Tag: yale series of younger poets

Q&A with Eryn Green, the 2013 Winner of Yale Series of Younger Poets

Eryn Green_

Happy National Poetry Month! Check out the new site, Youngerpoets.org!

 

Yale University Press had the pleasure of interviewing Eryn Green, whose collection, Eruv, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2013; his book is out this month. Here, we discussed about the life of a poet and the relevance of poetry in today’s modern society. Visit the new Yale Series of Younger Poets website for more information on the history of the prize, published books, and of course, our illustrious list of poets.

 

Yale University Press: What prompted you to start writing? And why poetry in particular as opposed to prose?

Eryn Green: I’ve been writing since I can remember. I recall walking upstairs and explaining to my parents very calmly that I wasn’t going to be able to make it to dinner because I was “really on a roll” with a story I was writing about a guy who waits his whole life to go to outer space, but misses his rocket ship to Mars because he’s kind of OCD and has to arrange everything in his house a certain way or else he’s sure the rocket will crash. I was 8-years-old. So, the impulse has always been there. But I began writing poetry in earnest in college, after years of fiddling with it, after taking writing workshops with some amazing teachers and meeting a mentor and really finding my chosen family of friends in the writing community at the University of Utah. I realized poetry was as much about what I wrote as it was about how and with whom I was writing. I knew this was what I wanted to do immediately.

 

YUP: What or who are your primary sources of inspiration?

EG: My friends and family, first of all. I am intensely lucky to have so many gifted writers around me every day—from my talented partner Hanna Andrews and the library of excellent work that has come out of Switchback Books and Coconut Books over the last handful years, to dear friends from Utah and Denver like Nathan Hauke, Kirsten Jorgenson, Geoff Babbitt, Stacy Kidd, Shira Dentz, Kathryn Coles, Brenda Scieczkowski, Chris Kondrich and Sam Knights, all of whose work slays me. Denver at this moment is a really terrific place to be a poet—we have an amazing community centered around the various creative writing programs in the vicinity and the flourishing small-press scene building along the Wasatch Front. All of that stuff helps keep me inspired. I also am a big fan of the forest and the national park and the humble bog.

 

YUP: How would you describe your overall process as well as your day-to-day writing schedule?

EG: Well, I have a very tiny 4-month-old baby girl, so my day-to-day writing schedule changes day-to-day. Which, as it turns out, isn’t such a big deal—actually, it fits right in with my long-standing general approach to writing. I write in a journal, nothing ever finished, usually scribbling just small jots and tittles, and then I return to my notebooks later as a kind of source of compost and inspiration. I try to keep the process of writing a poem low-stakes as much as I can—I try to recognize my work within the broader scope of my life and the life of the universe, which sounds hokey, but is true. The stars and the sun make writing easier—if I don’t write a poem today, does anything suffer? No, assuredly not. The sky is still there, the ground is still there, the birds still know intuitively exactly when to strike up the band. Things remain well underway. So, writing for me is a way to recognize the larger conditions of things, and my place therein, and in this thinking writing a poem is inherently a moment of joy.

 

YUP: Which audience (if any) do you have in mind when crafting your work?

EG: It’s an interesting question. On the one hand, I live and work in a community of writers, many of whom I share my work with regularly. So, my friends are on my mind. But more conceptually, really, I think about writing as a kind of prayer—what is the audience for a prayer? It’s not God, exactly—and it isn’t just emptiness. It is some kind of point in-between, a flickering intelligence inside of space that I imagine—that’s who /what I figure is giving me the material in the first place, and so that is with what/who I often imagine myself writing to.

 

YUP: How many rejections did you receive before your first published poem?

EG: So many. Like, tons. Who even knows. An amount only measurable in bulk mass.

 

YUP: What is your reaction to rejection? How do you internalize that experience?

