Category Archives: Blogging

New blog! New blog! New blog!

Hello, everyone!

As I posted previously, I have moved to a new blog!! Quite a few new posts have been generated there by this point, and I’d love to know that you’re not missing out!

Please update your bookmarks or subscribe to my new blog, if you’re interested! I hope you’ll continue to follow me there; you’ve been such a great community!

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My blog has moved!! Please follow!!

Hello, all!

Pack your bags!! Update your bookmarks!! My blog has upgraded and moved to a new location. I hope you all will follow; you have been such a supportive community.

Here is a link to the new location: here.

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Receiving an Honorable Mention!

Great news! My poem, “Domesticity,” just received an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Western Michigan University Creative Writing Contest, in the graduate level division of poetry.

Thank you, Adam Clay, for judging and for your recognition of my poem! It is greatly appreciated; this poem really means a lot to me.


Jericho Brown: A Poem

JERICHO BROWN

Like hail from a blind sky,
the body falls. He drinks wine from broken
shot glasses and wears a goatee. This
is his appearance to some. For others, he continues
on his way in bare feet and white robes.
In either world, he takes his time.
Whether or not his words contain the rush
of truth and hard business is, for some,
debatable. But what we cannot ignore is this:
the woman floating down the Byway,
the healed cancer patient, turned vegan, and
our fascination with the Afterlife, put to the test
by all those mouths—gnawing and chewing
and somersaulting in the search of rest.
Whether or not all this meat ends in a place of
fixed healing or soiled bone
is yet to be answered. On his quest, this man
gathers what is left of all these bodies
and places them in a cellar, gives them the time
they need to age, to cure. What we know is this:
when he opens the door again, it will be light
and dirt-bodies, with eyes and open mouths
looking up.

*

“Like hail from a blind sky” taken from Jericho Brown’s poem, “Prayer of the Backhanded,” published in his collection, Please (2008) from New Issues Poetry & Prose. Thank you for the inspiration, Jericho.

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Throughout the month of November, I’ve been participating in the challenge of writing daily with a few of my colleagues and friends. At the beginning of the month, I offered to start a privatized blog, November Daily, on which our group could post the poems we were writing for the sake of accountability and potential feedback. I decided, additionally, to include daily, optional writing prompts that might challenge us to push our writing in new directions—from writing in a form to using particular words to finding new inspiration. We’re nearly a third of the way through the month already, and I’m happily back to writing every day, and it’s been a real ride.

My purpose in telling you all of this was for the sake of sharing what I believe to be an important issue: the inspiration from and conversation with other writers. For today’s (November 9’s) writing prompt, I asked everyone to choose a writer they were not familiar with yet—whether it was an old great they felt obligated to know, or a writer they kept meaning to check out, etc.—and use their name as the title of today’s poem. Then, I asked that they select one whole line from one of the writer’s poems and use that, either, as an epigraph or as the first line of their poem. From some of the feedback I received via email for this prompt, I expect my cohorts will not complete the prompt, or will simply cut the title and first line as soon as the day is over.

But for me, that presents an interesting question—Why?

I’m not worried about my cohorts disliking the prompts I present; they’re optional for a reason, and they’re obviously not going to work for everyone. But since when is borrowing a line from a writer you appreciate a demonstration of laziness, a lack of inspiration, or worse, disrespect?

In my mind, if a young writer were to read one of my poems and end up being so fueled by one of the lines that they started a poem from it? To be frank, I would be down-right flattered. To know that I had inspired someone into their own poem, to know that they were starting a conversation with me about what a line, a word, can mean, and then turning my meaning on its head to begin their own—I would become greedy and would want that to happen more often.

Our writing should never experience a time of stasis or complacency; it should always be breathing, thinking, adapting and changing. If that means completing an unusual prompt, then do it. If it means using a thesaurus or writing a dictionary poem (which, to this day, I love to do), then do it. If it means writing a poem backwards and rearranging the lines, to see what happens, then do it. AND FOR GOODNESS SAKE, experience your favorite writers’ works. If that means writing a poem that stems from a word or line or concept from one of their poems, as long as you give them credit where credit is due, then you are doing nothing but being innovative: you’re reading other writers’ works, you’re thinking while writing, you’re open enough to be inspired by their work, and you’re ending on a note of creation . . . and going so far as to start a conversation with that writer by including their name as the title.

I’m a young writer, and I have a lot to learn. For some of you out there, you may be asking why I feel I can speak to this subject, without having my work formerly published as a collection, and without having the experience of having someone borrow from my work. But maybe it’s because I am a young writer that I feel I can speak to this particular subject—I’m at a time in my life when I want to be as open to change and new ideas and criticism as possible, because I want my poetry to do everything. Including compliment writers I appreciate and love.

