Saturday, December 26, 2009

Planning the Days

Or daze, as the case may be. In any case, I was happy to receive my copy of A Working Writer's Daily Planner for 2010 from the good people at Small Beer Press. It's a deal at $13.95, a handsome spiral-bound notebook full of handsome photos, deadlines for various contests, prompts for writers, and so on. I had merely contributed a few choice excerpts from Rotten Reviews (Pushcart Press, 1986; a reminder of how wrong we editors can be, as if anyone reading this post needs reminding) and Small Beer comped me a planner. The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses is full of kind folks who help each other out--and fast. Here is where I should insert a few personal examples of blowing it (there are several) and subsequent speedy rescue, but I'd rather list some rotten reviews. Think of these when you get your next rejection letter.
  • Catch-22: "Heller wallows in his own laughter and finally drowns in it. What remains is a debris of sour jokes, stage anger, dirty words, synthetic looniness, and the sort of antic behavior the children fall into when they know they are losing our attention." ~The New Yorker
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: "A gross trifling with every fine feeling ... Mr. Clemens has no reliable sense of propriety." ~The Springfield Republican
  • Leaves of Grass: "Whitman is as unacquainted with art as a hog is with mathematics." ~The London Critic
  • To the Lighthouse: "Her work is poetry; it must be judged as poetry, and all the weaknesses of poetry are inherent in it." ~New York Evening Post
  • on Emily Dickinson: "An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village--or anywhere else--cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar .... Oblivion lingers in the immediate neighborhood." ~Atlantic Monthly

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Solipsist: a review

There's a sweet little review of Troy Jollimore's chapbook over on the CPITS blog, just the kind of thing the Bear likes to read in between the manuscripts she's evaluating. Yes, the Bear published it, so of course she thinks it's sweet. (You may have guessed by her profile that she likes sweets, period.) Please note the word "expansive" in the last line--that's an a four letters in, not an e. The Solipsist is perfectbound, with great cover art by Lyn Dillin.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bear Star Author Makes a Top-Ten List

After Publishers Weekly weighed in with a top-tenner that included nary a woman (this in a year that included new books by both Alice Munro and A. S. Byatt), I wasn't especially hopeful that a male HuffPost blogger's list would be more representative, and it wasn't--until I got to number ten, which I quote in full: 10. Melissa Kwasny, Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed). Much of the innovative poetry written in America is published not by the big houses, but by independent presses like Milkweed, and its many smaller siblings. Too often, our poetry is obscure, willfully ignorant of realities beyond the immediate self, and pathetic in its complaint, narcissism, and soullessness. Moreover, the language tends to be prosaic, when it's not self-consciously experimental. Kwasny falls into none of these traps; she writes romantic-environmental poetry of a high order, communing with nature in a language that never sells itself short. Can we imagine ourselves, gluttonous twenty-first century Americans, in a better relationship with nature? Can we see ourselves beyond artificial separations between the animate and the inanimate, between the sensate and the inert? Kwasny shows how, as she refuses to back down under the pressure of material degradation. (The rest of Anis Shivani's list can be read here: .)

Bear Star, definitely one of the "smaller siblings" Shivani refers to, published Melissa Kwasny's first book of poems, The Archival Birds, in 2000, and since then her poetry book Thistle (Lost Horse Press, 2006) won the Idaho Prize. Now this, and yes, Reading Novalis in Montana is excellent, and I'm glad Anis Shivani saw fit to list a poetry book in his top ten. Kwasny has also edited Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry, 1800-1950, and--just out--I Go to the Ruined Place: Contemporary Poems in Defense of Global Human Rights, coedited with M. L. Smoker (Lost Horse Press).

Here's a poem from The Archival Birds. I hope it will inspire you to read more of Kwasny.


Clean and robed, I carry
in small buckets
the cloud-filled remains
of my quarter tub of water.
The garden lacks light--
only that far corner
I planted in borage
for my eyes, the wide cloths
of comfrey for my back.
The rose spines are tall,
too thin like the sick
men on our streets here,
but they continue to blossom.
Forget-me-nots huddle,
girls on a school yard
who never try their bounds.

