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Mud City is an online literary journal promoting the ideals and vision of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) Low Residency MFA Program.

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Michaelsun Knapp Interviews Poet Aimee Nezhukumatathil

Mud City Staff

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is Professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia, where she teaches creative writing and environmental literature. Recent honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of three poetry collections: LUCKY FISH (2011), winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books; AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the Global Filipino Award and a finalist for The Glasgow Prize and the Asian American Literary Award.  Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of nature poems with the poet Ross Gay. She is the poetry editor of Orion magazine and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares,and Tin House. In 2016-17, Nezhukumatathil will be the Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi’s MFA program in creative writing.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is Professor of English at State University of New York-Fredonia, where she teaches creative writing and environmental literature.

Recent honors include a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of three poetry collections: LUCKY FISH (2011), winner of the gold medal in Poetry from the Independent Publisher Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize for Independent Books; AT THE DRIVE-IN VOLCANO (2007), winner of the Balcones Prize; and MIRACLE FRUIT (2003), winner of the Tupelo Press Prize, ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award, the Global Filipino Award and a finalist for The Glasgow Prize and the Asian American Literary Award.  Her most recent chapbook is LACE & PYRITE, a collaboration of nature poems with the poet Ross Gay.

She is the poetry editor of Orion magazine and her poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry series, American Poetry Review, New England Review, Poetry, Ploughshares,and Tin House. In 2016-17, Nezhukumatathil will be the Grisham Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi’s MFA program in creative writing.

Michaelsun Knapp: I was wondering if you would mind talking about INSIDE THE CLOUD FOREST DOME, its impetus and some of the process of writing and revising that poem, and I would selfishly like to hear you discuss the choices you made to, in the first half, do these fabulous leaps, and then, in the second half, do this wonderful delineation staying on the forest and walk in Cloud Forest Dome, and to stop leaping.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil: A few years ago, the wonderful writer Robin Hemley invited me to give a reading in Singapore and during my down time, I visited the namesake garden of the title with my mother. I’ve been going to botanical gardens all my life, all over the world—I mean, I have very distinct memories of sitting in a stroller and leaning over and trying to grab flowers with my chubby hand—but nothing could prepare me for the wondrous beauty of Singapore’s gardens. The caesuras are a way to signal to the reader that not only is the speaker hesitant in trying to recreate this magical place too thoroughly, but there are also huge moments unspoken about a parent’s guilt from being away from home, fitting in perfectly, and not so perfectly.

MK: Line 7 in that poem, “here rotten?  Everything roots” is so great! Would you talk to me about the process you took to craft the poem to come to this mind-blowing line?

AN: Thanks! The truth is I can’t exactly name a moment of specific direction in any of my poems. All I know is 99% of the time, I start with an image, not a concept or even a mood—for this poem, I started simply with a sketch of liana vines (plants I’d never encountered before in person or a picture from a book, and not that I’m some sort of botanist at all, but this is quite rare for me to not have at least heard about this plant, so I was terribly vexed and excited about liana all at once). I thought I was going to write an essay about the plant at first, but the siren call of compression and a tiny bit of telegraphing in poetry called to me instead. All I know the minute I feel like I ‘know’ what the poem is going to be about, it’s a signal for me to leap and leap in the poem to a place where I don’t feel comfortable. It’s only during revision that I can go back and look at that happy mess of words and try to make sense of it.

MK: What kind of impulses did you have with this poem that you tried and kept, tied and then discarded, or ones you thought of but didn’t engage in, and why?

AN: After my first draft, I knew I didn’t want the main focus to be on the speaker being a “tourist” in the poem, and so I cut a dozen or so lines that concentrated on the speaker so that the specifics and musicality of the garden itself are hopefully what stands out more than the I of the poem.

MK: Birth Geographic blew me away. I was crying in a Starbucks after I read it the first time, and then again at work at 3am. I have to know, how did you write that? There is so much vulnerability and love and pain and hope. How did you survive writing that?

