurga)
  • * Baseball Haiku (ed. Cor van den Heuvel)
  • * Haiku: Poetry Ancient & Modern (ed. Jackie Hardy) (also German and French editions)
  • * Haiku International Anthology (ed. Ban’ya Natsuishi)
  • * Poems of Consciousness (Richard Gilbert) Red Moon Press 2008 ISBN 978-1893959729

His poem,

my fingerprints
on the dragonfly
in amber

serves as the departure point for Richard Gilbert’s monograph on contemporary haiku technique, The Disjunctive Dragonfly, defining innovative techniques in English-language haiku.


Kacian has edited several English language haiku books and journals, including:

  • * A New Resonance: Emerging Voices in English-language Haiku (series), 1999-present
  • * Contemporary Haibun (series), 1999-present
  • * Red Moon Anthology of English-language Haiku (series), 1996-present
  • * Frogpond, the Journal of the Haiku Society of America, from 1998 to 2004.
  • * Dozen Tongues (series) (vols. 1 & 2), 2000-2001
  • * Knots: The Anthology of Southeast European Haiku Poetry (with Dimitar Anakiev), 1999
  • * South by Southeast from 1993 to 1998.


As a poet. Kacian’s haiku have won or placed in many national and international haiku competitions in English (and occasionally other languages as well), including:

  • * The Kusamakura International Haiku Competition (Japan, 2008)
  • * The Winter Moon International Haiku Competition (2008)
  • * The Cascina Macondo Concorso Internazionale de Poesia Haiku in Lingua Italiana 5th Edizione (Italy, 2007)
  • * The 17th Ito-En Haiku Competition Judge’s Award (Japan, 2007)
  • * The Hawai’i Education Association Haiku Competition (2007)
  • * The Harold G. Henderson Haiku Competition Prize (Haiku Society of America) (2005)
  • * The British Haiku Society James W. Hackett International Haiku Award (2001)
  • * Betty Drevniok (Haiku Canada (2000, 2001, 2002, 2008)

Individual collection awards

The books listed below have won The Haiku Society of America Merit Book Awards for outstanding achievement in the genre.

  • * Long After
  • * Presents of Mind
  • * Six Directions: Haiku and Field Notes
  • * Border Lands

As a publisher

Kacian’s work as publisher has also been highly recognized:

  • In 1996 his production of John Elsberg’s A Week in the Lake District was a finalist for Virginia Poetry Book of the Year (Virginia State Library).
  • In August 2000, Knots — The Anthology of Southeastern European Haiku Poetry (1999), which Kacian co-edited with Dimitar Anakiev, won second place in the World Haiku Achievement Competition.
  • In October 2008 he won the Ginyu Award for Outstanding Contribution to World Haiku (Ginyu issue 40, pp. 13-15)

Publication credits

Kacian’s poems, articles, and book reviews have appeared internationally in journals, magazines, and newspapers such as:

  • * Frogpond
  • * The Heron’s Nest
  • * Ant Ant Ant Ant Ant
  • * Simply Haiku
  • * Modern Haiku
  • * The Haiku Canada Newsletter
  • * Acorn


Kacian has read in many parts of the world, including international poetry festivals in New York, New Orleans, London, Oxford, Belgrade, Vilanice, Ohrid, Skopje, Sofia, Sydney, Hobart, Wellington, Christchurch, Auckland, Tokyo, Tenri, Kyoto, Kumamoto, Los Angeles, Toronto and Washington D.C. Some of his speeches are listed below:

  • * “So:Ba” given at the International Haiku Conference (SUNY Plattsburgh, NY, July 2008); published serially in Frogpond XXXI:3 2008 p.73 (part one) ISSN 1089-9421, and forthcoming.
  • * “Bridges” given at the Haiku North America International Conference (Winston-Salem, NC, August 2007); published as “The Haiku Hierarchy,” Modern Haiku 39(1), Spring 2008, ISSN 0026-7821.
  • * “State of the Art: Haiku in North America 2007” Second European Haiku Conference (Vadstena, Sweden, June 2007).
  • * “Dag Hammarskjöld: Haiku Poet and Photographer” (New York, New York, January 2006 — book release of A String Untouched).
  • * Welcome Address (Sofia, Bulgaria, May 2005 — World Haiku Association Conference).
  • * Welcome Address (Tokyo, Japan, October 2003 — World Haiku Association Conference)
  • * “Around the World as Briefly as Possible”, Pacific Rim Haiku Conference (November 2002, Los Angeles, California) published in Connecticut Review XXVII:2, Fall 2005 ISSN 00106216.
  • * “Looking and Seeing: How Haiga Works” given at the Haiku Society of American National Meeting, September 2002; published in Simply Haiku 2:5 (Autumn 2004); reprinted in The Red Moon Anthology of English-Language Haiku 2004 (Red Moon Press), pp. 126-153.