Basho wrote of peasants
who dressed in their finest
to cross the high passes.
I check to see if the plums
are still here, if the calla
has returned from last season.
The buckets are my excuse.
Dry earth, from which so much
pushes out, is unbreakable.

(c) 2000 by Melissa Kwasny

Sunday, November 29, 2009

One Day Left ...

... to get your manuscript off for the 2010 Dorothy Brunsman Poetry Prize. If it's postmarked by midnight tomorrow, you're good. Thanks to all the poets who have sent material thus far. It's being logged and numbered, then I'm settling into cushions by the wood stove to read. This is the best job in the world, and I'm grateful California's horrid economy hasn't yet forced me to hold a bake sale to keep the bear in the black. (By the way, most of the black bears around this town seem to be cinnamon-colored.) I think we can squeak by without extending the deadline.

So what are we (my other readers and I) looking for? Honestly, we don't have a dominant aesthetic here--we just want to be amazed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Poem and Commentary by Linda Dove

One of the things I love about Linda Dove’s collection In Defense of Objects is the reciprocity of her vision, the way her investigation of objects often becomes a two-way interrogation. In “Eye, Appaloosa” this dynamic is especially poignant. Horses intimidate me, but I am nevertheless wild for this poem, so I asked her if she would talk a little about it for this blog. Her comments follow the poem.

Eye, Appaloosa

Object of the west, tiny globe that makes manifest
the seat of its rider. Seer of bloodshed and journey.

Eye that crosses currents with the Palouse River,
that precedes the blanket of flank draped in leopard spots.

Cortez walks the first snowflake horse off the boat
in Mexico, but the Nez Perce recreate it. The eye

is an object of interest. Its sclera must breed white
to show off the colored iris like another dark mote.

It is not a natural object, this bred eye. It is considered.
It is watched, even as it watches. Perhaps it has seen

too much. After the long retreat, the ambush,
the war, it follows the currents of history

to fight no more forever. The cavalry guts the tribe
by its horses—selling, shooting, or mating them

to farm stallions. They see nothing remarkable
in the eye of the animal. But the eye remembers,

in the way that objects will. Long after the ones
who knew it disappear, the eye, Appaloosa moves.

© 2009 Linda Dove

Linda writes: “Eye, Appaloosa” is one of the “glue” poems that I wrote at the eleventh hour for the purpose of “sticking” my manuscript together under its new title, In Defense of Objects. I just now looked up the day I wrote it—November 23, 2008—and the Dorothy Brunsman contest had a deadline of November 30th, so I wrote it and sent it off within the week. I’m pretty sure it repeats the word “object” more than any other single poem in the collection (four times in 18 lines).

It was also a poem born of a dream, an actual, nighttime dream, which I had had in May 2006, during a long period in which I wasn’t writing. The dream was ostensibly about my real-life friend M., also a poet, who started typing furiously, while I collected her pages. There was a clock on the wall, and she turned out about 75 pages of beautiful poetry in an hour. In the dream, I was literally reading the pages, and they were perfectly-formed, Ashberyesque lines about the forest, rocks, river, animals, although they were edgy and raw and long across the page. She divided them into three discrete sections and told me I had to come up with a title for her, so I invented three: Eye, Appaloosa; Cowhand, Traveller, Cow; and The Gift of Green.

The overwhelming color in the dream was green—the green trees in the forest. I was apparently seeing the poems as images at the same time I was reading the typed pages in the dream. When I woke up, I couldn’t remember any specific lines (and, oh, what I would give to be able to remember those lines, those long lines of beautiful verse that were perfectly formed somewhere in my head!). But I did remember (and quickly jotted down) the three titles I had created and knew I had to do something with them, even though I had no reference point with which to begin to explain from whence they had come. “Eye, Appaloosa” and “Cowhand, Traveller, Cow” both became the titles of poems in the collection.

