Books for Gifts

Books make great gifts. They’re easy to buy, a snap to wrap and ship, and there are millions to choose from. But I’ve got some suggestions for you, all from Press 53, the great small press that has published both of my story collections, What the Zhang Boys Know, and In an Uncharted Country, as well as my short fiction anthologies Everywhere Stories, Volumes I and II.

First, some new titles. I Will Shout Your Name by John Matthew Fox looks to be an excellent story collection. We included one of John’s stories in Volume II of Everywhere Stories and I know he’s a terrific writer.  This one will ship in early December.

Then there is Missing Persons by Stephanie Carpenter. I love this cover, but the stories inside are even better. Stephanie won Press 53’s annual contest for a short story collection, but I already knew her work because we published a terrific story of hers in Prime Number Magazine while I was editor-in-chief.

Then there is David Jauss’s new story collection, Nice People. I have been a fan of Jauss’s work for a very long time, so I was thrilled when Press 53 brought out another volume of his stories, Glossolalia. That was such an excellent book that I am confident that the new collection will also be great.

Another new book I’m looking forward to is Kelly Cherry’s Temporium. This looks interesting because it’s a hybrid of stories and prose poems and mini-essays, and if you’ve read Cherry’s work before (like the fantastic story collection Twelve Women in a Country Called America) you’ll know that she writes beautifully.  I’m sure this is a good one.

Those are just the latest releases from the press. Browse through the bookstore for older titles like some of these favorites: Bones of an Inland Sea by Mary Akers, Accidental Birds of the Carolinas by Marjorie Hudson, or Baby’s on Fire by Liz Prato.

And don’t forget Press 53 is also a publisher of great poetry collections!

Everywhere Stories Volume II is now available for Kindle!

I am pleased to announce that Volume II of Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet is now available for Kindle.

The book is the second in a series. Like the first, it contains 20 stories by 20 writers set in 20 countries. The paperback was published in 2016.

For more information about the books or to order hard copies directly from the publisher, go here. To read about the contributors, go here.

Forgetting English by Midge Raymond

forgetting englishForgetting English by Midge Raymond

This is another book I read last year but didn’t have time to write about. This story collection won The Spokane Prize for Short Fiction, but before the prize sponsor, Eastern Washington University Press, could publish the book, they folded. (The prize is now sponsored by Willow Springs Books.) But somehow, the author was put in touch with Press 53, and they brought the book out in 2011. It’s a terrific collection. (You can buy the book directly from Press 53 by going here.)

These are my kind of stories, set all over the world. “First Sunday,” the book’s opening story, takes place in Tonga where one of the characters has served as a Peace Corps Volunteer (another reason the story appeals to me). “Translation Memory” is set in Japan. “The Road to Hana” takes place in Hawaii. Taiwan is the setting for the title story, “Forgetting English.” “Rest of the World” follows its main character from San Francisco to Taipei to Tokyo. “Under Limestone Cliffs” takes the reader to Thailand, “Beyond the Kopjes” goes to Tanzania, “Lost Art” lands in Australia, and “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean” brings us back to Hawaii.

But it was the collection’s third story, “The Ecstatic Cry,” that first brought the book to my attention. In 2014 I was putting together an anthology, Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, also published by Press 53, and received the story from Midge as a submission to consider. I loved it. The story is set in Antarctica and involves a romance between two researchers who are stationed there. “The Ecstatic Cry” is now the opening story in Everywhere Stories.

It should also be noted that Midge has gone on to write a novel about the main character in that story, and My Last Continent will be coming out soon from Simon & Schuster.

Interview with Mary Akers, author of Bones of an Inland Sea

Bones_of_an_Inland_Sea_coverMy friend Mary Akers has a new book out, Bones of an Inland Sea (Press 53, 2013).  I plan to give you my own reaction to this wonderful book in a day or two, but for now let me share with you this conversation I had with Mary. By the way, here’s what National Book Award-winner Andrea Barrett has to say about the book (just so you know I’m not lying):

“In Mary Akers’ stories, as complexly intertwined as the branches of a coral reef, her passionate characters engage both each other and a richly detailed, vital physical world. An impressive achievement.”

