Monday, March 2, 2015

Troy's Worktable Publishing

"Even the rainbow bridge Bifrost
        sags in the sky
its icy particulates melting into drops
        of dew, unstable
and tentative,  waiting for the first
        careless footstep."
This is the slow collapse into fire and ice

This is your invitation into the work of Troy Kehm-Goins. Water is a cataclysmic force and while at times I feel as though I have been thrown upon the land from the realms of the Waterpeople, Troy still swims in the vast ocean.

I have known Troy Kehm-Goins nearly as long as I have known my illustrator and editor, David Mecklenburg. Together along with other writers, we formed the writing collective known as Les Sardines. He is a tireless defender and proslytizer of the written and spoken word, whether in libraries or reading venues throughout the Puget Sound. It has been 7 years before the mast with Troy, and now you will have a chance to enjoy a broader range of his work at the 2015 APRIL Festival Bookfair.

His atelier, Troy's Worktable Publishing will have several  chapbooks available for sale. A graphic artist as well as a poet, each book is handmade with an attention to detail and craftsmanship. No two are exactly alike. They are numbered, rare.They are artwork. Perhaps one of the greatest things about the APRIL festival is that it is place where you can touch the artwork, buy it, and keep it close by.

All The Heroes Are Dead and Buried is what I have quoted from above. The Twilight of the Gods, the Apocalypse, these encounters with sublime reflect both in our infinitesimal place in the universe, but also reflect the universe that is within each of us and our own Gotterdammerungs.

I cannot speak of Troy without swimming into the Cetacean World. Leviathan, Jormungandur, the vast inhuman beings that inhabit Troy's poetry swim throughout our dreams and our nightmares. These masculine deities are balanced by the cephalopodic Mother of Night and Ink.
"Ink is to Ambergris as Black is to White
and Mother swims the night of Sea
ghostly searching—
seeking Me"
And yet in this poem, Troy moves from the celestial octopus to his own mother in a turn that crushes me every time I read it. The cosmic becomes personal, turns within us as we are swallowed by the cosmos.

My favorite work that you will be able to purchase and enjoy revolves around this notion of a fluid self. My Two Melvilles is a love letter to America's great navigator of the sublime and vast waters where Leviathan sleeps. How to strip away the legendary, the analyzed, the ignored, and the celebrated Herman Melville? You need only listen "to the wind calling our names, to the ocean, to the vast ocean that awaits, and awaits."

I am thrilled and shocked at Troy's command of sensuality, and most of all the way in which he is able to make the dark and unknown knowable, but somehow blissfully un-human. What emerges in further readings is a keen awareness that we are creatures in a an enormous and unfathomable existence.

With a pen in his hand, I cannot imagine any other poet I would want in the bow of my boat.

The APRIL Festival

Friday, February 27, 2015

Poetic Valences

Observations on the poetry of Emily Kendal Frey

I dislike the phrase "higher meaning." There is something inherently misleading about any idea-system that relies on vertical metaphors. A higher meaning suggests that there are strata of meaning and we may dispose of Wittgenstein's ladder once we've gotten past the ground floor.

I need another metaphor to explain how I read or listen to poetry. Fortunately, since the world of literature continually grows and expands, I had faith I would find some path to another metaphor that would not involve the use of paths, or climbing, or other such workhorses. (Horses have their place as well, but not in this moment.)

As an introduction, I will say that I am not a poet. Others have told me this is not true. I do and I do not believe them at certain points. What has dogged me as of late is the fact my own poetic writing seems old-fashioned. I am not pushing any boundaries and I am failing Ezra Pound by not making anything new. Metaphorically I keep putting on the old dirndl of iambic pentameter while others are wearing the latest fashions. This ridiculous bit of self-remonstration usually comes about when I experience a poet who does what I cannot.

An introduction does not need to come at the beginning of an argument. Some may say it should, but I am feeling liberated by reading Emily Kendal Frey. Perhaps this is an answer I was looking for.

Cover for Sorrow Arrow
Circumstance is important. Whether it is destiny, coincidence, or the meaningful coincidence of synchronicity is not important. The State of Affairs is important. The 2015 Authors, Publishers and Readers of Independent Literature (APRIL) Festival is coming to Seattle March 24th through 29th and a highlight for me will be a chance to hear Kendal Frey. I have been a fan of her work since first hearing her read at Hugo House and I purchased a copy of The Grief Performance at a previous APRIL Bookfair. I am looking forward to hearing her read at this year's APRIL festival, and so I purchased a copy of Sorrow Arrow .

I neither know Emily Kendal Frey, nor have I read much criticism of her work and what I have read I seem to have utterly forgotten. I face Sorrow Arrow without a guide. I cordially dislike annotated versions of any work the first time I read it, because I dislike an editor shoving me around. This is alright. I was sure I could find a way. I found more than one way. These ways were the manifold I was hoping for.

