Author Archive

Jack Christian: Our Air Is More a Branch

Jack Christian choosing beets and squash to put in his bike basket

Jack Christian is THERMOS’s blog poet for late January. His poems have appeared in notnostrums, Noo Journal, Mississippi Review and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbook Let’s Collaborate from Magic Helicopter Press.

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OUR AIR IS MORE A BRANCH

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In a room we ride a bike a little.

We think of curves and hills and road signs.

We think of summits and our legs’ precision.

We do it long enough and start to think of other things.

I feel good on the couch and good when I sleep.

I know if we sit together long enough

I’m going to put my arm around you. We’re going to lose time.

It’ll feel like we’ve stopped it and it’ll be moving on.

We’ll be surprised, later, when the day has changed

that it was ordered and now is not

and we were going a great distance

but it was always just another rise.

On the vague path that follows the ridge.

You can see where to go by the patterns of branches,

and by looking up where it’s still a little light,

and by picking your knees up

and making your feet more sure than the rocks and roots.

By the one star that traces from west to east

because it’s a satellite,

and sureness is a thing to tell about.

There’s the fairgrounds, and the airport,

then the cornfield approaching the river.

The river is hidden by a row of scrub and trees.

I climb to vantage points and look out at places

and imagine myself there.

If I grow tall enough to walk from top to top?

If I walk too far will you pick me up at the top?

There’s an abandoned house and a place to park.

If it storms I’ll sit on the bench on the covered veranda.

It’s the kind of view you want to see how far

a paper airplane would sail – but it wouldn’t go far –

and where you see the hills are older than the river.

I went up enough I could name all the peaks

from the helpful diagram.

I named them all after people who died,

then later, in spring when I had that much energy,

and once on a snow hike. I met a guy taking photos.

We can find my car on our way back

from a dinner somewhere else.

We’ll see it as part of the mechanism

that one thing leads to another,

how its socks then shoes, then from the house and back,

and goodbye-for-real, and the day is next.

The evening is after that.

There’s a baseball game.

There’s a pitch in baseball that is fast as hell,

and is more notable for being completely accurate,

and actually has no velocity.

With a pitch like that, it’s true, there are a million different things

to think for a second to hurry after, but don’t.

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An Interview With Katy Lederer

Poet and memoirist Katy Lederer also spent a decade (1997-2007) editing the beloved, hand-stapled Explosive Magazine. THERMOS interviewed herabout scope, roots, range, and the point of it allthis December.

TH: Could you describe the history of Explosive Magazine?  How and why did it start?  Did your thinking about its purpose and/or production change at any point?

I started Explosive Magazine in 1996. The short of it is that I had recently moved to Iowa to attend the writing program there and missed my poetry friends from the Bay Area (I had attended undergrad at Berkeley, and, mainly through one of my teachers there—Lyn Hejinian—met poets from not only UC, but also from Oakland and San Francisco; Lyn was great at introducing students to coteries and scenes that existed outside of academia).

Some of the younger poets I considered peers in the Bay Area (and later published in Explosive) included: Hoa Nguyen, Dale Smith, Anselm and Eddie Berrigan, Pamela Lu, Lytle Shaw, Mary Burger, Lauren Gudath, and Alex Cory. I also read and met (at readings) non-Bay Area poets like Juliana Spahr, Bill Luoma, Alice Notley, and Jordan Davis.

Some of the new peers I met at Iowa (and later put in the magazine) included: Robyn Schiff, Josh May, Nick Twemlow, Rick Barot, Max Winter, Lisa Lubasch, Emily Wilson, Jen Hofer, Ishmael Klein, and Summi Kaipa. I also encountered other “Iowa Poets,” either through the reading series there or during trips I made to New York, including Rachel Zucker, D. A. Powell, and Martin Corless-Smith.

I knew David Larsen, the fabulous artist and writer, from high school, strangely enough. I used to call him and some other friends from the Bay Area and cry with home sickness (I found Iowa very difficult—extremely competitive and most of the students at that time thought it was absurd that I would produce a stapled zine). During one of these calls to Dave, I said, “Hey, let’s you and I produce a magazine. I will edit it. You will make the cover.” The first cover, which was modeled on a No Parking sign, read “Berkeley – Iowa – NYC” at the bottom. The primary motive for the magazine was, therefore, what one might call “socio-geographical” in nature.

Katy Lederer

As the magazine evolved (and as I went from being 23 to 33) there was a diaspora of sorts. While young poets flock to the Bay Area, Iowa, and NYC, older poets with families and bills to pay tend to flock to whatever location will offer them benefits and tenure (teaching being very clearly the default profession for poets right now); the geographical mix of the magazine’s contributors therefore changed a great deal from those early (and much simpler) three-city days.

If I were 23 now, I would probably not produce a stapled zine. Continue reading

Mark Yakich: Cherokee, life sentence for the

Mark Yakich takes a question

Mark Yakich takes a question

Thermos‘s blog poet for early January is Mark Yakich, whose most recent collection of poems is The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine (Penguin 2008).  His website is markyakich.com.

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Cherokee, life sentence for the

Outside of prison silence became
The warden the winds had changed

And the hawk began dropping stones
On me I left for the city where I saw

Horses ride the subway and planes
Ride the birds continually the correct life

Walked past me with blond hair but I
Learned slowly for the mountains of cut-

Out buildings appeared as careless
As their observers appeared daring

An Appreciation: on Lucas Bernhardt’s “Infidelities of Coal” in THERMOS 3

What do we like in what we choose? Every so often, we’ll publish a short appreciation by one of THERMOS’s editors of a poem from the current issue. Here’s Jay on a poem in issue 3 (available online in its entirety soon!), with the poem following:

“Like a piece of ice on a hot stove,” said American poetry’s saddest-eyed Yankee backwoodsman, “the poem must ride on its own melting.”