EG: Initially it was terrible, because I felt like I was up against an impenetrable wall of insider knowledge I didn’t hold. But, it turns out, I was just writing bad poems. Once I got a couple of poems accepted to journals, the still-constant slog of rejection became less intimidating and more motivating. My general reaction to rejection today is opening a beer.

 

YUP: How do you know when your work is “finished”? Do you find yourself editing work that you deemed complete a long time ago?

EG: I suspect that all writers are somewhat bad at this, but I know myself that I am never sure when a poem is over—perhaps a reason I write so many serial works. I think one of the jobs of the poet is not to dictate to the poem what its shape or content or exact parameters are going to be, because it’s a little tyrannical and anyone can learn how to execute this kind of poetry-by-way-of-rote-equation. No, a big part of being a poet is learning how to look and listen more carefully to the subject underhand, to become evermore attentive to your circumstances and the work that is revealing itself this moment in your writing. You know a thing is finished when it says it is.

 

YUP: Mark Edmundson wrote an article for Harper’s last summer, claiming that American poetry is in decline. Do you see this as real problem in today’s literary landscape?

EG: The first thing to say—and this is not said nearly often enough in the discussion of contemporary poetics—is that poetry itself cannot decline. Not in America nor on the Continent nor in the Southern Hemisphere nor Antarctica. This is why we come to poetry in the first place: it is beyond us. In the same way that matter cannot be created or destroyed, merely transferred, poetry—the substance of the thing, that which we are all working to translate and record in our poems—is an inexhaustible natural resource. It is of the world, of the universe, and can no more decline than can the cosmos. So this brand of newspaper doom-saying is just bluster, and it feels comically curmudgeonly. We do not have to worry about poetry. That recognition alone is more liberating as a poet than I can possibly articulate.

That being said, in direct answer to your question: no. Decidedly no. The poems coming out of America today are not declining in quality. Indeed, as it’s been said time and time again, the amazing proliferation of high-quality, experimental small presses publishing the work of an increasingly diverse range of poets makes this day—today—the most exciting time imaginable to read and write poetry. So you say you don’t like poetry? What kind of poems do you mean—we have other examples to show you. You say that the work was better in days gone by? Well, who knows. But there is certainly more poetry available now than ever before, in addition to all that came before, and while that might amount to a few stinkers here and there, in large it means a deeper and more satisfying literary landscape through which to saunter. We should be happy everyone isn’t Robert Lowell.

 

YUP: What would be your advice for young poets or potential writers who are timid to dive into the process and don’t know how to start.

EG: Start. If you don’t know where to start, take John Cage’s advice and “Begin Anywhere.” Honestly. Start reading the winners of the prizes you care about—start checking out the work of different poets working in different parts of the country, affiliated with different schools and literary movements—start sending your work
to recipients that might be sympathetic, even if it isn’t an official contest period. Maybe people will just be happy to see your excellent work. Worst case scenario, they won’t be. Regardless, you’ll be better for getting it out into the world.

 

YUP: Attention spans are deteriorating and we’re allegedly moving towards a post-literate society; why do you think poetry remains relevant today?

EG: Poetry is the rare form of art or literature that rewards equally on the smallest level—the music of the phoneme, the word, the line—as it does on the level of the whole work. So, even if attention spans are getting shorter, poetry is still able to impart valuable experiences and lessons to readers. Poetry packs a big punch in a variety of small packages; you can get something out of a poem at almost any juncture. This is not to speak of the wealth of cool poetry that is directly wed to the internet and web-based technologies, which is a big wealth, a richness, all of which ought to be right in the wheelhouse of 21st century inclinations. Despite the popular move away from reading and the interruptions of modern living, poetry remains a really powerful way to remind people they are human and that life is beautiful and hard and worth paying real attention to. Poetry touches on that which is shared in common.

 

Eryn Green is the author of Eruv, winner of the 2013 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. He recently received his Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Denver and holds an MFA from the University of Utah. His work has appeared in Jubilat, Colorado Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and elsewhere. He lives in Denver, CO.