AN: Oh my goodness—you are way too, too kind! Thank you so much! That piece from Lucky Fish was first published as a lyric essay and I’m eternally grateful to essayist Barrie Jean Borich for seeking it out in the first place. An editor once told me to wait ten or so years before ever writing about pregnancy or childbirth, and though it stung at the time, I’m glad that it didn’t silence me or stop me from tackling the subject of having a difficult emergency birth of my first son. What it did do was put me back to my desk and really interrogate each word of that piece (more than my usual revisions/edits), and to focus on each bit of white space, to make sure it was saying what I needed that piece to say. I had never seen any piece of writing about a Caesarean birth that didn’t cast it as this evil monstrosity or the mother as pretty much a failure. I wondered where were all the poems that sang of the beauty (and sheer terror—I didn’t want to shy away from the very real fear I had) and strength of such a common occurrence?

I never thought I’d publish it. It was the first thing in a couple of years that I wanted to write just for my own eyes, and perhaps for my husband, and for much later—my son, as a record of how he came into this world— and I hope it stands as a record of what huge love and gratefulness I have for them. At the time, there was a big trend-wave of these hugely ironic, detached poems, so I thought there was no place in publishing for a big messy love poem featuring a C-section in the middle of it, but it’s actually one of my most requested poems when I give readings at colleges across the country. And not from mothers, either, but more from sons and daughters who were themselves c-section babies and who tell me they’d just never read anything like it. It’s miles away the most personal thing I’ve ever written to date and as such, it’s far easier for me to imagine people just skipping over it in my book. J

MK: What books are coming out that have you excited to get to read?

AN: Oh there is always a pile of books near my bed about to topple over. For poetry, I’m excited for Raena Shirali’s debut book, GILT. Allison Joseph has a bunch of chapbooks coming out next year, and there’s also LOOK, by Solmaz Sharif, and HALO by C. Dale Young. Now it looks like I’m into one word titles right now or something, but I swear I didn’t plan that! As for non-fiction, I’m absorbed in reading about coconuts and snowflakes right now.

Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp is a tribal member of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe of Ohlone Indians. He holds a BA in English Literature from California State University, San Bernardino, and received a Lannan Foundation Scholarship to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts Low-Residence MFA program in poetry. His poems have been published widely across the United States and the internet.

Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp is a tribal member of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe of Ohlone Indians. He holds a BA in English Literature from California State University, San Bernardino, and received a Lannan Foundation Scholarship to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts Low-Residence MFA program in poetry. His poems have been published widely across the United States and the internet.

 

2 Poems by Aimee Nezhukumatathil


INSIDE THE CLOUD FOREST DOME

 

 

            The needles                         from the hoop pines

inside            the cloud forest      remind me

            of the bristles of my son's baby brush

                                    and I am sick          with a cold so I ask

                        the waiter     if they serve any ramen

            but he thinks I'm asking,             Is anything

here rotten?              Everything roots

                        so well here             in the cloud forest, like

            the liana vines draping               purple smiles

                        along the walkway                       of the biodome.

Nothing is rotten               in the cloud forest.

            Everything is fresh,                       especially the crown drip,

                        the fog drip,             the stemflow

                                                into humble streams and pools.

 

 

Starfish and Coffee

after the song with the same name, by Prince

 

Prince knows the sexiest meal of the day is breakfast—

the meal that separates the sexy from the selfish shellfish

after a night so wild the fitted sheets slough

halfway off the bed like velella velella jellyfish—

 

the bluesails left on the shore after a riotous night.

And that’s how you feel after tumbling

like sea stars on the ocean floor over each other.

A night where it doesn’t matter

 

which are arms or which are legs

or what radiates and how --

only your centers stuck together.

Underwater volcanoes send up pillow lava

 

and after a night like that you rest

your head on it, not caring about

the burn, but the startle of falling asleep

with his lip just inside yours.

 

All the shifts and small adjustments

with this fish-bright and beautiful body.

A nightstand knocked clean of its clock.

What care and flair goes into the person

 

who rises after a night like that to mix

flour, sugar, eggs, and oil—who puts on

a pot of hickory coffee, a fine butter dish,

a vial of syrup on the table—then goes back

 

to the bed where you lay: cheeks still rosy,

one hand still clutching a fistful of pillow,

hair tentacled over the side of the bed

your three hearts so full, so hungry, so purple. 

