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Essay in Public Domain Review Collection – Now!

October 2, 2020
The Public Domain Review


PDR book of essays

The Public Domain Review: Selected Essays, Vol. VII
Paperback / 216mm x 140mm / 224 pages / 80lb paper / full color
12 essays / 113 illustrations

The 7th instalment in the Selected Essays series!

From fishy unicorns and pre-Raphaelite wombats to Japanese folktales and Russian Walt Whitmans; from imperialist board games and Georgian toilet Twitter, to serpentine dances and Nadar’s catacombs; from socialist utopias and Victorian tripping to Pullman on Milton and pictures made by the vibrations of voice.

Twelve of our best essays from last year — including a piece from the esteemed Philip Pullman — full colour with more than 100 illustrations, all printed on sumptuous 80lb paper.

“Early Bird” 20% discount and Christmas delivery on all orders before midnight 14th October

Place your order before midnight on Wednesday 14th October to benefit from a special 20% discount price and delivery in time for Christmas.

Alcestis in the Underworld: Reading

September 29, 2020

Friends –

check out this video I made for the 2020 Gaithersburg Book festival! For well-known and common reasons, the program had to go virtual, and the organizers produced a lovely YouTube channel filled with readings, discussions, and workshops for readers and writers of all ages. And if you liked this reading, please check out my book here.

Thank you!

Bonus Question: Carla Canales

September 17, 2020

NM: What question would you like to be asked? 

CC: The question I would like to be asked is “Why”?  It’s a broad question, I know, but a fundamental one which I return to very often in everything I do.  Why did I pursue Duende?  I felt I needed to set off on a journey of deep exploration of the soul.  Duende is described as “the thing we all feel but no philosopher can explain”.  It’s an intuitive feeling that is correlated with an authentic experience.  To me the beauty of this word is that it gives a name to that feeling we experience in our gut when something artistic reaches us and touches us profoundly.  

Why be an artist?  Especially at a time like this? Well, I would say that exactly this is the time when it’s most important to be an artist.  We need the arts to remind us of our common humanity.  They offer a safe place for us to come together and collectively experience catharsis.  I can’t think of a better way to achieve this, or a time in which this was more necessary.

With everything that I do, I ask myself “why”?  Why is this important to me?  Why do I want to do this?  Knowing my “why” has been the key to my work ethic, as I generally don’t even feel that I am working when my work has purpose!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Singer: Carla Canales

September 14, 2020

Carla Canales is a person I might have never met. She is a singer, an opera diva, an arts entrepreneur, an advocate, a dog lover, a bilingual artist, and so many other things. She is also an incredibly focused, persistent, and generous person who answers her emails within 48 hours. Carla makes me a better person.

Recently, Carla and I have been talking a lot about creativity, writing and composing, as she is finishing work on her first album, Duende.

For the great Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, “duende” was the spirit that transfixed and elevated an audience leading them to “the dark root of the cry.” Ineffable, powerful, mysterious, it was a force he saw as essential to the flamenco artists and bullfighters of Southern Spain, near Andalusia where he was born and raised.

In Carla’s hands, Duende is the dark mystery of our origins, forever lost and yet somehow still intuited, and very real. The album is where we start.

 NM: Consider collaborations. Tell me about a collaboration that was unexpectedly successful. Or, conversely, recall a collaboration that should have worked well but did not. 

CC: I would say that one of the best musical collaborations I’ve had to date is with Christopher Botta on my new album, Duende.  I met Chris through a trusted friend and colleague, and though we had never worked together, I knew right from the beginning that this would be a magical collaboration.  He gave me the trust and support I needed to take a bold step into a new musical world, not only as a singer but also as a producer and even composer on some tracks.  Coming from an opera background, my job prior to this project had been to execute the music that was already composed, to the best of my ability.  With Duende, we created new arrangements of Spanish folk songs, and I even composed several new tracks.  I got to explore different vocal ranges and styles, and by the same token, really explored my inner life and examined my own soul.

