Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Break Out Your Dancing Shoes, Poetic Pairings Are Coming

Lisa Vihos, Stoneboat's poetry and arts editor, reporting here:

I have been long fascinated by the way in which poetry, when spoken aloud (as opposed to read in silence from the printed page) is in fact a form of theater. This hit me upside the head a few years back when I staged a reading from my then-new chapbook, The Accidental Present, and instead of me droning on reading poem after poem, I had my friends and neighbors read the majority of poems in my stead. I cast my poems in the voices of people of all ages and walks of life, and the result was pretty nearly breathtaking. Seriously, it was very cool. Even people who had not come to Paradigm coffeehouse that night for poetry looked up from their laptops to listen.

Poetry is drama, comedy, and tragedy all rolled into one. They don't call it the "oral tradition" for nuthin'. You know, "spoken word." We must speak it, share it, converse it. We should do more to raise our voices together more often to explore and unravel what poetry has to tell us.

Hence, the idea was born to create "Poetic Pairings: How Poetry Speaks," in celebration of National Poetry Month.

Come to the Rocca Meeting Room at Mead Public Library in Sheboygan on Monday, April 25 for an evening of engaging poetic pairings. We'll gather at 6:15 for refreshments and then the reading will begin promptly at 6:30. Think of it as "Dancing with the Stars," but without the glittery, low-necked dresses and high-heeled dance shoes.

You will hear from ten different members of the community, including a pastor, a professor, a peace and justice activist, several teachers, and Sheboygan's own mayor, Mike Vandersteen. These individuals will be paired with ten local poets. And the pairs are:

Corey Andreasen and Leighanne Metter-Jensen
Janet Ross and John Sierpinski
Leslie Laster and Sylvia Cavanaugh
Jim Kettler and Jean Biegun (read by Lisa Vihos)
Jim Hollister and Karl Elder
Romy Uceda and Gerald Bertsch
Carol Dussault and Maryann Hurtt
Xia Vue Yang and Jean Tobin

Tricia Marton and Marilyn Zelke-Windau
Mike Vandersteen and Kathryn Gahl. 

Poems by Maya Angelou,
Gabriela Mistral, Pablo Neruda, Marge Piercy, Gary Snyder, and others will be read by the community members in tandem with a local poet, highlighting the ways that poetry allows us to enter into a greater conversation about our place in the world.

Do not, I repeat, do not miss this!

The event is free and refreshments will be served. Oh, I already mentioned refreshments. Anyway, see you next Monday at Mead Public Library. Bring dancing shoes. You know, just in case you feel so good from the poetry that you end up dancing. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Forthcoming from Pebblebrook Press

Pebblebrook Press, an imprint of Stoneboat Literary Journal, is proud to announce the forthcoming release of its fifth poetry collection, Thomas J. Erickson's The Biology of Consciousness. The book is scheduled for release on May 1st, 2016.

Erickson’s poems exhibit a wide variety of voices: the child, the lawyer, the father, the teenager, the philosopher, the dreamer, the lover. In The Biology of Consciousness, the reader journeys with the poet to the heart of chaos, emerging on the other side with new (alleged) clarity regarding the way things are, or the way they might be.

Poet Michael Dennis, author of Coming Ashore on Fire and The Uncertainty of Everything, praises Erickson's work by saying, "Erickson is the first lawyer who has written a book of poetry I’ve read. More importantly, he is the first lawyer to write a book of poetry I love."

Ordering information for The Biology of Consciousness will be available soon.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Elder talks craft, inspiration of Earth as It Is in Heaven

By Gina Covelli

Photo by Benjamin Wilks
It was like old times, sitting in the yellow vinyl chair across from Karl Elder in his Lakeland College office, which was lit only by the late afternoon sun. The standard can of cola in a faded coozie sat to the right of his computer keyboard, hidden among the stacks of books and papers littering his desk. And like I had done so many times before, when I was Karl’s poetry student, I took a casual glance over my left shoulder to see the beautifully classic and complex poster-sized portrait of Anne Sexton before beginning the conversation.

I’ve interviewed Karl Elder, Fessler Professor of Creative Writing and poet in residence at Lakeland, many times in the past as a student journalist. But this time was different. I didn’t sit down with a prepared list of who, what, when, where questions that would become my interpretation of Karl’s story of how he wrote his debut novel Earth as It Is in Heaven. I went in hoping to have a candid conversation that would allow Karl to tell his own story.