 

 

 

b: William Bearhart Interviews Poet & Screen Writer Shane Book

Mud City Staff

Shane Book is a poet and filmmaker. He was educated at New York University; the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. His first poetry collection, Ceiling of Sticks (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a Poetry Society of America “New Poets” Selection. His second, Congotronic (University of Iowa Press/House of Anansi Press, 2014), is a finalist for the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Lampman Award and the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. His short film, Dust (2013), screened around the world on television and in numerous film festivals including the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, the Santa Cruz Film Festival, and the Hollywood Black Film Festival. His next film, Praise and Blame, stars Costas Mandylor (Sex and the City, The SAW movies, The Doors) and will be released in 2015. The recipient of many screenwriting and directing prizes, his other honours include fellowships to the Telluride Film Festival, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the MacDowell Colony and Cave Canem; a New York Times Fellowship; an Academy of American Poets Prize; the Charles Johnson Prize; The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize and a National Magazine Award.

Shane Book is a poet and filmmaker. He was educated at New York University; the Iowa Writers’ Workshop; and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. His first poetry collection, Ceiling of Sticks (University of Nebraska Press, 2010), won the Prairie Schooner Book Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was a Poetry Society of America “New Poets” Selection. His second, Congotronic (University of Iowa Press/House of Anansi Press, 2014), is a finalist for the Canadian Authors Association Award, the Lampman Award and the 2015 Griffin Poetry Prize. His short film, Dust (2013), screened around the world on television and in numerous film festivals including the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, the Santa Cruz Film Festival, and the Hollywood Black Film Festival. His next film, Praise and Blame, stars Costas Mandylor (Sex and the City, The SAW movies, The Doors) and will be released in 2015. The recipient of many screenwriting and directing prizes, his other honours include fellowships to the Telluride Film Festival, the Flaherty Film Seminar, the MacDowell Colony and Cave Canem; a New York Times Fellowship; an Academy of American Poets Prize; the Charles Johnson Prize; The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize and a National Magazine Award.


A while back I participated in a workshop where our workshop leader had mentioned that as writers/poets our idea(s) of a line will change over time. What do you feel defines a line or how do you approach a line in your work?

When I first started writing I was very conscious of the line, worrying about, thinking and re-thinking about where to break it and what it meant for the poem. Now I don’t think about it very much; I break lines instinctively, proceeding by what feels right. I break lines depending on the effect I want in the poem—and by effect I mean by the speed I want from the line and the pacing at different points of the poem. There’s also a visual component to it: I think about the shape of the poem on the page in terms of how it relates to what the poem is singing/saying/thinking/not saying. My idea of the line changes poem to poem and is dependent on the poem’s demands.

Maybe to push this idea of a line further, how did your approach to writing Ceiling of Sticks differ from your approach to writing Congotronic?

I seem to remember one reviewer saying that the unit of the poems in Ceiling of Sticks was the sentence. That’s probably fair. The poems in Ceiling of Sticks work from memories and photographs, within a documentary impulse. They explore pivotal, sometimes dramatic moments, in a wide-ranging number of places in the world.  Some work from family history but I don’t think of it as a book concerned with “the self.” Throughout, the poems are concerned with people who aren’t often seen in poems, people typically lost to history. Often explicitly narrative, there’s a certain formalism in that book—the sestina, the pantoum, blank verse, syllabics all appear here. Some of the poems are homages to other poets in terms of style—and are directly influenced by those poets. 

In Congotronic I wanted to write relying more heavily on sound, the sound of words, language. As a result some of the poems proceed word-to-word, line-to-line on the basis of sound. Different kinds of music directly influenced the book, from free jazz to hip hop, as did ideas and texts from Western philosophy and the texts and history of North American slavery and West African mythology. 

