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Monday, December 11, 2017

Touch the Donkey winter subscription offer!

If you subscribe (or resubscribe) to Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal] (5 issues for $30) between now and January 15, 2018 [the same day issue #16 announces], you can also choose to receive ANY TWO above/ground press chapbook titles produced in 2017!

Over the next few issues, watch for new work (and new interviews!) with poets such as Sue Landers, Kyle Flemmer, Donato Mancini, Anthony Etherin, Catriona Strang, A.M. O’Malley, Claire Lacey, Sacha Archer, Julia Polyck-O’Neill, Victor Coleman, Dale Smith, Suzanne Wise, Sean Braune, Phil Hall, Sarah McDonnell, Laura Theobald, Ryan Eckes, Samuel Ace, Stephen Cain, Howie Good, Michael Robins, Ken Hunt, Rob Manery, Michael Boughn and David Dowker (among so many others).

The list of above/ground press poetry chapbooks for 2017 (gearing up for our twenty-fifth year in 2018) includes new titles by Natalee Caple, N.W. Lea, Elizabeth Robinson, Geoffrey Nilson, Eric Schmaltz, Joe Blades, Sacha Archer, natalie hanna, Katy Lederer, rob mclennan, Amanda Earl, Kristina Drake, Stephanie Bolster, Adele Graf, Buck Downs, Sarah Dowling, nathan dueck, Sarah Cook, Jessica Smith, Ian Whistle, Faizal Deen, Marilyn Irwin, Lisa Robertson, Jordan Abel, Stephen Collis, Sandra Moussempès (trans. Eléna Rivera), Sarah Fox, Brenda Iijima, Jake Syersak, Helen Hajnoczky, Derek Beaulieu, Kyle Flemmer, philip miletic, Geoffrey Young, Jason Christie, Carrie Hunter and Sarah Swan.

Simply use the paypal button (send an email if you wish to pay via other means), and email your selections (with mailing address) to rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com

Separately, Touch the Donkey is also included in the above/ground press annual subscriptions, available now as well.

Monday, November 27, 2017

TtD supplement #92 : seven questions for Tessy Ward

Tessy Ward is currently working on an MFA in poetry at Boise State University. She has an MS from Illinois State University, where she was a Sutherland Fellow and worked on SRPR (Spoon River Poetry Review) and Downstate Legacies.

Her poems “Fogs You Come” and “First Time” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Fogs You Come” and “First Time.”

A: “Fogs You Come” was written last fall after I read about the upcoming election in the Netherlands. One of the candidates, Geert Wilders, was using anti-Islam threats as a campaign tool. Wilders had written pledges to close borders to Muslim immigrants, shut down Mosques, and ban the Koran. Many citizens were concerned with any far-right viewpoint that could contradict the liberal openness that has been created, although that seems to be changing some too. After the United States’ election results, I was equally surprised and horrified to read of a similar candidacy situation. I think the poem resists a strangeness happening in the world today; it meditates on exclusion and selfish power, and what that might mean for the rest of us.

“First Time” was written from a fun-fact app on my phone that I used during a daily writing project. The app exclaimed it was Sputnik’s anniversary, which made me realize I didn’t remember much about Sputnik. I went on to read about the beginning of a technological, military, and nationalist revolution. When I learned about the satellite as a child in school, I never considered the large risk the USSR took during the launch. Sputnik was a propaganda child, a loved possession that needed to be prized upon its successful return. This poem has always read hauntingly slow in my mind, kind of distracted by the immediate needs to preserve oneself. 

Q: How do these pieces fit in to the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: Lately, my work has had a sense of overwhelming to it. I think that sense fits in with these poems. These two poems originate from one specific event or person and I find that in my work quite often.  My poetry can be written as an instantaneous reaction or emotion from a striking thing I hear or read. It can also be written from the afterthoughts of that striking thing. I think lately my work is focusing on the afterthoughts of things rather than the instant response. I think I have taken the reactions I wrote about and am writing about their aftermath.

Q: Have you any specific models for the way you approach writing? What poets or works have altered the ways in which you write?