Another example of a dream collaboration is a personal one, with my husband David Rothkopf.  He and I have worked on a number of projects together, and I find that to be very rewarding in so many ways, particularly as it makes me appreciate him more.

Speaking of collaborations, one of the things I learned as a classical singer is that the mark of a good conductor is one that shows you he or she trusts you. With that trust, you feel free onstage, and you want to deliver your best not out of fear but out of gratitude for his or her trust.  I’ve always sought that kind of spirit in collaborators—it’s a very different approach to one of having to prove yourself.

I’ve certainly had collaborations that didn’t work so well.  I think that in many of these cases, there was not an innate trust, or a desire to go on a creative journey together. 

NM: What throws you off? This could be a small thing or a big thing. What do you do to regain your composure? 

CC: I’m always startled by  rudeness in public, especially when it’s directed toward service workers.  I don’t understand how we can do anything but thank and elevate our essential service workers right now!  I know many of us are in a rush to get things done, but it’s important that we remember we are all human beings and treat each other with respect.

NM: What skills would you like to learn? If you could learn anything, and time/money were no object, what would it be and why?

CC: I would love to be fluent in Chinese!  I’ve been working on learning Chinese on and off over the last several years.  Having performed frequently in China, I have become fascinated by Chinese culture and history, and of course, its people.  I wish I had the means to communicate with my Chinese friends and to experience their culture in the native language.  

NM: What type of information do you seek and consume daily? How useful is this information to you? How does it affect your work? 

CC: Music!  It’s interesting that you use the word “consume” as this is exactly how I look at it. I  like a healthy diet of a variety of musical styles.  I might start my day with a cup of coffee and Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong singing duets, and from there switch to Beyonce’s Homecoming performance at Coachella while doing my morning jog, and perhaps listen to Bach’s Goldberg variations while doing emails.  In the afternoon I might put on something more old-school like Bjork’s Hyperballad or Madonna’s Like A Prayer album, and in the evening I often listen to more mellow music.  These days I’ve been into Japanese Breakfast and Cigarettes after Sex.

NM: What motivates you? How do you ensure you get the motivation you need? 

CC: Music definitely motivates me.  I have always thought of music as a vehicle, a tool if you will, to help me get to any given place in my imagination!

I’m also deeply motivated by people.  I know it’s a challenging time to socialize in person, but I draw motivation from even the simplest of exchanges such as buying groceries or taking my dog to the dog park and interacting with other dog owners.  I am inspired by the sheer knowledge that we are all grappling with the challenges of COVID-19 together.  This gives me strength and motivation!

NM: If you are a goal-setting kind of person, what are your goals for the rest of this year? What, in your opinion, would be one practical thing that a creative person should accomplish/achieve in, say, six months? 

CC: I’m someone who is very motivated by goals. I usually sit down at certain moments in the year such as my birthday or New Year’s and make lists of what I would like to achieve, as well as take stock of how far I have come in achieving last year’s goals.  I think it’s important to analyze how we reach our goals as well:  which ones gave us pleasure and which felt like a nagging pain.  

One suggestion that I would love to share is something I started doing years ago, on my thirtieth birthday.  Each year on my birthday, I write a letter to the year that just passed, as though it were a friend.  I recall all the time we spent together, what we learned, what we suffered, and so on.  I usually end by thanking the year, and say goodbye.  Then, I write a new letter to the new year, introducing myself and sharing with it some of the things I would like us to do together.  I always save these letters as they are sort of like an album of my past.

NM: What practices do you have in place to ensure that you solicit frank feedback that is helpful to you?

CC: As a singer I learned to be very careful who to ask for feedback.  It can be disorienting to get too many opinions, and I found it easy to lose sight of my own intuition when I rely too heavily on others for feedback.  As an artist, I think that trusting your opinion and especially your intuition is key.  If the work produced holds a truth for you, then it is authentic, and nobody’s opinion should matter really.  That said, I have a handful of people in my life with whom I do share my work in early stages, as they know me well and I value their insights.  

NM: How’s your social media presence? Is there anyone whose social media presence you feel is useful and meaningful? 