Here’s our conversation:

Clifford Garstang: Your book Bones of an Inland Sea is a collection of individual stories. But as readers move through the stories, it becomes clear that they are all linked together in fascinating ways. The more stories one reads, the more the characters reappear and relationships evolve. In the end, it feels a bit like reading a novel. Could you talk about that?

Mary Akers: If I had to assign this book a descriptive term other than short story collection, I would call it a “composite novel” or a “polyphonic novel”—a novel told in many voices. All the stories are interrelated, and yet each story stands alone. Characters repeat throughout the stories and several characters get more than one chance to tell their stories. I liked exploring how our stories change over time. What we tell ourselves, and others, about our lives changes as we grow and evolve, and even how we tell the story changes. Do we focus on reliving the bad? Or do we gain acceptance over time and tell a very different story twenty years after the actual events occurred? The stories in this collection explore the many ways that stories are told: the long view, the personal letter, a retrospective, a play-by-play, from multiple perspectives, etc.

CG: I recognized some familiar scenarios in these stories. There’s a devastating tsunami in Thailand, a woman in a persistent vegetative state with a family fighting over her right to live or die, a cult reminiscent of Jim Jones’ cult in Jonestown Guyana. Do you take inspiration from the news?

MA: Sure, I mean I take inspiration from just about anything, but especially from things that haunt me, things that I don’t understand and can’t let go. The Terri Schiavo case is a good example of that. And the awful images from the Boxing Day tsunami were so painful, especially for someone like me who has loved the ocean all her life. I was about twelve when the huge mass suicide in Jonestown Guyana occurred. I will never forget the news footage of all those piles of bodies laid out on the ground, arms around one another. How does one man convince 800 people to kill their children and then take their own lives?

CG: So would you say you are an issue-driven writer? Are you trying to get your readers to think a certain way about the world?

MA: It’s my job (as I see it) not to make my readers think a certain way, but to make them think. I don’t have an agenda when I write. Or if I do, it’s only to understand, to be open, and try to figure out what is right and what is moral and what it means to be human in this complicated modern world of ours. If that comes across to readers and in turn gives them some good food for their own thoughts, then I’m very happy with that outcome.

I conducted an interview recently with Robert Boswell, a really wonderful writer, and he said he’s been formulating this idea of low-custody authors versus high-custody authors. You know how some authors take you by the hand and walk you through a sort of guided tour, telling you all along the way what this or that means and what you should feel? Well, that’s a high-custody author, like Tolstoy, for instance, but that’s not me. I would call myself a low-custody author, more like Chekhov. I want my reader to do a little work, too, and I think most readers like to do that work. It makes us feel smart when we recognize what is happening or when we are left to figure something out on our own. Basically, I present the scenarios and the characters without any authorial judgment (or I try to), and I want to give the reader the opportunity to decide what he or she thinks.

After all, when I make a book, it’s only half done. A book is just symbols on a page. It takes a reader to finish the book. Readers spend eight hours or more with my words, but they make the pictures in their minds, they bring their own experience to the reading, and they make the book theirs in a really unique way. All of the arts involve an intimate experience between maker and consumer, but there’s something especially intimate about reading. I think some of that has to do with the fact that most art involves the senses—sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. But writing actually involves THE MEMORY of the senses and the writer merely invokes them. The reader supplies them. For instance if a character thinks, “it smells like my grandmother’s kitchen,” well that means something very different to every reader. And even if I supply details—“it smelled like basil and ricotta and Aqua Net and love…” I’m still asking you to go back and do that work of memory and make it your own internal sensation from my list. Fascinating, isn’t it?

CG: There seem to be a lot of characters in this collection with military backgrounds. And also a lot of references to military actions and wars: You have a Viet Nam vet with PTSD, a Navy man who witnessed the bombings on Bikini Atoll in the 1950s, even a small local war in the Florida Keys over sponging rights in the early 1900s. Do you have a military background yourself?

