Thirteen Colleges Every High School Creative Writer Should Consider by Peter LaBerge

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief. 

Since its inception in 2010, The Adroit Journal has been committed to helping high school writers unlock their potentials while finding the undergraduate writing community for them. High school writers should check out our free, annual online Summer Mentorship Program, which opens to applications every year in mid-February. (Click here to access our mentorship college matriculation list.)

The process of selecting a college for four years—four significant years—of one's life is never easy. What further complicates this process is the fact that more applications are flying into pretty much every school than ever before. 

What contradicts this idea, however, is the reality: that there are multiple schools that present terrific opportunities for each type of student. So, creative writers, fear not! If you don't believe me, check out some pretty awesome programs below: 

1 | Emory University

Atlanta, Georgia
Acceptance Rate: 26.8%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,829
US News & World Rank: 21
Admissions Deadline: January 1, 2016

Where to begin? Beautiful campus, beautiful weather, and world-renowned creative writing resources. Emory University is the home of previous U.S. Poet Laureate (and Queen) Natasha Trethewey, as well as a sterling set of core faculty, visiting lecturers, and fellows. 

English & Creative Writing Major
Creative Writing Minor
Honors Program in Creative Writing
Creative Writing Faculty Page
Creative Writing Fellows Page
Raymond Danowski Poetry Library

 

 

2 | University of Virginia

Charlottesville, Virginia
Acceptance Rate: 29.0%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 16,483
US News & World Rank: 26
Admissions Deadline: January 1, 2016

Boasting another beautiful campus, the University of Virginia may be of particular interest to writers interested in concentrating in either poetry or prose writing for their undergraduate years. Specifically, the school hosts two specific two-year Area Programs dedicated to these areas—unlike any institution I've come across—with a terrific faculty (Lisa Russ Spaar, all hail) to boot.

English Major
Distinguished Majors Program
Creative Writing for Undergraduates
Area Program in Poetry Writing
Area Program in Literary Prose

 

 

3 | University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Acceptance Rate: 10.4%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 9,746
US News & World Rank: 9
Admissions Deadline: January 5, 2016

Of course, I may happen to be biased—I'm a happy junior at Penn studying English with a concentration in Creative Writing and a minor in Consumer Psychology—but this means I can confidently say that through a refined liberal arts focus at the University of Pennsylvania, you will learn to write while also finding another interest—any interest—to write about. Penn also has an unrivaled internship program called RealArts@Penn, which provides students with approximately thirty diverse, meaningful internships open to the Penn community, and gives each $4,000 to ensure they can afford to do them. You can be sure that your creative writing portfolio will be read—in fact, we at Penn seek to recruit the nation's top young writers and provide them with admissions advocacy through the Kelly Writers House, a non-residential haven for writers and creative types of all kinds that hosts more than 300 events per year. The Writers House is also home to an incredibly tight-knit community of passionate writers and readers that is always pulling another chair up to the table. To find out more information about these opportunities, click on the "Kelly Writers House" and "Writing Recruitment Opportunity" links below. If interested in the recruitment opportunity, please contact Associate Director of Writing Recruitment Jamie-Lee Josselyn, whose contact information is available on the Kelly Writers House website. (By the way, it's not at all restricted to Early Decision, it's not at all restricted to prospective English Majors, and it's not at all restricted to those who can afford full tuition.) No, you aren't dreaming.

Department of English
English Major with a Concentration in Creative Writing
Kelly Writers House
Writing Recruitment Opportunity
RealArts @ Penn Internship Program
Department of Creative Writing
Creative Writing Faculty

 

4 | Princeton University

Princeton, New Jersey
Acceptance Rate: 7.4%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,391
US News & World Rank: 1
Admissions Deadline: January 1, 2016

The faculty at Princeton University is undeniably stacked: Jeffrey Eugenides, Paul Muldoon, Joyce Carol Oates, James Richardson, Tracy K. Smith... the list goes on. No doubt it will be an intense four years, but Princeton is a tough one to say "no" to. 

Lewis Center for the Arts
Princeton Poetry Festival
Creative Writing Faculty Page
Creative Writing Program
Reading Series

 

 

5 | Washington University in St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri
Acceptance Rate: 17.1%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,401
US News & World Rank: 15
Admissions Deadline: January 15, 2016

It's no secret that Washington University in St. Louis is a great place to write—it's got one of the top Master of Fine Arts programs in the world for creative writing. With a number of certifiably awesome opportunities, it's also a great place for undergrads... and the fact that they have a specific scholarship dedicated to enabling the best writers to come to WashU is pretty cool, too. P.S.—Mary Jo Bang, Carl Phillips, francine harris. I rest my case. 

Undergraduate English Program
Concentration in Creative Writing
Creative Writing Faculty
English and/or Writing Minor
Howard Nemerov Writing Scholarship

 

 

6 | Yale University

New Haven, Connecticut
Acceptance Rate: 6.3%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 5,477
US News & World Rank: 3
Admissions Deadline: January 1, 2016

From what I've heard, being on Yale University's campus is kind of like being in a never-ending creative paradise. Especially if you know where to look. The programs are fantastic (duh—it's Yale), and Yale students can write—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and plays. And the school is near New York City, and home to the fabulous Yale University Press. Also, the students do cool things like this (shoutout to previous Adroit prose reader Roger Pellegrini!) and this (shoutout to previous Adroit Managing Editor Alexa Derman!). 

Undergraduate English Major
Creative Writing at Yale
Creative Writing Faculty
Writing Concentration

 

7 | Bucknell University

Lewisburg, Pennsylvania
Acceptance Rate: 30.7%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,565
US News & World Rank: 32 (Colleges)
Admissions Deadline: January 15, 2016

Although perhaps not known as as the most creative of schools, Bucknell University buzzes with excitement on the poetry front. Other than being home to Bucky the Bison, Bucknell is home to the stunning Stadler Center for Poetry, which brings a number of mix of iconic literary figures and fresh emerging perspectives to Bucknell through an active reading series and two Stadler Fellow seats. Furthermore, Bucknell students (and, actually, all undergraduate students) have enhanced access to the opportunity of studying poetry as part of the annual Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets, which brings two inspiring poets to town and awards full-tuition fellowships to ten undergraduate poets finishing their sophomore, junior, or senior years. (Disclaimer: I was a Younger Poet Fellow last summer, so I may be a biased. But: Apply, even if you aren't a Bucknell student. Trust me.) The 32nd annual Seminar will take place in June 2016.

Bucknell University English Major
Creative Writing Concentration
English & Creative Writing Faculty
Stadler Center for Poetry

 

 

8 | New York University

New York, New York
Acceptance Rate: 35.5%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 24,985
US News & World Rank: 32
Admissions Deadline: January 1, 2016

Another undeniably exciting place to study creative writing (of pretty much any genre) is New York University. NYU has not only a fabulous core faculty, but also a talented pool of graduate students working towards their Masters of Fine Arts. This will provide you with a terrific mix of perspectives throughout your four years. And similar to Yale (perhaps a result of the aforementioned faculty), NYU has a fantastically creative student body (with the possible exception of the Stern kids), and the students can write. And New York City.

Creative Writing Program
Creative Writing Faculty
Creative Writing Undergraduate Program
Literary Publications
Lillian Vernon Creative Writers House

 

 

9 | Kenyon College

Gambier, Ohio
Acceptance Rate: 25.1%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,662
US News & World Rank: 25 (Colleges)
Admissions Deadline: January 15, 2016

It seems almost ironic that Kenyon College follows in the list after New York University, seeing as the two are almost opposites: Kenyon is a small rural school, while New York is gigantic and, well, in New York. I say almost opposites because both hold terrific opportunities for student writers. Kenyon is a well-known strong program for creative writers, perhaps because of its world-class Kenyon Review and the annual Kenyon Young Writers Workshop. Whatever the reason, it deserves the acclaim—with  an incredible faculty and a strong student body (including an unbelievably large amount of students recognized in the Adroit Prizes!).

Kenyon College English Department
Creative Writing at Kenyon
Kenyon College English Faculty
Kenyon College Literary Fellows
The Kenyon Review KR Online
Kenyon Review Associates Program
Kenyon Young Writers Workshop
 

 

10 | Stanford University

Stanford, California
Acceptance Rate: 5.1%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 7,019
US News & World Rank: 4
Admissions Deadline: January 3, 2016

Stanford University is strong across multiple areas of undergraduate study, clearly, but in the past has not been known by the mainstream for its creative writing resources. Having said that, the school prides itself on holding one of the premier fellowships for rising poets and fiction writers in the entire world—the Wallace Stegner Fellowship Program. This program trickles down into the undergraduate realm through instruction, and (obviously) through the establishment of a talented writing community. Also, the presence of strong minds on the core faculty is undeniable—looking at you, Adam Johnson, Eavan Boland, and Tobias Wolff. Also, Stanford probably has the most gorgeous campus in the history of the earth, and rumor has it they are looking for more writers... 

Stanford University English Department
Stanford University Undergraduate Creative Writing Program
Wallace Stegner Fellowship Program
Stanford University Core Creative Writing Professors
Stanford University Visiting Creative Writing Professors
Stanford University Lecturers in Creative Writing

 

 

11 | Emerson College

Boston, Massachusetts
Acceptance Rate: 49.2%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 3,765
US News & World Rank: Unlisted
Admissions Deadline: January 15, 2016

Emerson College is home to an incredible Writing, Literature & Publishing program, as well as to the nationally-renowned literary publications Ploughshares and Redivider. It's also located in central Boston, and loaded with a strong faculty. What more could you want?

Writing, Literature & Publishing Program
Undergraduate Programs
W, L & P Faculty
Literary Publications
Careers & Internships in W, L & P

 

 

12 | Middlebury College

Middlebury, Vermont
Acceptance Rate: 17.2%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 2,526
US News & World Rank: 4 (Colleges)
Admissions Deadline: January 1, 2016

Middlebury College is another clear choice. Set in scenic Vermont, the school is home to the prestigious literary publication New England Review and a host of significant creative writing resources and faculty members. For example, rising undergraduate seniors have the opportunity to apply to attend the world-renowned Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. 

Department of English and American Literature
Creative Writing Offerings
Creative Writing Faculty
Undergraduates at Bread Loaf
Bread Loaf Writers' Conference
New England Review

 

13 | Davidson College

Davidson, North Carolina
Acceptance Rate: 21.7%
Undergraduate Enrollment: 1,770
US News & World Rank: 9 (Colleges)
Admissions Deadline: January 2, 2016

Davidson College is another one you might overlook in your college search—after all, it's quite small and nestled in a small town in North Carolina—but don't let yourself miss it! Aside from having a department with resources, Davidson has a strong faculty and a $30,000 annual scholarship for a creative writer to study (any subject) at Davidson. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

English Department
Creative Writing Offerings
English/Creative Writing Faculty & Staff
Honors Program
Patricia Cornwall Creative Writing Scholarship

 

 

Even more undergraduate Colleges & Universities you should consider

Barnard College
Bennington College
Bryn Mawr College
Carnegie Mellon University
Columbia University
Harvard University
Hollins University
Johns Hopkins University
Knox College
Oberlin College
Sewanee: The University of the South
Skidmore College
University of California, Berkeley
University of Chicago
University of Iowa
University of Miami
University of Michigan

 

These lists comprise only a few of the many schools with excellent programs. Many more perhaps belong on this list but, due to space constraints, were not added. Look at this list as a start, and good luck, seniors! 

Conversations with Contributors: Alex Dimitrov (ISSUE 13, POETRY) by Peter LaBerge

via Alex Dimitrov.

via Alex Dimitrov.

BY PETER LABERGE & AUDREY ZHAO

We know the Fall 2015 Issue has been out for almost three months, but we're still returning to Alex Dimitrov's poem from the issue, "Cocaine." Learn more about it, and about Dimitrov himself, through the conversation we've shared below! 

 

To kick things off, let's talk about “Cocaine." What would you say was the inspiration behind it? How did the poem come about? 

Alex Dimitrov, Contributor: “Cocaine” was written over two summers, 2014 and 2015, when I spent some time in LA. I was with a friend who also lives in New York but happened to be in town visiting family. We were driving down Wilshire and then a year after that we found ourselves on the exact same route, driving down Wilshire again, passing the same things, same week in the same lull of summer, and maybe it seemed like not much had changed in our lives except our haircuts. There was this illusion that the past year hadn’t even happened. But of course that wasn’t true. And I sort of slipped into that strange question of what is time, really. And why had I stopped talking to certain people and why had certain people stopped talking to me. The Lauren Bacall quote found its way in the poem because she had just died and I was watching her films while I was staying in LA. It’s hard for me to get over the fact that all of us have to die. The earth and the sun and the things that keep us alive too. And if that is true, which it is, why do we continue? So in a moment of happiness, being with this person who has really helped me in the last few years through many transitions, I still couldn’t stop thinking about those realities and I felt disappointed with myself. Then I was on the roof of the Mondrian one night having a drink and seeing another friend’s band play and the same thing happened. Moments where you feel time so deliberately that it’s paralyzing, and yet you still have to go home, brush your teeth and go to bed. It seems impossible and then we do it. 

 

To expand on the last question, do you have any specific traditions, writing practices, or habits that you feel influence your work?

AD: Like many writers, I like to take walks. I have a chair I’ve had for close to nine years that I like to sit in. Simple things like that. I’m surrounded by relics in my writing space. The gold crucifix I’ve had since I was five, and which I still wear at times, is always in the room. So is another chain with a very small aquamarine crystal (my moon is in Pisces) and a clear quartz. A red wooden crucifix a man put into my hands one day when I was walking down the street in Buenos Aires. We didn’t say anything to each other, he just put it in my hands. Polaroids a friend took during a difficult time in my life, which he made easier to get through. Water from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A strand of my hair my mother gave me that was cut during my first birthday. A piece of art I stole from an ex-boyfriend. An icon that was blessed and prayed over for a month in an Orthodox church in Moscow. A postcard of Prince that a poet friend gave me when I was going through another difficult time. A photograph of Jasper Johns another friend sent me on my first birthday in New York. Dirt from my favorite street. An unsent letter (because I don’t have an address) I wrote to a person I met once who told me about three big things I never thought would happen in my life, and they did in the next five years. We met once and for half an hour years ago. 

As you can tell, I like relics. But there is nothing on my walls. I don’t hang things up.

 

Rolling it back to the early days, what got you hooked on writing? Did you come into poetry from another genre? Do you remember a moment when you first began to identify as a poet?

AD: I don’t remember the moment when I identified as a poet, but I remember not being able to relate to many people growing up except for the writers I was reading. I wished that those people were alive all the time and then, as I got older, I sort of realized that they are.

 

Recently you’ve been working on your second book, forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press and in which “Cocaine” will appear. First of all, congratulations! That’s so exciting. Do you see the book as a continuation of your first, Begging for It (from Four Way Books), or do you see it as going in a sort of new direction?