CC: I really struggle with social media, but recently have started to embrace Instagram as my preferred social media source.  I still use Facebook as a lot of my friends in Latin America especially use it more frequently, and I use Twitter in a more politically active way than Instagram.  Instagram feels like the right outlet for my creative and personal life.

I really admire Greta Thunberg’s social media presence.  I think she has done an incredible job of creating community and sharing a very important message.

NM: What public/media engagements have you found to be most effective in promoting your work? What kind of opportunity do you wish to see more of?

CC: It’s challenging to be able to communicate authentically on social media, but my preference in that regard would probably be Instagram, as a picture is worth a thousand words as they say.  I love interviews, as I think that podcasts and such give us a chance to get to know more about a person and actually feel their spirit.  Some of my favorites include “73 Questions” by Vogue, and “What I eat in a day” as it’s always fun to get to know someone through food!

I wish we could see much more live engagement.  I find that many of the dinner party conversations or even incidental conversations on a train or such have had profound effects on me.  Of course, right now with COVID-19, these types of exchanges are less common.

NM: In your typical workweek, what tasks do you tend to complete first? What resources do you regularly draw upon? 

CC: I tend to try to do the hardest things first.  I’m a morning person, so if I have challenging emails or work to do that requires thoughtful planning, I will always do this in the morning.  I lead a very routine lifestyle (always have) which has been one of the ways I managed traveling so much before COVID-19.  I find it helpful now more than ever.  I generally wake up around 6 am, have some coffee and do my hardest work, then take a long walk with my dog around 8 am.  I start taking meetings around 10 am, and work my way through the day until six.  I generally do more of my creative work in the afternoon, and more administrative or entrepreneurial work in the morning.  By 6 pm I stop to have dinner with my husband, and the rest of the evening is generally spent catching up with friends, catching up on reading, studying something new, and going to bed early.

NM: Who are the people/groups to whom you turn? What resources do you still need?  

CC: Interestingly, most of my good friends, including my husband, are writers.  I think I look to my friends for inspiration, for new ideas, for exploration, and for support.  It’s also important to just have fun sometimes!  I try to make it a priority to relax and to support those whom I care about.  In fact, I think I like being in a supportive, quiet role the most-it’s immensely rewarding to see those whom I love reaching their dreams!

I would say that one of my challenges, particularly in light of COVID-19, has been connecting with new audiences.  As I started working on this album two years ago, through this time I’ve really moved away from opera singing as I wanted to explore different genres.  It’s hard to be able to connect with new people with this virus limiting the meetings and performances taking place.  I hope that I can bring my new music to a wide audience, as I really worked on this project in hopes of sharing something special and intimate with the world.

NM: When people seek you out, why do they turn to you in particular? What do they want from you?

CC: I would like to think that people seek me out to brainstorm through ideas, as I really enjoy helping friends and colleagues think creatively about ideas and future plans.  I also enjoy connecting people.  I think that one of the great gifts in my life has been meeting many people from different parts of the world and from different sectors.  If I can help put people in touch who may not have met through their own networks, that brings me a great sense of purpose and joy.

NM: How can one make money from being an artist? 

CC: At the core, I think that making money from anything requires us to be of service to community.  I say this because I feel this is a fundamental key to being an artist of any form: musician, writer, painter, etc.  When our work speaks to our own truth and connects to community, then it has an intrinsic value.

It’s important that we artists advocate for equitable pay.  Too often, we are expected to work for free or for very little.  We are a work force just like any other, and we must demand equitable compensation, not just for our own self-respect, but to elevate our sector

LARB Reviews “Your Ad Could Go Here”

September 1, 2020

The Los Angeles Review of Books just published Olena Jennings’ review of Your Ad Could Go Here, the collection of stories by Oksana Zabuzhko that yours truly worked on exactly a year ago. What a nice anniversary present :)

Your Ad Could Go Here is held together by […] the stylistic quality of the prose. “That’s what writers are for,” Zabuzhko writes in the titular story, “to try to understand everyone and everything and put this understanding into words.” The words she has found are nearly always perfect, one leading effortlessly to another. The reader moves through the text as if following the scent of flowers. At times the prose approaches poetry, and readers who appreciate it will be happy to know that a selection of Zabuzhko’s poems is forthcoming from Arrowsmith Press.

