provocative profiles: episode two, krystal languell

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krystal languell is treasurer and member of the board of directors for the Belladonna* Collaborative. she also edits the feminist journal Bone Bouquet and teaches writing in nyc. her first book, Call the Catastrophists, is now available from BlazeVox Books. says ander monson, “fiery and fine, krystal languell’s Call the Catastrophists is a ‘whoomp! (there it is)’ of a first collection.”

krystal is also a genuinely helpful woman. she once spent hours of a beautiful sunday morning helping me open hundreds of boxes of lit mags in an old, un-air-conditioned nyc bookstore, in the middle of july. she earned my eternal gratitude that day!

on december 14 from 8:00pm to midnight at 925 bergen street, suite 405, krystal is helping to throw a huge fund-rager for Belladonna*—music by poet dj’s, such as marcella durand, dan magers, and latasha diggs? palm readings by melissa buzzeo? on-site hypnotherapist kristin prevallet? a chance to party in the Belladonna* studio? AND free booze? all for a $20 donation to an awesome organization? I’M IN!

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today, krystal took a few questions for ‘the nook,’ and her answers will give you abundant evidence of her thoughtfulness and commitment:

nook: both Belladonna* and Bone Bouquet are very invested in promoting women writers. can you talk a bit about why this is such an essential mission?

krystal: the cause of promoting women writers is important because women are important. my feminism (not speaking for Belladonna* here) is a selfish thing. i want my work to be read and i know it’s less likely to be published, read or reviewed than if i were a man. puzzlingly, despite the work of VIDA and amy king’s The Count, there are still people who don’t believe this fact.

fine. one way i could respond to this situation would be by acting as a ruthless advocate for myself and my work, clawing my way into the boys’ club. that works for some people. instead, i’ve chosen to join the Belladonna* Collaborative and create Bone Bouquet. community is much more interesting to me than competition. also, i hate losing. i learn much more by cooperating, though it is difficult, and by working to promote the work of other women, i understand my place in the community more clearly.

Belladonna* is a non-profit and a small press, but is also many other things. we are a community. we ask each other for help, support each other, raise money to publish books and pay readers when we can, but also we’ll rally around a female poet in financial or medical trouble as best we can, host public dinners, and throw a great party, once in a while. all of which is to say that there is more work on our plate than publishing and promoting great books of poetry—it’s just one part of what we do, and that is why this group is important to me. we’re not a small business. we’re not a press. we’re a group of women doing the work that feels most urgent in the poetry community, and that shifts over time.

nook: Bone Bouquet is fairly young… what surprised you during the process of launching the magazine?

krystal: the first surprise about Bone Bouquet was that i couldn’t actually do it alone. the second surprise was that i, like many editors i’d been frustrated with as a graduate student, couldn’t get my magazine out on time either. so the most important lessons have been about flexibility and patience, which anyone who knows me will tell you are qualities i am still working on…

more recently, i’ve been pleasantly surprised about the support the magazine has received. i launched with a ’30 subscribers in 30 days’ campaign on facebook and sent a few emails and BAM–it happened. thirty people bought subscriptions, and i got to pay my web designer (hr hegnauer)!


nook: who are some of the most interesting, important women writers that we haven’t heard enough about?
 

krystal: the members of the Belladonna* Collaborative, of course: rachel levitsky, marcella durand, kristin prevallet, barbara henning, caroline crumpacker, cara benson, hr hegnauer, emily skillings, lila zemborain; former member martine bellen; member in memorium akilah oliver.

aaron james, philosopher, surfer, and author of ‘Assholes: A Theory,’ gets personal with the nook

aaron james is a writer, philosopher, surfer, and professor at uc irvine. i discovered aaron in a tweet from huffpo this morning, when he contributed an interesting post based on his newest book, ‘Assholes: A Theory.’ after a history of academic publishing in professional journals and a recent book on fairness in the global economy, aaron changed course a bit with ‘Assholes,’ experimenting with a more popular style. 

aaron sat down with ‘the nook’ today to answer some questions that were burning our chapped, winter lips:

nook: some of the best public relations lines i’ve ever read can be enjoyed on amazon’s book page for ‘Assholes’: ‘asshole management begins with asshole understanding. much as machiavelli illuminated political strategy for princes, this book finally gives us the concepts to think or say why assholes disturb us so, and explains why such people seem part of the human social condition, especially in an age of raging narcissism and unbridled capitalism.’

from my perspective, after sixteen years in new york, ‘asshole,’ seems like a religion. we new yorkers become devoted to it (as a means of survival, really.) the city shows you so much love, and grief, and heartache, and struggle, and raw humanity on an everyday basis. after awhile, being an asshole is your only sanctuary. what say you to your friends on the right coast, as frost rolls over the east and our inner assholes begin to shiver deep within? 

