Readings in Door County

I’m honored to be reading twice this summer in the County. If you are around, please join me!

Wednesday June 12 at 7 pm for the Emily Dickinson Poetry Series. 10341 Water Street, Ephraim Wisconsin. I hear there is an open mic after the reading, so bring your originals!

Sunday, July 21 at 3 pm, I’ll be reading a new poem for the Midsummer’s Music Series based on a mysterious piece of chamber music that will be played by talented musicians.  Kress Pavilion. 7845 Church St, Egg Harbor, WI 54209



Poetry Month and Earth Day Poetry

I will be reading at Eat Local :: Read Local on Tuesday, April 23, 2019 at 7 PM – 9 PM at Pizza Man 2597 North Downer Avenue, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53211.

and for the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center at Boswell Books in Milwaukee on April 25 at 6:30 pm.

Nature poetry invites us to look more closely at the world, both large and small. In celebration of National Poetry Month and Earth Day, we’ll host Wisconsin poets Brenda Cardenas, Susan Firer, Alessandra Simmons, and Angela Sorby. They will read from their work and discuss the evolving landscape of nature poetry, navigating the intersection of ecology, poetry, eco-justice, and our deep connection to the land. After the reading, stay for a meet & greet with the authors and book signing. Books will be available for purchase. Thanks to Boswell Books for their support of this event.

Members: $15 | Non-Members: $20

Contributor Update!



Congratulations are in order for two former 9-5 contributors Paula Carter and Geoffrey Hilsabeck! Hip Hip Hooray! This year they both published their first books! Paula Carter’s flash-nonfiction memoir No Relation and Geoffrey Hilsabeck’s poetry collection Riddles, Etc. have been garnering great reviews around the interwebs, so I thought it was time to reach out to both of them and see what they have been up to since we last spoke on the blog.

From Paula: 

No Relation Paula CarterI don’t think it is a secret that writing and then publishing a book is a long process.  This book – No Relation – has been in the works for a number of years.  There is a piece in the book that I wrote in one of my graduate workshops, which was 10 years ago!  After spending so much time with these words, I was both excited and nervous to send them out into the world.  Partly because the book is a personal story about my experience falling in love, getting to know my partners two children from his first marriage, and then leaving the relationship(s).

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“my role as a poet is tied to a job we all are called to take on—treating each other with respect”

McKee head shotFreesia McKee is a working poet. She is a part of the Milwaukee scene — present, attentive and welcoming at poetry events and rallies alike. Her words have appeared in the Huffington Post, Gertrude, Painted Bride Quarterly, Burdock, and Sundress Press’s Political Punch anthology. She co-hosts The Subtle Forces, a weekly morning show on Riverwest Radio in Milwaukee. I met Freesia in at the Public House, a co-operative bar that also serves as a community center for poets and other residents of Riverwest.  A mutual friend introduced us by way of saying “If you two don’t know each other, you should.” I am so grateful to have met Freesia before she leaves Milwaukee for an MFA program next year. Though Milwaukee will miss dearly, I’m also excited that she will be entering into an MFA program and that I will get to read all the new poems she will write!  I’m also grateful that she took the time answer a few questions about the intersection writing, life, the artist’s responsibilities.

What do you write? How do you write it?

I write poems in small notebooks on the bus, at the kitchen table, in bed when I first wake up, on walks in the city. I “write everyday,” but sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. I keep a couple of notebooks running with notes, observations, ideas, and then I translate those into actual poems usually on the computer. Writing is difficult and it always feels like an accomplishment to finish a draft of a poem.

