THE BLOG @ TIR
August 30, 2012
Daniel Khalastchi is an American poet. He is a professor and assistant director of the new Undergraduate Certificate in Writing program at the University of Iowa, where he obtained his MFA in poetry from the Writers' Workshop. His first collection of poems, Manoleria, debuted last year and was awarded the Tupelo Press/Crazyhorse First Book Prize. He is also the managing editor at Rescue Press. His latest poem, "Notes from an Adjunct Professor at a Major American University," is featured in the Fall 2012 issue of The Iowa Review.
I sat down with Daniel to discuss his new poem, rap music, and why the chicken man blew up in Philly last night.
SP: I see you a lot with your iPod, walking around Iowa City. What kind of music are you listening to?
DK: I'm very into rap. I get up every morning and spend about an hour and a half on rap blogs, checking out new music, reading reviews of albums and tracks, that kind of stuff. Rap, for the longest time—when I didn't really know there was contemporary poetry, or that I could be a poet—rap was the closest thing.
SP: So music has a place in your writing process?
DK: It's actually hard for me to concentrate while listening to music. I listen to white noise now. I used to listen to classical music. For a while—when I was in the Workshop years ago—I had this one mix I'd listen to while I wrote, and it became a kind of white noise. For a while, I used to turn off my speakers and just have my subwoofer and try to write towards a rhythm.
SP: So poetry, for you, is rhythm-based?
DK: One of the first quotes that I fell in love with was from the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, who poetically blew my mind with very interesting phrases, using sound to drive a point, talking about God, his relationship with God, that kind of thematic content and how it was really pushed forward with his use of rhythm.
SP: The twentieth-century poet Muriel Rukeyser is known for saying, "Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry." I know you've done work on Judaism before, and even in your poem in The Iowa Review, you talk about religion. As a Jewish American and someone who's written about Judaism, do you find your beliefs surfacing often in your work? Do you consciously attempt to write about any specific topics?
DK: Growing up as sort of a lonely Jew in Iowa, I did feel ostracized. And as I've grown up, I've tried to figure out what it is that makes me interested and think. And I noticed [Judaism] just started showing up in my writing in a way I wasn't prepared for. My father was born in Baghdad and escaped in 1969, and so often when I think about what he went through because of religion, that's a big part of my history. People in his family were killed, and he had all these experiences because of his religion. The poem that's in The Iowa Review: I was teaching at Marquette University, which is a Jesuit university. Everywhere you go you're in this beautifully depressed city, and there's this huge racial divide. You walk into every class and there's a cross. And so I just started thinking a lot about these things. I think when I focus on [Judaism], it's not as good or as interesting. When I write about what I'm thinking or feeling, it does tend to come up.
SP: So you tend to write about Judaism as being immersed in another culture?
DK: Someone could read my line "they'll find out you're Jewish" and think the same thing about being Hispanic or Mormon. It's this idea about what we mask in public. What we feel we can't stand behind. What we feel we want people to know; what we feel like we don't want other people to know about us. It's about what these things mean in our culture. "Notes from an Adjunct Professor at a Major American University" was written at a time when teaching in the adjunct world was a huge travesty. I have a lot of friends that don't have stable jobs. When I started writing that poem, I was thinking about what things professors would do for their loved ones. The poem's about my experiences on some level, but also what I imagine other educators' experiences to be.
SP: So the "I" in this poem is some nameless adjunct professor?
DK: I think all of the "I"s in every poem I write are some nameless guy. I don't think I'm a confessional poet. It's not a Twitter feed. That poem isn't 100% true, obviously.
SP: Do you think that experience is necessary to have in a poem? Even at least a modicum of personal experience?
DK: No. Poetry, for me, has to have a heart. All poetry can have a heart. Sometimes it's edited out. Sometimes it's just not there. The poem doesn't have to be real. Going back to music, Springsteen says he gets away with what he writes because of something he calls the rage of the music, which means if he's going to write a song and he starts in D-minor, I'm already sad. Lyrics don't even have to come in. So if he has a song that begins, "well they blew up the chicken man in Philly last night"— if I wrote that in a poem, someone would think that's a surreal, humorous poem. Put some minor chords behind it, and it becomes kind of dark and scary. I think you can get away with more in music. But good readers will understand there's some element of fiction.
SP: Do you think music can do more than poetry? Do you think it's a more supreme form of art?
DK: I can emphatically say that I don't think music is a more supreme form of art. Can it do more? I think that depends on the artist. You can reach more people with music. To get a hundred people to read a poem is nearly impossible. You're a hugely successful poet if you sell a couple thousand books, but for a musician that's nothing. You can record a song in your basement and post it on Myspace. People take music in smaller bites. You don't have to interpret every chord change. Whereas I feel like with writing, people pick up a poem or a story, and they feel like there's this sort of intellectual battle going on—that if it's a poem it's a riddle. So people turn it off. Put on "Like a Rolling Stone" by Dylan, and people will sing along with it. Music has a different appeal. I don't think it's superior. Just different.
SP: So they're different. But can they achieve the same things?