For the first time in my experience of meeting with Karl, I was a little nervous about how the interview would go. But it really was like old times, and the conversation took off.

G: You speak of some books that I happen to have read, the 30 books listed on the back of your novel that in some way inspired yours.

K: To the best of my recollection.

G: Can you elaborate on how some of those books inspired you?

K: It almost always had something to do with craft. In the case of Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut—that’s the only novel he gave himself an A for, by the way; he graded all his novels—I was so taken by the refrain that occurred in the novel, “So it goes. So it goes.” You see it every 500 words or something like that, “So it goes.” He used it in such a way that it suggested the mindset of the characters so that I just started using devices like it. Every once in a while, the main character will say, “That’s another story, although it ain’t really.” And there are other phrases like that.

G: Every time [the protagonist] Stick mentions Digger, he says “Bless him.” He had certain phrases for certain people.

K: Yeah. But like I say, those things are craft. I was so taken by the book Riddley Walker, which I had read in the early ’80s. It just blew my mind because it was the greatest example of manufacturing a language that I had ever seen. I was inspired to do that, even though what I do is a pittance relative to what Russell Hoban does. It’s just fantastic. There’s a book in the list that I’m sure nobody around [the Sheboygan, Wisconsin area] has read before called Loony. It appeared as a special issue of Apple, a magazine that came out of Champaign-Urbana. The book of poems was authored by William Kloefkorn, a poet from Nebraska, and Loony is about a guy who just does not have his act together. He’s intellectually challenged, so it was on my mind that I could have a character that was intellectually challenged. Again, it’s a matter of craft.

G: As far as process goes, you have all these books that inspired you, but how did you put this together?

K: There’s not much that changed from the first draft. Not much at all. [The changes] had to do with making the language consistent afterwards. The storyline itself has seen very little change from the ’80s. I found, completely by accident, the first note I took—what I believe to be the germ of Earth as It Is in Heaven. It’s on the back of a small piece of letterhead from my first job in Missouri in the late ’70s, which probably means I had been kicking the novel around in my head for five or six years before I began it in earnest. I can only remember one change. I added a joke. I thought of it when I was reading a passage to a class one day. For me, it’s the funniest line in the whole damn novel. I prefer not to say what that is. But for me, personally, it was, “Why didn’t I think of this earlier!”

G: Was it a story line you mapped out, or was it something that came very organically?

K: Organic. The underpinnings of the story involve life experiences that are like little platforms, and I jump off of that platform onto another thing. I’ll give you an example. When I was twelve years old, I spent a lot of time in the summer riding my bicycle around town. The town was only 650 people and I know all the streets, and one day I’m about two blocks from my house. I see a car I’ve never seen before and the car is moving, not parking. And a few minutes later, I see the car again, and it’s still moving. That’s the impetus for the Corvair the narrator sketches [in the novel]. Because there was, in this little town, a bank robbery. So I hear about the bank robbery, and of course I’m like every other kid, I don’t have anything else to do, so I go to see what’s going on at the bank. In fact I may have heard the alarm, but I can’t say for sure, because with this particular bank, the alarm was known to go off on its own. But I’m standing there with a bunch of other people outside the bank, and all of a sudden this guy comes out of the bank.  He’s wearing a three-piece suit, and he wants to know if anyone’s seen a strange car. He’s the FBI. So they took me into the bank and they had paint samples of cars and he wanted me to pick it out. I picked it out even though I’m somewhat color blind. But back then, there weren’t that many shades of silver. It’s little things like that in my experience. I do know this, though: it was my dream to create a story with a female Christ figure.

G: So, going into the novel, when you developed the Schoolteacher’s character, did you go into it knowing she was going to have this message [as the female Christ figure], or was that discovered along the way?

K: Discovered. I didn’t know how I was going to do it when I started. And you know what, there’s not much that I discarded. It’s pretty much like one sentence led into another. I wasn’t pulling out whole sections and rewriting. I spent a lot of time on individual sentences and went from one sentence to another.

G: Do you think that you went with that approach because of your background in poetry?

K: Certainly I have a great deal of difficulty abandoning sentences. I can’t get to the next sentence easily. I’ve spent an awful lot of time on lines. I’ve never been able to live up to the advice I give my students—write it all out first. Oh, I take that back. I’ve been able to do that with flash fiction about ten times.

G: You had mentioned in a Sheboygan Press article that writing this manuscript helped you to write poetry. How did that happen?