MA: I was a military spouse for many years. My kids were all born in military hospitals. My father served during the Berlin Crisis. My uncle flew the hump in Burma. My grandfather landed on Iwo Jima. My brother was a navigator for Navy P-3 planes. My sister registered for the draft back in 1974 when she turned 18. All my life I have been surrounded by people—mostly men—who have served our country. The toll such service takes and also the benefits it provides to an individual are fascinating to me. I can’t think of any single experience that is more of a mixed bag of injuries and rewards.

CG: Another thing I noticed was that you have almost as many stories told from a male point of view as from a female point of view. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to write from a male perspective?

MA: Well, men make up half the world, don’t they? I don’t know, it seemed like the stories needed to be told in the way they needed to be told. It was my job to rise to the occasion. If it’s difficult, that’s my struggle, but it’s one I embrace. To be a fiction writer is to spend a lot of time imagining the lives and thoughts of others—often people very different from oneself. I think it’s a challenge. And I find men (as a group) very interesting. I’m really interested in what they think and feel and how they do or don’t express that. I actually think it’s very hard to be a man these days.

CG: You have an event coming up—a book launch to celebrate the publication of Bones of an Inland Sea. It’s at The Roycroft, right? Could you tell us a little bit about that?

MA: I’d love to. It is a book launch party and it will be held on September 21st from 5-7pm at the brand new Roycroft Power House. It’s open to the public, but you do need a ticket to attend. I’ll have some interesting door prizes that relate to the themes in the book (fossils, seaglass jewelry) and hors d’oeuvres will be served along with a signature cocktail that was designed for the book. It’s called The Lifeboat, as in “May I offer you a Lifeboat?” or “Would you care for a Lifeboat?”

Basically, the launch party is a celebration designed to send this baby book out into the world. Copies will be available for sale—and I’ll be signing them, and I’ll also give a short reading to give attendees a feel for the book. It’s always fun to hear work read in the author’s voice.

CG: Check out Mary’s website and blog, and her author page at Press 53.

Mary_AkersMary Akers is the author of the award-winning short story collection Women Up On Blocks (Press 53, 2009) and Bones of an Inland Sea (2013). She is Editor-in-chief of the online journal r.kv.r.y. and has been a VCCA Fellow and a Bread Loaf waiter. She co-founded the Institute for Tropical Marine Ecology, a study abroad marine ecology program originally located in Roseau, Dominica. Akers frequently writes fiction that focuses on the intersections between art and science, including such topics as diverse and timely as the environmental movement and the struggle for human and animal rights. Although raised in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, which she will always call home, she currently lives in western New York.

Guest Post: Stefanie Freele

Cover_Surrounded_by_WaterHorrified Faces and Other Unexpected Encounters While Marketing My Books

Stefanie Freele

(Author of Surrounded by Water, Press 53 and Feeding Strays, Lost Horse Press)

Although I am certain I did not presume Oprah would appear at my door with a new outfit and a bouquet the moment my recently released books arrived via UPS, in retrospect I do not recall what I expected would happen next. First, I experienced the seemingly-universal delightfully shaky-handed feeling of opening up the just-arrived box of the worked-so-hard-and-here-it-is published masterpiece. Next I had hopes for success and fear of failure, who doesn’t? And then, the daunting in-your-face responsibility: time to sell the book. Other authors warned me about the hard work marketing the book would be, little pay, lots of gas, reading to the occasional mostly-empty room. I had those events to anticipate, but a few head-shakers happened along the way, starting with:

The varied reactions of bookstore owners

The first local bookstore I approached gave me the forms to sign for selling books on consignment, invited me to do book signings in their small local chain and congratulated me on my new short story collection. They were professional and curt.

It was a very good thing I stopped there first because my second local bookstore experience was crushing. The owner took my book with the enthusiasm of a four year-old eating broccoli, went to the back room and returned in mere seconds, unapologetically telling me in the exact tone of my third grade math teacher how she could not sell my book because, “You’re not famous enough.”  If I had tried this particular store first, I might have stashed all my books under the bed and myself under the covers for an undisclosed period of time.

In contrast, Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, which just might be the coolest bookstore on the West Coast, ordered my books ahead of time from the publisher, welcomed me with enthusiasm, made me a lovely flyer and hosted two readings for me, complete with drinks and snacks. How did they know I love snacks? By the way, the Gallery Bookshop has a webcam linked to their site which shows the current ocean view from the store. At the moment the view is misty and mysterious.