And that’s where the similarity between the dream and these two poems begins and ends. When I finally turned back to these titles two-and-a-half years after they had appeared to me in the dream, I had no idea what to do with them. So I worked backwards into “Eye, Appaloosa” by doing some research into this breed of horse that had arrived so decisively in my dream, but about which I knew little to nothing. The fact that the title appeared to me as a syntactical aberration wasn’t something I understood either; I just went with it. It seemed to suggest a focus for the poem—to “see” the horse and its history through the eye, as both the subject (topos) of the poem, and as an object that would stand in as a synecdoche for the breed itself.

Fortunately, the history of the Appaloosa is fascinating, complex, and storied. There was more than enough to work with just doing a cursory fact-grab online. It ended up as a poem that wants to suggest something about vision—historical vision, poetic vision, ontological vision (how we know what we know, how we see what we see). The Spanish, the Nez Perce, and the U.S. 7th Cavalry all see this object of history differently. Those competing perspectives allow the Appaloosa’s eye to obtain a kind of independence (“even as it watches”), to hover beyond any one way of telling history. It resists classifications of “natural” or “cultural.” And so the poem also covers the territory of beauty and knowledge and love and loss—all well-worn themes in any poetic lexicon—and about what sustains, what can overcome.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Bear Star West

Please note that if your state contains any patch o' green you may enter our annual contest. That means you, ND, SD, NB, KS, & TX. We get comparatively few MSS. from outside the blue zone ...

And for those of you who are curious about where Cohasset is situated, I marked its general location in the 530 Area Code with a red X (click on the map to enlarge it). It's a quirky little town of 720 or so on top of a ridge in the foothills of the Cascades. I love that Google Earth can't see the Bear's den for all the ponderosa pines.

Not that I can vote on this, but I really hope the good people of Maine, where I lived as a teen, vote NO today to overturning the law allowing gay marriage.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bad Reviews--Good Bad vs. Bad Bad

Yesterday, Craig Morgan Teicher, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly who this week is blogging for The Best American Poetry, posed the following question: I'm curious whether readers of this blog read many reviews, especially of poetry, and whether they write them, either on blogs or for print or online lit mags or newspapers or wherever. Why do you do it--reading or writing? I thought I'd respond here. Yes, I read reviews--lots of them, and not just poetry reviews but fiction and nonfiction reviews as well. While I don't write reviews, I frequently write jacket copy for the books I publish (if blurbs don't take up most of the room) and similar copy for press releases and such. I do it, of course, to promote Bear Stars and their books; it's my job. I read reviews to get a sense of what's out there and might be worth my dollar, or because I like the writing itself. In fact, I came by one of my most indispensable guides in editing, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage by Bryan A. Garner, after reading a long, humorous endorsement in Harper's many years ago by the late David Foster Wallace ("Tense Present" can be Googled if you're interested, and it's also contained in his wonderful collection of essays Consider the Lobster). I consult it almost as frequently as The Chicago Manual of Style.

So what about bad reviews? Do they have a place? I think they do, but can we please distinguish between good bad reviews and bad bad reviews? A good bad one will lay out a case for why a book is not worth your time, with examples, and will asperse* thoughtfully, in a clear manner. It won't misquote the author and it won't trash the book in order to show off the reviewer's superior IQ. The GBR can point out to an author how and where the text seems to be lacking, and what's so terrible about that? Nobody ever wants a bad review, but a GBR can at least lead to an author writing/thinking better the next time out, or to an editor being more careful. A bad bad review serves no one. The worst book review I ever read was in response to a book from this very press. Here are just a few reasons it so terribly sucked: 1) the reviewer misquoted a poem. Worse, she introduced a punctuation error where there had been none--it's for its. That made both the author and me look stupid; 2) it was filled with jargon the reviewer deployed clumsily. True, the journal was the organ of a graduate program in women's studies, but there's no excuse for crappy syntax AND incomprehensible arguments, though I suppose the first leads rather quickly to the second; 3) there was nothing to learn from it and the writing was joyless.