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“Small in-between moments” with Amelia Martens

IMG_6972.jpgDear Readers, You must forgive me. I have been withholding a wonderful interview from you of the poet Amelia Martens, who just published a collection of prose poems with Sarabande Books. I’ve not been holding back on purpose. You see it is the end of the semester. Grades are due for my composition students and so are my own research papers. At the same time, I had to find a sublease for my apartment, back all my belongings into a basement storage unit, and get sedatives for my cat to prepare for our move to an island three hours north of Milwaukee. I write this not to complain, as I am grateful for all these things: to be a PhD student at UW-Milwaukee, to have found a summer job on in an idyllic place, and I am grateful for Amelia Martens taking the time to do an interview with me. I tell you all these things because for a long time this blog has only been about writers who write and work in nonacademic fields. However, as I’ve just (about) completed my first year in PhD-land, I’ve re-learned that the work/life/write balance is just as mythical as it was when I was working as freelance writer and at a desk job, which is why I first reached out to Martens who teaches at composition at a community college in Kentucky. As someone towing the line between academia, raising children, and writing, I wanted to get her insight into the process. So without further ado, Amelia Martens:

IMG_0514Amelia Marten’s new collection, The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, is as beautiful outside as it is inside. As I prepared to write this introduction, I thought to myself, well, there is just too much good here, I’ll just write about my favorite prose poem: But then I couldn’t decide between “Baggage,” about Jesus working the airport X-ray machine, or “In the First World,” recurring poems that turn the mundane into the absurd or “We Will Be Long Gone,” one side of daughter-mother bedtime conversation. These three poems, however, give a sample of far-ranging themes Martens packs into unifying tightly-woven prose poem form. Jesus, daughters, terrorism are all recurring characters as are irreverence, humor and tenderness. But you don’t have to take my word for it, poet Catherine Bowman called this collection “Wise, joyous, keen tender, she shows us the divine in the most unexpected places.” And you don’t have to take you Bowman’s word for it, you can read it yourself!

Amelia Martens’ interview is just as wise and tender. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

What do you write? How do you write it?

Poems. Mostly prose poems have been arriving for the past few years (although I’ve also recently written four book reviews). I write at a giant desk, rescued from the IU surplus store. It sits in our laundry room, right in front of window looking onto our backyard willow trees. I write on a Mac laptop, though most of my poems start now at notes written down in a rush in a little-Nancy-Drew-like notepad (there’s even a tiny pen that slips into the side!). I write in the small in-between moments; now that our girls are older (3 and 5) they go off and have their own adventures together—so I write until someone needs a Band-Aid, new pants, a snack.

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A review of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay

Catalog of Unabashed GratitudeCatalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ross Gay’s newest book reminds me of why I love poetry. The sincerity and precision. The music. The seeing and cataloging what is beautiful and what is perverse. Though every word is well placed and every line well cared for, the poems wander, and wallow, and address themselves, and yet never loose focus. In poems the reader might wonder how she got from sexual innuendo to sharing a meal with small miracle worker: the bee, and so be forced to re-read and retrace the steps that got her there. Gay’s poem dare to the face both small, beautiful moments (most people would stumble over them without noticing) and the moments so large, so painful (most people would be rendered speechless and fearful).

In case you’re wondering, I think you should go read this book. Right now.

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“In the morning my thoughts are quieter, and my language tends to be clearer.”

rachellyonRachel Lyon is a woman of much grace and many talents. Not only is her fiction swift and piercing, she plays the violin, is a radiant dinner guest, and generally all around wonderful person. I had the pleasure of getting to know Rachel while we were both at Indiana University’s MFA program. She’s now back in her home city, New York, working and writing, and she took a minute to share with us a little snippet of her life. You can find more of Rachel on Twitter: @manateesintrees and Instagram: @appleeyed and a list of her published works that can be enjoyed anywhere the internet goes.

What do you write? How do you write it?

I write stories, mostly, of all lengths—short-shorts, long shorts—and I’ve just finished a second draft of my first novel. I usually get up sometime around six so I can write in the morning before work. I find my mind is freshest then. As the day goes on, my mental noise tends to accumulate, and that can drown out what I most deeply want to say. In the morning my thoughts are quieter, and my language tends to be clearer.

