Posts Tagged ‘Lauren Shapiro’

The New Census: A Conversation With Lauren Shapiro & Kevin A. Gonzalez

This week and next, we’ll feature The New Census: an Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, a lovely new book edited by Lauren Shapiro & Kevin A. Gonzalez, and published by Rescue Press. You can purchase the anthology here. By way of introduction to the feature:

Phrases about The New Census from an Online Chat:
…various aesthetics, preoccupations, and traditions, a body of American poets…a little like saying hi at a house party… “can we trade pants?”…“can I stir your drink with my hand?”…turn up your own volume…Sarah Manguso’s “Hell,” Eduardo Corral’s “Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome,” John Beer’s “Wasteland,” Adrian Matejka’s “English B”…unlike the history- and movement-conscious recent revision of Norton’s Anthology of Postmodern Poetry (ed. Paul Hoover)…(to be continued)…

1. How’d this anthology start? Why do we need another anthology of poetry?

The anthology started because the editors of Rescue Press were talking to us one day about the need for a new anthology of contemporary American poetry, or we were talking to them—we can’t remember. Small presses are popping up all over the country, and it gets harder and harder to keep up with all that’s out there. One can say this is the democratic blessing and the curse of the internet—so much material to filter—but that’s not really it. It has more to do with the empowerment of writers who don’t see the kind of writing they admire getting published by the more well-known publishing companies. These writers are starting their own presses and publishing some really great collections that don’t usually receive the circulation they deserve. One of the goals of this anthology was to give voice to these writers.

That said, we’re both teachers, and we’re tired of putting together course packets all the time. We wanted to make a collection that could be used in the classroom to give students a sense of the vibrant work that is being published now. One could say that’s what many editors of anthologies are trying to do, but when those anthologies were published ten or fifteen years ago, and they consisted mostly of writers who were already well-established in the poetry world at the time, well, we thought it was time for a new one.

2. Tell us a little about your process for selecting poets/poems to include. What were some of the hardest calls to make?

We started by compiling a long list, with the help of the Rescue Press editors, and input from several trusted poet-friends. At this stage, before we got in touch with any of the writers, we bought and read hundreds of books so that we could familiarize ourselves with new writing as well. This process—of reading individual collections and building and narrowing this list—took between one and two years. It should be noted, also, that Caryl Pagel, the editor of Rescue Press, was going through this process with us. We’d have occasional meetings—usually at the Crystal Corner Bar in Madison—in which we’d discuss and trade books.

We absolutely did not want to get stuck selecting poets who merely fit our own taste and winding up with the Kevin and Lauren (and Caryl) show. We also didn’t want to include writers who had too many books out—the goal was to include those who we felt had more to show. Then we went through the list and tried to choose writers whose work we felt strongly about and who would complement each other in an anthology. Once we had compiled the list, we asked each writer to send 15 representative pages of poems they would be happy to include in the anthology. We often made suggestions as to which poems from their books we would like to see included, but we wanted to give each poet some control and freedom as to their selection (as well as the opportunity to show us new, unpublished work that we would not have been familiar with), and we went from there. There were times when we (Kevin, Lauren, Caryl) disagreed, and we tried to let everyone have as much of a say as possible, but, of course, we’re very happy with the final selection.

3. Your introduction avoids explicit claims about poetics and literary history. What implicit claims do you think The New Census makes about contemporary poetry? Do you hope this anthology in any way offers a counter-history or corrective view?

We did feel that there was a need for a new anthology, but we didn’t put the book together as a specific reaction to anything that’s already out there. We believe this anthology is just completely different from what’s currently available. The anthology that ours most closely approximates, in our opinion, is American Poetry: The Next Generation, which was published about 15 years ago by Carnegie Mellon University Press, and which limits its selection to poets who were under 40 years of age at the time of its publication. Of course, the literary landscape has changed significantly since then, and many of those poets, who may have been considered ‘emerging’ at the time, are now well-established. Likewise, the majority of the poets in our anthology hadn’t even published their first book at that time. That said, we didn’t believe we needed to justify the collection in any way except to state what our goals were, which were simply to create a book that would collect writers whose work we’re excited about, and who we feel will be bringing more to the poetry world in the future. We kept stylistic diversity in mind, and we wanted, also, to showcase some poets published by small independent presses that we feel are doing terrific work alongside those published by larger independent publishers and university presses. But it’s not an “avant-garde” anthology, or an anthology of poets published by small independent presses, or an anthology of women writers, or any such limiting approach. It’s simply a collection of new American poets.