Celebrate National Poetry Month with YUP

View our 50% Off Selection of National Poetry Month Titles for e-newsletter subscribers!

April is National Poetry Month, and Yale University Press has been excited to celebrate with new titles dedicated to the art of verse and a handful of paperback releases from our Margellos World Republic of Letters series.

 

After last month’s announcement of Ansel Elkins as our 2014 winner, we are delighted to showcase the work of last year’s Yale Series of Younger Poets winner Eryn Green with our release of his collection, Eruv. As Carl Phillips, judge of the last three competitions, and chancellor of the American Academy of Poets notes, Eruv “reminds us how essential wilderness is to poetry—a wilderness in terms of how form and language both reinvent and get reinvented.” Holding both a PhD from the University of Denver and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Utah, Green has published an essay in Esquire, and his poetry has appeared in JubilatColorado Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly, among other publications. Eruv is now available in paperback and a cloth limited edition. You can read a Q&A with Eryn on our blog and be sure to visit the new Yale Younger Poets website!

 

 

Kiki Dimoula; Photo Credit: Michalis Anastasiou

 

Kiki Dimoula is one of the most highly regarded names in the canon of Greek contemporary poetry. She is a recipient of the European Prize for Literature and a full member of the Academy of Athens, to which only three women have ever been inducted. Now available in paperback, The Brazen Plagiarist, translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, selects poignant poetry comprising her immense oeuvre and highlights the beautiful verse, which according to poet Yves Bonnefoy, is reminiscent of “reflections of a cloudy sky in earthly words.”

 

 

Dante, the medieval Italian poet fondly known as the “Father of the Italian language,” is probably most well-known for his epic poem The Divine Comedy. In hopes of being able to examine the poet and the social climate of his time through the lens of The Divine Comedy and Dante’s other minor works, Open Yale Courses is offering “Dante in Translation,” taught by Giuseppe Mazzotta, Sterling Professor of the Humanities for Italian at Yale and specialist in medieval literature. Mazzotta’s Reading Dante situates the writings within the poetic and political context of the late Middle Ages while exploring the poltical, philosophical, and theological issues at the forefront of Dante’s mind, including the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, love and knowledge, and exile and history.

 

 

While some of our readers may be somewhat familiar with Kabbalah and some not at all, we aim to expand your consciousness of the subject with the paperback publication of The Poetry of Kabbalah:  Mystical Verse from the Jewish Tradition, translated and annotated by Peter Cole. The compilation, the first in the English language examining Jewish mysticism, spans over 1,500 years of Kabbalistic tradition. A 2007 MacArthur Fellow and founder of Ibis Editions, a small literary press in Jerusalem dedicated to publishing overlooked works in the languages of the Levant, Cole has been praised for his talent for transforming poems “long regarded as untranslatable” into English translations that “retain the subtleties, complexities, and formal elegance of the original verse.” His elegant treatment of the sacred texts in this work is reflected even further by his translation philosophy, which dictates that he regard language as “sacred, or a reflection of the sacred,” describing his care of language as a moral and metaphysical act.

 

Just as Peter Cole has brought to light the tradition of religious verse, so do Jay Hopler and Kimberly Johnson, editors of Before the Door of God: An Anthology of  Devotional Poetryin which Hopler and Johnson follow the development of devotional poetry throughout history, tracing it back to the very origins of poetry in English. Focusing on the works more as “literary artifacts rather than spiritual exercises,” Johnson and Hopler showcase a range of poetry from sixteenth-century hymnody to the contemporary poetry that both adopts the devotional posture and reflects the widening influence of non-Christian traditions in the Anglophone canon. As the editors explain in the anthology’s preface, “This anthology brings together some of the finest poems of the Western literary tradition and does so with the hope of generating a conversation—not just among scholars, artists, and academics, but among readers generally—about the relationships among literature, history, and the idea of the spiritual.”

 

We invite you to read and share the works of poets and their translators in our Margellos World Republic of Letters series, featured in our WRLbooks sampler celebrating National Poetry Month!