It also helps that one of my two cats is a restless little animal who won’t leave me alone until I get up. As soon as he feels that it should be morning he’ll come and harass me until I get out of bed. I like to think of him as my writer’s conscience… but probably he’s just bored. Continue reading

Michael Trocchia: On the Library, the Classroom, and the Study

CS-MT-Unfounded-Cover_FrontCoverMichael Trocchia lives not only a double life as a working poet, but triple life: he also finds the time to teach philosophy at James Madison University. His first book, The Fatherlands, is a collection of short fictions/prose poems that, for me, nod toward a haunted fairytale world where logic doesn’t unfold in the ways you would expect. This world is peopled with faceless figures of “the woman,” “the man” and “the boy,” and every time a character resurfaces he is changed. His newest book, Unfounded, is a bit more traditional in appearance–there are no prose poems–but here again nothing can be understood as common. Every line break is followed by a surprise turn in logic or a not-yet-imagined imaged. And reading this collection also became an exercise in letting go, allowing myself to be lead through the mazey path each poem beckoned me down.  In the second section of the collection (there are three sections total), the poems took a turn toward Ars Poetica. As a sometime instructor of poetry and writing, I’m always on the hunt for new Ars Poetica, and Michael has provided me a new one to add to my personal anthology with his poem “Poem Without Itself.” You can find Unfounded on Amazon.

 Michael was kind enough to share some thoughts on his triple life and the myth of finding the perfect job. Here’s what he had to say:

What do you write? How do you write it? 

Claudia in the study

Claudia in the study

I write poems, prose poems in some cases, and the shortest of fictions. I’m working on a lengthier project though, a hybrid novella, a narrative blend of poetry and prose. In it we meet a professor who in his youth was a thief. While he’s long given up thievery—having sold off, lost, forgotten, or abandoned much of what he’s stolen—he has to this day retained one item in particular, an item taken under strange circumstances. The work picks up with his decision to return this thing, decades later, to its rightful place, the very spot from which he took it, however wise or foolish that may be. We follow his journey back and meet with all sorts of characters and happenings along the way.

How do I write? Slowly, as if I am constantly learning to see, or learning to read for the first time. But sometimes it will pick up a degree or two and it is more like learning to play a piece of music that, in some sense, I already know. It occurs in the mornings mostly, or whenever I manage to find generous moments of solitude. If I’m out and about and there is no pen or keyboard at hand, I work the words over in my mind repeatedly, a small rehearsal of sorts, as if learning lines from a play. When at home in my study, there is often a cat nearby.

What are sources of inspiration that you return to?

The worlds of mythmakers, for sure, whether fallen to us in letters or images. There are other sources: I am often drawn back to the poems of Georg Trakl in autumn, the novels of Hamsun in winter, the Italians Sinisgalli, Buzzati, Vittorini, and Quasimodo in summer, and Yannis Ritsos, the Greek, all year round. Spring is my wildcard, a season for who-knows and not-yets, though Jeffers claws through sometimes, his narrative poems mostly. Then there is the music of J.S. Bach, Arvo Pärt, the sounds of Górecki and A Hawk and A Hacksaw.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job and how you got there?

Carrier Library Stacks

Carrier Library Stacks

I’ve two jobs, or perhaps one job while the other, if not itself my vocation, comprises a good part of it. What I call “the job” is my work for James Madison University Libraries, where I am the E-Journals Coordinator in the Technical Services Department. In short, I’m responsible for setting up the university’s electronic journals in all library systems, maintaining the holdings and date coverage, and making sure all access points and linking to the journals are working. In recent years, I’ve also headed up an event program for the library called JMuse Café. Our series of events provides an informal and lively forum for students, faculty, staff, and the community to come together and explore topics of public interest in ways that reach across multiple disciplines and diverse educational backgrounds.

What I refer to as a part of my vocation is the work that goes into teaching philosophy (also at JMU). In this work, as much as I am teaching students philosophy, I am of course always teaching myself along the way. The teaching opportunity and its various rewards could very well cease one day, but it is tough to see a day when pursuing my own studies and its rewards will come to an end. The work I do in philosophy is integral to the work I do as a writer. If we were to shred many of my poems, they’d become, I hope, no less than confetti tossed in the streets by a parade of old philosophers. This is certainly so for a large portion of pieces in Unfounded.

To the question of how I got here: In 2007 I began working at JMU after graduate school at Temple University in Philadelphia. My first job here was full-time in the library as the Processing and Binding Manager. In this role I took care of the stream of books acquired by the library, ensuring that the books and their catalog records received everything they need (checkout information, call number labels, stamps, security strips, etc.) in order to make it safely and swiftly to the shelves. I was also responsible for binding the journals routinely and whatever books that were falling apart. I had been in touch with some professors in the philosophy department at the time and, shortly after, I was offered a spot teaching part-time (on top of the library work). In 2010, I moved into the E-Journals position I mention above.