AD: It’s not a continuation. I’m not sure I want to say much about this new book other than it being different, a departure for me. Everything I thought was stable and real in my personal life shifted over the last three years. I also began to question what the personal life really is, in relation to writing; why and to who does it matter, what exactly are all these things we wake up to and go to bed surrounded by. What does it mean to be a person? The questions are large and our lives are small. If there’s a sentence I would use to describe the new book, that’s it.

 

While writing and editing the book, you’ve spent substantial time in both New York City and Los Angeles. In what ways do you think these places appear in the book, and in what ways do you think the overall presence of place influences your work?

AD: I think at one point I panicked because I thought I could no longer write in New York. But the truth is I’ve had to make some adjustments. I’ve had to accept a lot of uncertainty. In terms of places, New York and Los Angeles are there, yes, but there are also spaces like airports and hotels, the in between nowhere places, that are somehow parallel in my mind with some of the life questions I keep revisiting. 

 

How do you think poetry fits into today’s world, and in which direction do you think it is heading?

AD: Poetry is ancient and it has outlived and survived all the wars and all the trends and will outlast us all. It’s the human spirit as it lives and dies and struggles. Where is it heading? I don’t know. Somewhere a lot more important than where capitalism is taking us.

 

One could argue social media is so popular because people yearn for connection to others. Because you are very active on social media, people may feel as if they are catching glimpses of your life. How much of your self do you think is reflected through social media, and how does that compare to the self given voice through your work?

AD: It would be foolish to think people know something about my life from what they see on social media, wouldn’t it? I know we all know this, yet at the same time we look for insights into someone’s life when engaging with them on these platforms. I’ve been less active while writing this book because I haven’t felt like social media has helped with the questions I’m interested in asking right now, as a writer, or the life I want to live as a person. I like Instagram because it serves as a kind of repository of ideas for me. You can see where poems like the ones I wrote about JFK, Jr. and Lindsay Lohan started. I mostly post on Instagram because I’m interested in remembering what I was looking at or what I was reading and when and where exactly. It’s a bit like a writer’s graveyard. My friends find this a bit annoying but I usually post a photo and then delete the app from my phone right after because I don’t care to engage with likes or comments, etc. For me Instragram feels like a creative space. And I want it to stay that way, which means a certain amount of not paying attention. Like how a poem happens: purposeful inattention. As far as my social media being personal, if someone is interested in that side of me, read the poems. Maybe it’s there. 

 

If you’d like, shoot us a question to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.

AD: I always want to know what people have for breakfast and dinner. Also, what they think about when taking a bath.

 

 

*** 

 

Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbook Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015). His recent work appears in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Iowa Review, Sixth Finch, Colorado Review, Best New Poets 2014, and Indiana Review, among others. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the Bucknell University Stadler Center for Poetry, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal. He lives in Philadelphia, where he is an undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania. Find him online at www.peterlaberge.com.

 

Audrey Zhao is a senior at Marin Academy, in San Rafael, California. She was a poetry mentee in the 2015 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and you can find her work in Words Dance. Audrey’s interests outside of writing include texting back in a timely fashion, booping dogs’ noses, and coffee (yes, she is That Hipster complaining about hipster coffee in hipster San Francisco coffee shops). Her favorite chess tournament is the Mechanics’ Institute’s Tuesday Night Marathon. 

 


Conversations with Contributors: Janine Joseph (Issue 13, Poetry) by Aidan Forster

Next up in our Conversations with Contributors series is Issue 13 contributor Janine Joseph in conversation with Audrey Zhao. Read on to see what she has to say about citizenship, teaching, and poetry.

"Sausalito Harbor" by Anton Zhou (Adroit Journal, Issue 13)

"Sausalito Harbor" by Anton Zhou (Adroit Journal, Issue 13)

 

Audrey Zhao, Blog Correspondent: We asked our last contributor interviewed, sam sax, to come up with a question for you! So, to start: Do you have any bizarre writing habits? // What's the strangest way a poem has come to you?

Janine Joseph: Sometime after I learned I was undocumented, I stopped keeping a journal and grew suspicious of any prose that might 'out' me. Not long after, I stopped jotting down ideas for poems, lest they be mistaken for 'confessions' if I ever lost my notepad. Being afraid of unfinished drafts, I suppose, changed the writing habits I developed when I was gifted my first journal in 1990.

I trained my ear, instead, to listen carefully for a line or for the rhythm of a line that might start a poem. For me, there is no evidence of the poem until I hear a line correctly. The line becomes an earworm. Once it's there, I don't stop writing until I get a complete first draft. Sometimes this takes four hours, sometimes eight. Sometimes more.

Once, while I was opening the passenger side door of a friend's car, I thought I heard The Eagles' "Hotel California" come on the radio. At the time, it was a song I loathed. Though this moment does not describe the strangest way a poem has come to me, it does describe how the speaker of the poems in Driving Without a License first came to me many, many years ago.

 

AZ: As a librettist, do you believe reading aloud a poem gives it a new dimension that cannot be found from just reading it on the page?

JJ: For me, absolutely, but I write with my ears. To say that I am a noisy writer would be an understatement. I read aloud every word I put on a line and will repeat what words I do have until I hear the next phrase. 

If my computer were a piano, imagine me sitting for hours, fingering the same handful of keys, my head at a tilt. 

I can say, though, that composing text this way has helped me to be aware of what words sound and feel like in a mouth. When writing a libretto, I have to know whether or not a word can be gracefully sung. Froyo, I learned, can. 

 

AZ: What is your favorite thing about being an English professor?

JJ: Witnessing the exact moment when a student is deeply moved by a poem.

 

AZ: Recently, you published essays that address the reality of being an undocumented citizen in the United States. Your poem, You Lie, in our last issue (found herealso deals with the subject of immigration. What is your stance on writing, especially creative writing, being used as a form of activism?

JJ: While I don't think creative writing should be used simply/only as a means to an end, and I certainly face the page with only the making of a poem in mind, this quote does speak to me—and often:

 

AZ: Can you tell us a bit about your forthcoming collection, Driving without a License (Alice James Books, 2016), which won the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize?

JJ: Driving without a License follows, over a twenty-year period, an immigrant speaker from the Philippines living in America without proper legal documentation.

Driving without a License, too, is about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Miss Piggy. It is about swearing into freezers and arm wrestling. It is about earthquakes and snakes. Skulls. Having dark hair. It is about paper lanterns, freight cars, and Unsolved Mysteries. It is about beagles and squid ink. It is about dynamite. About what to do with a bar of soap meant to bleach your skin. It is about California on fire and crossing the ocean with Amelia Earhart. It is about dunes that are haunted and friends who can’t keep secrets. It is about cousins and brothers. Childhood friends. About saving quarters for Scratchers and Astro Pops. It is about twenty years of waiting.

Driving without a License contains a sonnet crown, a ghazal, a sestina in couplets, and a villanelle.

It began as a novel(!).

 

AZ: You said Driving without a License started as a novel. How did it evolve into a collection of poems?

JJ: I found out that I was undocumented during my senior year of high school—the same year the first iteration of the DREAM Act failed to pass—so graduation was a devastating event. I was a college-bound valedictorian with dreams of double majoring in English and Business, but with no financial aid and, well, no documents. The summer that followed was one Bon voyage! after another as my friends moved away and I stayed behind. At the time, I was working at a local pizza place and patrons who knew me would ask, “Why are you still here?” I decided two things then: 1. I would enroll at the local community college, and 2. I would write a novel because, as they say, I had a story to tell. Never mind that I spent all of my high school years writing poetry.

Sitting down to write a novel because I had a story to tell was my first mistake. Seventy plus pages in, I realized that I couldn’t tell the story I wanted to tell. Worse, I started the only way I knew: by trying to write a linear narrative with a clear beginning, middle, and end about an experience that contained anything but. The plot line, in never moving forward, flatlined, and I didn’t know what to do next because it was my first attempt at writing in an unfamiliar genre. And because few people knew about my legal status, I didn’t ask for feedback or help. I went back to writing poems that resisted and distrusted their readers.

The summer before I transferred from Riverside City College to UC Riverside, I saved up what money I could to attend the Idyllwild Arts Summer Writers Week. There, I listened to Cecilia Woloch and Natasha Trethewey talk about the long poem and linked poems. I returned to my assigned dorm room and read Tsigan: The Gypsy Poem and Bellocq’s Ophelia. There, I learned what a poem could do and what a group of poems could do together. I started over, and every new poem I wrote called for and on another. Many years later, that dialogue between poems began to shape itself into a story, a manuscript. 

 

AZ: As you know, many of our readers are younger. Do you have any advice regarding submissions?

JJ: I come from a long line of teachers who advised me to keep my finished poems in a drawer for a year before sending them out for consideration. While I don’t know if I’ve ever deliberately held onto a poem for that long, I do know that there is wisdom in waiting. Be patient—with yourself, with the work, and with the evolution of the work. Remember that a piece can live a very long life on the internet. Submit only when the work is ready. When you are ready.

 

AZ: Give us a question to ask during our next Conversation with a Contributor.

JJ: What would you write as the first line/sentence of the poem/story titled, “The Fifth and Only Body”?

***

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016), winner of the 2014 Kundiman Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Best American Experimental Writing 2015The Kenyon Review OnlineHyphenThe JournalDrunken BoatBest New Poets 2009Zócalo Public Square, and elsewhere. Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera (HGOco) stage include From My Mother's Water and On This Muddy Water. She holds an MFA from New York University, and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. Janine is an Assistant Professor of English at Weber State University. Learn more at www.janinejoseph.com.

Audrey Zhao is a senior at Marin Academy, in Safael California. She was a poetry mentee in the 2015 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and you can find her work in Words Dance. Audrey's interest outside of writing include texting  back in a timely fashion, booping dogs' noses, and coffee (yes, she is That Hipster complaining about hipster coffee in hipster San Francisco coffee shops). Her favorite chess tournament is the Mechanics' Institute's Tuesday Night Marathon.

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Prose Editor named 2016 Rhodes Scholar! by Peter LaBerge

via Facebook.

via Facebook.

Congratulations to University of Virginia senior Russell Bogue, recently named a 2016 Rhodes Scholar! From 2012-2014, while a student at Choate Rosemary Hall and U.Va, Russell (known affectionately by the staff as "Rusty") served as a Prose Editor for The Adroit Journal. He intends to complete a M.Phil. in Political Theory at Oxford.

While serving on staff, Russell was also named a 2012 United States Presidential Scholar for Academics and a University of Virginia Anson M. Beard Jr. Jefferson Scholar, among many other distinctions. Since his Adroit days, Russell has founded a journal of politics at U.Va called Seriatim Journal, and has been awarded a Harry S. Truman Scholarship. See below for his full biographical statement, released yesterday from the Rhodes Scholar Program.

Click here to read an interview Russell conducted with acclaimed poet Diane Glancy, as part of The Adroit Journal's fifth issue. Below, watch Russell read poems by Kay Ryan and Adroit contributors Shelley Whitaker, Matthew Rohrer, and Phillip B. Williams during The Adroit Journal's reading at the 2013 New York City Poetry Festival, which he co-ran with fellow Prose Editor (and U.Va. student) Elizabeth Ballou. 

Congratulations, Rusty!

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets the 2016 YoungArts Awards! by Peter LaBerge

"Escape from Earth," by Alexander Zhang, 2015 YoungArts Finalist for Photography.

"Escape from Earth," by Alexander Zhang, 2015 YoungArts Finalist for Photography.

Congratulations to all of the wonderful teenage writers and artists recognized in the 2016 YoungArts Awards! The Adroit Journal would like to extend an extra welcome to Adroit-affiliated 2016 Winners: 

Carissa Chen (2015 YoungArts Finalist for WRITING — Poetry
Phillips Exeter Academy | Exeter, New Hampshire
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Finalist in PHOTOGRAPHY 

Lindsay Emi
Viewpoint School | Calabasas, California
Summer Mentee (Fiction) | Finalist in WRITING — Creative Nonfiction

Ava Goga
Robert McQueen High School | Reno, Nevada
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Finalist in WRITING — Poetry

Isabella Nilsson
Hathaway Brown School | Shaker Heights, Ohio
Prose Editor | Finalist in WRITING — Short Story

Rachel Page
Woodrow Wilson Sr. High School | Washington, D.C. 
Prose Contributor | Finalist in WRITING — Short Story

* * * 

Griffin Blue Fay
Orange County School of the Arts | Santa Ana, California
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Honorable Mention in WRITING — Poetry

Michal Leibowitz
Yeshiva University High School | Hollis, New York
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Honorable Mention in WRITING — Poetry

Frani O'Toole
Latin School of Chicago | Chicago, Illinois
Prose Contributor | Honorable Mention in WRITING — Short Story

Matthew Ridley
Northeast High School | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Poetry Reader | Honorable Mention in WRITING — Poetry

Erin Stoodley
El Camino High School | Ventura, California
Poetry Contributor | Honorable Mention in WRITING — Poetry

 

* * * 

Carissa Chen (2015 YoungArts Finalist for WRITING — Poetry)
Phillips Exeter Academy | Exeter, New Hampshire
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Merit Award for VISUAL ARTS

Griffin Blue Fay
Orange County School of the Arts | Santa Ana, California
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Merit Award for WRITING — Spoken Word

Allison Huang 
The Lawrenceville School | Lawrenceville, New Jersey
Poetry Reader | Merit Award for WRITING — Poetry 

Brynne Rebele-Henry
Homeschooled | Richmond, Virginia
Summer Mentee (Poetry) & Blog Correspondent | Merit Award for WRITING — Novel Selection

Erintrude Wrona
South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts & Humanities | Greenville, South Carolina
Summer Mentee (Poetry) | Merit Award for WRITING — Creative Nonfiction 

Staff Spotlight: Aline Dolinh, Poetry Reader by Peter LaBerge

via Facebook.

via Facebook.

BY PETER LABERGE & VICTORIA LACH

Here at The Adroit Journal, we care a great deal about engaging with writers we consider to be on the horizon of tomorrow's poetry, creative prose, and art. This month, check out our staff spotlight, Poetry Reader & Summer Poetry Mentor Aline Dolinh, and feel optimistic about the future of writing. We certainly do. 

*** 

First off, let’s kick things off simple: What got you into writing, and—more specifically—what drew you into writing poetry?

Aline Dolinh, Poetry Reader: As cliché as it sounds, I’ve loved to write as long as I’ve been alive. I think it stems from an almost neurotic need to narrativize my life, to keep from forgetting. When I was in elementary school, I was always trying (and failing) to start a diary; I was too much of a perfectionist to chronicle my life without adding some overarching narrative structure, so I couldn’t even write something like “I went on a field trip today!” without editorializing the experience. It was definitely obnoxious for my teachers. But even when I had ideas for stories, I could never bring my prose pieces to satisfying conclusions. In poetry, I found something more akin to myself — the poetry I encountered was hungrier, sharper-edged, and more urgent. As an incredibly detail-oriented person, I loved the deliberateness of verse.