  • * “Tapping the Common Well” (foreword) in Knots: The Anthology of Southeastern European Haiku Poetry Red Moon Press, 1999. ISBN 978-9619071502.
  • * “Beyond Kigo — In Due Season” in Acorn Supplement #1 (2000) ISSN 1521-138X.
  • * “Van Gogh’s Shoes” in Valley Voices 8:1 ISSN 1553-7668.
  • * Renga-Daddy: A Kasen Renga between Basho, Boncho, Kyorai and Shiho in the manner of Tristan Tzara based on “The First Winter Rain” from The Monkey’s Straw Raincoat in commemoration of the 300th Anniversary of Basho’s Death; Frogpond XIX:1 ISSN.


His advocacy, along with that of such poets as Marlene Mountain and Janice Bostok, of single-line haiku in English has initiated renewed interest in this form following its rare usage during the 20th century. His work also champions several innovative techniques (as cited by Richard Gilbert in The Disjunctive Dragonfly and in his book Poems of Consciousness). Kacian’s own critical writings elaborate some of these aesthetic innovations.


  • * The White Lotus Interview with Marie Summers – White Lotus #3 (Summer/Fall 2006) ISSN1556-3987.
  • * The Cascina Macondo Interview with Alessandra Gallo (issue number 13 of Writers Magazine Italia).

Electronic media

  • * Presents of Mind CD (haiku: Jim Kacian, Shakuhachi: Jeff Cairns, Japanese reader: Takke Kanemitsu) (2006).
  • * Around the World as Briefly as Possible CD (2003).



  • * Presents of Mind (Katsura Press, 1996) ISBN 0-9638551-8-2
  • * Chincoteague (Amelia Press, 1996) No ISBN
  • * Six Directions: Haiku and Field Notes (La Alameda Press, 1997) ISBN 0-9631909-4-6
  • * In Concert (Saki Press, 1999) ISBN 1-893823-07-5
  • * Second Spring (Red Moon Press, 2001) ISBN 1-893959-21-X
  • * Iz Kamna (Drustvo Apokalipsa, 2001) ISBN 961-6314-18-1
  • * dead reckoning (Red Moon Press, 2005) ISBN 1-893959-52-X
  • * How to Haiku (Red Moon Press, (online version only) 2006) No ISBN
  • * border lands (Red Moon Press, 2006 ISBN 1-893959-58-9)
  • * Presents of Mind (Red Moon Press, (second edition, bilingual) 2006) ISBN 1-893959-59-7
  • * orbis tertius (Red Moon Press, 2007) ISBN 978-1-893959-66-8
  • * long after (Albalibri Editore, Rosignano Marittimo: Italy (trilingual), 2008) ISBN 978-8889618585


charles simic | the toad

16 09 2009

Poetry Dispatch No. 293 | September 15, 2009


by Charles Simic

It’ll be a while before my friends
See me in the city,
A while before we roam the streets
Late at night
Shouting each other’s names
To point out some sight too wonderful,
Or too terrifying
To give it a name in a hurry.

I’m staying in the country,
Rising early,
Listening to the birds
Greet the light,
And when they fall quiet,
To the wind in the leaves
Which are as numerous here
As the crowds in your city.
God never made a day as beautiful as today,
A neighbor was saying.
I sat in the shade after she left
Mulling that one over,
When a toad hopped out of the grass
And finding me harmless,
Hopped over my foot on his way to the pond.

[from The New York Review of Books, August 13, 2009]

Dušan “Charles” Simić (born 9 May 1938) is a Serbian-American poet, and was co-Poetry Editor of the Paris Review. He was appointed the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 2007.