Brushes with famous people

I was told that my first collection, Feeding Strays was on the fiction shelf next to James Frey and now my new book also. “Come to think of it,” the store owner said, “wherever your books go, they will always be next to James Frey’s.”

When I arrived at Gallery Bookshop to read (mentioning again that they are the coolest bookstore), on the table was my book Surrounded by Water and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, as Ms. Strayed was reading the next day. The books looked very good together and perhaps should be sold as companion pieces.

The Awkward Radio Interview Process

I have been interviewed for radio a few times and each experience has been generally uncomfortable, but none as much as the one where five of us were stuffed in a hot room the size of a common bathroom stall. As I read a story about two characters clandestinely removing a dead body from a hearse, one of the interviewer’s faces began to morph into a horrified expression which grew exponentially with every word I uttered. Inside, I was panicking and trying not to let the panic be noted in my voice: I did not know whether to stop reading, burst out laughing, or run from the room. Instead, I tried not to look at her and continued on. I believe the next author read a poignant piece about gardening.

The encouragement from all parts of the world and even out of nowhere

In addition to the mounds of encouragement and support from friends and family: A childhood neighbor from Wisconsin bought a box full of signed books for his employees and relatives.  A woman I’ve never met before burst into a signing announcing she is my biggest fan and gave me a huge breathless hug. Two writing conferences asked me to be their keynote speaker (me?!).   Students from a film school requested to make projects from two of my stories. A reader from Australia pleaded with me to write more.  As if I just might stop writing. Ha.

Ha.

Stefanie Freele was born and raised in Wisconsin, and currently lives near a river (but not near enough) on the Northwest coast. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in several literary magazines, journals  and anthologies including Glimmer Train, Mid-American Review, Western Humanities Review, Sou’wester, Quarterly West, The Florida Review, Night Train, Prime Number Magazine, American Literary Review, Word Riot and Pank.
Awards for stories in Surrounded by Water include First Place in the Glimmer Train Fiction Open for “While Surrounded by Water”; Second Place in the Glimmer Train Family Matters Contest for “Us Hungarians”; a 2010 Million Writers Notable Story award for “Buccaneers”;  an Editor’s Pick in the Mid-American Review Fineline Competition for “Removal of Oneself From Corporate Identity”; and a Pushcart Prize nomination for “Pozniejszy.”
Stefanie received a Kathy Fish Fellowship from SmokeLong Quarterly and served as Writer-In-Residence. She was also the 2010-2011 Healdsburg Literary Laureate. Her first short story collection,Feeding Strays (Lost Horse Press), was a finalist for the Binghamton University John Gardner Fiction Book Award and the Book of the Year Award from Foreword Reviews.

 

 

The Book Tour–updated

gloss readingIt used to be that publishers would send their authors on national book tours to promote new releases. That still happens with a few titles, and most authors still travel a bit to help their books find an audience–even if they have to pay their own way and sleep on the couches of their friends.

In recent years, the “virtual book tour” has become popular. In the VBT, the author or publisher sends copies of the book to bloggers and may arrange for interviews or guest-blog appearances on specific dates. I did one of those and I appeared on nearly 20 blogs during the month just after the release of my last book.

But Press 53 is doing something I’ve never heard of to support David Jauss’s new book, Glossolalia. A small press like Press 53 can’t send Jauss all over the country, but it can arrange for the book to travel. I was a little confused about this until I agreed to participate. And then a few days ago, the book arrived in the mail–not from Press 53 or Jauss–but from the previous host. The book includes instructions. I am to read the book, sign and date the back page along with the previous host/readers, and mail it to the next person on the list. The copy I’ve just finished reading has been to Texas, New York, Maine, North Carolina, Iowa, and Minnesota, and from here (Virginia) it’s headed to Connecticut.

(The instructions also recommend taking a picture of the book being read in a public place, hence the picture above. I took it to my bookclub meeting this week.)