K: I don’t know how it happened, but I know what the effect was. I know that, for example, shortly thereafter, I was able to write a fairly long poem that was one sentence. I found there was more music in the line than previously. I would love to know, but I have no way of knowing how, unless I were to be hypnotized or something.  You know, I wrote the novel in this room. I wrote it from eight in the morning until noon.  I had a sign on the door, “Stay Away”—or something to that effect—because I wrote it while on sabbatical. I’d read in the afternoon, and I’d go home at night and get the kids supper and get them to bed, but then, later that night, I was writing poems. I’d be exhausted by the time noon rolled around, and the rest of the day would go by and then I was writing poems. I bet I wrote in the neighborhood of a dozen poems while I was writing the novel. I’m not one who dates the stuff, so I don’t know what poems I actually wrote then. I just wonder if that contributed to the transition in some way, from a style that was much more stark to one that was much more…. This is funny, I haven’t thought of this. It was that the stanzas, shall we say, subsequent to the novel, weren’t as heavily edited. They were longer. Before this novel, they were not heavily edited, trying to get all the stanza out. Previously, they were heavily—I mean, initially I was working with lines instead of stanzas. And afterwards, it was more like I was working with stanzas instead of lines. That’s a crude way to describe it, but that’s the only way I can put my finger on it now.

G: The novel is set in Freeland, and there’s the nearby town of Lawless, but you don’t really see the world that they’re set in. Is there a reason why you chose not to have that in there?

K: If I could have done it without Lawless, I would have done it without Lawless. But I figured I had to have Lawless for a very practical reason. I had to have something to bounce this community off of so it would make it its own. If it was just there by itself, it wouldn’t have seemed as real. But the thing that led me to keep it as confined as I did was the first sentence: “It were the Schoolteacher come to call it such as Anarchtopia what with all the goings-on.” A utopia is a confined thing. It has to happen outside the context of the rest of the world, it seems to me. And another thing, this being only my second novel [first published novel], I needed to help myself maintain control over it because I knew it wasn’t going to be realism. I had to put some kind of fence around it, and, thus, to make it more credible. If these weird things are going to happen, it seemed to me, it would be more believable if they happened in a place and not any other place.

G: Did the voice of the narrator come to you pretty easily? You just spoke that first sentence of the story.  Did the dialect and the voice just come out of thin air to you, or was it something you had to find?

K: I loved the way my mother-in-law says certain words. And I love that I have a brother-in-law who, out of jest, plays with pronouns. He’ll use what for that. I love that there are sayings that seemed almost indigenous to the community I grew up in. And that led me to give a more southern tinge to the language. The voice came pretty easily, and I can remember being pissed off when I saw Forrest Gump, because I said, “Oh, shit, he’s stealing what I’ve already done.” I had written the novel before the film appeared.  I’m taken by the colorfulness of certain southern dialects, too.

G: I suspected you either had a lot of fun throwing everything in there or gave yourself a lot of headaches trying to make them all connect.

K: It was a lot of both. It was a huge puzzle. But I went with it because I had the strangest experience with the first novel. Maybe it wasn’t a strange experience because I think everyone has it, who writes fiction. I threw in as a detail a pocket watch into the first novel, and I don’t know why I did it. And it turns out, it’s the pivotal thing, it’s the answer to everything in the mystery.

G: Were there other knots you had to untangle?

K: Oh, yeah. The “incest.”

G: Yes, I was going to ask you about the relationship between Stick and the Schoolteacher, because “she is but she isn’t.”

K: And then the vehicle to convey that, it seemed to me, was Floyd. Floyd knew her. I’m not as close to the story as I once was, and I can’t tell you that what I’m about to say is accurate, but what I believe is that I got away with it by simply saying, she was getting younger every day. Or “ever day,” as the speaker says. So her body is changing. She’s not the same person, literally. And I can imagine someone potentially being offended by what they perceive to be incest, but on the other hand, I can imagine that reader worming out of the problem by saying, it is miraculous. She’s physically not the same person.

G: I suspected, as I read it, that something was going to happen with the two of them. There was always a connection. In the beginning it was the Schoolteacher’s eyes and the focus on her, and then as she got younger every day and [she and Stick] kept interacting, something was going to happen. And then you find out who she is, and it takes your mind a little bit to piece it together.  “She is but she isn’t.”  It was interesting.

K: I’m glad you say so.

G: Which character did you resonate with the most, or have the strongest connection to, as you were writing?