DK: Yes. Nas had a record a couple of years back called Hip Hop is Dead. The last song he had on that record was called "Hope." The whole album is Nas rapping over beats and scratches and samples, and it gets louder and louder, and you get to the last song and it's just a capella. Take away the beat, and what is rap? It's a poem. Listen to a poet read a poem and Nas rap without a beat, and they're pretty similar. The difference is that poetry seems academic. And hip hop and music seem of-the-people. Essentially, a song is read to you.
SP: Do you think it's easier to ignore—in our culture—stuff that demands serious attention?
DK: I do. I mean, when I walk into a college literature classroom and all anybody's read is Nicholas Sparks and Fifty Shades of whatever, it makes me sad. Because I know there are so many books people would love if they gave them chances. Part of it is because of this big intellectual divide where people feel like they can't participate in difficult stuff. The Beastie Boys say there are only twelve notes a man can play, so how do you arrange those notes to do something to an audience? I'm getting, as a professor, e-mails that are all lower-case, exclamation points, smiley faces, tongues, "so drunk" with six k's, "can't come to class" with a z—just weird stuff where you're seeing that writing and reading is getting worse because people aren't giving up the time for things that require attention. Go into Barnes and Noble in your town and—
SP: It closed.
DK: See? Go into Prairie Lights and you'll see Jonathan Franzen's Freedom on sale for five bucks.
SP: I got it for two.
DK: Right? As writers, all we can do is write and hope people will read. As a poet, I have the one luxury of knowing I'm not going to make any money out of it. I think that means I can be a little freer with my work. And that's certainly not a problem for us poets.
Sevy Perez interned at The Iowa Review during the summer of 2012.
August 10, 2012
A month ago this week, I arrived in Lagrasse, winter population 650, for a weeklong translation residency with the École de littérature. I was one of eighteen applicants chosen (six translating into English, six into Arabic, and six into French) and was thrown into the mix with fifteen or so guests, already well-established writers, translators, and editors. I had very little idea of what to expect. I knew that La Maison du Banquet et des générations, housed in a ninth-century abbey, was hosting us. I knew the work of some of the Anglophone workshop animators: Robyn Creswell, Sarah Riggs, Eleni Sikelianos, Laird Hunt. I also knew there would be workshops and readings scheduled every day from nine until at least seven-thirty at night. That these workshops would range from translations of the Arabian Nights to Toni Morrison to the Moroccan Mohamed Leftah to 1950s French writer Hélène Bessette. One workshop on sound translation, I’d read, requested that we wear loose clothing and be prepared to move.
What I didn’t know, as clichéd as it sounds, was that working in the confines of this abbey at Lagrasse would be... magical. That in the short space of a week, I, the introvert, would create lasting friendships and collaborations. That living in a different language would, as it always does, give me a chance to be someone new and that this someone new was not the timid creature of my junior year abroad but was inspired and a poet and a translator of poetry and a (slow) translator of Arabic as well as French.
Early in the program, Domique Bondu, the director of the Maison du Banquet, talked to us about his organization, pulling apart the title to explain its mission. First, “maison”—house. The Lagrasse abbey provides, as the French say, a chez soi, a home, for artists of all disciplines; in a world that’s increasingly unsympathetic towards the arts, it is a safe place. A haven. Then, “banquet.” I don’t remember if Dominique explained it this way exactly, but it’s the Platonic idea of the symposium, of gatherings around a table, around a text, around a theme (and often around a good bottle of Corbières) to discuss ideas, exchange knowledge, and grow together rather than separately. It’s the idea of community, which I have found in my life as a writer and translator, to be vital. Finally, “générations.” As my presence in Lagrasse attests, the Maison does not focus only on established writers. It provides a place for young, inexperienced artists to be inspired, to make connections, to hone their craft.
Which is precisely what it did for me. I came back with a reading list filling half a moleskine and a head swimming with new ideas. In the month since the residency, I have translated a Moroccan poem from the 1960s journal Souffles. I have corresponded with Sarah Riggs and Omar Berrada about their collaborative translations of poems from the Nights. I have begun reading and sharing my love of Leftah. Best of all, though, I now have a trilingual, tri-continental network of translators with whom I can continue to grow via e-mail. I am grateful to Dominique; to David Ruffel, who edits the Chaoïd series at the publishing house Verdier and organized Translations; and to all of my colleagues in Lagrasse, who made the week unforgettable.
Addie Leak is an MFA student in literary translation at the University of Iowa. This summer she is working with TIR editor-in-chief Russell Valentino to expand our online Forum on Literature and Translation.
July 18, 2012
Editors Carolyne Wright and Eugenia Toledo invite women poets of all nationalities, backgrounds, and job descriptions to submit up to 5 poems for an anthology, Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace.
Send hard copies to Carolyne Wright, 13741 15th Avenue NE, #C-7, Seattle, WA 98125. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.losthorsepress.org for full guidelines.
This anthology invites poems of women who have occupied spaces in the work force, and have contended with pay and promotion inequity, workplace harassment and intimidation, and all matters relevant to women in an increasingly globalized workplace, including the joy and satisfaction of work well done. Such issues may include instances of women's employment advantages over males and other non-minorities—any preferential treatment of women in hiring and promotion, for example. How can women tell their workplace stories in poetry and be agents of change, locally and globally, in these difficult economic times? Poems in English and in translation from any other language are welcome.