Hot Off the Presses: MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations by Sean Murray

August 28, 2020

What do a box-car riding, washed up trumpet player, a Tijuana cop, a Scandinavian diplomat, a gorgeous high diver, and a race horse ready for the glue factory have in common? They all turn up in Sean Murray’s highly entertaining short story, MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations.

Congratulations to Sean Murray, whose short story “MacFarland’s Unreasonable Expectations” was just published on PenDust Radio Podcast!

Listen here:

Writing for PoPo… a Poem a Day

August 10, 2020

This year, for the first time, I signed up to be part of the August Postcard Poetry festival, known affectionately as PoPo (do not search for it as a hashtag).

The rules are that you write a short poem every day for a month, put it on a card, and mail it to a stranger whose address is provided to you by the organizers. Minus whatever gremlin invasion has befallen the USPS, this has been fun, and not nearly as hard as I thought it would be.

As part of the process, one is sworn not to publish one’s poems until a month after the festival concludes, but I can tell you that I have written on a range of subjects including dream

Postcard Collage

s (duh!); a childhood memory of walking a balance beam; waterfowl; weather (as in, heat); dogs (always); and potential names for English pubs.

I have also made a collage from the cards I received: Since I so rarely have visual ideas, I’m pretty happy with it :)

I confess I have skipped a day here and there, but to my surprise, only a couple of times–procrastination, generally speaking, has not been a problem.

Perhaps because the poems are so short (they must fit onto a card, after all), or because one writes with the understanding they do not have to be part of anything or do anything other than delight a stranger, this has been a fun pursuit.

Stand by for the eventual publication of some of the pieces.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poet: V. Penelope Pelizzon, Part II

July 29, 2020

Penelope Pelizzon, Kate Rushin, Paul Muldoon, Marilyn Nelson

NM: What practices do you have in place to ensure that you solicit frank feedback that is helpful to you?

PP: I have two poet friends with whom I sometimes share work. And maybe 50% of the time, my poet-diplomat husband reads things… it really depends on how busy he is. He’s an amazing reader. But there was a two year stint when he was working at the UN when he was so overloaded it didn’t feel fair to distract him: “Hello, I know you have to be in a security council meeting in fifteen minutes but what do you think of my new sonnet?” 

We are all increasingly busy, though—so while I share work that I’m uncertain about it, more of it is likely to go out to journals first. An editor’s feedback (the yeah or nay) is certainly frank!  

NM: What public/media engagements have you found to be most effective in promoting your work? What kind of opportunity do you wish to see more of? (pardon the clunky grammar). 

PP: Old fashioned readings are still a pretty great way to connect with audiences and sell books. I’m pretty comfortable reading on stage (years of theatre school) and I generally enjoy putting the poems in voice—I spent a lot of time working to make them sound the way they sound, after all, and by the time work is done enough that it’s in print and I’m reading it aloud, it really does seem like it’s its own thing in the world apart from me.  Obviously the better organized readings are better experiences. I’ve had some appalling bookstore readings and some super-well-organized museum events—it’s great to read for an organization that actually knows how to publicize the event and the work. 

If I’m ever well-known enough to have a publicist, I’m sure it would be useful to have an active Twitter feed done by someone else, etc. But it’s not something I want to subtract time from poems now to pursue.   

NM: In your typical workweek, what tasks do you tend to complete first? What resources do you regularly draw upon? 