K: It’s hard to leave any of them behind; they’re all my children. I don’t tend to see people as schizoids. I think of people as their minds being complex. There are a lot of influences that go into the making of a personality. In order to answer your question, I think I have to say the main character. He wonders things that I wonder, like when he’s talking about Cromangon Man for example. Cromangon Man might have the right idea, but it seems to the narrator, if he keeps thinking that way, it’s going to be a hell of a life—he’s going to have a lot of conflict. There are things I’ve wondered in my life that I put into the mind of the main character.  I have affection for nearly all of [the characters], except for Termite and the Banker and Pyro. I don’t have much affection for them. I have a lot of sympathy for the Banker’s wife. It’s real easy to identify with Luda, also. She’s got some great motherly advice. I don’t know. But I love Little Ludy. Love Little Ludy. You know what my thought was when I finished the book? Little Ludy will be in the sequel. It didn’t happen. I started writing poems again.

G: One thing I wondered as I read the novel was about the term gink. What does that look like to you? I kept trying to picture what it meant. There’s a very distinct difference in the narrator’s mind of who’s a gink and who isn’t, and that’s the way it is. It didn’t appear his own father was classified as a gink with the rest of them. I’m curious what that means.

K: Had I apprised you earlier of the fact that gink is an actual word? I was shocked when I looked it up to find out it was a real word. But I heard my mother-in-law use it. And what she was talking about was a weird kid. So if you look it up, you see definitions like this: a peculiar boy, an odd boy. It’s always a male.

G: What’s one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

K: Just joy. Have a good time with it. But when you produce something like this, you say to yourself, wouldn’t it be interesting if somebody came along and made a movie out of it?

G: One final question—on the novel’s back cover, you mention a thank-you to Mark Strand for his question. Can you tell me the question?

K: Nope.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Marketing Happens

Here at Pebblebrook Press, as is the case at so many small presses, we are grateful for the ingenuity of our authors’ marketing efforts to promote their books. Since our staff is only four people (all of us with day jobs and a literary journal called Stoneboat to produce twice a year), and since the bank account balance for the journal and press combined rarely exceeds triple digits, we simply don't have the time or the resources to extensively market our book titles. We send out review copies, we take books to festivals and other events, and we sing our titles’ praises on social media, but as far as actual "marketing campaigns" go, well, we know we are rather lacking in this department.

What we do not lack, however, is a willingness to support the creative efforts of the writers we have been lucky enough to publish, amazing writers, all of them. We are happy to assist them in the journeys they take into the land of self-promotion. We stand at the ready to follow each person's lead. We are here to send letters, make phone calls, nominate for awards, and show up at readings.

Thanks to the hard work of Pebblebrook author Mark Zimmermann, it is with great pleasure that the editors of Stoneboat/Pebblebrook Press will be at Boswell's Books in Milwaukee on Thursday evening, January 14, when Mark reads from his poetry collection, Impersonations, at 7:00 p.m. We applaud Mark for doing the legwork on this one, and for his diligence in staying on task to promote the book.

In addition to the reading, he will be interviewed on Milwaukee Public Radio’s Lake Effect program next week. Mark made the initial contact with the program's producer, and then nudged us to write a letter on his behalf. The rest is history. (Well, not yet, but it will be soon enough.) Tune in to WUWM (89.7 FM) on Tuesday, January 12h at 10:00 a.m. and hear it for yourself.

Please do catch the interview, and then, join us at Boswell's on Thursday night. Meanwhile, I think we might want to consider bringing some of our authors on board to help us market all of our Pebblebrook Press titles. They're pretty good at it...

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Freezin' for a Reason

When was the last time you put on a swim suit and jumped into the icy cold waters of Lake Michigan in the middle of goddamn winter?  For us here in Stoneboatlandia, it has been almost one year to the day. Yes, my friends, it is time once again for our annual Polar Bear Plunge fundraiser. (Donate here.) Let me say right away that I, Poetry and Arts Editor Lisa Vihos, do not go in the water. I leave that to the professionals. I have carried towels, blankets, and hot chocolate. I provide the warming house because I live near the lake. I just don't go in.

Did you know that the Polar Bear Plunge happens all over the world, under a variety of different names? Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, anyplace where there is cold water in large quantity, people are apparently eager to jump into it for a good cause. In many places, plunges are held specifically to raise funds for charities. For example, in Long Beach, New York, the fun happens on Super Bowl Sunday, when about 2,000 people jump into the Atlantic Ocean to raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. “Plungapalooza” happens in Maryland at Sandy Point State Park and is the largest plunge event in the United States. In 2007, that particular plunge had 7,400 participants and raised $2.2 million for the Special Olympics.