aaron: if it’s any consolation, i’m willing to bet that there are more assholes per capita in los angeles than in new york, not that you don’t have them in abundance… but we, after all, have hollywood, along with fairly confined areas of public space, in a car culture that depersonalizes social interactions.  in the buzzing organism that is manhattan-by-foot, it is harder to act like an asshole when you are constantly confronted with the reality and comparable needs of others.  you have to be pretty brazen not to spontaneously coordinate with an approaching fellow pedestrian to avoid collision, insisting that *she* must move out of *your* way.

here in so cal, we are all about our right of way on the road, which apparently includes a moral right not to slow down for a car that needs to change lanes.  we naturally express our outrage over the few seconds of lost time by tailgating the interloper, abruptly passing, and conspicuously sneering.

nook: i stand in awe of any person (such as yourself) who managed to complete a doctorate in philosophy at harvard. when i completed undergrad, i had to choose between striving toward a phd in comparative lit, or going for my mfa in fiction. i chose the mfa, and i’m not sorry, but i do hide a secret shame, because my reasoning was pretty much: i don’t want to learn old english. (i looked at beowulf, and said, ‘not today, brother.’) can you talk a bit about some of the differences between publishing as an academic, and publishing a books like ‘Assholes’?  

aaron: gosh, thanks. i had a great time in grad school, though we definitely all agreed that writing for a popular audience was not important, or at best it was a diversion from better uses of one’s time—something you could *eventually* come around to after your serious work was behind you.  i’ve had to work at letting go of that idea, without becoming any less serious about my serious philosophical work.  i’ve done that by trying to write for a wide audience using a serious, potentially novel philosophical approach.  if i thought i was just warming over ideas for a general audience, i probably would rather just spend my time working at my usual academic pursuits.

in the writing process itself, i also had to learn not to worry about appearing smart to my academic colleagues and friends—to just let those appearances go.  instead, you have to be resolute about addressing the intelligent reader and earning the right, in his or her eyes, to bring in more academic ideas.  for someone who never learned to write, except in academic mode, and who, after all, does care to some extent what respectable academics think, this is all a lot harder than it may seem.

nook: so, you’re currently percolating a book about surfing… sounds fascinating! i grew up on the little barrier island of long beach, ny, and surf culture was a part of my childhood (though i’m sure it was nowhere near as intense or pervasive as in ca). there’s something very vulnerable about surfing that makes it unique among “sports.” can you give us a taste of your thinking on the subject?

aaron: there’s been a lot of media lately that glorifies surfing.  the first task is to explain why much of that is at odds with the gritty, real life of a surfer—our base, junkie-like dispositions, our anxiety, competitiveness and conflict that comes along with the surfing line up, our conflicted relationship to the environment, and the untold toil we undertake for what is often a fleeting moment of glory.  life as a surfer is a microcosm of the human condition in that way.

and yet, i want to argue that surfers have a deep appreciation of certain very important truths, by virtue of their engagement in the distinctive act of ‘surfing a wave.’ they grab hold of a set of ideas and values (despite mainly failing them in practice), and these ideas and values provide an answer to the basic questions that confront advanced capitalism in a world of ecological scarcity, with developing countries struggling to rise.we have to learn how to live rather than produce things—to go surfing—if developing countries are going to have a fair chance to catch up.  and this requires us to rethink conventional, “static” views of the relationship between government and society and, ultimately, the meaning of life itself.  even if i can’t offer a full defense of the quintessential ‘surfer’s view,’ i’m hoping to at least formulate it as a coherent and distinctive response to our biggest questions.

provocative profiles: episode one, jay baron nicorvo

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jay’s poetry, fiction, nonfiction and criticism have appeared in The Literary Review, Guernica, The Iowa Review and The Believer. his debut poetry collection, Deadbeat, is published by Four Way Books. he’s served on editorial staffs at Ploughshares and PEN America, and worked for clmp. he teaches at western michigan university, where he’s faculty advisor to Third Coast, and lives on an old farm outside battle creek with his wife, thisbe nissen, their son, sonne, and a dozen vulnerable chickens.

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said nick flynn of Deadbeat, “it seems possible that jay baron nicorvo has ingested all the darkness of this life and now breathes fire.” whoa. either nick flynn just accused jay of halitosis, or this book is deadly serious. the collection revolves around a central character, called deadbeat—descendant of john berryman’s mr. bones, marvin bell’s dead man and ted hughes’s crow, to name a few.