A: In short, no, I don’t have any specific models for how I approach writing. I’ve played with several different types of procedure (Oulipian, Cagean, etc.,) but I’m not attached to any particular set of steps.

Recently I’ve been interested in a method Keith Waldrop spoke of in an interview about Transcendental Studies. He said while reading he would take note of small words or phrases from different texts, and later on form the poetry. Since I’ve dedicated my summer to an overload of reading I figured I would try it. So far I’ve taken the tedious task of citing everything, but we’ll see how long that lasts....

Q: How has this method shifted the ways in which you see, or even approach, your own work? If at all?

A: I think this method has brought a revitalized attention to language in the texts I’m reading. I am noticing each author’s aesthetic with more detail, and now I’m attempting to find my own. Choosing phrases is fun, but placing the language in a way I find pleasing has become quite a challenge. I’ve taken more steps to create poetry than I am used to, which is both time consuming, tedious, and engaging.

Q: To date, you haven’t published in chapbook or book form; is this something you are working towards?

A: I am currently working on production of a chapbook, which should be forthcoming this fall.

I haven’t found a project/book idea quite yet, but I’m sure entering my MFA in the fall will help me work towards a larger piece of writing.  

Q: How are you finding the process of putting together a chapbook-length manuscript? Have you had any models for such? How are you approaching the selection/grouping?

A: Unpracticed! I’ve looked at models from friends and colleagues, which is immensely helpful, but at times still difficult to use when considering my own writing. The selection has been focused around the body and its betrayal. Mostly, I’m working closely with the publisher and taking knowledgeable advice.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I have to say, I’m a big fan of C.D. Wright’s Deepstep, Come Shining. Sometimes, poetry in general feels intimidating to me. My language feels inadequate, or just generally not up to standard to the work I read.  I'll keep in touch with Academy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day” and look up author interviews. This is a good way for me to strip some of the poet-pedestal I see in others. I’ll get a laugh out of something someone says, or be reminded how incredible poets are indeed humans too.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

TtD supplement #91 : seven questions for Cindy Savett

Cindy Savett’s first book of poetry, Child in the Road, was published by Parlor Press. She is also the author of three chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in journals including LIT, Word For/Word, and Dusie. She lives on the outskirts of Philadelphia with her family and teaches poetry workshops to psychiatric inpatients at several area hospitals.

Her poems “on the prowl,” “they follow themselves” and “you and her” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “on the prowl,” “they follow themselves” and “you and her.”

A: It’s always challenging for me to speak about my work – here’s a stab at it, though. The first two poems share the same struggle, coping with the death of my daughter, Rachel. The last is part of a group studying man/woman relationships – tension, power, hierarchy…

on the prowl” – My child’s anger is stealing my future…I am responsible for her pain, become vulnerable. There’s no safe place for me.

you and her” – To protect myself, I push away from Rachel by creating another identity (“you”), causing her fear and uncertainty. She tries to trap you, claim your sadness, take away your power. Your work is the navigation through the puzzle of your life and her death…made harder by cryptic clues.

they follow themselves” – The man wants to mold the woman with his hands using her own life force against her. She counters by envisioning her strength, and assumes his momentum as hers. He becomes the scent of failure…she, the creator.

Q: What was the process of beginning to write about such a loss? Had you any models for this kind of writing?

A: Describing a process is difficult for me…Rachel died on a Friday night and I started writing about her and her death on Saturday sometime in the morning. It was pretty rudimentary, more just a full body scream, but over the following months it began to form itself into moments and pieces of art. Writing was saving my life, literally.

I began a search for other poets who’d had children die…I needed to see how they had found solace, how they integrated that into their writing. At times I found offerings about how to survive, how to want to survive. Yet I felt very alone and frightened with where my thoughts - and poems - were taking me. Ultimately, resonance and guidance came from poets more aligned with my aesthetic yet not necessarily working through a notable grief.

Q: Are you noticing any structural differences between these pieces and the poems you’d written prior? Obviously, the process of grieving a child shapes the content, but has it affected the cadence or the line or even the shapes of your stanzas?