1. Poems may be unpublished or previously published in magazines, anthologies, or books, but contributors must have the rights and waive fees for republication. (We will apply for grant money to pay honoraria/reprint fees, but have no guarantee of funds at this time.)
2. Submissions up to 5 poems. Please mail in hard copy, with your contact data in a cover letter and your name on each page of poetry. No need to include a SASE—we will e-mail our responses, requesting accepted poems along with bio and statement to be sent electronically.
EXCEPTION to Hard Copy Submission Requirement: if you are submitting from a country other than the U.S. or Canada, it is fine to send via e-mail. We want to avoid overseas postal expenses and the risk of lost or delayed submissions.
3. Poems may be originally written in a language than English, but originals should be sent with their translations.
4. Provide a 75-word bio in the cover letter, followed by a brief statement of your involvement in work on behalf of women.
5. Submission deadline EXTENDED: December 31, 2012.
6. Submit work to:
13741 15th Avenue NE, # C - 7
Seattle, WA 98125 USA
LLAMADA A PARTICIPAR EN ANTOLOGIA DE POESIA SOBRE LAS MUJERES Y EL TRABAJO:
Editoras Carolyne Wright y Eugenia Toledo invitan a las mujeres poetas de todas nacionalidades, antecedentes y tipos de trabajos a participar hasta con 5 poemas en la Antología Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace. Envíe en soporte papel a Carolyne Wright, 13741 15th Avenue NE, #C-7, SEATTLE, WA 98125 USA. Correo electrónico email@example.com o visite www.losthorsepress.org para las pautas completas de envío.
Esta Antología invita a participar con sus poemas a mujeres que han estado en el campo laboral, y han tenido que contentarse con sueldos bajos y desigualdad ante promociones laborales, discriminación e intimidación, y todas las temáticas femeninas que son relevantes a este mundo laboral global en aumento, incluyendo las alegrías y las satisfacciones de un trabajo bien hecho. Estos temas pueden incluir instancias en que mujeres estén en ventaja laboral sobre los hombres y otros grupos no minoritarios – como cualquier trato preferencial a la mujer en el proceso de contratación y promoción por ejemplo. ¿Cómo pueden las mujeres articular sus historias a través de la poesía, ser agentes de cambio, local y globalmente, en estos difíciles tiempos económicos? Se aceptan poemas en Inglés y traducciones de cualquier otra lengua.
1. Los poemas pueden ser inéditos o ya publicados en revistas, antologías o libros, pero los participantes deben tener los derechos y renunciar a los recargos legales para republicación. (Vamos a aplicar a algunos “grants” para usar como honorario / gastos de republicación; pero en este momento no tenemos respaldo económico).
2. Someter hasta un máximo de 5 poemas. Envíelos por correo en soporte papel, con sus datos de contacto en una carta de presentación y con su nombre en cada una de las páginas de sus poemas. No hay necesidad de incluir un SASE (sobre con sus datos) – le mandaremos por correo electrónico nuestras respuestas, solicitando los poemas aceptados con su biografía y permiso para que nos sean enviados electrónicamente.
Una excepción al soporte papel: si Ud. manda poesía desde otros países que no sean Estados Unidos o Canadá - puede mandarla por vía electrónica (email). Queremos evitar gastos de correo, pérdida o atraso de material.)
3. Los poemas pueden haber sido escritos originalmente en otra lengua diferente al Inglés, pero los originales deben ser enviados con sus traducciones.
4. Incluya una mini-biografía de 75 palabras en su carta de presentación, seguida por una corta declaración sobre su participación en favor de las mujeres en la fuerza laboral.
5. Fecha de envío EXTENDIDO al 31 de diciembre 2012.
6. Mandar a:
13741 15th Avenue NE, #C-7
Seattle, WA 98125 USA
July 3, 2012
In April, we announced that Jason Ockert's dark and fantastic short story "Max" (which appeared in TIR 41/1) had been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, an annual prize for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.
While the SJA folks haven't yet chosen a winner, they chatted with Jason about his story and posted the interview here: http://www.shirleyjacksonawards.org/blog/2012/06/28/charles-tan-interviews-jason-ockert/ Must be a good sign, right?
PS, If you're wondering about the crows, read an excerpt from "Max."
June 29, 2012
Congrats to TIR contributor Mike White, whose new poetry collection, How to Make a Bird with Two Hands, has been awarded the 2011 Washington Prize at The Word Works. Judge Leslie McGrath calls the book "a fresh mix of post-modern edginess and Zen mystery."
Two of the poems from the collection, "Anne Frank, Postscript" (Winter 2004) and "At 18" (Spring 2009), were first published in The Iowa Review.
How to Make a Bird with Two Hands is White’s first published book. His work has appeared in many journals, including Poetry, The New Republic, The Threepenny Review, and The Iowa Review, and has also been featured online at Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. White teaches literature and creative writing at the University of Utah.