 

You’ve been on the staff of The Adroit Journal for a while now. What has been your favorite part of the whole experience, and why?

AD: I know it sounds embarrassingly sentimental (granted, I’m embarrassingly sentimental in general), but the being able to immerse myself in such an incredible community of writers has been phenomenal! I absolutely loved being a poetry mentor for the journal's Summer Mentorship Program. I’d never had the chance to personally work with a small group of poets for an extended period of time, especially in a mentoring capacity. I got to befriend and bounce ideas off a lot of people I would never talked to otherwise, and the atmosphere was unbelievably welcoming and collaborative. 

 

The mentorship is the best! Speaking of craft, how would you say you find that first spark that ignites a piece? With what do you read, experience, imagine, or otherwise engage? 

AD: For me, inspiration is wildly erratic. I can go for days without being able to write anything new, but then unleash a veritable deluge of words at three in the morning after the most arbitrary spark — for example, a surreal dream or a certain word popping into my head. I envy those responsible, methodical people that can write on schedule!

In my experience, I get my best ideas extremely late at night; there’s a slightly bizarre, unhinged quality to those hours that lends itself well to inspiration and prolific word vomit, when elements ranging from a line from a Gilmore Girls episode to a Wikipedia odyssey on obscure, clandestine CIA projects suddenly seem like they’re bursting with artistic potential. I’m not sure if I would recommend this method to anyone else, though — I’m not even sure if it’s a good method, but it’s how my brain works.

 

That's the way all the best writing tips are! This is perhaps more of a conceptual question, but do you find yourself writing more to say something to a reader or to say something to yourself?

AD: I think of my work as a way to record and remember, which could be why I always find myself writing with an audience in mind. I’ve written countless pieces that have not (and probably should not) see the light of day, but even those I regard with the self-conscious, categorizing mentality of an archivist or curator.

There’s a term I love, “poetry of witness,” that Carolyn Forché helped bring into the popular lexicon; it describes work that blurs the delineations between what’s considered personal and political. I once listened to a lecture by her where she described writing as a way to “speak through time,” to be “conversant with the centuries,” and I wholeheartedly believe in that. I can only hope my writing becomes part of a time-spanning conversation. The poems I wrote when I was fourteen seem cringeworthy now, but I’m glad they exist — they’re affirmations of my embryonic teenage emotions, in all their petty, uneven glory, and they’re memorials of my past self. To me, all stories are important — even a recollection as seemingly trivial as, say, the electricity in brushing ankles with a boy I once had a crush on, seems invaluable with the distance of time. 

As a writer, I’m also fascinated by historiography, the way the same people become saintly or demonic depending on who you listen to, how a single event can be observed through a thousand different prisms. I love history — I’d love to try my hand at writing nonfiction or biography someday — and I think it’s because it’s a reminder that whoever holds the (proverbial) pen is the one with the power. Being able to write one’s own experiences confers a certain degree of agency, even defiance, especially for someone like me — as an Asian-American teenage girl, I’m acutely conscious of the relative silence that those similar to me have possessed throughout history. Maybe the reason I’m so viciously determined to articulate my memories is because I’m trying to compensate for thousands of years of forgetting.

 

You, of course, are still a student at Oakton High School in Virginia. I can imagine that serving as National Student Poet as part of the Class of 2013 [alongside Adroit Prose Reader Nathan Cummings!] was an introduction to entirely unexplored contexts and worlds. How do you think that sudden development affected your understanding and production of poetry? How did it affect how you viewed yourself as a writer?

AD: The National Student Poets Program validated me in more ways than one. There was definitely a heady, whirlwind-like aspect to it, especially when I realized I had to go from the White House back to my sophomore English class. The process more or less forced me to become a more confident and assertive writer — somewhere in between emailing countless organizations explaining that, yes, this fourteen-year-old girl wanted to lead a poetry workshop with them and constantly having to explain why I liked poetry so much to fairly jaded peers, I figured I needed to stop selling myself short.

2013 & 2014 National Student Poets gather. Pictured are Prose Reader Julia Falkner (3rd from left), Previous Prose Reader Nathan Cummings (2nd from right), and Poetry Reader Aline Dolinh (furthest right). 

2013 & 2014 National Student Poets gather. Pictured are Prose Reader Julia Falkner (3rd from left), Previous Prose Reader Nathan Cummings (2nd from right), and Poetry Reader Aline Dolinh (furthest right). 

Going off of that, were there ever times during your post that you felt out of your element as a high school student in the ‘professional’ literary world? 

AD: I definitely think my initial fourteen-year-old self would have been the poster girl for impostor syndrome! I was the youngest of a group where everyone else was (at the time) a high school senior, but we clicked immediately, and being able to feel like I was part of a cohesive team was fantastic. I owe a lot to having that support system to fall back on. In a way, the fact that I’d been shouldered with so much newfound authority while also being the “baby” of the group made me more driven. I deeply feared being seen as the weak link, but as I became more self-assured, that fear eventually evolved into an energy to throw as much of myself as I could into poetry. 

 

Of course, all of this was back in 2013 and 2014. What have you been up to since? What in the world is on tap for Aline Dolinh?

AD: With that lead-in, I’m afraid my answer is going to sound anticlimactic! As of right now, a distressingly large portion of my creative energy has been funneled into college essays. However, I’m always trying to push myself out of my writing comfort zone, so I’ve just started working on a poetry portfolio centered on the nature of historiography and memory, as well as a one-act play about the Cold War and covert space militarization schemes (I know, it sounds like riveting stuff). Also, as weird as it sounds, I've been basically exclusively listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat for the past month — it has my inner historian swooning, and it makes me feel guilty whenever I’m not writing.

 

And, lastly, name your biggest literary pet peeve. (We all have them!)

AD:  I think the idea that more impassive, objective writing is somehow “better” or more substantial than writing about one’s lived experiences or emotions is garbage. With the rise of social media, platforms for young, marginalized voices have grown — and I think there’s been a bit of backlash against these literary gatekeepers, as this is a generation that hasn't necessarily been bred by the (largely white and affluent) academy.

I get that most teenage poets aren’t going to be as focused or technically flawless — but the kids who are prolific writers on Tumblr or social justice-oriented slam poets aren’t less legitimate artists because of their chosen medium or method of delivery. The fact that poetry is becoming more accessible should be celebrated, not lamented.

*** 

Aline Dolinh is a student at Oakton High School, where she serves as the poetry editor for her the literary magazine OPUS. On a national level, she has won Gold and American Voices Medals in Poetry from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. She also served as the 2013-14 National Student Poet for the Southeast, during which time she taught free poetry workshops to audiences ranging from non-native English speakers to elementary school students to her own classmates. Last summer, Aline mentored high school students through the 2015 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and currently serves as a Poetry Reader for The Adroit Journal

 

Peter LaBerge is the author of the chapbook Hook (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2015), recently recommended for inclusion on the American Library Association's Over the Rainbow List. His recent work appears or will soon appear in Beloit Poetry Journal, The Iowa Review, Sixth Finch, Colorado Review, Best New Poets 2014, and Indiana Review, among others. He is the recipient of a fellowship from the Bucknell University Stadler Center for Poetry, and the founder and editor-in-chief of The Adroit Journal. He lives in Philadelphia, where he is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania. Find him online at www.peterlaberge.com. 

 

Victoria Lach is a senior at Princeton Day School. Both her poetry and prose have been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, Teen Ink, the Arts Council of Princeton, and Brilliant Flash Fiction. She was selected to attend the Juniper Institute for Young Writers and also won an award that allowed her to participate in Putney's Writing in Prague course over the summer. She enjoys re-reading Slaughterhouse Five and dancing.

Rapid Review: On Anders Carlson-Wee's "Dynamite" by Aidan Forster

By Francine Conley, Guest Reviewer.  

***

            Anders Carlson-Wee’s newly published and thoroughly engaging chapbook, DYNAMITE, gives heart to the art of concealment.   A winner of the 2015 winner of the Frost Place Chapbook competition, the nineteen poems included in this vibrant collection reveal much by restraint.  The poems are riveting and action-driven, showcasing a bold new voice of a spiritual insomniac who trespasses danger, willingly, and—at times—playfully.

            The title poem “Dynamite” opens the book on hazardous fun between brothers who view nature as artillery.  Pinecones are grenades, and pine sticks are rifles.  But when his brother disappears and reappears with a bloody nose and a real hammer in his hand, the stakes are raised, and we don’t know what to expect next. 

            Indeed, each poem that follows “Dynamite” carries a degree of menace and suspense, delving into familial bonds (especially brother-brother and father-son) and beyond.  We learn about the formative years of a poet who spent much of his youth wandering from home, exploring yards, hopping trains, dumpster diving, and hitchhiking.  This wandering unleashes language and insight, as well as a degree of concealment, from hiding in train cars to dumpsters.  Even the wounds of others the poet encounters are hiding places that help him access the language of compassion and comparison.  He lets others speak, almost as a way of understanding his reason for being.  But as much as Carlson-Wee advances the chapbook’s themes in each poem, he crafts distance as measure in style and subject matter, as if to withhold or prevent explosion.  There is no end in this book; there is only journey.

            On a stylistic level, Carlson-Wee is a deeply curious poet.  He exploits muscled and sonically dexterous language, and shift points of view effortlessly.  He wields sentence fragments like choke chains, such as in a wonderfully short-tempered poem, “Northern Corn,” which carries the rhythm of passing train cars.  End-stopped, unruly and abrupt, each line reads like a measured burst, felt best in the portrait of a ninety-year old father sketched this way: “The size of his hands. / The size of one finger. / The flathead prairie of his calloused / thumbpad.” Such fragments fall down like sacks of flour from a train car and beyond; we find compound words that enhance the tonal compactness of the poems in which they appear.  This is bulk realism.  This is the mind of a bona fide survivor with a less-is-more approach: coal-dust, wind-eddies, blue-faded are expressions, that recall Gilbert or Larkin’s influence, while showing Carlson-Wee’s comfort with both depth and obscurity.  He is terribly insightful of the protective mechanisms by which we (and he) abides. 

            Two standout poems showcase the art of concealment.  In “Moorcroft” the speaker chances an overnight stay in the home of one who admits a past murder, and adds of his heinous act: “I wouldn’t change it.”  A parallel is drawn between the yoke of one man’s violence and the continued but unspoken menace the book’s opening poem ignites.  Why share this story?  The man concludes, “Family is family,” before he brings the poet “clean sheets for my bed.”  So the hardness of one tale juxtaposed with another lets the reader into what inspires this writer into danger, as much as the soft shell of a bed in which he’ll sleep so close to danger. 

            This is a poet willing to risk his life in order to get closer to what hurts inside himself and others.  “Gathering Firewood on Tinpan” might be about gathering wood, but the imagined father and the tender tension felt in the image of his “folded hands,” is interrupted by an abrupt, declarative fragment that speaks deeper: “My brother and the ways I burden him.” Again, Carlson-Wee exposes the double bind that familial bonds necessitate, and how these attachments between men magnify once out in the world.

            To that end, “Shoalwater” is an aria and one of the most complex, nimbly constructed, and important pieces in the chapbook.  A hybrid form that interweaves his past with an external landscape, this poem articulates beautifully how the external shapes the internal:

Waves grind the shoreline and darken into pools.
Crabs shuffle sideways, lost in the washed-up eelgrass.
Seagulls spit littleneck clams to the rocks
and don’t even eat the shattered bodies. 

            Carlson-Wee’s use of nouns—waves, pools, crabs, eelgrass, seagulls, and littleneck clams—intensifies the interdependence between all moving parts.  Yet, the assertive verbs (grind, darken, shuffle, spit) view menace in love’s rare movements that surround the speaker, and furthermore, the tension of the unspoken is palpably felt in such modifications as darken, crabs shuffle sideways.  Love shuffles in the dark, is lost and guarded, and then flares as it does in a dream in which his brother appears and disappears from his gaze, as if a reverse Orpheus.  Feeling is camouflaged in all things until some force comes along and breaks us open:  “We leak every time / we are opened.  Out beyond the waves, / love says the same of itself.” 

            What follows is a striking reverberation as the speaker walks down the beach and throws stones at water.  As if out there love necessitates an act of aggression, like in the opening poem, “Dynamite,” to shape itself into words.  When he spots a seagull drop a clam against a rock, he notices how it shatters as much as he names the bird’s unabashed disregard for its insides.  The horrified innards sit exposed on a rock, but what holds our attention is less the breaking than the moment before the clam’s shield shatters, before the deed is done.  Violence comes before the act, in other words, and for this reader, such unique insight intensifies the book’s thematic pursuits. 

Love is a clamshell’s first touch against rock,
whatever tenderness can be found
in that contact before the crack.  It’s been years
since I was last out on the water.  The night sky tightens
like that familiar mouth.

“The thud of a body surrounded by hollow” reveals the sound love makes in the absence of feeling, and then a moment in which the speaker offers a rare admonition: “It’s been years / since I was last out on the water.”  The night sky “tightens,” like his brother’s familiar mouth.  So much is suggested in silence, in so little space.

            Dynamite is thus a dynamic exploration of restraint, and evidence of how physical every feeling can be contained and distilled.  The body appears everywhere in the book, but in “Shoalwater” it’s as indecisive as shoreline water, as breakable as the shell seems firm before it’s dropped.  “This is the best we can do,” Carlson-Wee writes.  So we commit heinous acts, but we survive by being resolutely vulnerable.

            Standing at the edge affords Carlson-Wee his own education, or how he was trained to see by standing apart and listening: “Listening to a Rail in Mandan” ends the chapbook not at a shoreline but “at the edge of the brake” where the speaker listens for the sound of oncoming trains. Where others failed to see, this speaker ironically learned how to observe, as he continues to do: “No stars tonight.  No fire.  No brother by the junkers awaiting my call. / No father walking toward me.”

            Closure comes as the speaker admits he learned to note what’s been lost and overlooked. Surely the brother and father are measurements of the speaker’s identity, but their absence in the last poem signals a vital shift, as if alone this speaker can no longer hide.  The formative relationships of his youth are gone: he can only be a witness to himself. 

 

***

 

Anders Carlson-Wee is a 2015 NEA Creative Writing Fellow, 2015 Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow, and the author of Dynamite, winner of the 2015 Frost Place Chapbook Competition. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative, New England Review, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, AGNI, Best New Poets, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading series. Winner of Ninth Letter's Poetry Award and New Delta Review's Editors' Choice Prize, he holds an MFA in poetry from Vanderbilt University.  His poem, “Leaving Fargo,” will appear in the Spring 2016 issue of The Adroit Journal.