A: Early on I worked with sparse lines, often single words to the line, with staggered indentations that created a strong visual expression of falling with no handholds as one went down. At the same time the words screamed for anyone to hear and yet held meaning and intent extremely close – my contradictory existence at that time. Hear me but don’t understand because that is not possible. As Rachel’s death grew further away I came to understand that ultimately I would be able to break through my loneliness by expanding my lines and listening to a different rhythm within. I shaped my lines around the white spaces differently, wanting to create more color (richness beginning to return to my life) within a wider band of unspoken space (an understanding of my relationship to living).

Q: With a published full-length collection and a handful of chapbooks, how do you feel your work has developed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: My early work, those poems in Child in the Road, were raw and emerged from listening to a painful and confused world. They were largely formed using a language that could only speak in abbreviated words, lines, stanzas. Stuttering out the overwhelming emotions and despairing thoughts, I was incapable of expanding the poem for fear it would become an open pit. As my life took on more stability I was able to flesh out what ended up on the page without feeling as if I was abandoning my tragedy, which had become a defining moment. My poems are now heading further away from what I consider to be a closed internal conversation into one that is inclusive and seeking the reader’s response as part of the poems’ purpose.

Q: What do you mean by “seeking the reader’s response as part of the poems’ purpose”?

A: As the years passed since Rachel’s death, I began to understand how great the split was between my oral and written words in the way I connected with others. I had successfully walled off where I considered my integrity to be housed: what I heard when I wrote. The reader was pushed away because I was frightened. Over time I realized my work could not continue to live in the vacuum I had created…my need to escape from my loneliness demanded I experience the poems as both my creations as well as a partnership with the reader who would offer me a way out of my isolation. My poems were then engaged in two very different yet critical missions.

Q: Can you speak further to those two missions, and how well you feel you’ve accomplished them?

A: It’s slippery…I am regularly tripping over my own feet as I sway between each intent. My ear and eye are inwardly pointed. My body is aware of its own workings and although I don’t breathe separately from the world, nonetheless I seem to remain what I consider too distinct. Yet it is in this space that I believe what my poems have to say. The difficulty is enormous when I connect those truths with my surfacing desire to break from conversations with myself. How am I able to move out and welcome in a reader who does not live inside me? Am I capable of hearing two realities at the same time thereby forming ties with others who want to read my words?

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: I tend to jump from poet/poem, one to another depending on what flies through my mind either while I’m writing, just wandering or aware of being very thirsty – Rukeyser, Transtromer, Hopkins, Aygi, Popa, Celan, Paz... many non-English writers. I seem to hear them more easily. It’s made me wonder often whether there’s another language beneath my words that’s supporting the poems.

Individual poems draw me in with an urgency that I experience in different parts of my body - right now, it’s “What Do I Give You” by Muriel Rukeyser. A little bit ago it was “The Mountains in the Desert” by Robert Creeley and two by Tomas Transtromer – “ Memories Watch Me” and “Midwinter.”

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

TtD supplement #90 : seven questions for Harold Abramowitz

Harold Abramowitz is from Los Angeles. His books include Blind Spot, Not Blessed, Dear Dearly Departed, and the forthcoming Man’s Wars And Wickedness: A Book of Proposed Remedies & Extreme Formulations for Curing Hostility, Rivalry, & Ill-Will (with Amanda Ackerman). Harold co-edits the short-form literary press eohippus labs, and writes and edits as part of the collaborative projects, SAM OR SAMANTHA YAMS and UNFO. He teaches in the Department of General Studies at Charles R. Drew University.

An excerpt from his work-in-progress “Dark Rides (Version 2)” appears in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the work-in-progress “Dark Rides (Version 2).”

A: Dark Rides came out of research I have been doing around poetics and narrative in relationship to state violence and both collective and individual memory, and how these concepts can be understood in relation to the built environment, or what Norman Klein calls “theme space.”