Q&A with Will Schutt, the 2012 Winner of Yale Series of Younger Poets

Will-Schutt-Photo_smHappy National Poetry Month! Check out the new site, Youngerpoets.org!

 

Yale University Press had the pleasure of interviewing Will Schutt, whose collection, Westerly, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 2012 and was published last spring. Here, we discussed about writing poetry and the relevance of poetry in today’s modern society. Visit the new Yale Series of Younger Poets website for more information on the history of the prize, published books, and of course, our illustrious list of poets.

 

Yale University Press: What prompted you to start writing? And why poetry in particular as opposed to prose?

Will Schutt: I had good teachers, bookish parents, and a brother who was a great talker. I have never been a great talker, yet I have always felt an urgency to express myself. I tried drawing, but I was no good at drawing. I tried acting, but I was too shy to perform. When I wrote prose, I had no gift for storytelling. That’s not to say that poetry was my last resort, but it turned out to be the best means of articulation at my disposal.

 

YUP: What or who are your primary sources of inspiration?

WS: Good books, a room with a view, my wife’s curiosity.

 

YUP: How would you describe your overall process as well as your day-to-day writing schedule?

WesterlyWS: I write early in the morning, when I have the feeling that I don’t owe anyone anything yet, that I only have myself to answer to. I’m not sure there’s an overall process to speak of. As with soup, you keep stirring and tasting, stirring and tasting. Writing the poems in Westerly largely consisted of unearthing a pattern in an idea or experience (real or fictional). Pattern, after all, is pleasure. But there is pleasure in variation too. More and more often I find myself beginning with a formal pattern or turning over a particular word—ferry, carnival, wishy-washy, etc.—and figuring out how much I can deviate from the pattern or word’s associative meanings without giving way to chaos.

 

YUP: Which audience (if any) do you have in mind when crafting your work?

WS: Usually I do not have an audience in mind. Occasionally I wonder what certain writers I admire would think. Once in a blue moon I worry about what someone who isn’t a native speaker of English might make of my work.

 

YUP: What is your reaction to rejection? How do you internalize that experience?

WS: “They don’t know genius when they see it.” Or “They’re absolutely right. It’s crap.”

 

YUP: How do you know when your work is “finished”? Do you find yourself editing work that you deemed complete a long time ago?

WS: It is a good sign if I have surprised myself, if I have landed somewhere I hadn’t set out to land originally. I try to exhaust a poem’s possibilities and then work backward to see if everything in the poem is essential. I do return to work I had thought was finished, oftentimes with the result that I rip the poem up and repurpose a few lines.

 

YUP: Mark Edmundson wrote an article for Harper’s last summer, claiming that American poetry is in decline. Do you see this as real problem in today’s literary landscape?

WS: No, I don’t. I don’t even think Edmundson’s criteria for great poetry—that is, if I remember correctly, poetry that is more “public”—fits my own criteria for greatness. I come across plenty of ambitious, inspired American poetry of the moment. Poetry continues to change and sometimes people get off on sounding poetry’s death knell whenever it doesn’t resemble the model they’ve established for it.

 

YUP: Attention spans are deteriorating and we’re allegedly moving towards a post-literate society; why do you think poetry remains relevant today?

WS: I currently teach modern and contemporary poetry to high school students who prove to me on a weekly basis that poetry has hardly lost its relevance. It continues to be an antidote to deteriorating attention spans, to the manipulation of language, to deadening language, to dullness period. 

 

Will Schutt is the author of Westerly, winner of the 2012 Yale Series of Younger Poets prize. A graduate of Oberlin College and Hollins University, he is the recipient of scholarships and fellowships from the Gilman School, the James Merrill House, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell University. He was recently awarded the Jeannette Haein Ballard Writers’ Prize. His poems and translations have appeared in Agni, FIELD, the New Republic and elsewhere. He currently lives with his wife in Baltimore, Maryland. More information can be found at his website: www.wschutt.com.

