Albatross #24 now available

We ran a bit past the one year mark for this issue.  It features another great woodcut by Peter Scacco, who is also featured on the cover of issue #23 and issue #21.  I am once again grateful to the authors who have shared these poems.  Each one is strong in its own way.  It leads me once again to a desire to publish a big issue–perhaps for the next issue #25.  The idea would be to make it an “Albatross Anthology” or “the best of Albatross.” Maybe what I need to do is to create a budget and launch a kickstarter campaign.  Were it to win funding, it would allow me to print enough to hire a distributor and have it distributed nationally.  This is a dream of mine.

Albatross #23 now available

Once again, it takes a year to get out the issue…. Issue #23 is now available on the main website. I had to go a little longer with this issue (and the last one, come to mention it) to fit all of the poems in that I had accepted… I overshot my standard 32 page layout these last two issues.  Better for the poets who squeaked in at the last minute!  You’ll notice a couple of poets (Lyn Lifshin, Doug Bolling) have poems in both #22 and #23… That was so that I could get them in the issue they were accepted for.

Albatross #22 now available

I’m back-dating this a year because I’ve fallen off posting to the blog… Albatross #22 was posted to the main website in May of 2011.  We remain consistent with publishing one per year.  The art work on this cover is one of my favorites works of art that we’ve published, and it follows nicely from the bird woodcut on the cover of issue #20.

Vital Materialism

I started reading a book of philosophy called Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things by Jane Bennett as part of a blog-chain reading group this past week.  The book presents an argument for “vital materialism,” for a recognition of “nonorganic life” or the vitality and agency that assemblages of objects can have.  While the underlying philosophy goes too deep to delve into here (if you’re interested in exploring some of the sources of her argument, see some of my other blog’s entries), the following quote will give some idea of the book’s purpose:

Vital materialists will thus try to linger in those moments during which they find themselves fascinated by objects, taking them as clues to the material vitality that they share with them.  This sense of a strange and incomplete commonality with the out-side may induce vital materialists to treat nonhumans–animals, plants, earth, even artifacts and commodities–more carefully, more strategically, more ecologically. (17-18)

While Bennett is attempting to elevate things to the level of “agentic assemblages” which “are vital players in the world” (4), her desire is for human agents to “take a step toward a more ecological sensibility” (10) by means of better understanding how humans are part of a larger matter-energy flow.  Ultimately, the goal is to move away from anthropocentrism toward cosmocentrism, a goal largely shared by the poetry journal that stands behind this blog.

When I read about lingering in a fascination with objects, I thought of the work that the poets published in Albatross do:  call attention to an awareness of nature that will bring us as a species to a greater sensitivity toward the nonhuman.

Albatross #21 now available

I just posted Albatross #21 at the main site.  This has been a tough year insofar as I have begun to adjunct at Emerson College and so have been busy with researching, creating, and then teaching a new course since September.  The work I do on Albatross is always very much squeezed between the cracks of a very busy life, but this year that busyness has increased one hundred fold.  At this very moment, I am neglecting some work I should be doing for this course…

But this work must continue as well, and so it does.   Once again I was so pleased by the poems in this issue.  I still actually type each poem out, so I have that experience of becoming intimate with the poem–as if I wrote it myself.  (This reminds me of a story that UF writer-in-residence Harry Crews once told me.  In order to teach himself how to write, he retyped word-for-word Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair.  That was his apprenticeship…)

While a year might be a long time in between issues, I hope you feel like it’s worth the wait after reading these.  Some of my favorite moments: the opening poem by Don Thompson (do you notice how each issue starts off with a poem invoking religion or God in some way?), the following powerful poems by Temple Cone, the arrogance and destructive nature of childhood in Joan Colby’s poem, the terror at the end of Ronnie Hess’s poem… and the stunning pair by Adam Penna (which, in the print issue–soon to come!–you will find in the sweet middle-spot, where the journal flips open to automatically).

Thank you for reading!