In the summer—delicious delicious summer!—if I’m at home in the U.S., I like to be up early and go have a poke in the garden while it’s still cool, then have about 10 a.m. -3:30 p.m. writing and reading. I try to work on poems during those more energetic hours, and save any administrivia (submissions, e-mail, university-related business such as getting things together for a reading series) for that point around 3:30 pm when it’s hottest and I need a break. (Doing something practical like booking a visiting writer or building a wood crib or weeding a section of garden are good ways to use that sloggy time of day.) My summer poetry resources are time and the woods and piles of books waiting to be read and growing things. Whose Flesh is Flame, Whose Bone is Time

During the academic year, things are more teaching-focused, of course. My university has been very flexible over the past fifteen years with granting time away when I’ve received fellowships, so I was able to travel in Africa for fifteen months when I had the Amy Lowell in 2012-13, for example, and that time allowed me to finish my second book, Whose Flesh Is Flame, Whose Bone Is Time. I’m constantly applying for grants that will allow me to buy writing time away. Much as I love teaching—and I really do—I’m not a great compartmentalizer, so it’s hard for me to shift gears from the intense work with students back to my own work during the semester. It’s different with critical prose writing. When I was working with my co-author Nancy West on a scholarly book about film and photography, it was easier to simply say “The week we have to finish chapter three,” and soldier on with it. It was very hard work, but a different kind of hard work than poems, one that was more a matter of will. I can will myself to finish a piece of critical prose. With poems, the will creates the environment and the focus, but then something has to happen in that space that you can’t control. It takes time.

But let’s say it’s during the semester: what does that look like? Last semester before COVID set in, I was teaching three classes: a Renaissance to Modern Lit gen ed course, an upper division course on Elizabeth Bishop and Sylvia Plath, and an advanced creative course on Nature Writing. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings I’d be up early to prepare that evening’s class, which involved re-reading the texts I’d assigned for that day and commenting on the students’ weekly writing projects. In office hours on those afternoons I’d meet with students to discuss their work. Then, in theory, Thursday through Sunday, I had time to work on my own poems. 

That schedule sort of worked for the first half of the semester, but by midterm when COVID hit, the amount of writing students were doing—now all online—skyrocketed and I was online much more to keep in touch with students. (This of course is what faculty were doing everywhere.) So, not many poems happened then. The plus side—the only plus side in this enormous disaster—is that in the six weeks online, I really got to know this group of students, who were amazing in their adaptability to the weirdness of those weeks. It was one of the times I’ve felt most like my teaching was affecting people; simply to be together for a time online to talk about fabulous poems and novels (as well as to check in on how everyone was handling the chaos) seemed to give students some energy and helped us keep our sense of humor. What is the role of art-making in a catastrophe? We got to talk about this a lot. We enacted it in our daily lives. 

Then there are other regular works related to literature. I’m on the editorial board at Waywiser Press, so between November and February every year I usually read about 60 poetry manuscripts for our annual book prize. This is labor that usually gives me quite a bit of satisfaction, but any hours that I’m reading manuscripts means I’m not writing my own poems. So, I sometimes have to say no to other things. I’ve developed a pretty good system of buffering my summer hours and time in those grant periods.

NM: Who are the people/groups to whom you turn? What resources do you still need?  

PP: As noted above, I apply for grants constantly, as that’s a way I can buy myself semesters away to  write. Funding from organizations such as the Lannan Foundation, the Amy Lowell Travelling Scholarship, the Hawthornden Fellowship, and the CT state arts council have been very important in helping me secure writing time.

But can I also say that I’m very lucky to have excellent health care supplied by my job? It’s insane that we don’t have a single-payer health system. If I had to name the largest burden for many writer friends, it’s that they’re working some kind of adjunct/part time position, doing vital work with no health insurance. It’s just nuts, as the COVID debacle has been demonstrating since day one. So, more than any specifically COVID grant or writers’ group, a bottom-line resource most of the writers I know would benefit from is reliable health insurance

NM: When people seek you out, why do they turn to you in particular? What do they want from you? Are you comfortable with that, or would you rather it were something else? 

PP: Professionally, I’m a go-to for undergraduate and graduate students on their own writings and on literature questions in general. As an editor, I contribute to selecting manuscripts we’ll publish. I also provide feedback for friends on their book manuscripts and other writerly issues. I’m comfortable with all this—these are the jobs I chose—though I always wish I were better at containing them until after I’ve had a couple hours each day for my own poems.