Q: How does this piece fit with the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: For several years I have been developing a body of work that deals with these themes from various angles. My 2010 book Not Blessed dealt with, among other things, the relationship of constructed narratives and constructed memory from the perspective of power; my recent book Blind Spot deals with similar topics from the perspective of culpability and interiority. In these projects, as well as in Dark Rides, I find the terms narrative corruption and memory corruption useful.

Q: What is it about the corruption of narrative and memory that you find so generative?

A: Good question. For me, the possibility of narrative and memory corruption opens up really intriguing questions about permeability and language, the articulation of borders, beginnings and endings, the integrity of content, and so forth. It’s well-trodden territory, but fascinating!

Q: With a small mound of books and chapbooks over the past decade or so, how do you feel your work has progressed? Where do you see your work headed?

A: This is not something I ever think about, or it is something I try not to think about. I feel the progress of the writing while it’s happening. For me, the process of thinking and writing is very simultaneous. The trick is to keep working even with a busy life: parenting, day job, etc, to make the time to write. I think the energy created from the work allows everything else to take care of itself, including the ways in which the work ends up being disseminated.

Q: What drives you to explore some of these questions through poetry, as opposed to prose? What do you feel you can accomplish or explore through the poem that you couldn’t through other forms?

A: I think it’s a question of scale, in some cases. The poem offers a much wider range in terms of scale as compared to prose. But my process is very much about letting the work dictate the form it is going to take. It is very much about listening. In reference to your question before about progress, I hope that I am always growing to be a better and better listener to the work as I am writing it, better at reading it while I am writing it. In my view, I am always writing poetry, though it sometimes ends up more or less prosaic. I very rarely sit down to write and say now I am going to write prose, now I am going to write a poem.

Q: How does your prose differ from your poetry? Is it simply a matter of scale?

A: I was speaking of scale generally. I don’t think my prose and poetry differ.

Q: What writers, through example, have helped you construct your books? Are your books constructed organically or have you a set plan?

A: As far as construction of books, I have started with a set of themes, ideas, devices, language, e.g., phrases, sentences, words, deployed in some initial manner and then organically developed from there.  If I had to pick a dozen writers off the top of my head right this minute whose work I am often thinking about… Harryette Mullen , Alain Robbe-Grillet, Amina Cain, Dolores Dorantes, Georges Perec, Harmony Holiday, Janice Lee, Natalie Sarraute, Rosmarie Waldrop, Will Alexander, Wanda Coleman, Kathy Acker.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

TtD supplement #89 : seven questions for Michael e. Casteels

Michael e. Casteels is the author of The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses (Invisible Publishing). In 2012 he was nominated for the emerging artist award in The Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts. He lives in Kingston, Ontario, where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.

His poems “Chapter 59 Preparedness, a Virtue,” “Chapter 60 The Giant Sloth,” “Chapter 61 A Quick Swig and A Small Bit” and “Chapter 62: The Long Ride” appear in the fifteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about “Chapter 59 Preparedness, a Virtue,” “Chapter 60 The Giant Sloth,” “Chapter 61 A Quick Swig and A Small Bit” and “Chapter 62: The Long Ride.”

A: This series is taken from a larger project, a novel in which each chapter is a prose poem. The project began when a wrote a short series of 3 poems titled 3 Chapters Toward an Epic which was published by Pearl Pirie’s Phaphors Press. They are three very separate poems numbered Chapter 43, Chapter 109 and Chapter 159. I liked the idea that the reader would have to imagine what was happening between each of these poems, and how there was actually much more ‘white space’ to the piece than actual writing. But I then I too began wondering what was happening to my character in the in-between. When I started filling in the spaces I did it very unconsciously. I’d write a random chapter number and then write a poem beneath it. When the poem was finished I’d print it off and tuck it into a binder in order of chapter numbers. As the spaces between chapters began to get tighter I acquired a vague idea of what was going on. As you’ll notice with the four pieces included in Touch the Donkey, the chapters are often more connected by imagery rather than a linear narrative. Different themes (western, mystery, adventure, romance) weave throughout the book, with the main themes being uncertainty and discovery.