Poetry is multivalent. Lucien Tesnière developed a useful system in his Elements of Structural Syntax regarding verb valency. Tesnière mapped the metaphor from science: like an atom, a verb may have several connection points to it. I won't trouble you with all of it here, but the most important part of the metaphor for me: there is no "correct" valence that supersedes any of the others. Poems, their constituent lines and even words can be described by the different valences we use to connect with them. I do not need a deep reading.

Depending on the audience, poems connect, or don't in different ways. Whether or not we connect depends on the words and their use—the constellations and molecules they form and our positions. Remember: we could not see Orion from Rigel.

Lines of poetry may connect, in that we perceive and create the valences between them owing to shared experience. Kendal Frey does not always link lines in sequence because the poem works better through its harmonic counterpoint. Consider:
"My sister has planted a winter garden/At night the icebergs/Cartoon characters/Constantly dancing, I hope to save at least one of us" 
I am reminded that what does not make sense when walking, makes sense when you are skipping...lines.  I go back and read, I think of my own sister. T'ang poetic parallelisms arise and reveal themselves in the truth that feeling pain is an intrinsic part of empathy. This is a sorrow arrow.

There is no beginning and end to Kendal Frey's poetry in Sorrow Arrow. It is a system that one may enter at different points, and yet there is a holographic sense that each word and line reveals the greater whole. And one may exit at different points.

Verbs are the nodes of valences. Consider:
Time stacks up then rises, steaming not-love/Eat it and love it/Hope is cabbage and rice/Death sweeps it away.
Throughout this poem there is a chromatic interplay of food, abstract conceptual frameworks, and personification. I listened for names first, bearers of my meaning, but Kendal Frey's verbal valences connect them all seamlessly. Hope appears in the offering of love, which occurs in the final lines, yet the minor key resonance of consumption and death from the previous lines renders the ending pensive.
"We stopped at Runza/Eat this, you said, I took a bite
Titles: The first lines of a poem are not necessarily a title. There is an index of first lines for the drowning traditionalist. Without a separate word string above each poem in Sorrow Arrow, Kendal Frey allows you to create the title from any of the lines that follow on a given page. Or others, if you connect the valences across the poems.

I no longer need the ladder, but I no longer need to dispose of it. It is a well made ladder, of richly textured and finished wood. It is a pleasure to climb as well as descend. Or sometimes just stop and consider the rungs once more. I look at the rungs and realize Kendal Frey can do in the briefest of lines what I labor through in paragraphs.

You can hear Emily Kendal Frey read at Barboza on March 24th at 8:00 as part of the APRIL Festival. Go to the website to learn more.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Small Events

Let all the small events of beauty overcome you. I often write this in closing my correspondence. Why?

For me the world is an ambivalent, often hostile place made livable by our ability to perceive the small events of beauty that overcome us in unexpected ways. I do not argue this worldview. I can only hope to express it, and Small Events, a collection of my poetry edited and illustrated by David Mecklenburg, is one attempt to catalogue a few of the ways I came to this ontology and aesthetic.

The volume begins with sonnets that explore many forms of love and time. Beginning with trepidations they move to misassumptions, disappointments, memories of better times and so expand into the many ways our divers loves make and unmake us.

Love and Time are the central components in the architecture of ourselves. One gives space, the other definition, but it is in the craft of that architecture where we can understand the nuances of ourselves.

The Nightingale's Stone has space to linger over specific events, and consider them from many angles. But novels and memoirs are constrained by the demands of narrative prose. There should be distinct characters the reader may follow along with plot, suspense, and a myriad of other troublesome components. And yes, there are novels and memoirs that break these rules, but I often consider kindred to poetry.

Poetry compresses and distills the same sorts of ideas and emotions. Yet it is also freer to shift time, language and space to suit its needs in conveying those ideas and emotions. I have always found that the false dichotomy between ideas and emotions is best dissolved in a loving bath of poetry. Linguistic ratiocination and emotional expression become fluid and contained in the form of a particular poem.

Consider a wine-glass. Its very shape will carry the bouquet to your nose, and so affect the taste. Its color, or lack thereof gives your eyes a taste of the vintage. Even the sound of the wine swirling in the glass has its effects, and feel of a thin stem in your hand or a sturdy base will evoke different responses from the totality that is a human being drinking wine. Most vintners are aware of the shape their wares fill, but they have no control over them.

A poet on the other hand must constantly consider the form of the poem, even if it has no form. Who needs a glass when you may drink that claret from your lover's cupped hand?