So in this particular case, this is my really long-winded way of talking craft, at least off-the-cuff, and it’s my time to say:

Jericho Brown, I really appreciate your writing and your collection, Please; and if you ever happen to (somehow?!) see this blog post, then know that I’ve written this poem as the highest respect, and from a deep, gnawing inspiration found in your poetry.

*


November Daily

In the past, I’ve always found myself attempting to complete the task that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel-Writing Month), always with very minimal success. What is interesting is that I find out every year, maybe two or three days before the month is over, that a “poetry version” of NaNoWriMo has been in progress while I’ve been struggling with something-like-a-novel… and what’s even more interesting is the fact that all of these little pieces of prose function much more efficiently as poems.

This year, I’ve decided to take on the task of writing at least one poem, per day, throughout the month of November, and making these poems available for others to read and comment on (whether they’re praising, critiquing, etc., exposure is useful to the writing process). I’m also happy to announce that I will not be alone in this endeavor, as I am currently running a blog for writers to produce and share poems on a daily basis throughout the month of November, entitled November Daily. It will primarily be a blog made up of WMU writers, but some of us have also invited our friends—such as my truly wonderful friend, and fantastic writer, Jeff Tatay—to join us, so it should be a great mix of individuals!

If you are interested in participating, please contact me (McKenzie Tozan) at mcklynntozan@gmail.com, or via the Comments section of this particular post.


Looking Back: Lessons in Complacency Taken from Frank Stanford and Dean Young

The Singing KnivesThe Art of Recklessness

*

THE SINGING KNIVES

The dogs woke me up
I looked out the window

Jimmy ran down the road
With the knife in his mouth
He was naked
And the moon
Was a dead man floating down the river

He jumped on the Gypsy’s pony
He rode through camp
I could see the dust

There was the saddlebag full of knives
He was crazy

When Jimmy cut a throat
The eyes rolled back in the head
Like they was baptized
I tell you
When he cut a throat
It was like Abednego’s guitar
And the blood
Flew out like a quail

He had the red hand
He poked the eyes out

I dreamed I stepped over a log
And there was fire in my foot
I dreamed I saw a turkey and two wildcats
Jumped on me at the same time
I dreamed Jimmy was pouring ice water
Over my head at noon
I dreamed I heard somebody
Singing in the outhouse
I dreamed the mad dog bit the Gypsy
And they tied him to a tree
I dreamed I was buried in the Indian mound
And moon Lake rose up
I dreamed my father was wading the river of death
With his heart in his hand
I dreamed Jimmy rowed out the front door
With a hawk on his shoulder
And I was in the bow kneeling down
I dreamed the blacksnake rode the guitar
Down the river
I dreamed the clouds went by
The moon like dead fish
I dreamed I was dragging
A cotton sack with a dead man in it
I dreamed the fish bandits stole the hogs
Off my lines
And one of them was a hunchback
I dreamed the night was a horse
With its eyes shut
I dreamed I had to fight the good man with the bad arm
And he had the dynamite
I dreamed I trailed a buck from Panther Brake to Panther Burn
I dreamed the Chickasaw slit his throat in the papaw
I dreamed that rising sun was smoking blood
You could pick up and throw
I dreamed the Chinaman’s peg leg
I dreamed I was fishing in heaven with Sho Nuff
and Jesus cleaned the fish
I dreamed a man flies wouldn’t bite
I dreamed I was riding through Leland in a dragline bucket
And the cotton making everyday
I dreamed we got the bootlegger’s truck out of the mud
I dreamed the levee broke
I dreamed the Gypsy was laughing under the water
And the minnows were swimming through his eyes
I dreamed I reached down in Moon Lake
And untied his arms and one hand
Floated up the way it did
When he threw those knives
I dreamed the pony that fights in the water
And the boat that towed the dead man
I dreamed I felt the knife singing in Abednego’s back
I dreamed I pulled the ring out of his ear
And Jimmy put it on his finger
And swam through the water
I dreamed he was looking for Abednego’s boot
And when he came up
He had the jackknife between his teeth
I dreamed he was so beautiful
He had to die someday
I dreamed a knife like a song you can’t whistle

“Let’s go, I got to throw tonight!” he says

He had the bandanna around his neck
And the pilot’s cap on
He played the harp in the moonlight

I led the horse out back
I tied him to the Chinaberry tree

“What you want” I says
But I knew he wanted me
Standing at the back of that outhouse
“Shut up” he says “don’t move”

The dirt dobbers flew around my head

He threw Boo Kay Jack at me
He threw Django at me
The mosquitoes drew blood
I looked on the ground
I saw the shadows coming like gars
Swimming under me at night
I saw the red moon too
I wished I was running a trot line
I wished I was in a fight
I wished I was fanning myself in church
But there was a heart on the fan
With a switchblade through it

And the knives came by

The bone handled one
The hawk handled one
The one with a blade like a skiff
Out of his boot
Behind his back
Mexican style
The way Abednego showed him

Singing in the outhouse
Like a horse breaking wind

He took the knife and ran it
Across his arm
Then he ran it across mine

Blood come out like hot soda

He tied our arms together
With the blue bandana
And we laid down in the cotton
I wished I was riding a mule somewhere
Blowing a jug
With a string full of crappie
And the cotton making everyday

*

Poetry has a deeply personal relationship with memory; like music, it foils and complicates prior experiences and memories through its reading and presentation.