By the way, Mr. Teicher, if you would like to review Bear Star's latest offerings, there's no need to request copies. You already have them somewhere. Just dig into that pile.

*from Garner: "asperse (= to disparage; criticize harshly), a little-known but useful verb--e.g.: 'Fazio et al. should cast their barbs at ordained character assassins ... rather than aspersing the American majority that claims to be ...'"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Or a book of poems for less than that?

If you can buy Stephen King's new novel or John Grisham's 'Ford County' for $10, why would you buy a brilliant first novel for $25? ~David Gernert, agent for John Grisham

If you love good books, and why would you be reading this blog if you didn't, the ABA's letter to the Department of Justice is worth a skim. In essence, it asserts that independent bookstores are being asked to compete against stores for which books are being used as teaser items--loss leaders--to get customers in the door (or e-door) to buy other kinds of merchandise, thereby garnering WalMart, Target, et al, control of the hardcover market over time. That would spell outta business to independent stores and smaller publishers. The letter can be found here:

On a more upbeat note, last night's reading by Gary Thompson and Quinton Duval at Chico State (closest college to my town) to a full house. Here's a poem by each of them.


There isn't much to say about beauty
these days, except that it isn't truth,
unless truth is glossy
and monthly. This is America

the goddamned beautiful
in the twenty-first century,
not Hampstead Heath
in the nineteenth, and we know

the bride is ravished
long before the bridal shower, the tree
logged off before autumn even comes.
Beauty is money, John,

and you know what urns are for.

~Gary Thompson,
To the Archaeologist Who Finds Us (Turning Point, 2008)


And as the rain fell down, silver
dropped from the corrugated tin
roof edge, but there was no blue
to be had in any direction. "Degrees
of Gray" -- the poet said -- hung over
the sea, curtains on November's stage.
Last night we heard geese battling
their way through the storm
while satellite weather showed a mass
of rain and wind come from across the sea
(the Pacific, of all seas) sweeping east
to draw its veil over our house.
It was weather, just one more thing
to wash color from our lives.
I was blue and I don't know what
you were singing. In the grey
I tried not to show it, my cobalt blush
hidden in the dark. I felt I was from over
the sea -- oltremarino -- if that is blue,
if that is a feeling at all. Alien
is one word for it -- out of place and time --
wishing to go into the grey like those geese,
to wash clean in the weather, flying
by instinct and taut to the group
of strangers I travel with, all of us heading
to the place of instinct, to the reeds,
among islands that await our raucous calling.

~Quinton Duval,
Among Summer Pines (Rattlesnake Press, 2008)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Up She Rises

Welcome to the blog for Bear Star Press!

I intend this to be a place for news about the press and its authors as well as whatever else I feel like talking or ranting about. Usually there's something.

Today, for instance, I'm pondering the news that Google is planning to give Amazon a run for its bazillions by opening its own e-store. Unlike Amazon, though, Google Editions will be downloadable to "any device with a web browser." Any device. Take that, Kindle. This is great news for those of us who think Jeff Bezos has had far too long a reign as master of the universe. Hat tip to the MobyLives blog (one of my favorites: for waking me up to good news this morning. Yes, I have my issues with Google, too, but I'll save 'em for another post.

I'd like to remind you that Bear Star's annual poetry contest is open for submissions until the end of November. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in 2010 (most likely by early fall). Those of you thinking about entering may want to sample the poems by previous winners elsewhere on this site. Know that we receive 95% of our entries during the last two weeks. It gets crazy around here then! If you have a manuscript you'd like to send us, consider putting it in the mail sooner--it will definitely get a little more TLR* that way. Remember that you must be a poet living in a state west of the central time zone to be eligible. So what about you poets from Fargo? Yes, you can submit, because part of North Dakota (where our esteemed prize donor was born) is west of the CTZ. There are time zone maps in your phone book if you're not sure of your eligibility. Please check our guidelines page for other requirements.

*R = Reading