Literary Readings

Poetry and Pine Reading at CounterEvolution

It’s no secret that pine wood is one of my favorite woods. It smells nice, it looks nice, and, dare I say, it tastes passable. I am thoroughly pine-biased, I admit. Luckily for me, this smoothly sanded wood seemed to be the at the center of the aesthetic at Flatiron performance space CounterEvolution on the night of a recent fiction and poetry reading.

It was an aromatic summer night when writer Andree Green, singer/songwriter Phoebe Lichty, and the wonderfully-talented novelist Renee Watson took charge of the microphone at CounterEvolution. Once the evening was over, only a truly wooden listener could remain unmoved by the pathos and power of these charming and accomplished artists. A spirited open mic session rounded out the lineup and allowed for a brief reading from poetess-about-town Grisel Yolanda Acosta, who some will remember from other readings of note at Newark’s Brick City Speaks series.

Poetry and Pine, you’ve won my heart. And you’re BYOB, to boot! Visit the reading’s Facebook page to learn more about the artists who graced its stage in July.

 

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NY Review of Sci-Fi Readings: Robert Levy & Roz Kaveney

Sometimes, when I want to feel less horrific, I don my mysterious cape, style my Chewbacca-esque bouffant into something erudite, and head down to the best science fiction and fantasy reading series this side of Hogwarts. It’s called the New York Review of Science Fiction Readings (NYRSFR), and it takes place on the first Tuesday of the month at the Brooklyn Commons performance space, just down the road from the Barclays Center.

Affiliated with Lightspeed Magazine, this series has been facilitated for many years by the indefatigable producer and host of WBAI’s Hour of the Wolf, Jim Freund. This month’s reading featured the fantastic writers Roz Keveney and Robert Levy.

Levy’s chilling story about a mysterious telescope with the ability to blend two souls together had me absolutely riveted. A scary black goo and the reappearance of an old lover made his tale all the more captivating. Levy is a Shirley Jackson Award winner and a recent Lambda Literary Award finalist for his buzz-worthy book, The Glittering World. His work has also appeared in the Lovecraftian horror anthology, Autumn Cthulu.

Kaveney did, in fact, win a Lambda Award this week in the category of Transgender Fiction for her book Tiny Pieces of Skull, Or A Lesson in Manners. She read two perfectly charming, witty excerpts from her published work, and even shared a darkly funny,  narrative poem. The moral of Kaveney’s poem, which included a kind of truism about classism, had the audience chuckling with appreciation. Buy her award winning book on Amazon.

Read a full list of this year’s Lambda Award winners over at Slate.

Do yourself a favor, mortals, and pop on over to the NY Review of Science Fiction series at Brooklyn Commons. Next reading will be July 12, an irregular date to accommodate the Independence Day weekend. Suggested donations welcomed.

Books = Phones = Computers = Zombie Overlords

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In this comprehensive article from January, Racher Nuwer over at the BBC questions the role of paper books in a publishing economy that has given up quite a bit of ground over the last decade to e-books. Nuwer considers what the future might hold for traditional publishing, pointing out that “e-book readership has steadied over the past year.” On the other hand, according to her sources, everybody read less of everything, printed texts and the electronic ones, in the first months of 2015.

Nuwer goes on to cast doubt on the long-term viability of printed books as well, comparing them to “woodblock printing, hand-processed film… folk weaving,” and even – GASP – “poetry”!

But my response is a bit more jaded. Traditional publishing as we (ahem, my apologies – you, you humans) know it is already a shambling revenant of its former self – what was traditional is now ancient history, and what was recent history is now distant history, and what was contemporary is now traditional… And now. And now. And now again.

Look, for example, at the role of literary magazines in today’s fast-paced media whirlwind. Many journals are now charging submission fees in order to stay afloat (see this thoughtful defense of submission fees by Martha Nichols at Talking Writing). Many more don’t stay afloat at all. This has become such a widespread problem that there’s now a literary journal, called The Rookery, whose purpose is to archive and store the contents of other journals that have closed their doors. Those that endure, through some feat of business acumen, are relegated to the sidelines of an industry engaged in open warfare with competitors and with other creators of narrative, like Netflix and Hulu, or distraction machines like Twitter (Follow me @City_Sasquatch!).

Who is reading literary magazines in this topsy-turvy environment? Predominantly other writers. And their friends and families. But good luck breaking through the paper curtain. In a thoroughly-informative Buzzfeed piece, longtime editor and lit mag savant Lincoln Michel begrudgingly admits that “editors simply can’t read the slush themselves,” and that if your story doesn’t grab the attention of a part-time, volunteer slush reader, it is unceremoniously dumped into the ‘rejection’ pile. A struggling author’s best shot at getting published in a reputable journal might be to submit to contests, Michel says, despite the daunting number of other writers who take the same approach. I liken this strategy to shooting the moon in the game of Spades.

So books and literary magazines both huddle in their warrens like endangered jungle cats, mewling and watching the leaves for sudden movements. I, on the other hand, will continue on as I always have: by reclining on a moss-eaten log, lighting my artisanal corn cob pipe, and donning my Warby Parker spectacles for a long night of reading by moonlight.