I wanted the reader or hearer of poems in the book to have an experience in language; many of the poems are written as immersive linguistic events. The poems in Congotronic don’t use a smoothly rendered, plain style to tell stories. They don’t refer to places outside of themselves as much as the poems in Ceiling Sticks do. Words in Congotronic are objects, with texture, size and so on. When writing Congotronic I tried to surprise myself line-to-line, word-to-word. I also wanted to incorporate different linguistic registers within the same poem—so there’s an element of collage or at least poems sometimes feel collaged (even if they’re not). In a couple of the poems I wondered what would happen if I tried to fuse language from very different sources, e.g. interviews with people who had been slaves spliced together with bits from the diary of someone who owned a slave plantation. The poems in Congotronic are meant to be heard out loud as much as read silently. Recently, after my readings, audience members have approached me to say they now suddenly “understand” or “get” the poems; they say that after hearing them they’re able to feel something that wasn't evident when just silently reading the poem to themselves. 

I’ve read some interviews where you talk about poems feeling different from one another and as I read Congotronic it felt like the poems spoke well to each other and were connected yet each poem contained its own autonomous space. What techniques did you employ to achieve this?

I wanted each poem to be a community in language. So that’s the autonomy part. The poems were written over many years and selected from a large body of work, poems I discarded because they didn't fit together well. The actual order was finalized by my excellent editor, who ordered the manuscript in a way I never could have. I’m terrible at devising an order for my own books. 

Some of the poems have recurring images and are grouped together on that basis—e.g. there are some that mention the sea and they appear in proximity to one another. Others have the thematic recurrence of a character like Sundiata or Ol’ Trawler. Others employ a specific speaking voice (or voices) that seems to speak to other poems around it, conversationally.

I recall thinking that I wanted the autonomy to be there so that a person could read the book in any order they chose. I don't tend to read poetry books from front to back—I just dip in and out in no particular order. And I wanted the book to work that way but also work in a way that a person could start at the beginning and read linearly.  I will say that while my editor ordered the poems so that a person can read the book either way, he started with more “approachable” poems in the front part and was careful to provide points of “rest” where the wildness and volume decreases—they’re like rest points on a highway—for anyone proceeding from front to back. That’s one advantage of having different kinds of poems within one book: you get to employ varieties of intensity, mood, speed, procedure, strategy, and so on. 

“New” and “Contemporary” seem to be common descriptors that folks use when discussing your work. Do you have any thoughts on why people feel this way about your poems?

I can’t speak about why other people feel some type of way about the poems. What I can say is I wanted to write a book that could feel contemporary now and stay that way so that hopefully the book’s “newness” could persist into the unpredictable future. It’s up to others to determine if I succeeded in this aim. 

You have poems of varied lengths, when do you know a poem is finished?

As with line breaks, at this point, knowing when a poem is finished is an instinctive thing, a feeling. Often in revising a piece I will cut the poem’s ending as short as possible. I never want to publish a poem that goes on too long. It’s kind of like having a guest at your house who can’t take a hint that the party’s over. 

When I was starting out if I was reading a poem and was struck by a great ending I would read the poem intensely, over and over, examining it to see how the poet did what they did. And I would try to emulate the technique in my next poem. 

Thank you so much for taking time to answer these questions. Do you have any advice you’d like to offer poets who have just begun their forays into the publishing world?

You’re welcome. 

Find a publisher who cares about your book and seems really excited by it because you want someone who will support the book once it is out in the world. You want someone who will, for example, send it out to reviewers. 

Read the books of the publishers you are sending your manuscript to – before you send it out. Look at your favourite books and see who published them. You want to send your work to places whose publishing lists you like and to places that publish work that seems aesthetically related to your work. It is hard to get a book published; if you really believe in the work, keep sending it out. And no matter what, you must not give up.

b: william bearhart is a direct descendent of the St Croix Chippewa of Wisconsin and an MFA candidate in the Lo Rez program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His work can be found in places like Cream City Review, inter|rupture, PANK, Tupelo Quarterly, and Yellow Medicine Review.

b: william bearhart is a direct descendent of the St Croix Chippewa of Wisconsin and an MFA candidate in the Lo Rez program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His work can be found in places like Cream City Review, inter|rupture, PANK, Tupelo Quarterly, and Yellow Medicine Review.