The alchemy and craft that language demands brings its own gifts to the process. The sonnet is a legendary form and one I am fond of. A sonnet moves through its stanzas like turns on the road of its theme. Sometimes we reach a whole new route in the final couplet. Once spoken, the poet then changes the shape of her poem to suit the notes suggested in sound and meaning: both private and public.

Each poem thus formed becomes a small event of beauty: something that is both in the world and uniquely apart from it.

And this book has the added enhancement of full color illustrations for each poem. The process is somewhat ekphrastic. I wrote the original poem, and David would illustrate some image that came to him. Intriguingly, after he was finished, I sometimes altered the poem owing to something I had seen afresh in his artwork.

Some of you may notice a distinctly modern manner of apparel, but my wardrobe is as unbound by time as is my interest in the world. I am rather fond of the cocktail dress I wear in "Brown" and so there it is on the page. But it becomes a tiresome sheath by the time I reach "What I Have Missed." But some pieces are symbolic distillations of an already distilled thought. Candlesticks that illuminate our drab world: sundials and clocks that are our feeble attempt to measure the world.

Following the sonnets are divers, illustrated poems that do not follow that form, but nevertheless speak the same memories and desires. Many of them began on this Webtraption, but in the process of collecting the for this volume, I have changed them.

And now for a short bit of business:

Small Events is now available at Amazon, but it will be available for purchase at the APRIL Festival Bookfair on March 29th. We are also looking at getting it into independent bookstores in the Puget Sound region. I will post more information on alternative sources as they become available.

But always remember to let the small events of beauty in your own life overcome you.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Nightingale's News February 2015

It is with great pleasure to announce that The Nightingale's Stone is available at two legendary Puget Sound independent bookstores: Third Place Books and Elliott Bay Books.

Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park occupies one of my favorite public spaces: not only can you pick up a great new or used book (or several, I stumbled across a copy of Sakutaro Hagiwara's Cat Town there that I am still enjoying), but you can buy some tea and pastries from Honey Bear bakery and enjoy all of them in the Commons.  So if you're in the North End and you want a copy of The Nightingale's Stone, please visit Third Place and pick up a copy from them.

Elliott Bay Books holds a special place in my heart. This is a journey come full circle because much of The Nightingale's Stone was written in the café at Elliott Bay. I always view the sign "do not bring un-purchased books into the café" as a delightful order: i.e. I have to buy a book before I go in. Last time it was some Rilke, translated by Stephen Mitchell (with whom I occasionally and respectfully disagree).  But now The Nightingale's Stone is actually on the shelves there!

So now you can purchase a copy of The Nightingale's Stone before you go to the café. And don't worry if you forgot your stamp card, they'll happily start another one for you and consolidate them all next time, because there are always so many books to read.

Third Place Books

Lake Forest Park
17171 Bothell Way NE
Lake Forest Park, WA 98155


6504 20th Ave NE
Seattle, WA 98115

Elliott Bay Books:

1521 Tenth Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98122

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Juniper's Lesson

Dear Mercutio,

I am writing you from the San Juan Islands, here in Washington State. As you know, they have also been the location for a curious set of my adventures, but I could not hope to contain the  breadth of those events in just one letter. I am afraid you'll have to wait for the book. I should mention that Maria, your friend who moved to Orcas Island to open the outboard motor repair shop and healing-crystal revitalization center, has changed her name to Salal.

On this trip, David and I came out to visit my dear friend Shannon at Friday Harbor. I seem have lost David almost immediately. The last time I saw him he was "hand-dancing" with some alluring native and I have not seen him since.  Fortunately, I have the car, so Bertolt and I drove out to San Juan County Park that overlooks the Straight, Olympic Mountains and Canada.

It was bright and sunny, and yet, being February, it is was remarkably empty. Bertolt, having no garbage to clandestinely consume, nor other dogs to challenge, and no other humans to ingratiate himself with, fell into a brooding attitude. When he looks thoughtfully out to sea and the vastness of sublimity, he seems to consider himself the Childe Harold of the canine world. Whereas I know he is simply childish. (There will be no additional charge for that terrible joke.)

It is a lovely park, replete with archaeological and mytho-poetic strata: the sort of landscape one often encounters on these islands: one gets an immediate presence of history, of other people's trevails and even the small losses of loved ones beyond grand upheavals. But then the very rocks are growing upward, so perhaps memories are not allowed to sink into the earth. And really, should it?

There was a lone juniper tree that fascinated me. I have seen several of them in the islands, and many seem to possess more dead wood than live. Yet does this not make a strange sense? The juniper trees are not ashamed of what they were. Nor are they proud. The bending wood that once sprang green is there to remind us of how even our mistakes can give us  strength to stand and drink the wind.