Carl Phillips Chooses Ansel Elkins as 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets Winner

Yale University Press is pleased to announce a winner in the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition. The judge, prize-winning and critically acclaimed poet Carl Phillips, has chosen Ansel Elkins’s manuscript, BLUE YODEL.

Ansel Elkins

Ansel Elkins

“Through her arresting use of persona, in particular, Ansel Elkins reminds us of the pivotal role of compassion in understanding others and — more deeply and often more disturbingly — our various inner selves,” series judge Carl Phillips says. “Razor-edged in their intelligence, southern gothic in their sensibility, these poems enter the strangenesses of others and return us to a world at once charged, changed, brutal, and luminous.”

Yale University Press will publish BLUE YODEL in April 2015. The manuscript is Phillips’s fourth selection as judge and the 109th volume in the series. Carl Phillips’s third selection, Eryn Green’s ERUV will be published by Yale University Press on April 8, 2014.

Ansel Elkins is the recipient of a 2013 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the 2012 North American Review James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2012 Fugue Poetry Prize, the 2011 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, and was a 2012 Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, The Believer, Best New Poets 2011, Boston Review, The Daily Beast, Ecotone, Gulf Coast, The Southern Review, and others. New work is forthcoming in The American Scholar and Denver Quarterly.

Awarded since 1919 by Yale University Press, the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize celebrates the most prominent new American poets by bringing the work of these artists to the attention of the larger public. Earlier winners of the prize include such talents as Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Jean Valentine and Robert Hass. It is the longest-running poetry prize in the United States.

Yale University Press will also continue its partnership with The James Merrill House. Winners of the Series will receive one of the five writing fellowships offered at The James Merrill House in Stonington, CT. The fellowship provides a furnished living space and daily access to James Merrill’s apartment for a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a project of literary or academic merit.

Yale Series of Younger Poets 2014 Competition Now Accepting Submissions!

Calling all American poets under 40! Submissions for the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition are being accepted from now until November 15, 2013. And for the first time, manuscripts can be submitted electronically!

The Yale Series of Younger Poets prize is the oldest literary award in the United States and champions the most promising new American poets. Previous winners include Muriel Rukeyser, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, James Tate, Richard Siken, Jay Hopler, Fady Joudah, Arda Collins, Katherine Larson, Ken Chen, Eduardo Corral, and most recently, Eryn Green, among others. All submissions are reviewed and judged by renowned poet Carl Phillips.

Der arme Poet (“The Poor Poet”) (1839) by Carl Spitzweg.

Der arme Poet (“The Poor Poet”) (1839) by Carl Spitzweg.

The Yale Younger Poets winner will also receive a fellowship from The James Merrill House in Stonington, CT. The fellowship provides its recipients with a furnished living space and daily access to James Merrill’s apartment, allowing them to work on their literary or academic project in a quiet, rural setting in New England that has inspired many writers past and present.

You can submit your manuscript electronically, after which you will receive immediate online confirmation of your submission and be able to check the status of your application. The $20.00 submission fee is payable by credit card or via PayPal.

Click here to learn more about the Yale Series for Younger Poets competition and for manuscript submission guidelines.

Good luck to all!

Westerly: “A book of uncommon wisdom”

WesterlySince 1919 the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize has helped burgeoning artists find a well-deserved audience for their poetry. Last year’s winner, Will Schutt and his new anthology Westerly, is no exception. Carl Phillips, acclaimed poet and the judge of last year’s prize, writes in the Foreword to Westerly:

Will Schutt’s Westerly takes on nothing less than, on the one hand, the ways in which we, the living, both late and soon, make our stumbling way westward, mostly oblivious to the fact of mortality, and, on the other hand, how the dead make their resonant way back to us, sometime as memory, sometimes as guide directing us toward and through the inevitable… This is a book of uncommon wisdom… its poems sustain me. They give me hope – which may very well be, among gifts, the one we need most.