 

Francine Conley has a chapbook, How Dumb the Stars (Parallel Press, 2001).  Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in American Literary Review, Juked, Paris-Atlantic, Shadowgraph Magazine, Asteri(x) Journal, Naugatuck Review, Hartskill Review, and New England Review, among others.  She holds an MFA from Warren Wilson.  For more on her art: http://francineconley.com 

 

CALL FOR MENTORS: The Adroit Journal's Summer 2016 Mentorship Program by Peter LaBerge

CALL FOR MENTORS

            Though writing can be a solitary experience—necessarily one so, at times—communities of mutual support can grow, shape, and sustain artists and artistic creation. Through dialogue and feedback, writers can hone their visions and voices. These ideas are fundamental to The Adroit Journal’s Annual 2016 Summer Mentorship Program.

            The idea of Mentorship is as ancient as writing. Now in its fourth year, The Adroit Journal’s Summer 2016 Mentorship Program will take this ancient idea of Mentorship and weave it through a 21st century platform, where experienced writers work with high school writers online via tools in a structured, supported format. This year, the journal is open to Mentor applications in one or more of the following genres: poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, which may optionally include journalism

            The Adroit Journal is pleased to invite experienced writers with strong publication records to apply to be Mentors for the summer 2016 program. Mentors will work with the Program Director (Douglas Ray), Editor-in-Chief (Peter LaBerge), and Managing Editor (Lucia LoTempio) in selecting two high school students with whom to work over a span of six weeks, from late June to early August.

"Hearing Color" by Olga Belyanina (The Adroit Journal, Issue 11)

"Hearing Color" by Olga Belyanina (The Adroit Journal, Issue 11)

            Mentors must be at least eighteen years of age, and may be previously affiliated or unaffiliated with The Adroit Journal. The ideal Mentor is organized, knowledgeable about either contemporary poetry or prose, and able to work well with others, and plans to be reachable for the duration of the program. The ideal Mentor has experience in the classroom with creative writing, whether as a student, as a teacher/professor, or as both. If selected to participate in the program, Mentors may create an original syllabus, use one of three syllabus models provided by the Program Director, or use an outside syllabus. 

            To apply to be a Mentor, submit a current curriculum vitae and a statement of interest detailing why you’re interested in this program. Applications should be uploaded here: https://adroit.submittable.com/submit/48884.

            The deadline for Mentor applications is Tuesday, January 19th at 11:59 p.m EST. Mentors will be selected by mid-February at the latest.

 

            The Mentees will go through a competitive application process; applications for Mentees will open in February. Here’s what past previous summer Mentees have said about the program:

 

"This mentorship program was truly a remarkable experience. Not only were the mentors and mentees professional and thorough, they were open-minded to my ideas and ideologies, my beliefs and personal predilections. They didn’t rewrite my work for me but pushed me towards discovery and revision through their thought-provoking questions about imagery, form, and syntax." 

-Alex Greenberg, New York (USA), 2015 Mentee 

 

"Besides learning to experiment with the technical elements of poetry, I also learned to find inspiration for writing all around me. It wasn’t too hard to find some in the work of my peers and mentors, who constantly amazed me with their passion and skill. ... This summer, I learned that life is imbued with poetry — you just have to see it."

-Jamie Uy, Singapore, 2015 Mentee 

 

For more information:

Visit the Summer Mentorship Program.

Learn More about The Adroit Journal.

Please direct any additional questions to the Editors at editors@theadroitjournal.org.

 

Feminist Fridays: "Men Try To Make Me Disappear" by Brynne Rebele-Henry by Aidan Forster

"Looking for Warm Places in Cold People" by Antonio Estevez (The Adroit Journal, Issue 12)

"Looking for Warm Places in Cold People" by Antonio Estevez (The Adroit Journal, Issue 12)

***

The patriarchy engages in a systematic erasure of women’s work and identities.

Men often change, censor, or erase the words, experiences, opinions, orientations, rights, personalities, bodies, and work of women, in a pattern that has become ingrained in our society. Sometimes these erasures are relatively benign and sometimes they aren’t.

 

On December 8, 2014, I ceased to exist. I submitted my manuscript, Fleshgraphs (a hybrid book in fragments that rotate around the unifier of the body), to Tarpaulin Sky Press. Upon reading it, the “man behind the curtain” at the press decided that I was not real. The book references sex, drugs, rape culture, self-harm, violence, bigotry, depression, and PTSD among other things. He initially sent an email in which he pretended to be interested in my manuscript:

 

Well, Brynne, this text looks amazing. … I would love to know more about this project. It’s definitely in the top ten things I’ve read in the last few days, and I’m not supposed to be reading any of it, just cataloging it. But that’s the problem with the good stuff. Throws everything off. Displaces time. That said, if you are actually fourteen I may either 1) just kill myself now or 2) make a pilgrimage to study, if not worship, at your feet.

 

Thinking he was genuinely interested in my book, I replied enthusiastically, confirming that I had recently turned fifteen and I had my parents’ permission to publish my work. I also explained the intent behind Fleshgraphs:

 

As for the project, it is supposed to be a multi-voiced manifesto of the body, as well as a sort of unifier since every person has a body. The voices are supposed to meld the trivial with the suicidal, the amazing with the horrifying, kind of like the internet does. I’ve always found it really intriguing that you can watch a video of baby pandas and then see footage of people being stabbed a few seconds later.

 

 

I closed my email “Again, thank you for the response! I’m so glad that you like the piece!” This was my first time sending a manuscript for consideration and my first book contest entry. I chose Tarpaulin Sky because I had read some of the genre-bending books that the press had published and because the press seemed to support female writers. I assumed his interest was sincere, and I was excited.

 

But then, I received the following email:

 

I tried to play along and be funny like a normal person—or perhaps I should say “like a typical middle-class artist/author who knows trauma only from stuff they read and appropriate in an effort to appear edgy or provocative or as if they have something of weight to discuss, in contrast to their boring, privileged lives”—but neither chatting with teens nor pretending to chat with teens is a welcome activity for me, let alone when the alleged teen’s MS involves rape and torture.

 

I want to believe that you’re merely oblivious to what I’ve been through, rather than *trying* to trigger my issues.

 

If either Brian or Tara [my parents] wants to contact me, I’d welcome some clarity, because I feel sick. Otherwise I’m done.

 

 

And then I received another email twenty minutes later:

 

Also: if you were at all familiar with our catalog, you’d know that some of our titles deal head-on with sexual assault, even child sexual assault. And I publish these books not only because the texts are great but I publish them also because they help ME work through this shit.

 

But for you to think that an author-publisher relationship can itself be a performance piece? I mean, what the fuck are you smoking? Like I’m even going to pretend to publish a 15-yr-old even if you weren’t fucking with my issues left, right, and center.

 

I replied, trying to clarify my intentions:

 

I apologize if my manuscript triggered you. Until you sent me your first email, I didn’t know anything about you personally, so I wouldn’t know what issues you have or how to trigger them. If you publish things to help you work through your issues, you should mention that on your web site, or perhaps include a note about the type of content you do not wish to receive. My work and interaction with your press has been by no means a performance. In my work, I try to portray the human body, and the things people with bodies (especially women) experience, which sometimes include rape and other horrific things, regardless of age. I am a young woman who lives in a world that is rampant with psychos and rape culture. I am not sure why, if you did not feel comfortable talking with a teenager, you would have sent me an enthusiastic email about my manuscript when you were aware of my age. I have published in other places that have always treated me and my work very professionally. I do not want to be contacted by you/Tarpaulin Sky again.

 

 

But he continued to email me:

 

You’re seriously going to keep up this charade?

 

At least Brian should know enough about TS to know that there is no “content we don’t wish to receive.” Our books peel the paint off the walls. We make a point of it. Which is why I took notice of your manuscript.

 

Don’t confuse the issue: which is that you’re playing “pretend” with your own teen daughter, and apparently won’t cop to it for anything.

 

It was funny the first time. But when you wrote back and *continued* to play pretend, it wasn’t funny.

 

And now it’s plain creepy.

 

Why don’t you two just tell me what's going on—its not beyond explaining, for crying out loud—Instead of making me have to ask thousands of readers what the fuck your problem is?

 

Rather than confront his own biases about the abilities of young women and what, in his eyes, would have constituted appropriate or believable subject matter and concerns for young women who write, the editor just decided that I didn’t exist, or if I did exist in real life, in this situation it was in name only.  He decided my work must have been a ploy or piece of poorly thought-out performance art on the part of my parents (who are both writers), and he threatened to expose them to his “thousands of readers.” He implied that I (or, my parents, since he had erased me as the author and real, live, woman on the receiving end of his emails), had submitted my book to “fuck” with his “issues.” Even if my manuscript included rape and torture, or was more explicit, would it be so unbelievable that a young woman might choose to write about horrific things that happen to women every day in the world she inhabits? But, in our society, the expected role for a teenaged girl is that of the ingénue (unless or until she is a victim of male violence, and the assumptions and narrative shift dramatically—so the girl, now “mature” and “older than her chronological age,” was assumed to have been in total control of the situation, including her own sexuality and that of her male rapist).

 

The “man behind the curtain” from Tarpaulin Sky Press did apologize to me, after receiving verification from my parents that I am real, that the manuscript I submitted was really my work, and that it had really been me receiving his emails.  However, the assumptions he made about me and my work speak to a much larger issue in our culture—and in most cases there is no acknowledgement that the assumptions were wrong, there is no apology after the fact. In most cases, the erasure or rewriting of women to suit an androcentric narrative is culturally prescribed and upheld—the practice vigorously defended.

 

If a relatively enlightened man, who publishes numerous books by feminist writers, was so quick to erase or rewrite a young woman’s identity to suit his narrative rather than considering hers, then our society, including the literary world, still has a long way to go. 

 

***

Brynne Rebele-Henry’s poetry, fiction, and visual art have appeared in such journals as The VoltaRevolverSouvenirOpen HousePowder KegSo to SpeakPing PongThe Offending Adam and other magazines, and her work is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Pine Hills Review and Denver Quarterly, among other publications. She was born in 1999 and currently lives in Richmond, Virginia.
 

 

Staff Spotlight: A Self-Interview with Audrey Zhao by Aidan Forster

The blog keeps growing and growing! We're thrilled to welcome Audrey Zhao, our new blog correspondent. She is a senior in high school from Marin, California, and interviewed Rebecca Gayle Howell for our thirteenth issue! Get to know her better in this witty self interview.

via Facebook.

via Facebook.

***

So, what’s up?

Hello, my name is Audrey Zhao.

 

Why are you here?

I am introducing myself as a Blog Correspondent of the Adroit blog through a selfterview (clever, right?).

 

Cool, cool. You work for a literary journal. Do you write?

Eh, sometimes.

 

Great. When you do, what do you write about?

I tend to drift towards writing poems about boys, girls, sea monsters, and the ocean.

 

So what catalyzed you to start writing?

I took a poetry class the second semester of my junior year of high school. Then, I participated in Adroit’s Summer Mentorship Program. I met some really incredible people and they continue to inspire me to keep writing.

 

Finding a community of writers has been really important for you.

Yes! Definitely. It keeps me on my writing toes. Special shout out to the Spacetimes.

 

So what do you like to do outside of writing?

I play chess and piano. I like being near the ocean. I enjoy showing up to my loved ones’ things and being the embarrassingly enthusiastic fan.

 

Okay. Aidan asked himself this question so you should answer it, too (check out Aidan’s answer here). Who’s your ideal type?

I get a lot of flack for being a sucker for stellar bone structure, man.

 

Sad, but true. Also, superficial...

I mean, you cut me off there. Anyway, I tend to drift towards types that are passionate about their interests and hobbies. Bonus: responds promptly to texts.

 

“Responds promptly to texts.” Really.

Let me live. We live in a modern age and I am an anxious girl.

 

Moving on. What music are you listening to right now?

Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys.

 

What are you reading?

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, L’Enfante Noire by Camara Laye, Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon, and I am always reading The Atlantic, The Economist, The Paris Review, and Slate.

 

What’s on your ‘To Read’ list?

Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

 

All time favorite book?

1984 by George Orwell. Due for a reread!

 

Guilty pleasure?

Oh, it is definitely eating dairy products because I am lactose intolerant. And eating foods I am mildly allergic to.

 

Dumb.

Life on the edge.

 

Anyway, unsolicited advice?

Do not become attached to intangible things.

***

Audrey Zhao is a high school senior at Marin Academy in northern California. She was a poetry mentee in The Adroit Journal’s 2015 Summer Mentorship Program. Audrey is constantly learning what it means to be ‘Audrey Zhao’ from mistakes/successes, people, events, and herself.

RAISE YOUR GLASS: The Adroit Journal Announces 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominees! by Peter LaBerge

"Underwood" by Itai Almor (The Adroit Journal, Issue Twelve).

"Underwood" by Itai Almor (The Adroit Journal, Issue Twelve).

Each year, the editors are thrilled to nominate six extraordinary works from recent issues for publication in The Pushcart Prize Anthology: Best of the Small Presses. This year witnessed the toughest, most grueling discussion process in the journal's history.

We are enormously proud of these contributions, and wish these contributors the best of luck!

 

Alex Dimitrov, "Cocaine"

I almost believed love then someone new called me
and time’s been repeating. Time’s on like a show.

 

Dennis Hinrichsen, "Nights of Zhivago"

I carry your loneliness inside me like a horse, one
of those trotters from Zhivago...

 

Tyler Mills, "Marie Curie"

Some sentences escape me.
I take the sun and I throw it.

 

sam sax, "fraternity"

& here i am: somewhere
in the middle of my life

 

Alexandra Teague, "The Common Field"

My surname means dweller in the common field,
Irish but true...

 

Ocean Vuong, "Beginnings: New York"

On some nights, when I wasn’t so lucky, I would end up in Penn Station, a major underground railroad station on 34th Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan, right beneath Madison Square Garden. There I would hole up for the night and do my homework or (try) to write poems, often side-by-side with the regulars: homeless men and women who stay at the station for months, even years at a time.

 

Conversations with Contributors: Sam Sax (Issue 13, Poetry) by Aidan Forster

In September, we talked with Issue 12 contributors Brynne Rebele-Henry and Ian Burnette. Next up from Issue 13 is Sam Sax in conversation with Audrey Zhao. Check out their discussion of all things poetry.

Photo by Chris Unguez.

Photo by Chris Unguez.

Audrey Zhao, Blog Correspondent: Let's start with some recommendations. What are some works or authors that have influenced your work?

Sam Sax: The work I'm most influenced by is often the work closest to me. All of the members of my collective, Sad Boy Supper Club, have amazing first books you should be reading now. That's Hieu Minh Nguyen's - This Way to The Sugar (Write Bloody), Danez Smith's [Insert] Boy (YesYesBooks) & Cameron Awkward-Rich's Sympathetic Little Monster (forthcoming from Gold Line Press).