Featured Poem: “Ohio Autumn”

OHIO POEM by Deborah Fleming

Cacophonous flock
above harvest field
spreading their sky-net

sideways falls and soars
medusoid in the pulsing
light of afternoon

under bundled clouds
neither to feed nor mate
before migration

Editing: Example #3

The following poem is by a creative writing professor from Ashland University and editor of the Ashland Poetry Press.  First, the poem as originally submitted:

OHIO POEM by Deborah Fleming

Cacophonous flock
above the harvested field
spreading their sky-net

sideways falls and soars
medusoid in the pulsing
light of afternoon

under bundled clouds
neither to feed nor to mate
before migration

There was much that I really liked about this right off the bat:  the opening line, for example, starts off with a great moment of alliteration and assonance:  “Cacophonous flock.”  Notice the “k” sounds, “f” sounds, and “ahh” vowel sounds, all rhythmically “sound” (so to speak).  The next line, however, causes me to stumble a bit:  “above the harvested field.”  The -ed on harvested and “the” add syllables that slow down the quick and clipped rhythm established in the opening line.  My suggestion was to cut the “the” (though it alliterates with “above”) and the “-ed” so that it reads “above harvest field.”  Try reading the two lines together, and hopefully you’ll see (or feel, or hear, or sense) what I mean.

The other suggestion I made comes in the last stanza, where I suggest cutting the “to” before mate, allowing for the alliteration with migration to arrive quicker:

under bundled clouds
neither to feed nor mate
before migration

It’s a subtle distinction, but, again, if you read it both ways, I think you’ll hear what I mean.  The extra “to” (not necessary for parallel structure here) just does something to the rhythm of the line that throws off the potential power of the closing phrase.

I want to highlight two other notable parts of the poem:  the use of “medusoid” (I’d have to confirm if it’s a real word, but because this is poetry that doesn’t matter, ultimately), an interesting neologism that really paints the writhing form of the flock as it wheels about; and the alliteration and assonance in “under bundled clouds.”  That’s just fun to say!

So now the poem with my suggested changes:

OHIO POEM by Deborah Fleming

Cacophonous flock
above harvest field
spreading their sky-net

sideways falls and soars
medusoid in the pulsing
light of afternoon

under bundled clouds
neither to feed nor mate
before migration

Deborah agreed to these changes, so this poem will appear in #22.  I will also add this separately as a featured poem.

Universal Declaration of Planetary Rights

I just found out about this:  http://www.treeshaverightstoo.com/universal-declaration-of-planetary-rights.

All I can think to say is YES, YES, YES, YES, and YES.

This was first presented a year ago and is now being integrated into the forthcoming Copenhagen Treaty currently being drafted for the international climate change negotiations being held this December.  To find out more, explore the Trees Have Rights Too website.

It is encouraging to learn that this kind of environmental activism is happening on the global level.  I also learned today that Obama has chosen someone connected to the pesticide industry to be the chief agricultural negotiator in the office of the US Trade Representative.  These are the guys who wrote to his wife in the summer, urging her to stop misleading the public by encouraging them to grow organic gardens.  Yeah.

There hasn’t been a time when political activism is more necessary than now.  And guess what?  Such activism will make you happy.  So go to it.  Change the world–or some definite part of it–for the better.

On Editorial Choice

I recently received an email from a graduate student asking about why I chose a particular poem.  She was okay with me putting our exchange here in the blog so that others could benefit from the comments:

Hi, my name is _________, and I’m an MFA student at _____ State University. I respect your journal and would like to do a presentation on your editorial process for my publishing class. If you have time to answer a few questions, I’d be grateful. If not, thank you for your time and for publishing an amazing literary magazine.

The specific poem I am focusing on is “Insurance” by Kim Triedman, featured on page 6 of edition 20.

1. Why did you choose this poem? It has the albatross/anabiosis theme, but what else do you look for in choosing poetry? In general, are you ever surprised by what you decide to put in your own journal?

I chose this the way I choose any poem:  there’s something about it that won’t let me let it go.  One criterion is that there can’t be anything in the poem that distracts me (an ugly word choice, for example, or an inappropriate metaphor).  Usually it’s an interesting ending that engages me.  There definitely needs to be a sense of voice, like someone is speaking from a position of authority, knows they have something to say and then they say it in a way that grabs your attention.  I accept poems that I want to read again, that–most importantly–move me in some way, engage my emotions, make me say, “Damn!” and catch my breath.