Simic was born in Belgrade, which was then in Yugoslavia. Growing up in war-torn Europe as a child shaped much of his world-view. In an interview from the Cortland Review he said, “Being one of the millions of displaced persons made an impression on me. In addition to my own little story of bad luck, I heard plenty of others. I’m still amazed by all the vileness and stupidity I witnessed in my life.” Simic immigrated to the United States with his family in 1954 when he was sixteen. He grew up in Chicago and received his B.A. from New York University. He is professor emeritus of American literature and creative writing at the University of New Hampshire and lives on the shore of Bow Lake in Strafford, New Hampshire.

He began to make a name for himself in the early to mid 1970s as a literary minimalist, writing terse, imagistic poems which, like those of William Blake, have their roots in observed objects that serve to extrapolate the universe. Over the years, Simic’s style has come to be considered immediately recognizable. Critics have often referred to Simic poems as “tightly constructed Chinese puzzle boxes.” Simic himself has stated: “Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is only the bemused spectator.” The quote intimates Simic’s philosophy that true art must be greater than the person who created it. He writes thoughtfully on such diverse topics as jazz, art, and philosophy. He exerts considerable influence not only as poet, but as translator, essayist and philosopher, opining on the current state of contemporary American poetry. He held the position of poetry editor of The Paris Review, and was replaced by Dan Chiasson.

Simic is one of the judges for the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize and continues to contribute poetry and prose to The New York Review of Books. Simic received the US$100,000 Wallace Stevens Award in 2007 from the Academy of American Poets in recognition of his outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry. Simic was selected by James Billington, Librarian of Congress, to be the fifteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, succeeding Donald Hall. Billington referred to “the rather stunning and original quality of his poetry”.


  • * MacArthur Fellowship (1984-1989)
  • * Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1990)
  • * Wallace Stevens Award (2007)


  • * What the Grass Says – 1967
  • * Somewhere Among Us A Stone Is Taking Notes – 1969
  • * Dismantling The Silence – 1971
  • * White – 1972
  • * Return To A Place Lit By A Glass Of Milk – 1974
  • * Charon’s Cosmology – 1977
  • * School For Dark Thoughts – 1978
  • * Classic Ballroom Dances – 1980
  • * Austerities – 1982
  • * Weather Forecast for Utopia & Vicinity: Poems 1967-1982 – 1983
  • * Unending Blues – 1986
  • * The World Doesn’t End: Prose Poems – 1989 (1990 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry )
  • * The Book of Gods and Devils – 1990
  • * Hotel Insomnia – 1992
  • * Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell – 1993
  • * A Wedding in Hell – 1994
  • * Walking the Black Cat – 1996 (National Book Award in Poetry finalist)
  • * Jackstraws – 1999 (New York Times Notable Book of the Year)
  • * Night Picnic: Poems – 2001
  • * A Fly in the Soup: Memoirs – 2002
  • * The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems – 2003
  • * Selected Poems: 1963-2003 – 2004 (winner of the 2005 International Griffin Poetry Prize)
  • * My Noiseless Entourage: Poems – 2005
  • * Aunt Lettuce, I Want To Peek Under Your Skirt – 2005 (illustrated by Howie Michels)
  • * Monkey Around – 2006
  • * Sixty Poems – 2008
  • * That Little Something: Poems – 2008
  • * Monster Loves His Labyrinth – 2008
  • * Army: Memoir. In preparation – 2008


alice munro | withdraws from canadian prize

11 09 2009

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 198 | September 11, 2009


“Memory is the way we keep telling ourselves our stories – and telling other people a somewhat different version of our stories.”

–Alice Munro

Speaking of ‘character,’ a recent topic in the news that I would like to explore a little in regard to Alice Munro, also recently in the news, a Canadian writer of considerable consequence throughout the world. “Chekovian”, some critics would say, in her sense, sensibility, mastery of the short story form.

Often when I travel some distance, when I know I will be gone from days to weeks, the last thing I pack are books. Always a tough decision. Something to hold me over. Do I want to continue the works I am already reading, or do I want something new? Nonfiction, novels, poetry, short stories? Hardback or paper—probably paper, considering the weight if lugging books on planes, through airports, etc. Even more importantly: What books? What authors? I always grab some small press publications. I always take a smattering of poetry and fiction. I want surprise, enjoyment, thought provocation, full engagement. There’s nothing worse than dragging a book along that’s disappointing. So flat you want to leave it behind on the plane, and you do—or I have done on a number of occasions.