Then there are the books I always (re)turn to when feeling too settled in my own voice. Whenever I read these something new & unexpected comes up through my work. Useless Landscape or A Guide for Boys by DA Powell, Slow Lightning by Eduardo Corral, Our Lady of the Ruins by Traci Brimhall, Water Puppets by Quan Barry. Looking a smidge further back I'm constantly ruined and rebuilt by the poems of Robert Hayden & Robert Hass & Muriel Rukeyser & Audre Lorde & Anne Sexton & also, there's the first poet I loved, who gave me permission to be strange, & queer, & brutally honest in my writing and that's Essex Hemphill. His work showed me a poetry that can hold all of what's possible & most urgent in myself & my best vision for the world. Whenever I'm feeling lost in what it is I'm doing on the page, his poems are the ones I make sure to read.

 

AZ: You are a two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion! What do you think of the Bay Area’s poetry and slam poetry scene?

SS: I’m nothing but grateful to have been a part of that community for as long as I was. I have so much love for everyone laboring for free to build platforms for people to share their poetry. There’s special love to my first coaches & mentors, the poets Mona Webb, Jaylee Alde & Kim Johnson, who paired a focus on written craft with community accountability; an emphasis that your work has consequences in the world, so best be aware & intentional about it.

I moved to Bay after getting off a year long poetry tour & joining a group of energetic writers to be in conversation with has become a really important part of my practice as a writer. After a few years attending the slams & feeling a little stagnant a buddy, Nic Alea, & I started a reading series called The New Sh!t Show, which was a bi-monthly open mic held in an underground [literarily & figuratively] venue in The Mission District, where participants could only read new poems. In running the show we realized that there were so many different divided writing communities alive and working in the Bay Area that were often fragmented around aesthetics & the identity of participants & so we tried to build a space where as many dope writers as possible from various scenes could come & share their work. Since founding, this reading has developed incarnations in four American cities, Boston, Minneapolis, Austin, & San Francisco. 

 

 

AZ: You are now a Poetry Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, so how is the poetry scene different in Austin? What do you think is your “ideal” poetry scene?

SS: It’s a little hard for me to parse the difference between poetry communities, largely because I don’t work as an organizer that much anymore, & because I’m entering Austin’s various lit communities at a later stage in my career as an writer; a bit more sure of my voice & with networks of folks whose poems I already love. I think there are lots of folks doing great work here, but I fear Austin might suffer the fate of many fragmented lit communities that aren’t in conversation with each other. To be honest, the undergrad slam community at UT which I coach has proved to be one of the more vibrant writing spaces I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of here in Texas (which has nothing to do with my coaching). It’s an example of a diverse group of hungry writers gathering weekly to work on their poetry & share work that’s most exciting to them. & for me, that’s at the heart of what makes a good writing community: a place where a wide range of voices all committed to poetry & willing to do the work of poetry & support each other in their writing & non-writing (whatever that is) lives. Community is such a shifting & liminal idea I want to make sure to honor all the one’s I’ve passed through that let me hang out for a spell.

 

AZ: In your interview with Conflict of Interest (found here), you said you invented a boy detective character in order to process your melancholy through your recently published chapbook, sad boy/detective (recipient of the Black Lawrence Chapbook Prize from Black Lawrence Press, 2015). Can you speak on how creating a character added a new dimension to your poetry writing?

SS:  I’m new to this character making business, this fictioneering.  But I think the epigraph, to the chapbook spells out best what was made possible for me with the invention of the ‘sad boy / detective’. It comes from Agatha Christie:

“There is nothing more thrilling, I think, than having a child that is yours and yet is mysteriously a stranger.”

The invention of character is that to me, both something deeply embodied & deeply estranged. Through this new avatar I was freed up a bit around some of the strictures of autobiography. The boy detective isn’t accountable in the same ways that I am, & I don’t mean in terms of representation or engaging with larger structures of power, but rather accountable to the personal relationships in my life, to be held to the facts in order to access what’s most stirring about a certain series of events. When the boy detective falls in love it isn’t with my ex-lover & I don’t have to consider my ex-lover when thinking about the boy’s life. Same goes for his relationship with his parents, or his slow spiral into madness.

 

AZ: Your poems possess a beautiful rhythm and sound. In your opinion, what is the difference between reading a poem and hearing it spoken aloud? Are there facets of poems that can only be appreciated in one of these forms?

SS: Thanks! I’ve always been interested in poems that can devastate on the page, in the ear, & in the mouth, & I try to make work that reverberates across these various modes. Since my roots are in performance poetry I begin each poem with a sound, the impossibility of breath pushing forward from the diaphragm and from there venture to construct poems the listener/reader leaves somehow different from when they came to page. I love the strange intimacy and interiority that is only possible in poetry, what begs you to lean into the haunt, what speaks softly in your ear and makes the hairs on your neck rise to their feet. That being said, I think each media offers a unique opportunity for tweaking the word to let it sing best [on or off the page]. A spoken poem often only has one opportunity to reach its listener, to do its work. I often try to select the poem that will fit best to the space & moment it’s being read in. Whereas the written poem often exists across place & time, something you return to when you decide to bring it back to life.

Eternity
by the late poet Jason Shinder

A poem written three thousand years ago

about a man who walks among horses
grazing on a hill under the small stars

comes to life on a page in a book

and the woman reading the poem,
in the silence between the words,

in her kitchen, filled with a gold, metallic light,

finds the experience of living in that moment
so clearly described as to make her feel finally known

by someone—and every time the poem is read,

no matter her situation or her age,
this is more or less what happens.


Although, I must say the rise of internet videos (shout to Button Poetry, who published my first chapbook) is changing how the performed poem functions in popular consciousness & complicating my ideas about ephemera & how performed poems have a different kind of life. This & the rise of online journals with audio & video components are radically changing the landscape of contemporary poetry. I’ll probably have to revisit all these ideas in a few years, how exciting! 

 

AZ: Your poems also deal with coming of age, especially regarding queerness. Do you have any advice for queer writers, or for those who address/write about queerness?

SS: My investment in the ‘coming of age’ narrative is it’s both an extremely specific & universal moment of self-making in the world. Everyone comes of age, or eventually becomes no longer an infant. & for many, it’s a moment where the internal mechanics of desire or how you see the world are in direct conflict with the violence & institutions of the word. To return to the coming of age narrative in a poem forces a reader to return to their own learned & deeply held beliefs & reconsider them.

On the larger project of queer writing, I see my work as part of long tradition of homosexuals writing their experience dead-on or somehow askance, hidden inside their own text. Some days I feel I can trace my lineage straight back through Catullus’s filthy feather(?) pen. Other times I feel more contemporaneous with houseplants & their sadnessess, with fields of dead automobiles, with a locked up rusted bicycle. 

As far as advice, I’d say write everything & lean into what most terrifies you. Try & focus on what it is about language that brought you to the page to begin with, drag what you’re most afraid of out into the light. & once it’s all there, you can decide what it is that you want to share -- hold on to what would do more damage than good & consider the rest. Incorporate whatever technologies make your voice sing most. Figure out who your poets are, build your own weird lineage, your own personal canon, figure out what speaks to & through you, & enter into that conversation with your own brilliant voice, use it to caress & brutalize & pamper & fuck it up, make something new with all you’ve been given & all you’ve taken as your own. 

 

AZ: Can tell us a bit about your forthcoming chapbook, All the Rage (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016)?

SS: Sibling Rivalry’s doing amazing work in the publishing world at the moment, amplifying necessary queer voices in poetry & filling a necessary void, I’m so glad to be working with them. The press's literary journal, Assaracus, was one of the first journals to take an interest in my work & I’m deeply grateful. The poems that make up this chapbook span & sprawl several subjects, but focus in & around rage, whether it’s tied to police violence, Israeli apartheid, homophobia, or other subject matters. 

 

AZ: We have heard you’re working on some manuscripts—we’re excited! How is that coming?

SS: Exciting indeed! At the moment I’ve got three projects in the works. The first is my finished first book length manuscript called Boys & Bridges, which is a meditation on queer masculinities, architectural violence, and the practice of elegy. The first poem was written after the slew of young gay male suicides in the summer of 2010. The bridge is the central image that ties the collection together and signifies that which is leapt from as well as that which ties two discrete bodies together, both the image of isolation and the structure that makes language possible. It’s been a finalist over at Crab Orchard & YesYesBooks, & hopefully will be out in the world sometime soon.

I’ve got another chapbook manuscript, STRAIGHT, which is a sonnet sequence that looks at addiction & a friend’s overdose & was just a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s chapbook Fellowship.

& I’m currently working on a second full length manuscript project, cause you know, the first book seems like such an insurmountable behemoth sometimes, & I don’t want to not be writing. So this second book is called MADNESS & takes as its subject the history of Western medicine and where it intersects with desire. The poems themselves take various shapes, including titles of antiquated diagnosis, a sequence of essays on quack medical practices, and erasures of the DSM 1 and early psychoanalysis, among others. 

 

AZ: Finally, to cap this off: Give us a question to ask during our next Conversation with Contributor.

SS: Do you have any bizarre writing habits? // What’s the strangest way a poem has come to you? 

 

sam sax is a 2015 NEA Creative Writing Fellow & Poetry Fellow at The Michener Center for Writers, where he serves as the Editor-In-Chief of Bat City Review. He's the two time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion & author of the chapbooks A Guide To Undressing Your Monsters (Button Poetry, 2014), sad boy / detective (Black Lawrence Press, 2015), and All The Rage (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016). His poems are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Boston Review, New England Review, Pleiades, Poetry Magazine, & other journals. 

 

Audrey Zhao is a senior at Marin Academy, in San Rafael, California. She was a poetry mentee in the 2015 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and you can find her work in Words Dance. Audrey’s interests outside of writing include texting back in a timely fashion, booping dogs’ noses, and coffee (yes, she is That Hipster complaining about hipster coffee in hipster San Francisco coffee shops). Her favorite chess tournament is the Mechanics’ Institute’s Tuesday Night Marathon. 

HumanWrites: Interview with Michael Broder, Founder of HIV Here and Now by Aidan Forster

Michael Broder is a Lambda Literary Award finalist and founder of HIV Here + Now, a project that explores the impact of HIV on all of us in the modern world, regardless of age, race, sexuality, gender, or any other category of identity. I was lucky enough to snag him for an interview where we discuss poetry, the project, and his experience with HIV.

Aidan Forster, Assistant Blog Editor: First, tell us a little about yourself. 

 

Michael Broder: I’m a 54 year old gay Jew, second-generation American of Eastern-European descent. Grew up in Coney Island in a Mitchell-Lama co-op apartment complex (New York State government-subsidized housing for low- and middle-income people). I mention this because in the current resurgence of identity politics I think there’s often an assumption that white Jews from New York of my generation (baby boomers, although I’m what I like to call a late boomer, the 1960-64 birth cohort) all grew up with a certain level of socioeconomic as well as white privilege, and that’s not true, at least not the socioeconomic part. I was poor, as were many of my friends, neighbors, and relatives. We didn’t get braces on our teeth. We didn’t go on vacations. We didn’t go to summer camp. I went to New York City public schools. I went to Columbia University on a Pulitzer Scholarship and paid for my room and board with an American Federation of Teachers College Scholarship, and lots of student loans. I studied comparative literature. I spent my 20s studying Latin, Greek, and Biblical Hebrew while failing to establish myself in any kind of sustaining career. Capped that decade off by getting infected with HIV in 1990 at the age of 29. In my 30s I stumbled from nonprofit management to freelance journalism to medical communications, which means helping drug companies market their products through means other than advertising and public relations, such as physician education. A lot of my work in those years had to do with educating physicians and allied healthcare professionals about the new HIV treatments, and it was good, important work that I was proud of. By 2000, the HIV drug market was becoming much more competitive, and the leaders in the field were shifting their resources from education to advertising. The good work that I was proud of, not so much anymore. I had to get out of there. I had to figure out what I was really going to do with my life. So I leveraged my medical communications background to do freelance medical writing that paid the bills (including health insurance, which I could never be without because I needed my HIV meds to stay alive), while getting an MFA in poetry from NYU and finishing a long-abandoned PhD in classics from the CUNY Graduate Center. I tested the waters of an academic career but by this time the economy was tanking, the academic marketplace was shrinking (for full-time, tenure-track jobs, that is, as opposed to adjunct exploitation), classics was a dying field, and nobody wanted to hire an aging fag whose dissertation was on queer kinship and camp aesthetics in the satires of Juvenal. By 2014 I was profoundly depressed, anxious, and insomniac. But through some kind of grace that increasingly appears to be that of The Power That Created the Universe, plus psychotherapy, clonazepam, and citalopram, I clawed my way out of the hole. In 2015 I started a small independent literary press, Indolent Books, and became active in a number of queer, Jewish, and/or literary activities and organizations. And I started the HIV Here & Now Project.

 

AF: What drew you to poetry over anything else?

 

MB: I came late to poetry, as to most things in my life. I’ve written since I was a child, but I was initially drawn to fiction and thought poetry was only something one read if one’s English teacher assigned it. Awful, I know, but that’s how it was. I abandoned creative writing altogether when I was about 18, based on some weird internal homophobia that said, “You only want to write about one thing, Michael, and you know you don’t want to write about that thing because then you won’t be able to keep that thing a secret anymore.” My cover story was that I was more cut out to be a scholar and critic than a novelist. Like my heroes Raymond Williams and Fredric Jameson, I was going to subvert capitalism through literary criticism and cultural theory. I also had this odd idea that if you left the lights on in your dorm room when you went out to see live jazz downtown, that would ultimately bring about the downfall of capitalism through exhausting the energy supply. Needless to say, none of my revolutionary ideas panned out. But when I was about 28, I suddenly felt fiction welling up in me, and I started to write short stories. Not very many of them. I wrote very slowly. Of course, they were all the gay coming of age stories that I had censored myself from writing ten years earlier. Now I could write them from the perspective of a somewhat older first-person narrator who had finally navigated his coming out process. After a while, however, fiction began to feel like lies, and I wanted to write in a different way. So I did, and after a while, I thought, hmm, could this new way of writing be…poetry? And indeed, it was. And that was December 1991. The poem I wrote that month, the first poem I wrote as an adult, when I was already 30 years old, was published in Assaracus, Issue 17, in January 2015 (“Casual, Anonymous”).

 

 

AF: Recently, you’ve been working on the HIV Here and Now Project. What spurred you to start this project? What sort of feedback have you been getting?