 

Jonathan Corcoran’s “The Rope Swing”

This week, I was treated to a wonderful reading by the charming and talented up-and-coming writer, Jonathan Corcoran, whose gripping story collection, The Rope Swing, came out this Spring via Vandalia Press, an imprint of West Virginia University. Corcoran was interviewed at Greenlight Bookstore (@Greenlightbkln) in Brooklyn by another highly-praised Southern writer of note, the effervescent Tayari Jones, author of the lauded novel, Silver Sparrow.

The Rope Swing is a burnished collection of interlinked tales about the experience of growing up as a gayIMG_2269 man in the Southern Appalachias, a particular experience in a “particular time and place,” as Corcoran put it. He went on: “Imagine a time when there was no internet. How do you learn about being gay without the internet? Gay people don’t often have gay parents, so… The world is changing.” The author’s portrayal of this oft-ignored side of West Virginia is complex and full of pathos. I’ve rarely read such a three-dimensional exploration of time, place, and identity.

I must say, dear readers, this could be my favorite new book of modern times. Nay, not-so-modern times! And I’ve been around for a while, if you consider 694 years a long time. A gaggle of notable writers seem to agree with me, including Mlle. Jones and Jayne Anne Phillips, author of Black Tickets and a veritable leviathan of Southern literary capital herself.

It was a true pleasure to hear a conversation between such gifted and intelligent literary figures, a few of the most important of the day. On the topic of LGBTQ discrimination and the fact that society is finally bending towards greater empathy and understanding, Corcoran looked back at the process of writing and of his humble origins: “I came out all right. I came out okay. There’s just as much joy as there is sadness [in this book] .”

Jonathan Corcoran will be reading from his collection tonight, at the Astoria Bookshop in New York City for the Boundless Tales series. Go ahead and purchase it – now! – online from WVU Press. His book tour continues, so peruse the schedule now and see this fantastic writer yourself.

Cross Reading Series at WORD Jersey City

A warm tempest of conviviality. That is my impression of this weekend’s impressive congregation of readers and literary bon vivants at the Cross reading series at Word bookstore.

A group of singularly talented poets presented their works. The wry Melissa Adamo (@adamopoeting), who admitted to working on an upcoming chapbook, began the evening. Vincent Toro stormed the podium next with an arresting performance of his politically-charged and personal poems. The animated delivery would have carried the audience away if it were not for our third reader, the deeply insightful Emilia Phillips, whose moving lyrics plumbed the depths of female sexuality and power dynamics in the modern age. Culminating the evening was Ricky Laurentiis, the Ruth Lilly award winner, who read an exquisite series of works from his newly released collection titled Boy With Thorn. This book also won the 2014 Cave Canem Poetry Prize.

Such a wealth of literary talent should not go unlauded. I implore you, learned readers, go forth, and purchase these writers’ books forthwith. Your soul will thank you later. Buy Emilia Phillips’ Signaletics and Ricky Laurentiis’ Boy With Thorn on Amazon. Vincent Toro’s collection, Stereo.Island.Mosaic, is forthcoming in January 2016 from Ahasahta Press.

Free Water #7 – That’s The Stuff

Is it proper etiquette among homo sapiens to admit to “gushing?” Well, proper or no, I am admitting it now. One of my favorite regular poetry readings this month had me gushing with adulation and awe at the obvious erudition in attendance at KGB Bar on East 4th Street.

The sardonic sorceress of poetic mysticism and founding editor of The Atlas Review, kgb1Natalie Eilbert, shared works of cutting insight. Roger Sedarat delivered a rapturous rendition of ghazals, originally written by the 14th century Sufi poet Hafez, which Sedarat translated for an upcoming book. Very helpful prologues and apercus were offered by the given, which helped me to fully appreciate the history and nuances of this overlooked literary form. The delightfully funny and irreverent Cathy Linh Che read poems of honesty and wit, all the while maintaining an unerring sense of personal style. And last but certainly not least, a visiting angel and Lambda Literary Scholar from the distant land of Oakland, California, Roberto Santiago, allowed us into his world by sharing works from his soon-to-be-released collection, titled Angel Park. Go now – as in, immediately – and purchase this powerful book online from Lethe Press.

As always, I could not recommend more highly that you, dear reader, allow yourself the pleasure of witnessing the next iteration of Free Water. See host Msr. Britt Melewski’s schedule on its Book of Faces page.

Conjunctions at Greenlight Books

Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn this week saw a mind-bending reading by a triumvirate of contributors to Conjunctions‘ Spring issue, a “collection of radical reinventions of the genre of nature writing” titled Natural Causes.  Lucy Ives,Michael Ives, and Wil Weitzel bowed and wowed the crowd with their unorthodox approaches to LITERATURE (I’ve decided to capitalize this precious word from henceforward to convey my sense of awe and respect for it, and so that those readers over 352 years old, such as myself, might benefit from the larger type (Jorge Luis Borges went blind before he was 50, don’t you know?)). And I would be remiss to neglect a mention of free wine. Yes, though no whining was heard… Aha! Ha!IMG_1531

Triple Canopy editor Lucy Ives’ reading utterly conquered the point of view of a cat observing its human. This piece, I must admit, flustered me. I could not decide whom I empathized with more – the feline or the homo sapien. Now I know how swans felt when they watched Natalie Portman’s Black Swan.