I must be a specter to such a tree, which has been there for so long that my one short visit is an illusion, a speck of dust in the peripheral vision of the tree. Perhaps a memory, a déjà vu, that it shakes its sparse crown in rag-tag recollections and then thinks better of the whole endeavor.

I said there are deep lessons in the landscape here. I was fortunate enough to hear one today.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Melusine, Sister

"We are more alike, my sister, than you would think," she says.

"Speak, there is no one here. We have the night and this beach to ourselves."

"Where should I begin? With your words, of course. You have called the Elbe your mother often. We hear you say it in your dreams, and you have said it to men that you love. Have you thought what that means?"

"No, it is something I say. It is one of the rare things I say that I do not think about. What proofs can you give me that you are my sister? I do not mean the ontic facts that men slave for and worship. Tell me something I know."

"For you this world above the surface is strange and misleading. The air refracts the surface of things for our kind. What looks like truth is usually just off to the side. You use the language they all do, but you don't quite understand what they mean. They look at you strangely and change the subject—often to weather—which, for us, is vast energies beyond our knowledge. It whips the surface, and brings our nightmares upon the shore for them. Even our kinder dreams may flood their world."

"Go on, please."

"You swim beneath it all. When they are in groups, swimming upon the surface, you can hear their laughter, even in the deeps. You look up into the fractured shafts of blue light and see their legs kicking and treading. But their heads are all above, in the air which you don't know how to breathe. When you go amongst them in their cities, you feel like an interloper, a trespasser, don't you?"

"I do."

"How often do you require a special day and place where those you love cannot intrude upon the deepest part of who you are—when you unfurl that beautiful tail?"

"If they see me they will think I am a monster."

"And you are afraid of that most of all. But Ada, there is a way to learn to live here, upon the land."

"Tell me."

"When you bathed in that pool in the mountains, we welcomed you home. For that is the night you regained your sight—when you began to feel the world again.  And when you wandered upon the banks of your Mother, distraught and despairing over some falsehood that man told you, we welcomed you again. That is what family does."

"Family? Home?"

"Know that in water you are at home, and we shall protect you. You only need look in the smallest of our vessels—a basin or even a cup of water—and you will see the world you belong to."

"I see many things in the water. Some that have been, some that may be, but it is confusing."

"You are seeing things as they do here. Learn to not see. Do not be fooled by those long earth-legs of yours. Your tail is as scaled as mine—do not worry that you are different from them. Like you, some others of us walk here. And they will see that you are beautiful in the aquifers, the lakes cradled in mountains, and most of all within the wide ocean. Close your eyes and let the currents carry you because home is in and all about you."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

APRIL Festival 2015

Seattle, as many of you know, is a second home to me. Recently I learned that A Certain Beloved Local Brewery has been swallowed up by some sort of Lovecraftian Monster: a thing of tentacles, genetically modified rice, and Belgian draft horses. Frankly it sounds a lot like Anton, only this Behemoth has offices and agents throughout the world.

Large multinational corporations (and the small number of human beings that benefit from them, they exist, you know, behind the facades, curtains and marketing)  will produce reading materials in the same way. Consistency and large number of sales are more important than quality or experimentation. Interesting might sell, but why take a chance on it? Anything that doesn't sell eventually disappears from such large entities and markets.

You see the problem is that literature is like beer: at its best when it is Local and Independent. If you want a can of words that you will consume and forget, and you do not want to be troubled, challenged or even blissfully taken to new worlds, there are avenues for that sort of thing.

But if you want something bitter and complex, perhaps something that's been lagered for a long time with a fruity malty head of words and philosophy… well there is an answer!

It's called the APRIL Independent Literature Festival and it's something Seattle can be justly proud of. This year it will begin on March 24th at Barboza. I am especially excited to hear Emily Kendall Frey again. The Grief Performance managed to amuse, horrify, and depress me in ways usually reserved for Gustav Mahler, which means I love her work and cannot wait to hear her.

And how can you miss a chance to hear Rebecca Brown channeling Alice B. Toklas? I have seen her perform similar necromancy with Franz Kafka, and so I know where I will be on March 25th: The Sorrento Hotel. 

More information and times can be found on the APRIL Festival Calendar.

On the last day, March 29th, the Book Fair will be going on at Richard Hugo House and Hagengard Studio will be one of the independent presses!

Copies of The Nightingale's Stone along with my poetry book Small Events, will be available along with items from Les Sardines and artwork prints from the novel as well. My three colleagues at Troy's Worktable Publishing will also be on hand: Herman, the other Herman and Troy himself.

But as I allude to above, it's a great place to meet with local writers, read their work and interact on that crucially personal level that allows, widsom, sorrow, and sometimes joy into our hearts and minds. That is what language can do when it is tended with care by the writers, presses, and curators of the APRIL Festival.