Check out the progress of the tour here.

map tour

2013 Reading: Glossolalia by David Jauss

Glossolalia_CoverGlossolalia

By David Jauss

Press 53 (September, 2013)

 

I first became aware of David Jauss from reading his wonderful essays on the craft of fiction that appear often in The Writer’s Chronicle, the magazine of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. Invariably, these essays are lucid and helpful. I was very pleased, then, to learn that Press 53, the publisher of my two short fiction collections, planned to publish Jauss’s new book, Glossolalia, and I was even more pleased when I was offered the chance to see an Advance Reading Copy. Having just finished reading the book, I feel honored that we share a publisher.

The book includes stories that have won Pushcart Prizes and O. Henry Awards and have appeared in Best American Short Stories. Some of the stories have been published in prestigious literary magazines such as StoryQuarterly, Shenandoah, New England Review, and Prairie Schooner. And all of the stories are rewarding to read.

My favorite story in the book is the title story, “Glossolalia,” which originally appeared in Shenandoah and also was reprinted in Best American Short Stories and the Pushcart Prize anthology. It’s a dark tale about a father who is struggling to take care of his family and the son who can’t quite bring himself to forgive him for his failures. The title refers to the religious act of speaking in tongues but also to the fact that this father tries to explain himself to his son in words that the son can’t, or won’t, understand. It’s a very powerful story.

But there are others that leave just as strong an impression. Another favorite is “Rainier,” also about a father who needs forgiveness from his son. I also loved “Tell Me Something,” a story about a couple who have been married for a very long time but are still learning about each other. In many of the stories, an outcast is looking for a way to fit in or, at any rate, to make his own way in the world. “Misery” (described as “after Chekhov”) is about a hunchback who has been humiliated by his colleagues. “The Bigs” is about a baseball player from the Dominican Republic who is out of place in multiple ways. In “Hook,” a man invents an explanation for his prosthetic hand. Not to mention the story “Shards,” which is about a man who—no, I’m not going to say what that one’s about except to say that it’s a pretty disturbing story.

The book begins with another very powerful story in this same vein. In “Torque,” a man has lost his family because of his obsession with owning a limousine. He buys an old Cadillac and plans to fix it up, but his wife gets fed up with him and his dream and leaves. Because he wants to turn it into a stretch limo, he cuts the car in half, an act that attracts the attention of a neighbor in a way that surprises the reader.

Glossolalia is a powerful collection of moving stories, unlike anything else I’ve read recently. You still have time to pre-order a signed copy.

 

Short Story Resurgence?

storyWe are now being told that short story collections are all the rage. A story from yesterday’s New York Times is circulating among writers on Facebook today that argues short story collections are undergoing a resurgence–thanks to the Internet (Good Fit for Today’s Little Screens: Short Stories.)

Story collections, an often underappreciated literary cousin of novels, are experiencing a resurgence, driven by a proliferation of digital options that offer not only new creative opportunities but exposure and revenue as well.

The author, Leslie Kaufman, cites 2013 releases by such notables as George Saunders, Karen Russell, Amber Dermont, and Jess Walter as evidence of … something. Kaufman also quotes Cal Morgan of Harper Perennial: “The Internet has made people a lot more open to reading story forms that are different from the novel, and you see a generation of writers very engaged in experimentation.”

I don’t know about that Internet claim, but those of us who were paying attention already knew great things were happening with the short story. Consider the Story Prize. Take a look at the blog posts by authors who were nominated for this coveted award in 2012: Index of Blog Posts. The list of 2012 story collections is mind-boggling, including some really terrific books by both established and emerging writers.

For years, short story writers have been told by agents that story collections don’t sell. Readers don’t buy them (except, presumably, for other writers of stories), so publishers don’t publish them, so agents won’t represent them. No writer I know was ever convinced by this argument, but there wasn’t much we could do about. Agents were/are the gatekeepers to the big publishers, and so there was cycle that fed on itself.

Fortunately, though, there are some small presses that produce some excellent short story collections. Press 53, for example, which published both of my collections, specializes in story and poetry collections. I’m hopeful that, if it’s true about the story collection resurgence, that readers look for titles beyond the big publishers.