Schutt’s poems are concerned with both the real and the mythical, the modern and the historical. He weaves translations, illusions, and inventive narratives into effortless pieces of a wholly moving collection.

Read a poem excerpt below, then pick up a copy to read the whole work!

“Westerly”

Even up close it’s hard to tell

whether the white and blue

church tower is defunct or half-finished

or, like every third house

block after prim block, let for summer.

Only an odd patch of moss

flecks the siding, and thin ginger-colored

stains make a noncomittal

braid, like wicker or wings at rest.

From our third-floor window

long scarves of water push

right up against the houses.

They seem to clip the gutter spouts.

If one were Elizabeth Bishop

one might hear it turn into a tidy music.

Tidy and resolved, the way

history says, “Look West, Future-looker,”

and kids worry a blue vein

of hope in their spiral notebooks.

At night after each boat has pulled in

behind the artificial bulwark

moonlight saddles a galvanized tub

of orange marigold and sedum,

and green and burgundy rosettes

creep upward like weird insect antennae

trucking the earth off to Westerly,

Rhode Island, where nirvana is a long time

coming, or untidy, unresolved,

the way stupid hope won’t shut up.

Excerpted from Westerlyby Will Schutt. Copyright © 2013 by Yale University. All rights reserved.

April Theme: The Arts

Broadening our scope from a usual combined celebration of poetry and architecture, timed to national commemorations in the month of April, we’re broadening our focus to include a broader range of the arts, including many new books on the philosophy and history of art, several accompanying traveling exhibitions with the Yale University Press art museum partners.

Pevsner's Architectural Glossary AppIn time for National Landscape Architecture Month, we are proud to release the Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary app for iOS, based on the eponymous book. Look up architectural terms anywhere with Pevsner’s vocabulary in your pocket, including expanded text, numerous additional color images and relevant building descriptions to support the definitions, clear line drawings and an audio pronunciation guide to the terms. And for architecture a bit closer to home, later this month we publish Phyllis Lambert’s Building Seagram, a captivating history of one of the 20th century’s most influential buildings, as told by the woman whose involvement and vision helped change the face of American urban architecture.

Renowned critic Arthur Danto returns to the YUP list with What Art Is, challenging the popular interpretation that art is an indefinable concept, instead bringing to light the properties that constitute universal meaning. We’ll update you on another favorite author, cartoonist Ivan Brunetti, and his forthcoming book, Aesthetics: A Memoir.

Yale University Press Recently, we announced the 2013 winner of the Yale Series of Younger PoetsEryn Green for his manuscript Eruv—and this month, we publish the volume of the previous winner: Will Schutt’s Westerly. Also just announced today is the winner of the 2013 Yale Drama Series competition, Jen Silverman for her play, “Still.” Yale Drama Series winners receive the $10,000 David Charles Horn Prize award, publication by Yale University Press, and a staged reading at Lincoln Center.

Coming soon from Michael Hass is Forbidden Music, a rich exploration of the Jewish composers and musicians banned by the Third Reich and the consequences for music throughout the rest of the twentieth century; the Facebook page shares many of the photographs, posters, and stories from the period, not to mention the music itself.

Lastly, the @yalepress Digital Laboratory students will show off the Warhol Museum DIY Pop app; after dates at The Metropolitan Museum of Art last fall, the Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years exhibition closes later this month at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, with the catalog distributed by Yale University Press.

Read along all month for more news and updates on the blooming and intersecting worlds of books and arts!

Poets Fady Joudah and Katherine Larson at the Houston Public Library, January 12

Public Poetry, Joudah and Larson, January 12Prize Poets is a showcase for prominent, nationally acclaimed poets, presented annually, at the start of the year.  For the inaugural event, two recent winners of the prestigious Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, Fady Joudah and Katherine Larson, will be featured at 2 PM on Saturday, January 12, 2013 at the Houston Public Library Central Library.  Prize Poets is organized by Public Poetry, an independent Texas non-profit organization, and presented in partnership with the City of Houston/Houston Public Library.