So when I’m running out of time, unsure of clear choices, inevitably I stick a ‘staple’ in my carry-on briefcase—often a collection of Alice Munro’s stories, which never fail me. I’m not exactly sure why this is, what it is about her stories that possesses me, but I always feel at home, find, in her, an old friend who is going to tell me something in ways nobody else can.

I would add (somewhat of a contradiction)…her short stories are not really short. In fact, they’re long, too damn long—sometimes twenty-five to fifty pages or more! They’re almost novellas—but they’re not that either. They’re a form of ‘short’ story strictly her own. They’re more like short-story-novels…such depths, so many scenes, settings, characters… Truly unique.

I started this piece discussing character. In fact, my original intention was to merely mention the news item below and say: Thank you, Alice Munro. One of a kind. Here in the literary land of ego-mania-Americana, I can’t imagine a single writer of Alice Munro’s stature who would say “No, that’s enough.” Such generosity of spirit, such sterling character. –Norbert Blei


Alice Munro Withdraws From Canadian Prize

Book lovers who were hoping for a decisive showdown between the authors Alice Munro…and Margaret Atwood in the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the annual Canadian literary award, were disappointed when Ms. Munro said she did not want to be considered for the prize this year, The Globe and Mail reported. Ms. Munro, whose new short-story collection, “Too Much Happiness,” was seen as a likely nominee, said that she was withdrawing the book from consideration because she has won the prize twice before — for her collections “The Love of a Good Woman” (in 1998) and “Runaway” (in 2004) — and younger writers should have a chance to win. Douglas Gibson, whose Douglas Gibson Books imprint releases Ms. Munro’s work in Canada, told The Globe and Mail:

“In my role as greedy publisher I pointed out that the Giller Prize produces so much publicity, that even to be nominated for it is tremendous publicity. But her mind is made up on this.” The Giller Prize, about $45,000, is awarded annually to a Canadian work of fiction; the long list of nominees for this year’s prize will be announced Oct. 6. “Too Much Happiness” is to be released in the United States in November.

“I want the reader to feel something is astonishing. Not the ‘what happens,’ but the way everything happens.”

–Alice Munro

Alice Ann Munro ( born 10 July 1931) is a Canadian short-story writer, winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, and three-time winner of Canada’s Governor General’s Award for fiction. Generally regarded to be one of the world’s foremost writers of fiction, her stories focus on the human condition and relationships through the lens of daily life. While the locus of Munro’s fiction is Southwestern Ontario, her reputation as a short-story writer is international. Her “accessible, moving stories” explore human complexities in a seemingly effortless style. Munro’s writing has established her as “one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction,” or, as Cynthia Ozick put it, “our Chekhov.”

Alice Munro was born in the town of Wingham, Ontario into a family of fox and poultry farmers. Her father was Robert Eric Laidlaw and her mother, a school teacher, was Anne Clarke Laidlaw (née Chamney). She began writing as a teenager and published her first story, “The Dimensions of a Shadow,” while a student at the University of Western Ontario in 1950. During this period she worked as a waitress, tobacco picker and library clerk. In 1951, she left the university, in which she had been majoring in English since 1949, to marry James Munro and move to Vancouver, British Columbia. Her daughters Sheila, Catherine, and Jenny were born in 1953, 1955, and 1957 respectively; Catherine died 15 hours after birth. In 1963, the Munros moved to Victoria where they opened Munro’s Books. In 1966, their daughter Andrea was born.

Alice Munro’s first collection of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968), was highly acclaimed and won that year’s Governor General’s Award, Canada’s highest literary prize. This success was followed by Lives of Girls and Women (1971), a collection of interlinked stories that was published as a novel.

Alice and James Munro were divorced in 1972. She returned to Ontario to become Writer-in-Residence at the University of Western Ontario. In 1976 she married Gerald Fremlin, a geographer. The couple moved to a farm outside Clinton, Ontario. They have since moved from the farm to a house in the town of Clinton.