Meet Seth Michelson . . . and learn how to get his book for free

Cover_Eyes_Like_Broken_WindowsI’m happy today to present a conversation with Seth Michelson, author of poetry collection Eyes Like Broken Windows. And if you read to the end, you’ll see there’s an opportunity to get his book . . . for FREE!

Welcome, Seth. Thank you for being here. Why don’t you tell us a little about yourself to get this started?

Well, thank you, Cliff. It’s a pleasure to be here to e-meet your readers (Hi, everyone!) and to converse with you.

But before talking about myself, I’d like to mention briefly what a fine writer you are, Cliff. Your newest book, What the Zhang Boys Know, is a great read. Its characters face disease, child loss, absent parents, and more, and through their travails, they teach us about endurance, about how to persist and to do so with compassion and joy. In other words, I admire your ability to render so artfully the anguish of interpersonal experience. It’s one of the reasons why I’m delighted to be here talking with you about writing.

As for me, I’ll say that I’m a poet, which simply means that I insatiably read and regularly write poems, and my newest book is Eyes Like Broken Windows. I’d like to add, too, that judging by public reactions (e.g. at readings, in book reviews, in fan emails), people really seem to be enjoying the book, for which I’m very grateful. I feel very fortunate that so many people are not only reading my book but taking the time from their busy lives to tell me about it.

I think one of the reasons why people are responding well to your book is that it’s an exciting book to read. It’s filled with a diversity of places, people, emotions, and poetic forms, ranging from sonnets to free verse. I’ve also noticed that you sometimes use both Spanish and English in there. Would you talk a little about that?

Sure, as a poet I’m very interested in the limits of language. In a complementary way, I’m interested, too, in challenging perfunctory social and cultural constraints. In my writing, I therefore like to identify and rethink my habits of being, including how I read, reflect, and write. Of course none of this emerges, or at least not in fully formed ways, when I sit down to begin to write. Rather, it emerges allusively, coyly, through a wisp of feeling, a captivating sound, a striking image glimpsed or imagined that jump-starts a new poem. From there, that tidbit grows into a poem through an exploratory process that creates itself through each act of writing. And for me, over the past few years (or longer…), this often includes a skittering along the vaporous border between English and Spanish within a poem, where I hope to hew alternative zones or pockets of experience, interlingual discursive spaces, within which a hybrid language emerges and asserts itself to inflect forms of being. In a sense, it’s one more way that a poet can inundate the reader with possibilities.

Could you give us an example of this?

Sure, in the central third of Eyes Like Broken Windows, I have a heroic crown of sonnets about a transnational, transhistorical network of experiences. As your readers know, a heroic crown of sonnets comprises fifteen sonnets sequentially linked into a circular cycle. I use that form to test the necessity of boundaries, both in life and in poetry, and I use the form, too, to weave together three narrative threads: my time living with a war criminal in Argentina from the genocide there (1976-83), my wife’s emigration from Argentina to the US during that era, and the story of a nineteen-year-old Argentine girl murdered by that war criminal. And as you noticed, the crown is bilingual at points, importing voices and vernaculars specific to moments in those interwoven stories. Nevertheless I think monolingual-English readers can understand it all contextually and via cognates. Plus I’ve included a glossary at the end of the book. And readers seem to really enjoy the crown. It’s an intrinsically fascinating form.

Tangentially, I’d like to mention, too, that the politics of bilingual poetry, and especially of the typography and formatting of bilingual books, fascinate me. And while I sympathize with positions against italicizing Spanish and adding glossaries, I do so in the crown because part of its intent is to offer a transcultural historiography: I hope for it to offer its U.S. monolingual-English audience something of importance about the period of the genocide in Argentine history, which is of course linked to U.S. history in particular and to postwar hemispheric and geo-politics in general. So my crown tries in small, poetic gestures to join those overlapping local and global discussions about how to live in the aftermath of extreme violence.

Interesting. Can I ask a quick question about nomenclature? I heard you refer to that period in Argentina as a “genocide,” which is new to me. I’d always heard it referred to as “The Dirty War.” Am I confusing two periods?