 

3 Poems by Shane Book


World Town

 

Entirely windless, today’s sea; of these waters’ many names 

the best seemed “field-of-pearl-leaves,” for it smelled like the air 

in the house he built entirely of doors: pink school door,

gold of the burnt hotel, two old church blues, the abandoned 

bank’s steel doors singular and immovably wedged over

the family’s heads though as with everything corroding 

the sense of themselves slipping away in the heat, 

falling through the day’s brightness the way soldiers 

once fell upon him walking home with a bucket of natural 

water as he had been recalling the town square 

before the tannery’s closing: he and his father shopping 

on horseback in the noon Praça where they first saw

a man crouched under a black shroud, what his father called 

a camera. His father forgot the incident immediately, but 

for years the man asked whomever if they remembered 

a camera, vegetable stalls, the butcher holding the cleaver, 

a horseshoeing shop, purple berries, the long cassava valley haze,

fishnets, a few crab baskets and browning nets 

drying by the ice cream shop, seven taverns,

a small, unused ferry terminal, a map on its wall outlining 

the island in blue, the names Good Dispatch, Lover’s Bridge 

pointed to by a mermaid of skin whiter than anyone 

on this island of Angola’s descendants, her red hair.

 

Janelas

 

I have a home in my son’s hand. 

The pier is out, the quay closed at noon.

You can sob, so be it, as if dates, as

though you had an oven of dough

everyone wanted. Day, I’m a over it; 

out rowing an O.K. used pear, 

sailing your barcode, you shop with the pain

you’re out now, avowing. 

Our row cake vice squeezing through

sewer hour, I sail mystery O 

sewer! Made on that pall of rat veil

A forms a dream navy 

in the unclear I don’t miss saying.

 

Flagelliform # 61

Tilted away

                1

I broke off the dangling shrub    and inserted it     above my ear.

Bent in at the bellyI sweated,     to fitto try to fit.

                2

The dangling shrub    was bruised.    

It moved a little move    and Lady Song-of-Jamestown 

said in my hear: Why    is broken.

                3

Spooked    I    

leapt    a leafy thwart

into my thinking vessel    the aluminum canoe

and in my here said Lady Song-of-Jamestown: 

“Why    its smelters long ago felled at The-Task-is-Incomplete,     a falling 

artist felling them    name of 

The-Coriander-of-Mother-and-Child

who wearscrown of shells    partly concealing    

a turban of layered light.”

                4

I stared straight ahead,    paddling.

 

My canoe walls hung with barkcloth    a giant dentalium

and four figureheads in lignified paste    (We watching).

 

The ivory one called,    Tapping-Out-Of-Time. 

And the dark muscular one,    Below-The-Galleon-Decks.    

And the remembered one named,    Palm-Thatch-Floor.

And the little one called,   Fruit-of-the-Distant-Weep     (mothered black,   from sleeping).

                5

Lady Song-of-Jamestown    mending her fishnets 

pulled the water-hook     from my hand.

                6

“Lady Song-of-Jamestown, what shovels you?” I shouted 

over my shoulder    and turning

struck her     with my net handle

and broke off the deep brown armor    Below-The-Galleon-Decks  

and drug and drug…

                7

When at last I got to farthest other shore 

I turned to Fruit-of-the-Distant-Weep    saying, 

“O chilefor what you sleeping?   Look 

at the ripe groceries on the overhanging branch,”    and grabbing    

my gray-spined spear        reached up 

to tap a bag in the cluster of bags 

into the canoe    and with my blade,    halfed it:    

toast    mollusky iron telescope pipes    and the posted reward.

                8

And though silence descended on Tapping-Out-Of-Time

and Palm-Thatch-Floor reeled in some distance,

the Wept-Slept chileflew open and smiled

scooped up fondles of sea moss    and threw at my feet.

                9

And inching along the gunwales 

I dancedand danced“     pushed walk.”

Journey of an Intern: Hashtag Poetry

Mud City Staff

SASHA LAPOINTE is a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe. Her work has appeared in the Portland Review, As/Us journal, THE magazine, and Aborted Society online zine. Sasha lives in Seattle where she is currently pursuing her mfa through the Institute of American Indian Arts with a focus on nonfiction and poetry.