How does these jobs/vocations challenge/influence/inspire your writing life?

Danielle Campbell Photography. Trocchia reading at Chop Suey Books in Richmond, VA.

Danielle Campbell Photography. Trocchia reading at Chop Suey Books in Richmond, VA.

I go to work with thousands and thousands of authors each day, from antiquity through the present. There they are when I arrive, sitting on shelves throughout the library, always willing to have a conversation, to confound and astound me, to reveal some new aspect of the world, or force me to reconsider this, to imagine that. I can ask for no better company from 9 to 5. At every turn in the building I am reminded of something exquisite, of some immensity indexed, some wondrous triviality. I am met with volumes, with orders of worlds bound up with our experiences of them, with stacks and stacks of fragmented knowledge, with the colorful and worn spines of our languages and thought, with imprints of question and formulae, with the inks of countless laws, natural and not, that line much of our existence, and will, as far as I can tell, continue to do so long after I’m gone. The library as a whole, we might say, is something of a law unto itself. As Borges writes, “the Library will endure: illuminated, solitary, infinite, perfectly motionless, equipped with precious volumes, useless, incorruptible, secret.” And now many such “secrets” and more have surfaced at our fingertips, at the touch of a key, given the electronic sphere that libraries, publishers, service and content providers have built up in recent decades. Through the course of a simple morning in the office, like this one for instance, I’ll work on a mix of electronic journals such as Psychology of Music, The Public Historian,  Journal for General Philosophy of Science, Canadian Slavonic Papers, American Antiquity, and so on. The various journals from our collections flood my workday, and sometimes bits of their content are thrown together, deposited here and there in my mind after I’ve finished working with them. And these sediments can often find their way into my writing in one form or another.

My work week setting then comes three-sided: this library environment, the classroom, and my study at home. Yes, the days come in the shape of a triangle, a shape well suited to my aesthetic.

So it seems that you’ve got a full plate, but your that plate is full of good things and each component nourishes another. I am reminded William Carlos Williams  when he said “As a writer, I have never felt that medicine interfered with me but rather it was my very food and drink, the very thing that made it possible for me to write. ” What are your thoughts on this sentiment?  

I would agree with Williams, but the key is for one to make “food and drink” of whatever it is one does for work. Not every doctor is a poet of course, but Williams made his work in medicine “food and drink” for writing because he was a poet. In a comprehensive way then, yes, everything must be made to nourish the other. So I’d say Poet Williams also fed the very experiences, shaped the vision and ear, of Doctor Williams, in the invisible ways he took to his daily work and what he took from it. “The poet feels abundantly the poetry of everything,” said Williams’ contemporary, Wallace Stevens, himself no stranger to a job “outside” of writing. But, I’d add, the poet only feels it abundantly insofar as he’s sought and gathered it inside him. If it wasn’t medicine for Williams, I imagine it would’ve been some other food and drink he’d gather together and put on the writing table. This is no easy effort, for sure. “Poetry,” wrote Jean Genet from a prison cell, “is a vision of the world obtained by an effort, sometimes exhausting, of the taut, buttressed will. Poetry is willful.” The challenge to all writers, I believe, is not to write but to live and write, no matter the living. This challenge, to echo Genet, is met by the will.

A few more words on this, concerning the idea of interference: We put ourselves at a great loss if we regard the “job” or anything else as interfering with the writing. Taken as such, it opens up all kinds of harm to one’s writing and causes what may be the real interference. One easily slides into the thought that one is not writing what he or she could be writing, reducing one’s efforts to an “if only.” “Only if I had some other job, or no job at all, what wonderful things I’d write! What a writer I’d be!” In this state, whatever writing one does risks suffering in the shadow of this phantom writing (that he or she is not doing). Or worse, understood as interfering, one sets oneself up for an excuse to write less and less, or eventually not at all. We might compare the batter who says that all pitchers interfere with his hitting. This player has somehow missed that the pitcher, though his opponent, provides the very thing he’s meant to hit.