No, Cliff. You’re correct, and it’s a very good question. Both terms are used in reference to the dictatorship in Argentina from 1976-83. I prefer to use the term “genocide” as I find “Dirty War” a misnomer. There was no “war.” The military overthrew the democratic government, targeted civilians as enemies, and systematically murdered them. The symbolic civilian death toll from the period is 30,000. The military justified the torture and murder of these victims as being part of a necessary, if unusual, internal “war.” I, like many, see it instead as the fascistic slaughter of targeted categories of people, as genocide.

It’s a powerful subject, Seth. I noticed that you’ve also set some of your poetry about it to music, which I listened to on your website. Would you tell us about that?

Happily! I love music. I even fantasize about being a cellist [laughing]. So it was a very special experience for me to collaborate with the superb Chinese composer Zhou Tian. We set the first sonnet of the crown to operatic music for soprano, cello, and piano, and, as you mentioned, people can listen to it on my website, sethmichelson.com. Tian is a precociously masterful young composer, and our joint effort won First Prize at the 2009 ASCAP Art Songs Competition. More importantly, the piece has elicited powerful, positive responses from survivors of the Argentine genocide. It means a lot to me that it means a lot to them. These are people who’ve suffered severely—imprisonment, torture, the murder of friends and family—so it’s deeply gratifying and humbling to be able to help them with their pain in some small way.

I can imagine. In my experience, I’ve been very moved by hearing from readers of the Zhang Boys, for instance, about their life experiences in relation to the book. And speaking of readers, what are some books you’ve read recently and might recommend to us?

Well, on my way to the airport in Boston a couple of weeks ago for a flight home to LA, I picked up a copy of Don DeLillo’s novella The Body Artist, which is really idiosyncratic within his larger literary project. And I really enjoyed it (though a novella is too short for a five-hour flight; stupid oversight in book selection on my part! [laughing]).

I also am enamored with Catherine Malabou’s newest book in English, The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage. Not only is it highly informative, but it’s iconoclastic in its analysis of neuroscience, brain trauma, and identity.

I’m also gearing up to teach poetry workshops starting next week in Los Angeles and then over the summer in New York, so I have teetering piles of books of poetry on my desk and floor, from which I’m distilling recommendations for my students, so feel free to check back with me about that (I can be reached easily through my website, about this or any matter).

Speaking of “other matters,” what are some of your hobbies? What do you enjoy doing besides reading and writing?

Well, I love to cook, so I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I also always welcome recipes from others. So if you’re sitting on a good one, Cliff, then please consider sharing it with me. The same goes for all of you reading this. Send me recipes, please!

Do you ever write about food? Does cooking influence your poetry writing?

It does! In Eyes Like Broken Windows, for example, food appears often.

If you’ll permit it, here’s a related poem about those crucial instruments of eating, the teeth.

My Teeth In The Mirror

Smog-stained, coffee-stained, burnt
by digestive enzymes, they rim my mouth
like a harbor’s yellowed palings, stand
guard at the hideout’s door, gate-like
they open for the edible, divide like fences
my stench from New York’s. Plus how tenderly
they clasp nipples and lips in the dark!
O enameled, stalwart lovebuckles!
O speed bumps between my voice and the world!
Bear this corrosion until you’re withered
and your center’s deeply sore, then make me
believe in your cavities as metaphor:
That all the holes in a life
can be polished, filled with silver,
and, if rootless, dressed in layers of gold.

Great poem, Seth. Thank you. And thank you for this interview.

Thank you, Cliff. I’ve enjoyed this, and I hope that your readers do, too.

By way of thanks, I’d also like to make a special offer here to your readers: I’ll give away a free copy of my book (free!) to anyone who orders your book, What the Zhang Boys Know, before March 15. Take advantage, people! [Laughing…]

Thanks again, Cliff, and thanks to all of you out there for reading this.

Okay, readers, you heard the man. Anyone who orders a copy of my book, What the Zhang Boys Know, before March 15, either directly from me, or from Press 53, will ALSO get, absolutely free, a copy of Eyes Like Broken Windows. What a great deal. Thank you to Seth and Press 53 for their generosity.