Fady Joudah, a Palestinian American, won The Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 2007 for The Earth in the Atticselected by Louise Glück. In 2013, Copper Canyon Press will publish his second book, “Alight.” His translations of Mahmoud Darwish’s poetry, “The Butterfly’s Burden” and “If I Were Another”, received the 2008 TLS/Banipal Prize for Arabic translation from the UK, and the PEN USA for translation in 2010, respectively. Also from Yale University Press is his recent translation of Ghassan Zaqtan’s poetry, “Like a Straw Bird It Follows Me.” Joudah is also a practicing physician of internal medicine and has worked with Doctors Without Borders.

Katheirne Larson won The Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize in 2011 for Radial Symmetry, selected by Louise Glück. Her poetry was highlighted on PBS’s Newshour Poetry Series.  Her poems appear in Prentice Hall’s anthology Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing, and journals including “AGNI,” “Boulevard,” the Kenyon Review,” the “Massachusetts Review,”Orion,” “Poetry,” “Poetry Northwest,” and others.  She is the recipient of a Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Levis Reading Prize, a Ruth Lilly Fellowship, and The Union League Civic and Arts Foundation Poetry Prize. Larson has worked for the last decade as a molecular biologist and field ecologist.  She lives in Arizona with her husband and daughter.

Both Larson and Joudah pursued science related careers, which variously impacted their poetry.  “Science and poetry are fueled by curiosity, and both depend on investigation and experimentation. But they also depend on imagination,” says Larson. “While living at a field station next to the Sea of Cortez…. I’d write at night in the wet lab when the station was deserted, baby hammerheads and pygmy octopuses staring out from specimen jars, the sea outside sonorous and insistent.”

For Joudah “…the realm of modern language… is highly infused with the scientific.”  He adds: “If it is cliche or outdated to say ‘poetry comes to one, one does not come to poetry,’ then I think neuroscience might soon prove this cliche to be true, so long as poetry is words in visible and invisible rhythms.  Or I can say my father spoke a lot to me about poetry and grammar when I was a kid.”

Slow Lightning and Eduardo Corral: Yale’s First Latino Younger Poet

The first poem Eduardo C. Corral ever wrote was a response to Beowulf in rhyming couplets. Corral’s high school English teacher, who assigned the poem, thought his response was so good, she read it aloud to her other classes.

More than a decade later, Corral’s poetry is winning even higher praise. In the last twelve months, he became the first Latino poet to receive the Yale Younger Poets Prize, won the 2011 Whiting Award, and now has published his first book of poetry, Slow Lightning, new from Yale University Press this month.

A profile of Corral in the Arizona Republic describes the years between that Beowulf poem and Slow Lightning, the manuscript of which was completed last year in a Starbucks in Corral’s home town of Casa Grande, Arizona. Corral, who grew up speaking Spanish at home, was greatly influenced by the Chicano writers he studied as an undergraduate at Arizona State University, a fact that is obvious in the mixture of English and Spanish that appears in his poems. “I don’t use Spanish as ethnic embellishment,” Corral said in an interview earlier this month with Publishers Weekly. Instead, “It mirrors the way I think…If the Spanish is taken out, the poem collapses.”

Corral’s subject matter is weighty: his poems deal with Mexican-American border politics, AIDS, and broader themes of identity, erotics, and family connection. Yet his poetry is not easily summarized. Indeed, in the foreword to Slow Lightning, Carl Phillips begins his tenure as judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, explaining how Corral’s distinctive bilingual style is just one symptom of the way in which the poet “resists reductivism. Gay, Chicano, ‘Illegal-American,’ that’s all just language, and part of Corral’s point is that language, like sex, is fluid and dangerous and thrilling, now a cage, now a window out.” Corral navigates this fluidity of language with expertise, evoking not only “intimacy, humor, outrage, longing, fear,” but also “quiet beauty” and a “joyful exuberance” Phillips locates in the following excerpt:

 

…At my touch,

            a piano

melts like a slab

            of black ice. I’m

steam rising,

            dissipating. I’m a ghost undressing.