 

MB: I was participating in an LGBTQ reading in Minneapolis during AWP in April 2015, and I noticed that a number of the gay male poets, particularly older gay male poets, including me, were reading poems about being long-term survivors of the AIDS epidemic, about being HIV-positive for a very long time, like, 25 years. I think especially of John Medeiros, the Minneapolis poet who helped organize that reading. But there were others, too. And I thought, huh, this isn’t Marie Howe writing about her brother who died of AIDS, or Mark Doty writing about his lover who died of AIDS, or any of the amazing poets in David Groff and Philip Clark’s incredible anthology, Persistent Voices, who wrote about their own experience of AIDS and are now dead (I’m not going to list even a single one because I don’t have room to list them all; just get the book). No, this is something different. This is we, the poets who didn’t die, the poets who lived, and how about that? What’s that like? And that’s when I decided to do the anthology. But at the same time, I decided I wanted huge breadth—not just old fags like me living with HIV for 25 years, but 22 year old kids newly infected, or on PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a pill you take once a day to prevent HIV infection), or not on PrEP and scared shit they’re going to get infected any day now. People of all races, ages, sexes, genders, geographies, HIV statuses. So I got back to Brooklyn after AWP and started getting out the call for submissions and doing a lot of direct, individual solicitations to as many of my poetry friends and acquaintances as I had or could find emails for or reach on Facebook. And some were down with it right away. But a lot of people didn’t understand what the fuck I was talking about, and responded in ways that I found surprising. That’s not a topic I write about. That’s not something that’s part of my experience. I’m flattered, Michael, that you want to include me, but I don’t have any relevant work. So the feedback has been varied and at times I’ve been discouraged and even angry. But it got better over time, especially after I had the rather brilliant idea of starting the poem-a-day website, which gave the project greater visibility on social media and just gave people something they could actually look at, visit, interact with, experience, and I think it helped give some people a better sense of the possibilities for quote-unquote, “poems about HIV.” And then somehow you youngsters (*bumps his gums*) got a hold of it, which is what I really wanted all along, but I didn’t know how to reach you, and finally, somehow, the word got out, and now I’m getting all this incredible work from high school and college kids, and I’m so happy, and so grateful.  

 

AF: How has the project changed your idea about HIV in the modern world?

 

MB: So that’s sort of what I was starting to get to in my answer to your previous question, about the feedback I’ve received. I was already well aware that HIV was not only a major ongoing catastrophe in the developing world, but a persistent public health crisis right here in the United States. We have about 1.2 million people living with HIV today in the US. Of these, about 170,000 don’t know they are infected, and about 755,000 are not on HIV meds. There are 50,000 new infections every year, and the hardest hit group is young black gay men and transgender women in urban centers. So even just in stark epidemiologic and public health terms, it’s a huge clusterfuck. But what I did not realize was the extent to which HIV stigma remains a problem here in the US. How much shame and secrecy remains about having HIV or AIDS. How many people still face discrimination at work, at school, in the community, because of their HIV status. And the lack of awareness among the general public about just how much of a social and public health issue HIV and AIDS still are in 2015. Not only that, but there’s an intense desire among Americans to think of AIDS as a tragedy from the past that is now behind us, and HIV as a chronic, manageable condition whose impact is…well, they don’t even really think about what it’s impact is. It’s just not something they need to worry about. It’s not “their issue.” It’s off the radar.

 

AF: How has your experience with HIV influenced your writing? How has it influenced other aspects of your life?

 

MB: As I mentioned earlier, I started writing poetry when I was 30, when I had recently become infected. So whereas the fiction I left behind tended to be about coming out and gay coming of age, my poetry tended to be, implicitly or explicitly, about living with HIV. Even if the poem seemed to be about a young gay man who was sad and lonely, the subtext was that he was sad and lonely ultimately because of living with HIV, losing lovers, feeling like a pariah, fearing for his life, feeling his mortality so very deeply, palpably. It colored the way he looked at his past, present, and future. I survived all of this gay shame, I struggled through so much homophobia, anger and resentment and resistance within my family, and I came out the other side, came out, embraced myself, embraced love, and for what? Only to face imminent death? That’s the poetry. Sometimes it’s hard to say how much of it is really me and how much of it is an invented poetic persona. As far as how it has influenced other aspects of my life—well, on the one hand, I just kind of go about my business: I have a house, a husband, a freelance medical writing career that still pays the bills, a poetry career that is growing and changing, I’m starting to edit and publish as well as write, in fact really I hardly write any poetry at all right now, I’m consumed by The HIV Here & Now Project as a curatorial and editorial and publishing endeavor. And I’m loving it. But on another level, HIV determines everything in my life. I absolutely cannot be without health insurance, so that means I have to live a certain way, work a certain way, make a certain amount of money so I can afford to purchase my own insurance—cuz ain’t no fuckin way I’m ever going back to a day job with a little grey cubicle and fluorescent lights overhead. It influences the sex I have, how my HIV-negative husband fucks me. The blood I cannot donate. The life insurance I cannot qualify for. The babies I could not father biologically (although I hasten to add that preventing mother-to-child transmission has been a great success of HIV medicine). And so on.

 

AF: Let’s talk about your poetry collection This Life Now, finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Poetry. As it was your first, how was your experience writing and refining your debut collection?

 

MB: Again I say the story of my life has been one of coming late to pretty much every party. The poems in that book go back to the mid 1990s. I wrote and revised very slowly. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing, and I was a mentorship anti-magnet, I had virtually no one to help me figure out which way was up. And then I dropped poetry for a bunch of years while I finished the PhD and worked the academic job market. I’ve been a very black and white, all or nothing thinker all my life—I could never handle being or doing two things at once. I’m working really hard on changing that now, but it took me over 50 years to figure that out. In a sense, I did not write or refine my debut collection. I wrote a different book. One about twice the length with a lot of poems that had nothing to do with gay experience or HIV. Poems about language. Poems about my mother dying. Poems about 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that manuscript spent two years on the contest circuit, like, really really hard on the contest circuit—I think I entered just about every contest there was two years running. And…nothing. Not even an honorable mention. So I just said fuck it and finished my doctorate and embarked on my abortive academic career. Then in 2013, at the Rainbow Book Fair here in New York City, I met my husband’s friend Julie Enzser, who edits the venerable lesbian feminist journal Sinister Wisdom, and who also works closely with her friend Lawrence Schimel, publisher of A Midsummer Night’s Press, whose Body Language imprint features LGBTQ poets and poetry. And Julie said, Michael, Lawrence and I were talking about possibilities for his 2014 list the other night, and your name came up. You should send him a manuscript. And I did. And bless his heart, he yanked out all the poems that did not scream “Body Language,” and sent me what was left for my review, revision, and approval. And that’s how This Life Now was born. Which means there are lots of leftovers from my original manuscript that still need a home between covers. And there are other poems of gay experience and living with HIV that were never included in that original manuscript, that also need a home between covers. So the world should be seeing a couple more chaps or small collections from me in the next couple of years, just clearing out my backlog, before I go on to continue publishing newer work.

 

AF: What advice do you have for young writers and young members of the queer community?

 

MB: Wow. That’s a tough one. I feel like you guys already know so much more than I ever did or do or will know about writing and living a queer life. I feel like you guys are much better at juggling than I ever was—identities, roles, interests, commitments. And I hate sounding like anybody’s dad. Or in some cases grandpa! I think what I want to advise is: do what you want to do. By which I don’t mean be selfish or self-centered or inconsiderate. My husband is into Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing consultant (is that I thing? I guess it is now) whose basic instruction is to pick up a piece of clutter and hold it your hands for 30 seconds. If it “sparks joy” you keep it; if not, it’s off to the Housing Works Thrift Store (to support housing and supportive services for people living with HIV/AIDS—that part is me, not Marie Kondo). So when I say do what you want, I mean choose how to spend your time, energy, resources, and passion based on what brings you joy. From your college major and your job and your apartment and your roommates, to how you do your gender, how you have sex, how you interact with your family—base those choices on what brings you joy, and try your darnedest to wash your hands of all the stuff that doesn’t bring you joy, all the people, all the gender conventions or even the nonconventions, all the sex acts and kinds of relationships you can be in, with which people and how many people and on what terms. And don’t expect to make it all work in one day. You kind of spend your whole life figuring all of this out, and that’s fine. Just check in from time to time and make sure that, on balance, you’re moving closer to what brings you joy and leaving whatever doesn’t farther and farther behind. Same for writing. Write how and what you want to, how and what you need to. Put it out there. Some people won’t like it. Fuck ‘em; they’re not your audience. You’ll find your audience. Your audience will find you. Oh, and one other thing. Don’t try to change the world; do seek to make a difference. Changing the world is really quite difficult. Sort of hard to plan for. Making a difference is really quite possible. There so many differences you can make, whereas there’s only one world you can change, so even if you just look at it statistically, seeking to make a difference is a much smarter way to go.

***

Michael Broder is the author of This Life Now (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2014), a finalist for the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. His poems have appeared in American Poetry ReviewAssaracusBLOOMColumbia Poetry ReviewCourt GreenOCHO, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies This New Breed: Gents, Bad Boys and Barbarians 2 (Windstorm Creative, 2004), ed. Rudy Kikel; My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (Terrace Books, 2009), ed. Michael Montlack; Spaces Between Us: Poetry, Prose and Art on HIV/AIDS (Third World Press, 2010), eds Kelly Norman Ellis and ML Hunter; and Divining Divas: 50 Gay Men on Their Muses (Lethe Press, 2012), edited by Michael Montlack. He lives in Brooklyn with his husband, the poet Jason Schneiderman, and a backyard colony of feral and stray cats. 

 

Aidan Forster is a sophomore in high school. He studies creative writing at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is the managing editor of Crashtest. His work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and will appear in the 2015 ART.WRITE.NOW.DC exhibit. He is the recipient of the 2015 Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship, and the winner of the 2015 Say What Open Mic: Fresh Out the Oven Poetry Slam. His work appears in or is forthcoming from Verse, Polyphony H.S., The Best Teen Writing of 2015, The HIV Here and Now website, Assaracus, Souvenir Lit Journal, Alexandria Quarterly, and (of course) The Adroit Journal. 

 

 

 

 

RAISE YOUR GLASS: Adroit Meets the 2015 Foyle Young Poets of the Year! by Peter LaBerge

Today, we are shouting from the rooftops in celebration of the 2015 Foyle Young Poets of the Year, announced today by The Poetry Society. The awards, which this year received 12,288 submissions (up from 7,603 last year!) from young poets aged 11-17 around the world, were judged by esteemed poets Liz Berry and Michael Symmons Roberts. 

For the third year in a row, we are proud to share that ten Adroit mentees and staff readers have been recognized in the UK-based awards. Special congratulations goes to Spokane, Wash.'s Ben Read, who was named a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year Overall Winner for his poem "Mario Kart: Brain Circuit," which he worked on this summer as a poetry mentee with poetry editor Jackson Holbert, and which is now available to be read over at The Guardian. You can also check out our blog archives for an interview with Ben Read, conducted as part of our 2015 Meet the Mentees feature. 

Further congratulations to poetry mentees Rebecca Alifimoff and Audrey Spensley, who worked with Founder & Editor-in-Chief Peter LaBerge and previous managing editor Alexa Derman, and were also recognized as Overall Winners in 2014. 

Congratulations to all. Listed from left to right and top to bottom: 

Winner - Ben Read - Washington, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Rebecca Alifimoff - Indiana, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Ava Goga - Nevada, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Alex Greenberg  - New York, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Kathryn Hargett - Alabama, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Mia Nelson - Colorado, USA - Poetry Reader
Commended - Audrey Spensley - Ohio, USA - Summer Mentee (Prose) 
Commended - Caroline Tsai - Indiana, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Lucy Wainger - New York, USA - Summer Mentee (Poetry) 
Commended - Chelsy Jiayi Wu - Shanghai, CHN - Poetry Reader

 

Also commended were contributors Isla Anderson and Annalise Lozier. See the full list here.

I've Never Said a Bird Before: A Review of Dalton Day's "Actual Cloud" by Eloise Sims by Aidan Forster

***

Austin, Texas, may seem like the unlikeliest location for a selection of poetry that aches of Nordic mountains. But then again, Dalton Day is not, by any means, stymied by convention. His poems dart through the wilderness, as quick, fog-like glimpses of thought. We run with him through forests, down beaches, over lakes. And we don’t stop running.

 

From the very outset, Day’s poems strike me as incredibly similar to the musician Jónsi Birgisson’s solo album- who you may know as the ethereal lead singer of the incredible Sigur Ros. His words tie in beautifully with the soaring lilt of the Icelandic singer.

 

Perhaps their similarity is in their shared talent for creating soft, clear, achingly pure moments. “We just keep building/A collapse.” Day writes in Beat Next, a solemn resignation to an inevitable and recurring destruction of selves. It is a metaphor that haunts the poems to follow, summarizing a relationship that Day cannot seem to let go of. “I know you here/know you hear.” He subsequently writes in Doubt in Maybe- a desperate, self-comforting statement. His emotion is illuminated in these stark declarations, transposed with images of a winter that will seemingly never end.

 

Yet, as solemn as Day can be, “Actual Cloud” features treasured images of pure joy. “I like your name/When I say it/I’ve never said a bird before”. He writes in Take the Body Apart, as if with a shy smile. Later on, in the first section of poems, he concludes with a fierce affirmation in the lyrical Stitched Me Up. “We can make it proud/of the people/that said/You aren’t done yet.” He insists, returning to his poignant optimism.

 

However, Day’s most powerful poems are clearly his deliberately unstructured ones. In the “Dream House” sequence of poems, Day’s words seem to exist on the verge between dreaming and sleeping. “I uncling myself from the morning” he sighs, and then, mournfully, later on, “we require belief/Even at our most breakable.” The fragile simplicity of this realization is what gives it power. The entire “Dream House” series seems to align a sober existential crisis with drunken whispers.

 

Day’s words are the kind you want to singularly pin on your noticeboard- a Polaroid print of some place you’ve never been but always dreamed of. The second section of poems in “Actual Cloud” is the perfect example of this. This section, to me, aches of desperation of feeling. There is pain, and beauty in it, Day seems to conclude. “Whatever trees we used to be/have been scabbed by scars” He writes in Sick Good. Despite this resignation to agony, coupled with a somber recognition of ugliness, Day always finishes with a brighter note- positivity and acceptance of change, which emanates throughout the chapbook. “Your head is beautiful/I swear it is.” He concludes in Rest Mass.

 

The second section is intriguing in the way that it seems to primarily focus on an unnamed person- the effervescent, hypnotizing, untouchable “you”. Most of the poems in this section are written as a reflection to the beauty and power of this person; a neon-fisted (Wore Thousand, 29), prismatic-skinned (Unglitched & Solid, 28), almost supernatural being that Day seems to struggle to contain within his words. And then, as the third section approaches, Day darts away from his subject once more, leaving us with a blurred yet prevailing picture of deep-rooted admiration.