Guest Post: Terri Kirby Erickson

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Poetry: The People’s Choice

by Terri Kirby Erickson

At the recent 2013 People’s Choice Awards, the lovely host Kaley Cuoco made poets’ lives a little tougher when it comes to engaging people’s interest in our work. She threatened to read and/or recite poetry to the audience (and to the millions of viewers watching her on television) instead of introducing the next pair of celebrity presenters—in a tone that suggested doing so would be tantamount to shouting, “Fire!” in a crowded room.

Obviously no one took her seriously since the audience laughed and remained seated.  I couldn’t help but sigh, however, because a beloved public figure that has perhaps never been moved or engaged by a fine poem chose to poke fun at an art form she may know little or nothing about.  Or at least, the writers who gave her that line chose that route.  And heaven knows a lot of folks, particularly young people, do their best to emulate celebrities.  Their opinions and even intimations of opinions are taken very seriously.

As the author of three collections of poetry that I (alongside my publisher, Press 53) have done my level best to market (and have succeeded very well “for books of poetry,” which is rather like saying “you look good for your age…”), I have to admit that poetry can be a tough sell.  The word itself seems to inspire the kind of dread students feel in their high school English courses when the teacher calls on them to explain “the meaning” of a poem to the rest of the class.  So comments like Ms. Cuoco’s that seem to disparage poetry, are definitely not helpful.

I understand that we live in an age where people are constantly over-stimulated by loud and raucous television shows, movies with a million special effects, violent video games, computers, interactive phones, and other “in-your-face” forms of entertainment.  So plopping down in a quiet corner to read a book of poetry seems about as appealing to some people as watching an inch worm climb a tree, or worse.  But I’m here to tell you, those who take a chance on liking it, quite often do.

There are all sorts of poets in the world and billions of poems, each of them as individual as the writers.  Surely among so many, every person who claims that he or she doesn’t “like poetry,” can find one poem that moves him or her.  And if there is one, there are probably two.  And pretty soon you’ll find a whole host of poems and poets that appeal to you—poems that stick in your mind and often give voice to thoughts and feelings that every reader has had and possibly cannot articulate.

I have seen with my own eyes the healing power of poetry when it comes to physical illness, emotional suffering, and feeling disconnected from other human beings for various reasons, including the simple fact of being a teenager.  It is wonderful to watch young people’s faces light up when they read a poem and “see” themselves or someone they love in it—how that sense of connection makes them feel less alone than they may have felt only a moment before.  And poems can make us laugh, too, which is always good medicine.

Most of all, reading a poem which is by nature short and pithy in comparison to prose, requires the reader to fill in a lot of narrative blanks or in other words, use one’s imagination.  And having a good imagination is the first step toward learning compassion and empathy because we must be able to “imagine” what someone else is going through in order to feel something about it and respond appropriately.

There are many arguments I could make about the value of reading poetry, and listening to others read it aloud can be an enriching experience, as well.  I will admit (naming no names, of course) that I have occasionally been bored into a coma by poets who ramble on too long, or who spend half their time at the podium trying to decide what to read.  I’m sure I’ve been guilty of boring people a time or two, as well.  But if you’ll pick up a book of poetry and read it, or listen for that one line that heads like an arrow, straight for your heart, I promise you won’t regret it.

And as for Kaley Cuoco (or future hosts) along with the cast of writers for The People’s Choice Awards—maybe next year you could think about adding a poem to the broadcast.  In fact, I’ll be glad to send you a few poems and even read one to the audience, myself.  I’m almost sure I have an evening gown and high heels in my closet, hiding somewhere behind my sweater sets and multiple pairs of sensible shoes!

Terri Kirby Erickson is author of three collections of poetry, including In the Palms of Terri_Kirby_EricksonAngels (Press 53), winner of a Nautilus Silver Award for Poetry and a Gold Medal for Poetry in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.  Her work has been published in former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry, 2013 Poet’s Market, JAMA, The Christian Science Monitor, North Carolina Literary Review, Boston Literary Magazine, Verse Daily, and many others.  She has won numerous awards for her poetry, and is the 2013 Leidig Keynote Poet for Emory & Henry College.  Visit her website at http://terrikirbyerickson.wordpress.com