This morning, I spent a few hours revisiting Frank Stanford’s The Singing Knives, and it took me back to my first semester of creative writing in my undergraduate career. Since I was unable to take any creative courses during my first year of study—I had to get as many of those general education requirements out of the way early, after all—I decided to take two courses in creative writing, in a sense, to make up for lost time: an “introductory” creative writing course and an art & aesthetics course, in Fall 2008.

The reason The Singing Knives took me back so readily to that year had everything to do with the fact that there was a writing assignment, a poem assignment, centered around the title poem. We were required to use the poem as a model, writing in the “I dreamed” structure, with a topic of our choice. After I had finished reading the title poem, I dug back through my oldest undergraduate work and opened the file for my own Singing Knives poem… and was disappointed at what I found. While I had clearly attempted to create a dreamscape, and certainly had compiled some interesting images that could be put to better use now, I bailed in the end by literally waking the narrator from a dream, creating a clean line between what was real and what was dream. This premise was far from the truth of Stanford’s poem, in that the dream images not only are complicated in the “waking” areas of the title poem, but are repurposed in later poems later in the book!—through the use of outhouses, horses, the moon, animalistic personification, and the like.

This is where Dean Young comes in—last night, I visited the first half of his book, The Art of Recklessness; and it, too, took me back to my first year of study—though, this time, to my first year of graduate study, Fall 2012. My poetry professor at the time stated to the class, about halfway through the course, “When writers are on the verge of change, when they are finally on to sometime great, that is the moment when they absolutely cannot become complacent.” While this is immediately not verbatim, he did use the term “complacency,” which relates immediately to Young’s following statement:

“In the case of art that defines itself as resistance, its continued effectiveness is dependent upon the continued health of that which it resists, just as the vitality of a virus depends upon the continued health of its host. (Viruses, as we know, may be ingenious but they’re rather dumb and often polish off their hosts, the definition of a bad houseguest.) Once that critique has been assimilated or worn out, it becomes defanged, domesticated, no longer combative, rather quaint. Quaintness may be the worst that can happen to an art, its fire replaced by a lava lamp. The worst thing that can happen to an artist is to become a bore, to become complacent” (Young 8).

This resistance Young refers to specifies not so much resistance to an object or topic, but rather, how that object or topic is approached—creating that object or topic in a new way in poetry, or other art forms. This resistance, then, can only continue if the artist—in this case, to be more specific, writer—is continually willing to resist sameness, to risk recklessness, in doing something they have not tried or are uncomfortable with. In this lies my disappointment: while I was creating a poem that was different, that was edgier than my prior work, I remember becoming uncomfortable with the content, worrying how readers would view what was written, and so I hid those images under the premise of literal dreamscape, under the cloak of “what occurs in dreams is unexplainable and, therefore, should be excused.” I had yet to learn what artists have to learn in order to be successful: the idea that an artist need only please him/herself, and the idea that the artist must risk being a little bit reckless in order to stay fresh.

Both of these ideas—hell, rules—are readily complied with in Stanford’s The Singing Knives. In reading the collection, I was struck with the shift made approximately halfway through, beginning with “The Bass,” when the narrator seems to shift from focusing on humanistic relationships in the context of nature to more readily focusing on observations and relationships with nature itself (though with the occasional exception of still including humanistic relationships where nature is the more-central topic). While this move could simply be marked as a “shift” in the collection, it also functions as a move of recklessness, allowing the collection to focus on, both, man and nature, and man’s place and context within nature. Because of this shift, the collection is able to focus more so on the Native American implications of the poems, rather than simply on relationships and, in a sense, animal sacrifice. The movements made in the relationships and the violence done unto the animals is given more authority, and a touch of gentleness and grace, through this Native American presentation that may send some readers off to Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony and some of Sherman Alexie’s edgier poems.

In revisiting Frank Stanford’s collection, I was provided with an imagistic example of what it means to be reckless, in what it means to provide that necessary shift in a poetry collection, or even in one longer poem. While I may not be able to revise that 2008 poem to meet the needs of truly reflecting Stanford’s poem, that may just be okay, because it represents a learning curve. Instead, another poem may be written, and as Dean Young states early in his book, when speaking of writing a poem without knowing how it will turn out, “it is impossible to know what will happen next but certainly we may be assured that the world will not be made worse” (3).