2.2. Million. Dollars. You see? We at Stoneboat are right in step with some of the most lucrative, grassroots fundraising efforts on the planet, all because Stoneboat founder and Co-Editor in Chief Rob Pockat had the brilliant (or crazy) idea, just a few days before the 2014 plunge, that he’d read a poem in the icy lake on New Year’s Day if he could raise a mere $50 for the journal. We were all dumbfounded when the donations began pouring in and the goal amount was reached in just an hour or two. Rob then convinced Co-Editor in Chief Signe Jorgenson to sweeten the pot by making the bold offer that if the donations reached a certain level, she would go in, too. Perhaps she did not expect such great response. But, money was raised, and in they both went. Talk about dedication!

In the Netherlands, there are 89 beaches across the country that host plunges on New Year's Day. There, the event is called "Nieuwjaarsduik" (New Year's Dive).  In the UK, the event is called "Loony Dook" and happens in South Queensferry, Scotland.  Don't let the word "south" fool you. It is f'n freezing, I'm sure. In the Northwest Territories of Canada, an event is held in March and is called "Freezin for a Reason." How poetic is that?

Whatever you call it, I'll tell you one thing: it is amazing what Signe and Rob are prepared to do to keep our little boat afloat. Please click here to make this ass-freezing adventure worthwhile for them and for all the prose writers, poets, and artists who will warm the pages of Stoneboat in the coming year.  On behalf of all of them, I say a heartfelt thank you.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Polar Bear Plunge 2016

That's right! We're taking the plunge—again. In 2014 and 2015, our editors-in-chief rang in the New Year with a plunge into the icy waters of Lake Michigan to raise funds that have helped Stoneboat Literary Journal stay up and running and able to continue publishing great fiction, poetry, nonfiction, graphic literature, and artwork.

This year, Rob and Signe will be taking the polar bear plunge again, and we'd like to give those who donate a little something in return. Feel free to donate any amount—even a dollar or two helps—but those who donate the following amounts will receive some exciting Stoneboat prizes:

$10: handmade Stoneboat bookmark
$30: your choice of one of the following Pebblebrook poetry collections: Impersonations by Mark Zimmermann, Momentary Ordinary by Marilyn Zelke-Windau, or a berserker stuck in traffic by Erik Richardson
$50: a one year subscription (or extension of your subscription) to Stoneboat
$75: a two year subscription (or extension of your subscription) to Stoneboat
$100: You choose the dedication for a future issue of Stoneboat!

Oh, and if you're super invested in the suffering of our editors-in-chief in the numbing cold, you'll be happy to know that if we reach our donation goal of $500, Rob and Signe will fully submerge themselves underwater, a feat that is not so easily done, as you'll see if you watch the YouTube footage below of last year's plunge.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lipogram Contest Winner Announced

Our imprint, Pebblebrook Press, recently held a poetry contest to celebrate the release of Mark Zimmermann's collection of lipograms, Impersonations. Entrants were challenged to write a poem using the lipogram constraint, which requires poets to deliberately exclude certain letters from their poems. Zimmermann was the judge; he read the poems blindly and selected Jason Primm's "Stoneboat" as the winner. Primm, whose short story "Light" appeared in Stoneboat 2.1, used only the letters in the poem's title to compose his work, which appears below.

Stoneboat An eon
No boots.
No boats.
No bent notes.
One soon noon?
As season
beat sonatas
on stone.
Toast taboos.
Nose ears.
Eat beast.
“O Babe!”,
“O boon!”
As oboes

Judge Mark Zimmerann says, "In the winning poem, 'Stoneboat,' the author sets to work with only seven letters to use—a very challenging constraint—and comes up with a free associative word salad of sound and image that embodies the kinds of surprises that can result from lipogrammatic writing. Thanks to all who entered the contest. Your work shows, once again, that matters of poetic freedom, creative expression, and formal constraint aren’t mutually exclusive—not by a longshot."

The Pebblebrook Press team joins Zimmermann in thanking all of the poets who entered the contest. The work was creative, thought-provoking, and fun to read. Zimmermann had a difficult task in choosing just one winner, and we're glad we weren't charged with making the decision.

Zimmermann's collection of lipograms, which was released earlier this week from Pebblebrook Press, is available here.