In 1978, Munro’s collection of interlinked stories, Who Do You Think You Are?, was published (titled The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose in the United States). This book earned Munro the Governor General’s Literary Award for a second time. From 1979 to 1982, she toured Australia, China and Scandinavia. In 1980 Munro held the position of Writer-in-Residence at both the University of British Columbia and the University of Queensland. Through the 1980s and 1990s, Munro published a short-story collection about once every four years to increasing acclaim, winning both national and international awards.

In 2002, her daughter Sheila Munro published a childhood memoir, Lives of Mothers and Daughters: Growing Up With Alice Munro.

Alice Munro’s stories frequently appear in publications such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Grand Street, Mademoiselle, and The Paris Review. In interviews to promote her 2006 collection The View from Castle Rock, Munro suggested that she would, perhaps, not publish any further collections. She has since recanted and published further work. Her latest collection, Too Much Happiness, was published in August 2009.

Her story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” has been adapted for the screen and directed by Sarah Polley as the film Away from Her, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent. It successfully debuted at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival. Polley’s adaptation was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, but lost to No Country for Old Men.

Many of Munro’s stories are set in Huron County, Ontario. Her strong regional focus is one of the features of her fiction. Another is the all-knowing narrator who serves to make sense of the world. Many compare Munro’s small-town settings to writers of the U.S. rural South. As in the works of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, her characters often confront deep-rooted customs and traditions. However, the reaction of Munro’s characters is less intense than their Southern counterparts’. Thus, particularly with respect to her male characters, she may be said to capture the essence of everyman. Her female characters, though, are more complex. Much of Munro’s work exemplifies the literary genre known as Southern Ontario Gothic.

Munro’s work is often compared with the great short story writers. For example, the American writer Cynthia Ozick called Munro “our Chekhov.” In Munro stories, as in Chekhov’s, plot is secondary and “little happens.” As with Chekhov, Garan Holcombe notes: “All is based on the epiphanic moment, the sudden enlightenment, the concise, subtle, revelatory detail.” Munro’s work deals with “love and work, and the failings of both. She shares Chekhov’s obsession with time and our much-lamented inability to delay or prevent its relentless movement forward.”

A frequent theme of her work—particularly evident in her early stories—has been the dilemmas of a girl coming of age and coming to terms with her family and the small town she grew up in. In recent work such as Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (2001) and Runaway (2004) she has shifted her focus to the travails of middle age, of women alone and of the elderly. It is a mark of her style for characters to experience a revelation that sheds light on, and gives meaning to, an event.

Munro’s spare and lucid language and command of detail gives her fiction a “remarkable precision,” as Helen Hoy observes. Munro’s prose reveals the ambiguities of life: “ironic and serious at the same time,” “mottoes of godliness and honor and flaming bigotry,” “special, useless knowledge,” “tones of shrill and happy outrage,” “the bad taste, the heartlessness, the joy of it.” Her style places the fantastic next to the ordinary with each undercutting the other in ways that simply, and effortlessly, evoke life. As Robert Thacker notes:

Munro’s writing creates … an empathetic union among readers, critics most apparent among them. We are drawn to her writing by its verisimilitude—not of mimesis, so-called and… ‘realism’—but rather the feeling of being itself… of just being a human being.

Many critics have asserted that Munro’s stories often have the emotional and literary depth of novels. The question of whether Munro actually writes short-stories or novels has often been asked. Alex Keegan, writing in Eclectica, has a simple answer: “Who cares? In most Munro stories there is as much as in many novels.”


  • * Dance of the Happy Shades – 1968 (winner of the 1968 Governor General’s Award for Fiction)
  • * Lives of Girls and Women – 1971
  • * Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You – 1974
  • * Who Do You Think You Are? – 1978 (winner of the 1978 Governor General’s Award for Fiction)
  • * The Moons of Jupiter – 1982 (nominated for a Governor General’s Award)
  • * The Progress of Love – 1986 (winner of the 1986 Governor General’s Award for Fiction)
  • * Friend of My Youth – 1990 (winner of the Trillium Book Award)
  • * Open Secrets – 1994 (nominated for a Governor General’s Award)
  • * Selected Stories – 1996
  • * The Love of a Good Woman – 1998 (winner of the 1998 Giller Prize)
  • * Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage – 2001
  • * No Love Lost – 2003
  • * Vintage Munro – 2004
  • * Runaway – 2004 (winner of the 2004 Giller Prize) ISBN 1-4000-4281-X
  • * The View from Castle Rock – 2006
  • * Too Much Happiness – 2009