 

Possibly my personal favorite poem in this collection (and there are many runners-up) is the unassuming“Diagnosis #2”. The poem runs as a subtle prayer, a continuing wish for a loved one to grow and expand beyond what they are capable of. “Run like you used to”, Day instructs, and then, “Don’t be sorry/for not meeting/the sun/halfway”.  There’s something about these proclaims that draw the reader in, as if directly addressed. Perhaps it’s the final line- “Even though I can’t/promise you/I promise you”. Day talks as if to a child, but, perhaps, he is talking to his reader. Maybe there is hope; he seems to say. Do not give up. Run free. It will turn out all right. What better lesson is there to take from poetry like this?

 

Day ends the chapbook with a series labeled TANDEM, published previously as an individual digital chapbook by Fruita Pulp. Each poem begins with a “Hello”, yet go their separate ways. The entire book concludes with the line “We/are expected/to leave”, a solemn note. Yet, with Day’s poetry, you don’t feel like you’re leaving at all. You wait for him to dive down another side street, and take you somewhere completely new.  

 

Buy "Actual Cloud" here.

***

Eloise Sims is a freshman at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, studying Politics and History. She was the 2014 recipient of the RANZCOG Senior Women's Health Writing Award, as well as a finalist in Eat Your Words 2014. Her articles and short stories have been published in books and magazines in the United States and New Zealand. In her spare time, (admittedly, not a lot), she listens to a lot of Kanye West, works for UN Youth New Zealand, and writes human rights features for The Adroit Journal's blog.

Conversations with Contributors: Brynne Rebele-Henry (Issue 12, Poetry) and Ian Burnette (Issues 12 & 13, Poetry) by Aidan Forster

Issue 13 is out, and that means the Adroit Blog's Conversations With Contributors is in full swing! To get things off to a great start, Audrey Zhao sat down with Ian Burnette, Issue 13 contributor and winner of the 2015 Adroit Prize in Poetry, and Brynne Rebele-Henry, runner-up for the 2015 Adroit Prize in Poetry. 

"The Black Cloth #2" by Brannon Dorsey, The Adroit Journal Issue Six. 

"The Black Cloth #2" by Brannon Dorsey, The Adroit Journal Issue Six. 

***

Audrey Zhao, Blog Correspondent: To start: who or what has most influenced your writing and why?

Brynne Rebele-Henry, Runner-up for the 2015 Adroit Prize in Poetry: It changes constantly. I have certain books or paintings or writers I associate with different manuscripts. But currently, I really love Marlene Dumas’s paintings (which I often reference in my current poems) and Dora: A Headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch because of the way it portrays sexuality and girlhood and overthrows a lot of male institutions regarding girlhood and psychosis. Also, The Dead Girls Speak in Unison by Danielle Pafunda and Body Thesaurus by Jennifer Militello (though really everything they both write) and Jenny Saville’s work in general are all incredible. 

Ian Burnette, Winner of the 2015 Adroit Prize in Poetry: Matthew Dickman and Terrance Hayes are the poets who have influenced my writing the most. Before reading them, I had this idea that good poetry had to be solemn or controlled in order to do its job. They taught me how valuable, and ultimately heartbreaking, it is to write with verve, to be wild with language and to have heart in everything. If there is any amount of spirit in my work—which I can only pray there is— all credit is due to these two amazing writers. Both of them changed my life in ways I can’t even begin to describe. If you want to read them, which you should, I’d start with Matthew Dickman’s Mayakovsky’s Revolver, and Lighthead, by Terrance Hayes. 


AZ: Do you have any music recommendations? What are some great songs to write poems to?

BRH: I don’t really have any specific songs I like listening to while writing, though I have certain songs that I listen to as a form of immersion/association for various projects (when I was writing my first novel, I only listened to "Son of a Preacher Man" by Dusty Springfield for nine months when writing in the voice of one protagonist). Currently, though, I’ve been trying to write a piece about Amy Winehouse, so I’ve been listening to her.

IB: I wish I did, but I don’t listen to music when I write poetry. Much like it’s hard to sing one song while listening to another, I can’t seem to manage it. But, I do listen to music when I write fiction.  Youth Lagoon is a great band to listen to while laying out a story, and somewhat opposite to what I said about music and poetry, I find their music in particular actually helps to establish atmosphere in my fiction. Someone please explain this to me if you are a neuroscientist and know how this works.


AZ: Let's shift gears. In a world that is becoming increasingly technology and STEM-oriented, do you think it is more difficult or simple for teenagers to immerse themselves in art and writing?

BRH: I think it is more simple, since technology provides a platform to make it less difficult for teenagers to access art and writing.

IB: I don’t see much of a distinction between technology and science vs. art and writing. I’m convinced that everything—especially writing—is really just hard labor. Everything worth doing takes a lot of time and involves moving meaningless parts around to create something meaningful. Sometimes the goal is to produce something heartbreaking, as with a poem. Sometimes, as in science, the beauty of a creation is in its correctness, and what that correctness can reveal to us about ourselves or about the world. When you look at why we write vs. why we do science, there is little difference between the two. So, no, I don’t think immersion is a problem. If teenagers choose to be immersed in writing, they will be. Anyone who wants to can lead an artistic/poetic/thoughtful life if they are willing to make the time for it.


AZ: Both of you are fantastic at creating visceral and textured poems (Check out Ian’s poem “dear radio” and Brynne’s poem “Purple” in Adroit’s Summer 2015 issue!). Can you talk about how you build your poems (inspirations, process, etc.)? 

BRH: Thank you! My poetry doesn’t really have a set process. Sometimes it’s based off words I found in magazines or the dictionary, but mostly it’s just surrounded by flesh (almost all of my poems are based off certain body parts or various images of flesh/skin, as well as queerness/womanhood/sex/sexuality in general).  I like trying to write poems in a similar process to that of the construction of skin grafts. 

IB: Okay, so I’m going to start with how I try to not write my poems. There are these things I call Poetic Moments, and I’m always grateful for them when they happen to me. This includes when it’s late on a Friday night and I’m walking down a dark country road in central Ohio beside someone I am happy to be with and a white farm house appears on the crest of the hill with a single yellow window spilling light onto the world and in my head something cements itself and I know I have to preserve this moment. Except I shouldn’t and I don’t. The problem with Poetic Moments like these, however enriching they are to our lives, however sentimental and sensorially pleasing they might seem, is that they’re not about anything. They fail to challenge themselves. There is no danger implicit in a scene. Nothing is at stake. Remember what your mother used to tell you about the prettiest people at school? It’s a lot like that.

For me, poetic moments never make good poems (though they certainly have their place in good poems), by which I mean I never, ever impress myself when I allow myself to be seduced by them. Instead of fixating on a single image or concept I want to write about, I try to find at least two things I can constellate or bounce off of one another. Kurt Cobain, trash in Pittsburgh. Matrimony, helicopter tours. The weather, sex. I think a good poem is all about making something you didn’t know had a hold on you completely heartbreaking, and the best way to find that configuration of elements is to discover what two seemingly unrelated things have to say to one another when you bring them into a vacuum and lock them up together like a couple of strangers who had too much to drink and end up spending the night in jail. This doesn’t always work, but I find it’s often the best place to start.


AZ: Let's talk about something light! If you could write anything into reality, what would it be?

BRH: I'd probably attempt to abolish problematic systems/institutions in our society.

IB: I would write working air conditioning into my dorm room because contrary to popular belief it’s still incredibly hot and humid here in central Ohio. “Hell yeah,” says my roommate [Adroit contributor Frances Saux] from across the room. They say it’s broken, but we all know it’s just a budgeting scheme.


AZ: Brynne: Can you speak on your hybrid/poetry book, Fleshgraphs, and your poetry collection, Weird Atlantic? What inspired these works?

BRH: Yes! The idea behind Fleshgraphs stemmed from being a young lesbian and feminist intrigued by online confessions, which run the gamut from trivial to homicidal, as well as by a society that seems obsessed with people changing their corporeal forms. Fleshgraphs is meant to be a multi-voiced manifesto of the body, as well as a sort of unifier since every person has a body. The voices meld the trivial with the suicidal, the amazing with the horrifying, kind of like the Internet does. It’s always amazed me that you can watch videos of baby pandas and then witness someone being stabbed immediately afterwards on the Internet. The concept also pertains to how being a woman with an online presence is a form of warfare, as women can’t even make knitting videos without being virtually attacked by angry men. In this book (and the rest of my work), I try to change the way that LGBTQPIA individuals are portrayed, since in many pieces of writing, queer people are portrayed only as queer, or are fetishized and viewed as accessories, with no other facets to them as people. I also try to subvert female invisibility, as well as the expectations surrounding what queer women are supposed to look like. Weird Atlantic was inspired by sexuality and girlhood and the ocean. The poems in the collection are designed to be like individual body parts as well as their own oceans/planets. 


AZ: Ian: Your poem, “Harvests” (selected by Richie Hofmann to be the runner-up for the 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry!) was also selected by Tracy K. Smith for inclusion in Best New Poets 2015. First of all, congratulations! How does it feel to have this poem included in Best New Poets

IB: Thank you! I was so excited to find out that “Harvests” had been selected, especially since I grew up reading Tracy K. Smith's work. I don’t think fourteen year old me could have ever imagined writing anything worth her time. Hell, I don’t think nineteen year old me could ever imagine writing anything worth her time. 


AZ: Brynne: In addition to being a poet, you are a prose writer and visual artist. What draws you to art and writing and what drives you to continue producing poetry, prose, and art?

BRH: I think that, for me at least, art and writing are very different but fundamentally similar vehicles, which is why mine often overlap so much in both content and style and the way that I produce them, and visual art and writing can affect people in very different ways because of the way that the work is processed. I try to make my visual art and writing political vessels, but I want them to be received/perceived differently. 


AZ: Ian, you’re a graduate of the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities and are currently an undergraduate at Kenyon College. How is studying creative writing in high school different from studying it at college?

IB: I am probably the wrong person to answer this question because I haven’t taken a creative writing course at Kenyon, but I can tell you what my experience has been in general. As logic would suggest, it is much easier to write consistently when surrounded by people who are also writing and while under concrete deadlines. That said, I think being a part of a system like this can also be deadening to one’s work. By the end of my senior year of high school, everything I wrote was pretty much the same thing, if that makes any sense. I was not taking the risks I needed to be taking because I had become comfortable with the identity of my work. College changed everything. Suddenly, I was in a much bigger ocean, a much bigger ocean in which I was no longer surrounded by people who were actively interested in reading my work or giving me feedback. Realizing that I do not matter that much and experiencing the obscurity and anonymity of being in the (semi) adult world really motivated me to change the kind of work I was producing. It really put the fire under me to discipline myself and figure out how I was going to hold myself responsible for pursuing this thing I still loved with so much of me.


AZ: Brynne, in an interview you did with the Visual Arts Center of Richmond earlier this year, you said you write political essays. In your opinion, how—and in what way—is art essential for social and political change?

BRH: I think that all art can affect a political climate, even if it's not intended to, and in some ways it both transcends political concerns and feeds them.


AZ: Ian, to somewhat go off the last question, in your opinion, how important is it for young writers to be a part of a community of creative writers?

IB: I think being around other creative writers can be either extremely useful or entirely useless. Useful, because people tend to amplify one another. So if you are around other people who are writing, it gives you this kind of strength you might not otherwise have. On the other hand, it is stressful to be around people who are trying to pursue the same craft as you with completely different brains that have completely different ideas about what is valuable and what is not valuable, what they and the people around them should be doing and should not be doing. I’m still not sure I know how to be around other people who write, but I don’t know how to not be around them either. 


***

Brynne Rebele-Henry’s poetry, fiction, and visual art have appeared in The VoltaSouvenirAlexandria Quarterly, and other magazines. Her work is forthcoming in RevolverSo to SpeakPing PongPANK, and Pine Hills Review. She was born in 1999, won the 2015 Louise Louis/Emily F. Bourne award from the Poetry Society of America, and was named the runner-up for the 2015 Adroit Prize for Poetry by Tarfia Faizullah. 

Ian Burnette is an undergraduate student at Kenyon College and an Associate at The Kenyon Review. His work has appeared in The Forward Book of PoetryThe Kenyon ReviewThe 826 Quarterly, and elsewhere. His poem "dear radio" was selected by Tarfia Faizullah as the recipient of the 2015 Adroit Prize for Poetry, and his poem "Harvests" was selected by Richie Hofmann as the runner-up for the 2014 Prize, as well as selected for inclusion in plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing of 2014, and by Tracy K. Smith for inclusion in Best New Poets 2015. He lives in central Ohio.

Audrey Zhao is a high school senior at Marin Academy in northern California. She was a poetry mentee in The Adroit Journal’s 2015 Summer Mentorship Program. Audrey is constantly learning what it means to be ‘Audrey Zhao’ from mistakes/successes, people, events, and herself.

 

Editor Chats: Peter LaBerge & Christopher Soto (a.k.a. Loma) by Peter LaBerge

          Here at the Adroit blog, we’re huge fans of Nepantla, a new journal dedicated to featuring and supporting the work of queer poets of color. We adore the publication’s mission, and share a number of poetry contributors—Xandria Phillips, Eddie Martinez, Darrel Alejandro Holnes, and Chen Chen, among others. When our founder & editor-in-chief crossed paths with Nepantla’s editor, Christopher Soto (a.k.a. Loma), coordinating an interview felt necessary. 

 

Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief of The Adroit Journal: First thing’s first, can you share with our readers a quick bit about yourself? How about one sentence (with as much punctuation as you’d like)?

 

Christopher Soto, Editor of Nepantla: My name's Loma. I’m a messy punk faggot from Long Beach, CA // currently living in Brooklyn, NY.

 

 

PL: What brought you into poetry, and what brought you into editing (Nepantla, but also in general)? Was editing something that felt logical, or did you take yourself by surprise?

 

CS: I was raised by cholas. Hip Hop brought me to Slam Poetry and Slam Poetry brought me to the page, the page brought me into the MFA, and now I’m an institutionalized Kween… It was almost accidental that I started editing… Jameson Fitzpatrick was editing with Lambda Literary at the time. We met at NYU. We got drunk together. Then, Jameson introduced me to William Johnson [LambdaLiterary.org Managing Editor] and I started to more concretely set ideas for the journal… To be honest, when I first began to school at NYU (& editing Nepantla) I barely knew what I was doing. I didn’t know shit about the contemporary poetry community, never heard of Adroit or Lambda or Sibling Rivalry Press or Poetry Society of America… When the other students would take restroom breaks, in between class, I would take my journal and write down all the names of the poetry journals that lined the walls of my classroom. My first class at NYU was with Charles Simic. I hadn’t even read his work… People started to ask me for poems and started praising my work / editing before I even knew what was going on… I didn’t want to publish any poems until after finishing my MFA. It still feels, at times, like I’m running ahead of myself… So much has changed for me, in such a short time.