Q & A with jay!

nook: you spent many years thinking about the experience of the first time author at clmp. can you detail a couple of surprises you encountered during the publishing process?

jay: the first, biggest and best surprise was the acceptance of the book for publication. i’d been revising the damn manuscript, off and on, for ten years, my own private odyssey. a version of it was my mfa thesis at emerson college. about, oh, nine years into the rewrite process, i had a dream that woke me in the middle of the night. i jotted down a note in the dark. in the morning, i read, “make deadbeat a character running through every poem.” then i spent another year revising with that idea in mind. when done with this draft, i made a shortlist of indie publishers i’d come to admire in my time at clmp. Four Way Books was at the top of the list and they were the first place i sent the ms. i got an acceptance from martha rhodes a few months later, and she didn’t want me to change a word. that was another surprise.

other surprises? matthea harvey agreeing to provide the cover image. finding campbell mcgrath and terrance hayes willing to write blurbs after i emailed them cold, knowing only their poems. terrance got his nba nomination right after he agreed to look at my ms. i kept telling him, if he couldn’t get around to it, no sweat; he had bigger things to worry about. he said it was no problem. he took the ms. with him to nyc for the award ceremony and said he’d get around to it then. that came as a surprise; the guy’s as good as they come, as a poet, as a person. then he won! no surprise there; if anyone deserves it, it’s terrance—and we joked the ms. was a good luck charm.

it was a surprise to see my book debut on the poetry foundation bestseller list, and then to get a review—never mind a good one—from Publishers Weekly. i’m surprised PW still makes room for poetry, and i attribute that to craig morgan teicher, who’s a stalwart champion for poetry and indie presses. we would have little of the former in this country without the latter.

nook: i know Four Way is an all-star operation, and its queen, martha rhodes, a most committed warrior for poetry. it must have been great to have your first publishing experience with such a loving and supportive publisher. what were some challenges you faced with her along the way, and how did you address them?

jay: “loving and supportive” perfectly describes martha. i call her my literary godmother. she granted my wish of publishing a book. one thing that makes her so wonderfully effective—so loving and supportive—is her accessibility. she’s involved and available, always. she cares about her writers like a mother cares about her kids. and so, as your question rightly intimates, any challenges we faced, we faced together, and there were a lot of them.

each phase of the publishing process is a challenge—securing the blurbs, finding art for the cover, the month spent answering the author questionnaire, the three passes through the ms. with the copy editor—and that’s only on the author’s side. the publisher’s side is even more challenging, because they’re dealing with multiple books at once, and poets are a persnickety bunch. but because martha is who she is, she’s surrounded herself with a staff as effective, as caring, and as involved as she is. i worked closely with ryan murphy, bridget bell and victoria mccoy. they all challenged me to help them make the best book we possible could. and we did.

nook: how has becoming a dad and becoming a published author, within months, changed your relationship to writing?

jay: the two—becoming a dad, publishing a book—are, for me, inextricable. Deadbeat was accepted; three months later, thisbe gave birth to sonne. sonne was born two months prematurely; the book felt long overdue. on top of it all, at the heart of Deadbeat is the father-son relationship: how it breaks apart in countless ways, how parts of it last a lifetime, and longer.

having grown up without a dad, i was afraid of fatherhood, afraid i’d be doomed to fail my son the way my father failed my brothers and me. but now that i’m a father, i feel little of that fear, and fatherhood has come naturally. having written for so long without a book, i was afraid i’d never publish one. now that i’ve published a book, i no longer feel that fear either. other than that, though, little has changed. after all these years, writing is what comes naturally.

having a book, like having a son, helps me to know that i’m not wasting all of my time in the world; i have something, someone, to show for my myself. i’d like to think such validation—that i write, that i exist—is unnecessary, but i often find i need proof, painful as that is to admit, even if the proof doesn’t make life, or writing, any easier.

too, being a dad has opened me up. i’m slightly less self-centered, more interested in writing from points of view that have little to do with my own. also, i now write in between diaper changes. there’s a change for you.

2012 author of the year: trey sager

trey is a writer living in new york city. he is the author of two chapbooks from ugly duckling presse: O New York and Dear Failures. he is co-writer of The Weeds, a book of poems and collages with Widows + Orphans Press. though he’s mostly written poems, right now he’s working on short stories about boring but irregular men and a memoir called Oedipus Breast.


i met trey in grad school, the summer before the world trade towers fell. it was true buddyhood at first sight. i remember seeing him for the first time. he was wearing slim white jeans, a worn-out tee-shirt, and ridiculously huge, plastic sun-glasses. his hair, at the time, was a near-shoulder-length, dirty blond mop, barely inhibited by a bandana. i have never met, and doubt i ever will meet again in this life-time, a man who could pull off that look, other than the one, the only, trey sager.

his most recent chapbook from ugly ducking, Dear Failures, is full of true, brave formal innovation, unmasked humanity, and emotional content. i love it. it actually lives in my night-table drawer and i’ll read a poem out of it once in awhile if i want to cheer myself up. over the past few years (right up until the sweet bianca made her debut), i had the privilege of membership in a very small, three-person writer’s group that met weekly. trey and i, along with our friend adam, had a really special time there for awhile, a space of true communion and inquiry.

as trey moved into fiction, it was thrilling for me to witness him figure out how to write prose, how to write a short story. it was wonderful to watch his quick mind deconstruct the ideas of language he’d become so accustomed to as a poet. and he did it with true courage. his fiction is raw, it’s startling, and it’s sincere. if you don’t believe me, you can ask Bomb Magazine, i think they were lucky enough to snag one of his first stories.