That is particularly important advice, it seems to me, and well-explained too. And, one more question, if you don’t mind! I noticed in the bio on Unfounded it describes you as teacher and then as working in the library. What was the thought behind listing teaching first? 

That’s a good question. I am not sure what my reasoning at the time was for putting it down in that order. What I can say is I identify myself a bit more with teaching philosophy than I do with the work I do in the library, as, again, I consider what goes into teaching to be part of my vocation. Also, teaching just literally requires more of me, as that “job” does not really slow down or end throughout a semester. In addition to class time, I am often, as any professor is, plugged into my teaching responsibilities in the evenings and on the weekends—whether it is putting material together for class, thinking up new ways to engage the students, responding to emails, grading, meeting with students, and so on. The library position itself—that is, the daily responsibilities—is typically confined to the forty-hour work week, aside from the resources I might draw on or the effects that the library world has for my writing.

Underrated Grasslands

IIMG_6773‘m pleased to share with you my poem “Prairie” published in The Other Journal today, but which I started just after I heard Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson speak at IU, more than four years ago. And I’m still learning about the wonders of the grasslands and savanna ecosystems. Did you know that the grasslands is one of the only ecosystems that does not have a national park associated with it the U.S.? National Parks favor great changes in altitude (think Yosemite Valley to the peak of Half Dome). Though the prairie be humble, this rich ecosystem is still worth appreciating and thanking for its bounty. There are a few swatches left. Here are two I recently heard about: a patch in a st. louis cemetery and a restoration project in Iowa, with bison!

A Shout out to St. Pachomius

In the latest Image Journal update, they reviewed St. Peter’s B-list! They even gave a shout out (bolded below) to my poem, “St. Pachomius of the Unemployed.” Totally made my date

St. Peter’s B-List by Mary Ann B. Miller

St Peter's B-ListA chorus of diverse voices brings the saints to life in unexpected ways in this spirited collection, St. Peter’s B-List: Contemporary Poems Inspired by the Saints. This is a highly enjoyable book, well-developed and curated by Miller, a gifted editor who has gathered over 100 poems on the saints without redundancy or narrowness. Some of the speakers are parents, deep in the trenches of everyday struggle, as in Martha Silano’s opening poem, “Poor Banished Children of Eve.” It begins as a kind of creed (“I believe in the dish in the sink”) then dips headlong into a version of the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us away from the temptation to chuck it all flee / to Thetis Island and glory be to dishwashing liquid / and the sponge glory to the microwave and Mr. Coffee.” Further along, Brian Doyle builds a wonderful defense of faith upon the theme of parenthood, beginning with Santa Caterina, who “conversed at length with the One Whom No Name Can Encompass / …he called her dearest daughter.” And for Kelli Russell Agodon, St. Pio (“Patron Saint of Worry”) remains a constant in the unfolding story of motherhood. Along with another friend and mother, she confesses: “We still pray though worry / we’re hard to please.” There’s humor here, too. St. Francis heads to yoga, at home among the Downward Dogs, the Cat, Cow, and Happy Baby poses, and in “St. Pachomius of the Unemployed,” one of the most delightful of the collection, we find the saint striding alongside a downtrodden but dogged pursuer of gainful employment. Even Santa Claus shows up, in an extended conversation wherein St. Nick is unemployed, estranged from his wife, broke, and endlessly thirsty for beer. In balance, there are also breathtakingly earnest poems, like Franz Wright’s stunning “Say My Name,” a poem of longing and loss that hinges on a few spare images inside St. Paul’s. Or Edward Hirsch’s sonically rich triptych “Away from Dogma,” which explores moments from Simone Weil’s biography. And there are poems like “St. Vincent de Paul’s Food Pantry Stomp” in which the saint in question is little more than a name for the speaker, but who still seems to witness and shelter, in some way, that speaker’s humanity. Whether deliberately or otherwise, the saints walk among us through this collection—bright with love, odd, downright scary sometimes—and yet vividly real for each speaker in very personal ways.

Purchase your copy here.