 

 

PL: Have you noticed recently any poetic trends that you think are on the rise?

 

CS: Stylistically, no. Thematically, yes… Not sure how you would quantify this, but I think more poets are starting to get political, starting to directly say, “Fuck the police” & “Fuck mass incarceration” & “Fuck White Supremacy.” It’s an exciting time… Also, I see a surge in the distribution of trans poetry, which is cool, & I see a surge in internet angst amongst poets, which is less exciting (but a complicated discussion to have within one sentence)… P.S. My observations are based off the last two years, since I've been kicking it with bougie poets.

 

 

PL: It’s clear based on the terrific spread of poets in Nepantla’s debut issue, as well as the issue that just went online that you as an editor value diversity within the community of queer poets of color. How did you come to assemble such a wonderful crew for your first issue?

 

CS: I actually have complicated feelings about diversity. I feel like it’s really reductionistic… I try to pay attention to age, gender, race, etc. but there’s always someone missing. The people who don’t get considered in conversations about diversity are usually those with the least amount of access to publication-- incarcerated poets, homeless poets, working-class poets, etc. I think diversity is important but it has a lot of limits… &&&, pertaining to our first issue, I had a lot of help. I asked a group of QPOC poets in NYC to come together for a meeting about the inaugural issue. We wrote down names of poets to contact and solicit. These journals are a lot of unseen work.

 

 

PL: I know some publications that have recently come into the spotlight for publishing problematic work that whitesplains, mansplains, straightsplains, etc. & have said that they read blind and therefore support diversity. Personally, this justification doesn’t feel adequate to me (after all, what if no diverse writers are submitting?). Where does it fall for you? What advice do you have for these publications that hope to introduce diverse voices into future issues, but don’t necessarily know how?

 

CS: Reading blind doesn’t support diversity, that’s bullshit... If you’re interested in supporting diversity then you should solicit from and build relationships with the communities that you want to include in your journal, then affirmative action their work and make sure that it gets published… I’ve asked for multiple rounds of submissions from some people, I’ve workshopped poems with some people… Solidarity takes work, undoing systematic oppression takes work... I don’t really think that many people understand how truly hard it is for poor brown girls to slay in this community, sometimes.

 

 

PL: Let’s shift gears for a moment. I know, in the midst of editing the journal’s second issue, you moved from New York to San Francisco and then back to New York. In what ways do you think your time in San Francisco, or even the moves themselves, influenced your editing process?

 

CS: I could barely edit or write this summer. (Bummer.) I started canceling readings and shit cuz depression hit me real hard-- dealing with a racist workplace, moving to a city with no friends, sleeping on couches for over two months. Then the police killed two people on the block where I finally found a sublet. My mental, physical, emotional health was not there this summer. Venus was in retrograde, but I'm back in NYC now… Cali is where I was born, but it has seldom held me. When I got back to NYC, my mentor said he knew I’d come back. He said New York is 10 years ahead of the CA… I told him that I’m 10 years ahead of New York… I have no fucking clue how I was able to edit the journal this summer… Now I’m thinking about the materiality of production, all of the material resources, support, privilege that it takes to put something like Nepantla together.

 

PL: How has being an editor affected your personal creative writing, and vice versa?

 

CS: Editing allows me to see all of the clichés within my particular community. When I’m reading so many queer folks of color, I start recognizing recurrent themes (that aren’t always prominent in the rest of the literary landscape). I try to avoid those themes in my poems… I’ve also become more thankful for the labor of editors and more conscious about what I submit, since founding the journal.

 

 

PL: And, finally, if you could say one thing to the Christopher Soto of five years ago, what would you say?

 

CS: Five years ago, holy jesus!!! Wow. I would tell myself to be strong, to get the fuck out Long Beach… Fucking shit, I started to cry already…. Peter, I’ve had some hard times in this life… I’m aquarius, I’m sensitive. I would tell myself that there are whole communities that will love and support me. I would tell myself that not everyone hates waking up in the morning, not everyone wants to die every morning, not everyone has to work so many hours, not everyone has a group of dead friends that follow them like ghosts in the hallways, not everyone gets pulled over by the police on their drive to school, not everyone gets pulled over on their bicycle too, & fucking shit, DON’T FALL IN LOVE WITH ALEC… He is the only person in California who is messier than you. Ah, I don’t think that I'd believe myself, five years ago, if I said, “You are going to get your MFA from NYU, start editing a national journal, start publishing everywhere, you’re going to be (generally) happy with life, you’re going to have social and intellectual and creative and financial support. You’re going to become so much more than you think.”

Why Lady Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" Deserves Our Attention, And Why It Deserves It Now by Peter LaBerge

             By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

             Note: Please be advised this article discusses graphic (but important) content.

             The Internet has exploded with the release of Lady Gaga's important, emotional, educational, chilling, haunting, necessary music video for her new song "Til It Happens To You." 

             The song, in tune with its sobering title, calls attention to an issue many in society trivialize or miss altogether: the mass sexual assault of women and men on college campuses. The music video, released earlier this week from Interscope Records, is a perfect example of how art can—and should—be used to expose, affect, and ultimately (hopefully) change minds, college legislature, and the outdated fabrics of society. 

             But the song transcends merely reminding us of the reality millions of sexual assault survivors face on a daily basis. It holds a fiercely important distinction, one easy for the average friend, parent, or co-worker to miss: you don't know how it feels till it happens to you. Gaga's "Til It Happens To You" is an evocative reminder that support is not synonymous with understanding. Because understanding is impossible, and the idea that it is remains dangerous—it is a factor that silences, a hand over a survivor's mouth, a counter-productive force that builds walls around the already-coddled misconceptions of sexual assault and consent in America today. Indeed, true support comes when we recognize that there is only one path to truly understanding the interior landscape of sexual assault survivors, and that resources and education must be made available and open so those who are survivors may connect with each other and obtain help from those who do understand. 

             The video showcases a Gaga that's a far cry from the "Just Dance" songstress of years ago. The song itself was composed by Diane Warren for the incredible documentary "The Hunting Ground," which has been making steady rounds among college students and others since its January debut. Says Warren of the project in an interview with the Huffington Post, "I didn't want to sugarcoat it." In a statement, video writer and director Catherine Hardwicke added, "I hope that this PSA, with its raw and truthful portrayals, will send a clear message that we need to support these courageous survivors and end this epidemic plaguing our college campuses." 

             Brava, Gaga. Brava, Diane Warren and Catherine Hardwicke. This is the exact discussion topic that needs to be raised. This is the exact awareness that needs to be spread. Thank you for using art to open society's ears and give voice to the millions of students silenced right in our own homes, right in our own schools, right under our own caring watch. It is not enough to hope for, pray for, or envision change. This song reminds us of that. 

             The song's haunting lyrics are as follows. Please read them and remember the world of college campuses, and society's treatment of young adult men and women, needs to change, and it needs to change now.


TIL IT HAPPENS TO YOU 

PERFORMED BY LADY GAGA
INTERSCOPE RECORDS, 2015


You tell me hold your head up
Hold your head up and be strong
Cause when you fall you gotta get up
You gotta get up and move on

Tell me how the hell could you talk,
How could you talk
Losing till you walk where I walk,
This is no joke

Till It happens to you, you don't know how it feels, how it feels
Until it happens to you, you won't know, it won't be real
No it won't real
I know how it feels

Till your world burns and crashes
Till you're at the end, the end of your rope
Till you're standing in my shoes
I don't wanna hear a thing or two from you, from you, from you

Till it happens to you
You don't know how I feel, how I feel, how I feel
Until it happens to you, you won't know, it won't be real
No it won't real
I know how it feels
Till it happens you
Happens to you
Happens to you
Happens to you
Happens to you
Till it happens you
You won't know how I feel

Staff Spotlight: A Self-Interview with Aidan Forster by Aidan Forster

The Adroit Blog is thrilled to welcome Aidan Forster, our new assistant blog editor. He is a fifteen-year old sophomore in high school from Greenville, South Carolina. Get to know him further in this delectable self interview. 

*

What do you do all day?

I study creative writing at the Fine Arts Center with a whole bunch of really talented young artists. And I take regular classes, too—but those are ~somewhat icky~.

 

Oh yeah? What do you write?

I study poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction, but I primarily write poetry.

 

What’s your type?

Of poetry?

 

No, of men. 

Tall, handsome, stable. Artistic guys get bonus points.

 

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, what’s your type of poetry?

I write mostly lyric poetry, but sometimes prose poems happen. I generally bother with narrative continuity as I write based off experience, but I wouldn’t say the poetry itself is narrative.

 

What do you explore in your poetry?

Some common images/ideas in my poems are men/boys, nature, birds, the ocean, transformation and transition (what is left/what is created), birth, coral (for some reason), and I often find myself chronicling sexual experience in poetry.

 

What’s your favorite poem you’ve ever written?

That’s a hard one! I can narrow it down to three. The first one is called “Logy.” It’s about a date I went on with a guy to a poetry reading, and it uses the word “study” thirty five times (because logy means study). The second is a poem about my friend Lindsey Hudson’s performance art piece, and it’s titled “Blood Moon.” She painted a portrait of herself putting on lipstick, then took 8-10 tubes of lipstick and arranged them on a table. Whatever she did to her face, she did to the painting’s face, until they were both just covered in lipstick. It was so incredible to watch. The last one is called “When Told Not to Chronicle Eroticism,” and was written in response to a magazine saying they did not accept erotic poetry. It was incredibly fun to write, as I explored nontraditional ideas of eroticism in nature, mythology, and my own life.

 

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing a series of poems based off symbolism/imagery/ideas common in my poetry. I’m trying to connect images that have never been connected in my poetry before, and to explore an idea through an image it hasn’t coexisted with in the past. I assume it will end up being very gay stuff.

 

Don’t you worry about writing “another gay poem”?

Kind of? I feel like a lot of LGBTQ+ poetry is dismissed as “another gay poem” because it is so strongly defined by its beholders as “gay” and nothing else. I like to think that writing about my experiences as a gay person without trying to make a political or social statement ends up doing more work than such a statement would, because it attempts to normalize what is seen today as “not normal.” I think it’s the responsibility of poets (and all artists) to discuss/explore the world around them, including its problems. For some people, they are called to write more political poetry, but I don’t think that’s my thing.

 

In six words, what would you say is “your thing”?

Anxious little gay writes hella poetry.

 

Who would you say have been your biggest literary influences?

Anne Carson, Mark Doty, Michael and Matthew Dickman, Terrance Hayes, Louise Glück, and Mary Szybist.

 

Who are you reading now?

The August issue of Poetry, The Hour of The Star by Clarice Lispector, Ruin by Cynthia Cruz, and Mayakovsky’s Revolver by Matthew Dickman.

 

Who is on your “To-Read” list?

How do you know I have one of those?

 

I’m you. Keep up.

Ah, right! Julie Carr, Richie Hofmann, anything I can find by Ocean Vuong, Christian Bok, and Peter LaBerge’s chapbook.

 

Speaking of Peter, what are you even doing here anyways?

I’m the new assistant blog editor!

 

How’d that happen?

Twelve trials, like Hercules.

 

Oh, right. I remember now.

Those were the days.

 

What are you listening to right now?

Why don’t you answer that one? We are literally the same person, as you so kindly pointed out.

 

“Dead Girl Walking” from the Heathers musical soundtrack.

You know your stuff! What do I have in my pockets right now?

 

A yellow plastic comb and your high school ID.

Right again!

 

What a surprise! What’s the most startling thing anyone has ever said to you?

One time, a boy tried to convince me that my dream of being a poet was invalid because “we don’t need poets anymore now that we have Google.”

 

Wow. Men these days.

Tell me about it!

 

How’s that dream going?

Not too badly! I have work in Polyphony HS, Verse, The Best Teen Writing of 2015, and forthcoming in The Adroit Journal. My work will also appear in ART.WRITE.NOW.DC later in September, and I’m a 2015 recipient of the Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship.

 

Go us! Is any of that prose?

Nope. Prose is hard. You should know this.

 

What about that one story?

We don’t talk about that!

 

Whatever you say.

Don’t you have somewhere to be?

 

Don’t you?

That's a good point.

 

Good talk, little gay poet. Good talk.

*

Aidan Forster is a sophomore in high school. He studies creative writing at the Fine Arts Center in Greenville, South Carolina, where he is the managing editor of Crashtest. His work has been nationally recognized by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and will appear in the 2015 ART.WRITE.NOW.DC exhibit. He is the recipient of the 2015 Anthony Quinn Foundation Scholarship, and the winner of the 2015 Say What Open Mic: Fresh Out the Oven Poetry Slam. His work appears in or is forthcoming from Verse, Polyphony H.S., The Best Teen Writing of 2015, and (of course) The Adroit Journal.

Fourteen Entirely Relevant Questions to Ask College English Departments by Peter LaBerge

By Peter LaBerge, Founder & Editor-in-Chief

Since we at the Adroit blog know high school seniors near and far are doing it around this time of year, let's be real -- the conventional questions (about funding, about class size) don't strike a unique chord anymore. Here are some that might.
 

1. Do you host karaoke nights? If so, with what frequency? (Asking for a friend.)

 

2. In which aisle of the metaphorical grocery store would I find your English department stocked? 

 

3. Speaking of which, about how much free food would you say you provide the average English major with, per semester?

 

4. If your English department were a short story, what would be the title, and who would be the author?

 

5. What would you say the pH level of your institution would be? (Just an estimate is fine.)

 

6. If you could give your English department one (and only one) superpower, what would it be and why?

 

7. Friends or Seinfeld?
(Ed. Note: The answer should always be "Both.")

 

8. Would you happen to know what portion of your undergraduate student body is comprised of closet fan-fiction writers? (Again, asking for a friend.)

 

9. It's after midnight on a weekend, and an English major at your institution has a spoon in his or her hand. What is he or she eating?

 

10. Would you say your institution embodies the Times New Roman, Arial, or Garamond aesthetic?
(Ed. Note: If the answer is "Comic Sans," run.)

 

11. Has your institution adopted a specific stance on the proper format of the em-dash?

 

12. Please respond with between five and eight emojis that most accurately represent your institution.

 

13. If your English department were a giant metaphorical hamburger, which condiments would you put on it?

 

14. And finally, the most relevant question of all:

What's in it for me?


*Disclaimer: No comment has been made regarding the response rate to these questions.

 

Dearest high school seniors: We love you so. The college process will work out, even if it doesn't feel like it! The important thing is that you take advantage of resources you have to make educated and well-informed decisions, with the reminder that happiness very likely can be achieved at multiple schools. Everything happens for a reason. As the fine fellows of William McKinley high once said...