SASHA LAPOINTE is a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe. Her work has appeared in the Portland Review, As/Us journal, THE magazine, and Aborted Society online zine. Sasha lives in Seattle where she is currently pursuing her mfa through the Institute of American Indian Arts with a focus on nonfiction and poetry.

It’s a strange space to occupy, that space that exists somewhere between student and professional. It’s a place between school and career. It’s kind of like limbo, especially when you add to that nameless existence a low-residency MFA program. Friends ask, “Why are you always busy? What are you even doing? But you’re just, like, at home right?” Yes, my classroom is just my bedroom. Yes, it is mostly independent.  It made sense that I needed some direction. I needed a space to occupy. My classroom exists through a screen and that day-to-day, face-to-face interaction was what I was hungry for.  It was through this hunger that I found my way to Port Townsend to spend a winter interning at Copper Canyon Press. I wanted a place to wake up and go to every day. I wanted to be surrounded by poetry. I wanted to learn what the world of poetry looked like outside of the classroom. 

On the first day of the internship, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had spent years bartending, waitressing, making coffee. I’ve learned the art of the service industry in Seattle, where the closest thing you get to a uniform is a matching tattoo with another barista. Perhaps the same apron.  I had zero idea how to present myself in an office environment. I did my best to dress the part. I channeled Sherilyn Finn a la Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks. Pencil skirts and button-up blouses. I covered my tattoos. I found my “Most capable looking ensemble,” to quote Cher from Clueless when she’s aiming to pass her driver’s test. 

I walked in the grey rain along the beach to Fort Warden. It felt like the first day of school sans the lunch pail and free ride. When I walked into the old foundry building in Fort Warden, home to Copper Canyon since the seventies, my anxieties were alleviated. The building smelled old, not off-putting but familiar, and passing the wall of books that greeted me when I crossed the threshold was like walking into a crowd of people you love to see. Natalie Diaz, Michael and Matthew Dickman, Deborah Landau and Pablo Neruda.

I was warmly welcomed by my cohort of interns, a misfit bunch of ladies from across the country. There was a student from New Jersey, fluent in Russian and studying translation; a poet from Brown who wrote her thesis on Sylvia Plath. There was a nomadic, Western Washington grad who had traveled abroad before settling in Port Townsend to work at the esoteric book store, and a recently graduated fiction writer from Texas. Together we formed a literary melting pot in the Copper Canyon Press bullpen. Over the next five months we would share poetry, dinner parties, and even a bottle of wine at Bill Porter’s house while one of us housesat. 

Over the first few weeks my professional cosplay was strong. Blazers and high-waisted skirts took over my closet and I became more comfortable with working reception, selling books, and reading five manuscripts a week. I was briefed on what my main focus for independent projects would be: Social Media. I was immediately amused, intrigued and a little bit relieved. I was going to learn how to professionally Instagram? The concept was strange but not completely foreign to me. I am, after all, the kind of girl who will prepare a kale smoothie, snap a photo of the kale smoothie, filter it, post it, and then consume it. It’s a strange, braggy, artistic outlet. Silly as it is, social media is a vehicle for communication. Advertising isn’t restricted to billboards and television anymore. It’s on our computer screens, on our phones, and in our personal Facebook feeds, Tumblr blogs and Instagram photos. Over the weeks that followed, I learned about branding: how to create content specific to the style and brand of Copper Canyon. I learned how to promote the internship program while applying that brand and style. I took photos around the office, everything from interns working diligently to a package of old Peeps on the head publisher’s desk. I documented life at Copper Canyon Press, made flyers and slideshows promoting the internship program. Hashtag Poetry. Hashtag CCP. Hashtag winter releases and hashtag intern lifestyle. Mostly, I felt lucky to be existing in a world of books. If we weren’t discussing poetry, we were reading it. We were learning about what it takes to bring a book into the world and it felt like alchemy. It felt magic. 