4. I don’t have time to read your anthology. Which three poems from it might convince me I’m wrong?

This is a very difficult question. It was hard enough to limit the collection as much as we had to, so to choose three representative poems would be madness. That said, we’ll each pick three poems that help show the range of the anthology: Tyehimba Jess, “Blind Tom, One Body, Two Graves Brooklyn/Georgia,” Suzanne Buffam, “The New Experience,” Nick Lantz, “Of the Parrat and Other Birds That Can Speak,” Sabrina Orah Mark, “The Very Nervous Family,” Darcie Dennigan, “The Job Interview”, and Adrian Matejka, “Battle Royale”

5. Anthologies are easy to criticize. What do you think snarky bloggers and well-laureled professors will complain about after reading The New Census?

One of the unfortunate outcomes of anthologies is that they create the insider-outsider mentality. In other words, readers (most of whom will also be writers) will complain about who’s in and who’s out. This, we think, will be the nature of most complaints. In other words, how the anthology might have been different if X person had been the editor. This kind of criticism is inevitable. Our response would be, make your own anthology. We’d love to read it! Enjoy the permissions process!

6. If you had to put a photograph of a currently dead poet on the cover of the anthology, which currently dead poet would you choose? What would you like the photograph to show this dead poet doing?

It would have to be something dramatic and exciting but also self-aware. Lauren’s pick would be the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, the avant-garde poet and artist working around the turn of the century–one of the photos in which she’s all contorted, wearing a birdcage and kicking one leg into the air. Kevin finds the phrasing of your question fascinating. What do you mean by currently dead? I hesitate to mention a dead poet, as the question seems to imply that he or she may, at some point in time, cease to be dead, and I don’t want an undead poet coming after me.


THERMOS 5: Lauren Shapiro

These three poems were originally printed in our fifth issue, released in the spring of 2010. Easy Math, Lauren’s first book of poems, won the 2011 Kathryn A. Morton Prize and was released by Sarabande Books earlier this month. We’re excited about the book, which is here, and happy to share these poems once again as we move our first five issues from one website to another. Thanks Lauren! — AS

I’ve Always Wanted to Say This

There was a time when mansions had so many rooms
they had one just for fainting. If you had to faint,
this was the best room for it—chairs the size of beds,
shag carpet, cloud-sent, the whisperings of Enya.
But when you woke up it was the worst room in the world,
and such are the machinations of life. When I was little
I wanted to be a truck driver and now, essentially,
I’m a truck driver. I watch that show—what’s it called?
I forget—for eight hours straight. Then once in a while
as I’m walking down the street a man’s eyeball pops out,
and we’re both a bit surprised, and he cups it in his hands
and blows the dust off, and puts it back in.
At the dinner party I tell the story of the eye popping out,
and then someone else tells about finding an ear in the gutter
and everyone drinks more wine and Marty finally opens up
about his little brother losing a hand in a table saw
and Sarah admits that she once lost a nipple to a feral dog
and Tim, after some prodding, shows the empty area
where his testicles once hung. And then we walk home and
Jesus Christ it’s cold outside! says my husband, and
it’s so cold it does feel like something huge is about to happen
and that’s when I see both of our features slipping off
our faces and we go home anyway and make love
and rub our blank faces together and I feel a deep
and exciting newness welling up in my stomach
and I think that I will bake muffins tomorrow morning after all.

According to the Magazines, Lindsey Lohan Is Very Lonely These Days

After a meal of General Tso’s, we learn
that an exciting opportunity will soon present itself.
I get up to give a toast at the wedding
but all that comes out is a gasp.
What I’ve learned from Hans Christian Andersen
is that there is a tiny world in each pore of the universe
populated by tiny people who also dream
of larger realities. In the space between coffee
and lunch lies an expanse as unforgiving
as a cross-country bus ride. Not knowing
where to sit or who to talk to at the barbecue,
I choose the roof. But hey, the Rubix cube
is only as hard as the guy pasting on
the colored squares wants it to be, right?
The girl who wants to be married with kids by 30
misses the point of both, no? And so the algorithm
of finding solace is the algorithm of rejecting
such algorithms in the first place.
Pirates emerge from myth. A scientist claims
to have taught a rhesus monkey to hum
the alphabet in six languages. The last baby
born in 2009 beats up the first baby born in 2010
while mothers stand by in disbelief.
Fortune teller says grandma will trace our family
back to a happy-go-lucky seafarer from 1830s Australia.
Weatherman says life is a constant search punctuated
by tornadoes and moments of regret. I close my eyes.
It is almost my birthday. Deep in the cake
hides a plastic doll. Who put it there,
and who on earth wants to find it?

Photo Op

The lights are flashing.
People throw flowers at my feet.
It’s you! they shout.
Listen, I say. I’m here
to talk about Darfur.
Oh my God, it’s you! they shout.
A girl breaks through security and faints.
All around the room people are waving
cameras and pens for autographs.
Please, please, they say. It’s really you!
Just then a pigeon flies into the studio.
No one cares. A cameraman kills it with a brick.
The lights flash red, red, red.
Yay! they yell. It’s you! It’s you! It’s really you!