Q: How do these pieces fit in to the other work you’ve been doing lately?

A: I’ve actually found that this project has hijacked one of my writing voices. Anyone who’s read some of my previous work knows that I’m a big fan of the prose poem, and that most of my prose poems are surreal, first-person narratives. While this project has the themes I listed above running through it, there is also an element of randomness—a few pieces scattered throughout the book with very little tying them to the overall concept. Now when I’m writing a prose poem in a first-person voice I often find myself halfway through the piece wondering if it’ll work with my novel instead of allowing it to come together more unconsciously.

On the flip-side, this project has also pushed me to exercise my other voices, and my other styles of poetry. I’m working on a long poem in third person, lots of concrete/visual poems, some minimalist pieces, and the occasional verse piece. I find that if I keep working at all of my poetic outlets they help to inform one another and keep me from getting bored with any one style or voice.

Q: What first brought you to the prose poem?

A: I came to the prose poem very naturally. Most of my writing occurs in my journal in the form of stream-of-unconsciousness writing. When I'm writing like this I like to let my mind go blank, and write without thinking about what will come next. For me, line breaks often stall my lack-of-thought process, so most of my writing appears in the form of a long paragraph.

Many of my other poems lean to the other extreme, being highly coherent and narrative. The prose poem seems to house these types of pieces nicely, offering a framework for these micro-fictions to fit in.

Q: How easy was it for you to shift from constructing chapbooks to constructing a full-length book? And which do you see as your main unit of composition? Or does it matter?

A: For my first full-length collection, The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses the shift between chapbook and trade book came quite easily, thanks to my editor, Leigh Nash. I didn’t have a complete manuscript ready when Leigh approached me about publishing a book through Invisible. We made a plan. I put together all of the poems that I felt were strong pieces and sent them to her, and she made the initial selection. From there I re-worked some of my older pieces, and started writing new pieces that fit with the themes and ideas that were already present in the manuscript. We worked really well together.

My main unit of composition is still the chapbook. I think chapbooks are an ideal form for publishing poetry. Due to length restrictions, they limit you in one way, but they’re also something you could put together overnight if you wanted, so you’re free to publish anything you want. I work in so many different veins of poetry: lyrical, prose, visual, concrete, minimal etc. and chapbooks seem to house each style nicely.

However, after working on The Last White House... I’ve also started thinking in longer forms. My prose-poem-novel would be an example of this. I’m writing it with a book-length project in mind.

Q: Whom have your models been when putting together new work? What authors or works have shifted the ways in which you think about approaching your work?

A: While piecing the project together as a whole hasn’t necessarily been modeled after anyone else, there are poets whose work I keep returning to for inspiration/guidance/education.

One of the biggest influences on this current project is Ted Berrigan’s Clear the Range, a surreal meta-western that began as an erasure project from a pocket western by Max Brand. I’ve read both the source material and the resultant material and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from comparing the two. Many of the pieces in my current project started out as erasures, and I feel like I’ve learned some interesting techniques and moves that I’m able to utilize in my own poems.

My current project continues my explorations through prose poetry, and I’ve returned to some of my favorite prose poets for guidance: James Tate and Russell Edson primarily, but also Lisa Jarnot, Mark Strand, and some of the French surrealist poets.

Q: What is it about the erasure that appeals? What do you feel you’re able to do or articulate through the erasure that you couldn’t otherwise?

A: My favorite experience while writing is surprise. I love when I’m working on a piece and I have no idea where it’s headed or, better yet, when my idea is totally off-mark, and the poem takes me some place entirely unexpected. Erasure almost always lends itself to this kind of writing. It’s a bit like collaborative writing, in that, the resultant poem is something neither of us could have come up with on our own, but in this case Louis L’Amour or Max Brand are, unknowingly, my collaborators.