One afternoon while standing at the copy machine I looked down to a pile of papers left by the recycling bin. Green Migraine, by Michael Dickman. The unpublished new manuscript lay unattended at my fingertips. During my lunch break I tore through it with the same enthusiasm one might imagine the creature Gollum having when he finally tears the ring of power from Frodo’s finger. I was stoked. At the end of the day I tidied up my desk and made the hour long drive to the ferry to spend the weekend in Seattle. The next morning I woke to discover the unpublished manuscript in my pile of personal papers shoved into my book bag. I immediately panicked. What kind of accidental poetry crime had I committed? I called the press right away. I explained my situation. My fellow intern laughed and assured me it was fine, as long as I didn’t attempt to sell it on the poetry black market or anything. 

I rarely felt out of place at the Press. I showed up in the morning, made coffee, read poetry. Sometimes I answered the phones, sometimes I went right to work reading submissions. If I felt challenged, it was often in a good way. There was an incident with an Excel spreadsheet that sent me reeling into a nightmarish panic, but for the most part I was able to easily acclimate to the office environment. I was also challenged by a typical, slightly uncomfortable conversation while packaging copies of Frank Stanford’s book in the warehouse. An older volunteer was trying to make polite conversation. He asked about my MFA program and about my writing. When I told him I was writing a book about growing up on the Swinomish reservation, about abuse and alcoholism he seemed confused. “But how did you come to live there?” He asked, scratching his head while eyeing me up and down.  Was he asking about reservations in general? And then I realized what he meant.  Attending a tribal art college for four years had left me safely comfortable in my mixed heritage-ness. I’m not used to having to explain my identity as an indigenous person and also as a white person. I’m not used to having to explain that not all Native people look the same. Some of us have blue eyes. Some of us have black hair. Some of us are dark. Some of us are pale. When he realized I lived on the reservation because I was a reservation Indian he redirected his inquiry. “Your book is about abuse and alcoholism? Why is that? Why is it that it’s so prevalent on reservations? Why is it so prevalent in Indian communities? It’s sad, isn’t it?” I was silent. Yes, I thought.  It’s sad. It was so sad that right at that moment I had to take my break and walk to the edge of the fort, to the water. I sat on an old bunker and looked out into the Port Townsend harbor and felt…sad.  That night I went home to my little room and wrote a poem about sadness and felt some sort of relief, like it was medicine. 

That’s the biggest gratitude I have for the internship, the poetry. Being immersed in it, inspired by it. We were given what I decided were “poetry rations,” our choice of two books a week. Each week I’d curl up with a little bit of whiskey, a book of poems and the moon. I’d sit in my room by the window, listen to the water and the wind and read. It felt like an important time, to spend the winter learning about poetry, while reading and writing it. I don’t cook so I spent most my evenings alone, poking at a pile of fish and chips at Siren’s, while tourists and elderly couples sat around me. But I always had the poetry. 

Each day the press revealed to me new details, little secrets about how the world of nonprofit poetry publishing works. One morning the interns and I huddled around the reception desk to watch the premier of a promo video we had helped work on. Maybe it was because we had single-handedly hung every one of the hundreds of postcards that whimsically fluttered from the tree in the background. Maybe it was because we could remember the very real emotion on the poet Richard Siken’s face as we quietly hovered in the distance while he spoke into the camera about poetry and how nonprofit publishing needs our help, but by the end of the two-minute promo video, all of us were quietly sobbing. It felt special, to be a part of something. To know that we somehow played a role in Richard Siken’s book, War of The Foxes, coming into the world. Whether we assisted on the video shoot, worked on the Tumblr blog, the Indiegogo crowdfunding page, or wrapped each book individually before shipping it out to the donors, each of us had done our part. When the book came in, it felt like such a celebration that we all joked about popping champagne.  To watch War of The Foxes go from manuscript to book to special edition and into the hands of poetry lovers over the span of a winter was an intensely beautiful thing to see. That night we went to the only dive bar in picturesque Port Townsend, cheered over cheap pints of beer, and belted out karaoke into the night. 

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An image comes to mind when I think of the magic that is poetry, and the magic that Copper Canyon Press creates. It is a still from the promo video I assisted on. It’s an image of Richard’s hands as he writes on a piece of wood with a sharpie. In his handwriting are the words, “To supply the world with what?”