With this particular poem, I happen to know what nasturtiums are like as my wife plants them, and they are beautiful.  Not sure that has much to do with how I experience the poem–probably–in general I like poems that name things (ever read Robert Haas’s poem “Letter”  in Field Guide p. 65?  Stunning).  I liked the build-up of the ending, the list of participles (“teeming–cascading—extrapolating–luxuriating” and the image of “the little open mouths”:  something that’s coming alive while the rest of the world is at the verge of death/autumn.  And the idea of this being “insurance” against the coming winter, against the death of the summer garden, and summer in general…

This one didn’t have the powerful kicker ending some of them have, but I really liked the tone and voice throughout–that sense of authority, like I said (so many submissions come through, even ones from well-published writers, that are flat and drab).  The opening line is great and engaging:  “There is one thing I get right: every spring I plant the nasturtiums.”

I also pay attention to how the poem sounds.  You’ll notice a lot of assonance in this poem, and I find this especially appealing:

“scritch along the walk like small…”

“greenness, even the blossoms, tipped in gold, their little mouths open.”

2.  Did you receive this poem through the slush pile or was it solicited? Were you familiar with Kim Triedman before publishing her?

I don’t solicit poems directly.  It’s all one big slush pile.  I may have published her in a previous issue–that would be the only way I know her.  Here’s an interesting twist:  we are now friends on Facebook.

3. What is your reading process like? Did anyone other than you read “Insurance” or provide editorial input on the final decision?

I am the only one who reads the submissions.  I’m a one-man band.  Reading process:  every couple of months I say, “Shoot, it’s been a couple of months since I’ve done submissions, so I better catch up…” It’s hardest keeping up with email submissions.  I’m not sure I’m answering your question.  Submit follow-up questions if you like.

You should also consult the Albatross blog, where I talk about examples of my process:

http://albatrosspoetryjournal.wordpress.com/category/examples-of-editing/

I then asked her about why she picked that particular poem.  Her reply:

Thanks for responding and directing me to your blog! I just looked at it, and I especially enjoyed the entry regarding how you order poems within an issue. The way order influences structure and perspective has always fascinated me (especially the role order plays in Modernist literature). The impact of organization on a literary magazine is interesting, especially how an effective order allows the poems to stand both independently yet also in dialogue with each other.  All of the revision posts are very relevant to my class, and I’ll certainly include them in my presentation.

I was struck by “Insurance” by Kim Triedman for a fairly odd, personal reason: it reminded me of my mother. The more independent I become, the more fascinating my mom becomes as I see her as a “real” person—sometimes, almost as a stranger. The speaker in “Insurance” is probably so many things to so many people, but when she takes the time to plant the nasturtiums she is reasserting herself as a person with her own needs, fears, and hopes. As you noted, there is also some beautiful language and description in the poem. But the thing that makes me go “damn,” so to speak, is the way the poem doesn’t rely on sentiment but instead uses action and metaphor to deliver such an emotional impact. I chose Albatross in general because it takes an ecological stand and challenges humans to consider how we impact the world around us. Poetry can be such a powerful rhetorical tool, and I respect a journal that welcomes work that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

Ultimately, editorial choice depends on the sensibility, experience, and taste of the editor, all of which results from the powerful complexity of the human brain.  This is why it’s so hard to explain!

Congressional Representation for Nature

The lead article in today’s Boston Globe‘s Ideas section is titled “Sued by the Forest:  Should nature be able to take you to court?”  It tells the story of a New England community–Shapleigh, Maine–that voted in its town meeting,

114-66, to endow all of the town’s natural assets with legal rights: “Natural communities and ecosystems possess inalienable and fundamental rights to exist, flourish and naturally evolve within the Town of Shapleigh.” It further decreed that any town resident had “standing” to seek relief for damages caused to nature – permitting, for example, a lawsuit on behalf of a stream.

This concept of government rights or representation for the environment reminded me of something poet Gary Snyder wrote somewhere.  I went to my shelf looking for Turtle Island but didn’t find it, so I’m stuck with just saying that SOMEWHERE in Snyder’s ouevre is this reference.  The ideas is not new.

I loved it when I first read it, and I love this idea now.

Why not?!  Corporations have the rights and privileges of individuals–it’s called “corporate personhood“–and they have used the Civil Rights Act, for example, to override the democratically determined decision to prevent installation of a cell tower in a small town in Massachusetts.

Yup.  Pretty startling.  So how about “environmental personhood”?

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