Will Weitzel read a tense essay about he and his wife’s trip to Ethiopia to witness the feeding of a pack of coyotes by the local tribesmen at dawn. I felt the suspense, dear reader, let me tell you. Of course, one of my oldest friends is a coyote, but I concede that the fellow has no table manners whatsoever. Look for Weitzel’s writing in Kenyon Review, New Orleans Review, Prairie Schooner, and Southwest Review.

Michael Ives’ strikingly original poem inspired by the biblical tale of Noah had my IMG_1523yellow-spotted tongue trembling with questions, but suffice to say, this author is one to watch. Egads, what a statement. Syntax, rhyme, the line, and other respected literary conventions were bent, broken, and thrown in the dust. A brave poem, to be sure.

Kudos to Bradford Morrow and the editors at Conjunctions for continuing to put out innovative writing. Though humbling, the reading also reminded me of how great I am, as most of my experiences do. Follow the journal on Twitter (@_Conjunctions) for updates about readings and issue releases.

 

 

 

Brick City Speaks – June reading

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Thank heaven for the tall ceilings in Hell’s Kitchen Lounge in Newark. I was able to fit in the doorway to join the audience for the June installment of one of my favorite literary readings, Brick City Speaks, a series that draws from local institutions like the Rutgers-Newark MFA program and the Portuguese-American community of the Ironbound section of Newark to create a unique and enthralling environment for literary monsters and homo sapiens alike.

This month, the dapper Mel King shared a touching love story, augmented by evocative prose, while the enchanting and altogether otherw0rdly Elizabeth Palamara (@EbethPalamara) allowed listeners a peek into her novel-in-progress. The wonderful dynamic between a tattoo artist and his client-turned-crush nicely paralleled Msr. King’s nonfictional themes. Then Melanie Tolomeo bewitched us all with her amiable stage presence and lyricism. Renaissance man Timothy Ruiz (@writertimothy) rounded out the evening with poems and a rousing performance of original music. All in all, a tour de force! Magnifique! Other French idioms would also suffice!

Don’t miss the next Brick City Speaks reading on the second Monday of July at 8:00 pm.

 

Free Water Reading at KGB

The April installment of artistic hoopsman-about-town Msr. Britt Melewski’s regular poetry reading, Free Water, was an absolute barn burner, humans. I do not jest when I declare that the air crackled with literary insight and panache, such that the errant pastoral detritus littering the sidewalk outside KGB Bar – the hay and wheat chaff discarded by agrarian residents of the Lower East Side – almost burst into flames. This was a truly spectacular reading.

Free Water #6 splashed our ears with the poetic sorcery of a bevy of accomplished writers including the innovative Kelin Loe, Cave Canem fellow Safia Jama, Edward Mullany, and the astonishing Rigoberto Gonzalez. Each poet provided listeners with something unique, something profound, something incendiary. Mlle. Loe’s visceral vocabulary and Mlle. Jama’s mastery of the figurative bolstered their co-readers like a warm tide. Msr. Mullany’s post-apocalyptic story of a man and his dog brought a tear to my eye, and Msr. Gonzalez used form to his advantage, sharing poems of lovely eloquence and rhythm.

I can barely wait for the next iteration of this tremendous reading series. Don’t miss it. In fact, if I hear that you have, I will give you a wedgie unlike anything you’ve seen before. A “wedgie,” for those who are unfamiliar with this colloquialism, is an unfortunate method of punishment directed at any and all creatures wearing pants. Humble beasts such as myself are ineligible.

 

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Brick City Speaks – April

IMG_1309Hell’s Kitchen Lounge, 150 Lafayette St, Newark, NJ 07105

Another mesmerizing marquee of artistes graced the stage on Monday at this month’s Brick City Speaks reading in Newark. “After the Carnations: Writing the Luso-American Experience in Newark” was a thoroughly rewarding event.

The eloquent Hugo Dos Santos – who is reportedly at work on a novel titled Brick City – began the night, followed up by the “American-natured, Portuguese-nurtured” Cindy Goncalves, who challenged one audience member (@danajaye) to solve the riddle of a cultural object that yours truly could only describe as an ornate drinking carafe. How to drink from it, was the question. Mlle. Goncalves is actually a font of knowledge, you might say!

Carlos J. Queiros read excerpts of a wonderfully playful narrative set in the bustling Ironbound district of Newark. The cleanup batter of the night, as it were, was the inimitable and wry poetess, Paula Neves, who had the audience in stitches and in rapt attention, alternately.

A top notch night, humans. Be sure to check the Brick City Speaks social media feed to confirm next month’s reading. Twit me if you’d like to meet me there. I shall be the the 7 foot tall one in the back with the unlit artisanal tobacco pipe in hand.