The utilitarian in me also likes working with erasure because it’s a form of research. As much as I love writing in this surreal-western genre, I still haven’t banked enough of its vocabulary to write many of my own pieces yet. There are terms I’m still coming across and storing for later use, idioms that I’ve never heard before, types of dialogue that I’m filing away... lots of specifics, like names of guns, or kinds of horses, or rules for gambling games, or the many different ways to refer to the endless desert.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: One of my all-time favorite books of poetry is The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje. I’ve probably read it, in its entirety, a dozen or so times by now, and have read a few pieces upwards of twenty times.

 Whenever I tire of writing I inevitably gravitate back to David McFadden. There’s something so personal, and seemingly simple about his work. It brings me back to when I was first discovering poetry, and it awakens a certain excitement in me.

But what I often find to be the most re-energizing is to find a writer I’ve never read before, or to find something new by someone I love. When I read great work for the first time it almost always pushes me to try something new and different with my own writing, setting me on a whole new trail through a mountain range I never even knew existed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Touch the Donkey : fifteenth issue,

The fifteenth issue is now available, with new poems by Colin Smith, Michael e. Casteels, Harold Abramowitz, Christine Stewart, Cindy Savett, Jean Valentine, rob mclennan, Marilyn Irwin and Tessy Ward.



Seven dollars (includes shipping). You’re gonna be a four-star brother-in-law.


Monday, October 2, 2017

TtD supplement #88 : seven questions for Brynne Rebele-Henry

Brynne Rebele-Henry’s poetry, fiction, and nonfiction have appeared in such journals as Prairie Schooner, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, Fiction International, Rookie, and So to Speak, among other places. Her writing has won numerous awards, including the 2015 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne Poetry Award from the Poetry Society of America, the 2016 Adroit Prize for Prose, and a 2017 Glenna Luschei Award from Prairie Schooner. Her first book Fleshgraphs appeared from Nightboat Books in 2016. Her second book, Autobiography of a Wound, won the AWP Donald Hall Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2019. She was born in 1999.

Her poems “Red,” “Autobiography” and “North Dakota & Turpentine” appear in the fourteenth issue of Touch the Donkey.

Q: Tell me about the poems “Red,” “Autobiography” and “North Dakota & Turpentine.”

A: I actually wrote all three poems about four years ago, when I was thirteen. Red is a new retelling of the Red Riding Hood story. Autobiography is about the moments before and after a loss. I wrote North Dakota & Turpentine when I was thirteen as well. It’s about bodies and failure and strange religions, and inventing new gods. A lot of my work is about inventing gods actually, or about lesbian bodies as a form of worship or religion, which is a concept that I was just beginning to introduce into my poetry when I wrote that piece.

Q: I’m curious about anyone who is producing work at thirteen, let alone work that one might consider publishable a few years later. How were you producing work so early? What kind of activity were you reading, or otherwise engaged in, that prompted such writing?

A: I had incredible writing teachers! They taught me everything I know and really started my love for writing and literature.

Q: Who were those first poets you were reading that prompted your attention?

A: Definitely Sylvia Plath. Adrienne Rich, Anne Carson, and Audre Lorde.

Q: What was it about their work that struck? What was it about their work that you think you absorbed, to incorporate into your own?

A: I think the way that each poet addressed womanhood—or didn’t—really spoke to me.

Q: What do you mean?

A: I’m really intrigued by the various portrayals of womanhood and girlhood or queerness and how different authors represent and address both in their work. I think Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red perfectly captures the young queer experience. It actually inspired me to start writing my first novel, The Glass House, which has two young gay protagonists.

Q: What do you feel you can accomplish with fiction that you aren’t able to in poetry? Or does your sense of the two genres bleed into each other?

A: The objective behind my work, which is to further lesbian voices, remains the same with both genres. With fiction I think that I approach that objective differently, as my focus is on capturing the lives (and by extension the issues), of lesbian individuals. My poetry is more directly about queer issues and sexuality. I think each genre accomplishes my goal, though.

Q: Finally, who do you read to reenergize your own work? What particular works can’t you help but return to?

A: Currently I love A Little Life by Hanya Yanaghira, The Secret History by Donna Tartt, Difficult Women by Roxane Gay, Makeshift Cathedral by Peter LaBerge, and Ruin by Cynthia Cruz.