I’m a cowboy

            riding bareback.

My soul is

            whirling

above my head like a lasso.

            My right hand

a pistol. My left

            automatic. I’m knocking

 

on every door…

 

Excerpted from “Self-Portrait with Tumbling and Lasso” by Eduardo C. Corral in Slow Lightning Copyright © 2011 by Yale University.

Lest We Forget: Poems, Nature, Food, and Keeping Your Day Job

Sarah Underwood—

Reading poetry normally does not make me hungry, but after “Lake of Little Birds,” poet Katherine Larson had me ready for “[s]wordish/ drizzled with virgin oil, rubbed with/ mint and saffron”…and several other dishes. The 2010 winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize uses her experience as a biologist to compose both the content and the form of the detailed works within Radial Symmetry. The foods she describes in her poems often become pieces of art in their own right. She observes them as carefully as any of the other biological miracles in her poetry, for which my mental taste buds are thankful. (I would also like to take a moment to appreciate that I had never found hard-boiled eggs to be very mysterious until I read “Risk.”)

This collection of poems focuses primarily on observing and interacting with nature, which we are fortunate enough to view through the microscopic eye of a trained biologist. But any cookbook with a good enough photographer will eventually convince me to go poke around the kitchen—the reason Larson’s references to food intrigued me so much was that they are so entwined with the environments she describes. Of course, we know our food comes from nature, but with food production so removed from our modern lives, it is easy to forget how fundamental it is in creating our own environments.

For example, the ocean traditionally functions as a literary symbol of life or rebirth. We see both a celebration of that tradition as well as an unsettling perversion of it. In “Crypsis and Mimicry,” the food pulled from the sea creates the most beautiful dish, as the speaker’s “Cajun friend explains/ bouillabaisse as the synthesis of red snapper and crab,/ oyster, mussel, and crayfish. Garlic and orange/ peel.” The bouillabaisse’s “synthesis” represents the sea’s life-giving bounty, so it appears the human world is in harmony with the natural world.

On the other hand, the synthetic foods humans discard in the sea create one of the most disturbing images in any of the poems: in “Ghost Nets,” we see “the rotting sea lion carcass with the plastic Coke bottle/ lodged inside its throat.” 2010 competition judge Louise Glück calls Larson’s poetry “strikingly…environmental” in the foreword, but it is never didactic. The observer merely tells us what she sees and allows our reaction to fill in the meaning: the poems may be “environmental” in the sense of green activism, but they are also “environmental” in the sense that they simply ask us to more closely examine our surroundings. The sea lion choked by plastic shocks us with its gruesomeness, but in doing so it suggests our destruction of marine life, while self-destructive, results from our unawareness and recklessness towards the world around us.

Food, life and death, and environment are all linked again in the quiet “The Oranges in Uganda.” The poem opens with the paradoxical situation of the speaker and Death “shopping for emicungwa/ at night, in the market.” That Death would take any interest in helping the living shop for fruit, especially the brightly colored oranges, seems counterintuitive. In shopping for fruit, which sustains life, Death is perhaps prolonging the lives of those he is there to take. Yet in this Ugandan market, Death speaks in the local tongue and seems to be wearing native clothing. And then when the speaker tells him that she knows “why/ people make love when they/ come home from a funeral,” we see that this is a study in defiance. Death is a part of our daily lives: Larson takes that literally here. We should not be surprised to accept him as part of our environment. What better way for him to partake in the ordinariness of human life than by preparing for the next meal, by shopping for oranges?

 

Sarah Underwood is a graduate of the College of William and Mary and a former Yale University Press intern. Her column, Lest We Forget, appears on the Yale Press Log.

Watch Katherine Larson dissect poetry and squid alike in this interview with PBS Newshour!