Awards and honours


  • * Governor General’s Award for English-language Fiction (Canada) – 1968, 1978, 1986
  • * Canadian Booksellers Award for Lives Of Girls And Women (1971)
  • * Marian Engel Award (1986)
  • * Shortlisted for the annual (UK) Booker Prize for Fiction (now the ‘Man Booker Prize’) (1980) for The Beggar Maid
  • * WH Smith Literary Award (1995, UK) for Open Secrets
  • * National Book Critics Circle Award (1998, U.S.) For The Love of a Good Woman
  • * PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction (1997)
  • * Rea Award for the Short Story (2001) given to a living American or Canadian author.
  • * Libris Award
  • * Canada-Australia Literary Prize
  • * Commonwealth Writers Prize Regional Award for Canada and the Caribbean.
  • * Trillium Book Award (1990)
  • * WH Smith Literary Award (1995)
  • * Giller Prize (1998 and 2004)
  • * O. Henry Award for Continuing Achievement in Short Fiction in the U.S. (2004) For Passion first published in The New Yorker, March 22, 2004 and What Do You Want To Know For Published in The American Scholar (2008)
  • * Man Booker International Prize (2009, UK)


  • * Royal Society of Canada’s Lorne Pierce Medal (1993)
  • * Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1992)
  • * Medal of Honor for Literature from the U.S. National Arts Club (2005)


karla huston | 3 poems

4 09 2009

PoetryDispatch No. 292 | September 4, 2009

3 Poems

Karla Huston brings today’s ‘feminine mystique’ front and center/in your face with great style, gusto, talent-galore plus ‘attitude’—the kind that makes men smile, damn near worship, wish the world were filled with more women alive in just this way, words rolling off their tongue…sharp, sassy, sexy…with just enough grace and gravitas to help you make it through another night, romance, rancor, or reflection.. Say it again, please, one more time…it sounds so right. –Norbert Blei



The girl from Ipanema has nothing
on this one walking a suburban street,
short shorts and tan legs which my husband
says go all the way up to her (perfect!) ass.
What catches his eye more than the Y
of cleavage peeking out of her white top?
Is it her hair, long and thick?
It moves like a surge, a breaker picking
up momentum, the curl of it washing
the immaculate shore of her shoulders.
And I know he’s thinking how her hair
would feel, its blonde chill, all silk and sweet
sheets, satiny cool against his thighs until
everything is the only thing,
the deep waves of it rolling in and out,
the dry taste of salt.

Fifties Women at Windows

They wait at windows
in aprons and house dresses,
cross-your-hearts, buckled
and pointed. They wait
at kitchen windows, soapy hands
plunged into Joy, a little
orange grease catching the edges
of their wrists. They wait for husbands
to get home, for children walking
down streets, for the delivery
with its boxes and butcher paper
wrapping what they can’t afford
this week. They wait at picture
windows while plows clear snow
into impossible rows. They wait
for neighbors and coffee,
the Jewel Tea man with his bag
of brushes and cleaners,
for the Avon lady to ding dong,
bring vials of To a Wild Rose,
tiny tubes of pastel pinks. They wait
for the knock of The Millionaire
offering a check to solve
what ails them. For once,
they want to be Queen for a Day—
or at least the idea of it. Not
the pitiful sobbing women
in the small window of the TV.
They wait for the window
of the world they knew to open
and take them back.

Love That Red

The mouths of their tubes open,
luscious tongues reaching.
I’m drawn to them – the thick
color embedded and shaped,
the sheen glistening,
the slanted tips fat with promise.
My mother wore Love That Red
and when she put it on, I knew
she was going further
than the clothesline
or the edge of our corner lot,
knew the way her lips pursed
that love it or not, red was her color,
the way it lit her brown eyes
and she was taking all of it with her.

[from AN INVENTORY OF LOST THINGS, Centennial Press, PO Box 170322, Milwaukee, WI,]