Robert Frost meant, I think, the way a poem slips ahead. O’Hara’s “Vaguely I hear the purple roar of the torn-down Third Avenue El” sliding forward to “the captured time of our being”; or Elizabeth Bishop’s “The moon in the bureau mirror” to “and you love me.” This effortlessness is easy to love: I don’t notice how close the poem is to its own extinction, until—fft!—the lifespan of its thought is vaporously, unavoidably up.

I recognize this slide, maybe, from my day-to-day moments’ thoughts, the dumb predestiny I sense in my own attention: purple sign neon recalling a dream I had about a truck with amethyst mudflaps; a man scraping snow off his windshield outside the café, then inside dabbing whipped cream off his baby daughter’s nose. Whole before my reason could sort, done seemingly as soon as I fully see. The poem’s lifespan is likewise dictated (cube volume, burner heat, strength of toss) like a law of physics.

It’s this elegance of gesture—rhetoric, form, and frame—that I can’t get enough of in Lucas Bernhardt’s “Infidelities of Coal,” a forty-four-line, single-sentence heroic loser of a poem from the new issue of Thermos.

The poem’s formal body is restless, but its imagery slides in a few tight circles. Regret glints in the eye like a diamond, the self smolders into coal ash, coal whose diamond finality outsmarts the earth it hid in, the diamond the self ends up as tiny on a fiancé’s finger. The heart of the argument is “words outsmart us.” The last word of the poem is “proscribed.” Is coal faithless for being anonymous (untraceable back to its origin) or for shifting form (into diamonds)? The labor the poem clearly required feels light in reading—what a blessing! It also radiates the warmth of a joke. Then it’s done. Fft!

Here’s Lucas’s poem.

Infidelities of Coal
by Lucas Bernhardt

The difference between
saying What’s funny
about having
a reputation
for doing things you
regret at parties is

and thinking first
of confidantes
beneath leaves, napping
like gnats in the
afternoon, swarming
toward dusk, then of
the smoldering, always
approximating self,
more hooked than
awhirl, a thread
of ash looking back
at the crawling
coal, and finally
of regret itself
resting with its wings
tucked across
its back like a
closed pair of scissors,
housed in the eye,
glinting in the facets
of the eye, is
that our words
outsmart us the way
a diamond out-
smarts a seam,
a miner outsmarts
a diamond, a boss
outsmarts a miner,
etc., and even
if the diamond-cutter
does sometimes
grimace, there we are
atop the fiance’s
finger wondering
why, if our lives
are so important,
they should be
so proscribed.

THERMOS presents:

A reading by our beloved co-editor and savant Zach Savich!

Where: Maple Street Book Shop, 7523 Maple St., New Orleans, LA

When: Tonight! Thursday, 11/19, at 6 pm.

We’ll have wine and cheese, copies of the newly printed THERMOS 3, and Zach’s book, Full Catastrophe Living.

And you, if you live here! We hope. Let’s meet.

Heather Christle: It Is Like Surgery But It Is Not Surgery

Heather dressed for a Georgia snowstorm

Heather Christle, THERMOS‘s blog poet for early November, grew up in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  She is the author of The Difficult Farm, a poetry collection published by Octopus Books.  A portfolio of her poems and other documents recently appeared in Slope, and you can find more poems in recent or upcoming issues of Columbia Poetry Review, Fence, and Octopus.  She lives in Atlanta and is a Creative Writing Fellow at Emory University.  More information is at heatherchristle.blogspot.com.

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It Is Like Surgery But It Is Not Surgery

When you split infinity you just get more
infinity It’s different with crackers with bells
with an eagle When an eagle flies into
a bell the bell rings the eagle collapses
There is a finite distance from the bell
to the ground It is harder to say when
the bell completes ringing For a man
with tinnitus the sound does not end For
infinity childhood was rough At the zoo
infinity could not pet the eagle was
not allowed but kept spreading everywhere
It was embarrassing An eagle in a cage
is in some ways a symbol You can
split her up from her real parts

Editing THERMOS, Part 1: David Hamilton & the Assent of Friends

How do you assemble a magazine? Big tent, buzzing scene, modest assay, thumbed crumbs? THERMOS co-editor Zach Savich writes:

In the Spring 2009 issue of The Iowa Review, long-time editor David Hamilton reflects on his years with the magazine. His essay, “At the Fair II,” articulates an editorial philosophy—“everything else is peripheral to our saying ‘Yes’ to writers we do not know, writers who don’t emerge from our own circle, who may have sent their work from anywhere and who have found favor so far only where they were assented to by friends”—then examines the personal and literary procedures that support his “Zen of Reception.”

Like other pieces by Hamilton (such as his review linking Creeley to Hardy and Herrick in the Fall 2008 Iowa Review), the essay gains depth by extension, rather than hunkering. Hamilton does not hide out in one narrow, critical haunt but walks his reader around a hospitable expanse.

This approach seems right for anyone who wishes to live in the world, not just look at poems lodged in hard-to-reach places. It matches the receptive spirit of Hamilton’s editing.

I saw this spirit in action when I served as an assistant editor and volunteer reader with the review from 2004-2007.  It calmed and broadened me during graduate school. Like the Human Rights Index that begins each issue, editorial work at the The Iowa Review reminded me that poetry can be distinct from an MFA community’s exhilirating fashions and chatter.

I spent a lot of time in those years trying to make myself proficiently grotesque in modes that seemed on the cutting edge of poetic evolution. Continue reading