NM: How’s your social media presence? Is there anyone whose social media presence you feel is useful and meaningful? 

PP: My social media presence is basically nil, just a toy. I love Instagram, which is a venue for what I think of as five-minute micro essays on whatever I’m thinking about/ growing/ rebuilding/ writing/ cooking/ reading that day. And I’ve “met” a number of interesting writers and visual artists and old house renovators by following them, but I still do most of my “real” contact with friends one on one. I’m old enough to be totally certain I exist IRL.

NM: How can one make money from writing? 

PP: Haha, you’re asking a poet! I make some royalties from my three books, and I usually publish in journals that pay authors, but no one could live on what I make from poems alone. Probably the most money I’ve made consistently from writing was in a period where I worked as a ghost writer for a public figure who had a Huffpost blog. I was her online voice for a couple of months. But would I want to do that all the time?

I’m incredibly lucky that I love teaching and there was this one dream job in the collapsing academic market of 2002 for a poet who also wrote about visual culture. My university has been a very supportive patron, and since I do believe deeply in the mission of humanities education at public institutions, this has been a really good marriage. The situation is just terrible for writers trying to find jobs in the academic market now. It got worse after 2008, and now in the midst of COVID its very hard to tell what will happen to writers who depend on teaching for their income.

The one thing I have no doubt of is poetry: people will keep making it. Will we keep reading older poets? That’s one of my tasks, to make new writers hear—with joy and excitement—their own connections across languages with poems from different times and cultures. 


Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Poet: V. Penelope Pelizzon, Part I

July 28, 2020

The person I actually met is Penelope’s husband, who is a fellow diplomat and was thrilled to talk poetry while we were in a training class together.  I followed Penelope on Instagram, and the more I learned about her practice and her poetry, the more fascinated I became. I am now thrilled to share this interview—I am looking forward to the day we might be able to meet in person.

NM: What motivates you? How do you ensure you get the motivation you need? 

PP: I’m pretty motivated all the time as a poet by language and experience. English is really an interesting strange beautiful voracious colonizing entity. Can I use it to articulate something important about one of the many corners of human life no one has yet expressed? (It’s amazing how many things are still unspoken, isn’t it?) Can old patterns of English be rejiggered for new experiences? Can I articulate precisely and surprisingly what it feels like to be alive in [wherever] in 2020?

I read pretty constantly—poetry of all periods, history, fiction, science writing, etc, and I’ve always had the sense of being in conversation with what I read. That conversation with the past and other fields feeds my work, often unconsciously, but definitely there.

Penelope Pelizzon

NM: Consider collaborations. Tell me about a collaboration that was unexpectedly successful. Or, conversely, recall a collaboration that should have worked well but did not. 

PP: The idea of collaborating on projects like a chapbook with one of my print-maker colleagues has appealed for long time, but honestly, what I crave and don’t have enough of are solid private hours away from other people to do my own work. My teaching work is pretty intense—I have my hands in other people’s poems a lot. Writing alone, in the months when I can have that, often feels like a deep collaboration with my poetic precursors and the histories I address. And of course you’re “collaborating” with so many different formal and linguistic possibilities in each poem. In these years, for me, the poem is the place where I can find enough privacy to articulate what certain hard-to-pin-down experiences and emotions feel like.  Read more…

Publication: Poems and a Translation in Apofenie Magazine

July 14, 2020

Oksana Zabuzhko, Nina Murray

I’m thrilled to share cyber-publication space with the wonderful Mikhail Iossel — and honored, as ever, to bring another piece of writing by Oksana Zabuzhko to anglophone readers.

The editors also kindly welcomed two poems of mine—give them a read here.

Apofenie is a quarterly online literary journal founded in 2017. The name comes from the Czech spelling of apophenia, that is, the tendency to search for hidden meanings in unrelated patterns. The magazine explores both the triumphs and shortcomings of language, compelled by the need to define and attribute meaning to our lives. Not all of the contributors are writers in the ‘traditional’ sense.


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