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Frank Stanford’s The Singing Knives (Lost Roads Publishing Company, Number 18, 1979)

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Dean Young’s The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction (Graywolf Press, 2010)

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KBAC Poets in Print Series: Tyler Mills & Brynn Saito

Tonight, like every other night, I come to the same conclusion: The Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, and their Poets in Print series, never disappoint. This evening, beginning at 7pm, the KBAC introduced Tyler Mills and Brynn Saito, both with their first collections of poetry. Admittedly, I had never read work by either of these young poets, but tonight, I was in for a treat. . .

MillsCompHi.inddTyler Mills read eight striking poems from her collection, Tongue Lyre, published by Southern Illinois University Press and winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry’s First Book Award. She began with the opening poem in the collection, “Tongue” (which I’ve included below), and my mind was instantly stolen. From what I have gathered so far, the narrative line in her work is stark and striking, lightly populated with lyric moments that somehow seem to take the line somewhere beyond truth (i.e. “my thighs sometimes still feel like the whites of a poached egg.”—isn’t that brilliant?). Her reading, too, is impressive; while she is quiet, there is sheer confidence and striking enunciation in, both, her voice and her eye contact. She looked at me multiple times during her reading, at seemingly perfect points; and each time, it was as though I were temporarily struck dumb.

The Palace of Contemplating DepartureFantastic, too, was Brynn Saito’s reading from her collection, The Palace of Contemplating Departure, published by Red Hen Press and winner of the 2011 Benjamin Saltman Award. She only read five well-selected poems—four from the collection, one outside—but the poems were commented on and joked about in-between readings, which gave the poems a special quality and freshness that might have been missed if only reading the book alone in a room somewhere. In looking through her poems, there is this wonderful blend of growing experiences (such as first loves, travel, familial memories) and cultural references (for instance, Japanese internment camps in WWII). She, too, has this somewhat-conversational line to her poetry that is frequented by what can only be called surrealism, snapshots, that force the reader to view these poems as living, breathing entities (one of my favorites is “Tree of Life,” included below).

TYLER MILLS

TONGUE

The problem is not night—people gathering in booths—or a game
where you select who to save from an apartment that’s on fire.

But at night, the silver bathroom stalls in the Multiplex crack open
as if I am the last horse to wander out during the credits.

What I mean is, my thighs sometimes still feel like the white of a poached egg.
There is logic to thinking about digger wasps, solitary insects that excavate

nests from the soil and then straddle their prey, usually an August cricket,
ashy as the blade of a waterlogged feather. And at night, the hermit thrush

calls, flutters to a new tree, calls, and soon the grove hosts a quorum
of these nightingale songs when there is only one traveling from tree to tree,

to an oak like the one shading my porch—I go there at night to breathe.
In the myth of Philomela, the King puts his knife down Philomela’s throat

after he finishes, then cuts her tongue out. Before she becomes a thrush,
she weaves what happened: images in a bolt of cloth, a kind of flag.

The newspaper pays for them, the flickering paper flags
leaning on the bottom panel of the doors in the neighborhoods.

Again this year, before dawn, the truck door slammed—I heard
someone cross the street. When I woke, flames were mouthing the air.

BRYNN SAITO

TREE OF LIFE

Maybe you’re in a place I’ve never been
say Michigan. It’s summer. Poplars throbbing green
all around you. Maybe she’s a Leo

and she’s standing in your driveway
with her breasts like the gospel
and her hot gold hoops. Or maybe she’s a Cancer

and you’re the kid in chemistry
staring out the window, dreaming
of a queen. Writing her a letter

in your blue jay mind: her of the homecoming.
Her of the deep thoughts. Her pale new body
keeping safe an old soul at seventeen. And didn’t

you love her. Didn’t you try. Didn’t you find her
standing in your driving on a Tuesday night
beneath a cracked blue dusk when she was perfect

for the last time. Her of the wild. Her
of the father. Her before the tree of life. Before
she was prey. Didn’t you love her

in your silent way—listening to everything
she could think of to say to you
until her voice made a home for you
and the world went dark.

*

Tyler Mills was born in Chicago. She is the author of Tongue Lyre, which won the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award (Southern Illinois University Press). Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Antioch Review, Georgia Review, Nashville Review, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly Online, and elsewhere; her poems have also been the recipient of awards from the Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, and Third Coast. She has received a work-study scholarship from Bread Loaf and a John Woods Scholarship from the Prague Summer Program. A graduate of Bucknell (BA) and the University of Maryland (MFA, Poetry), Tyler is currently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

If you would like to purchase Tongue Lyre, please visit Southern Illinois University Press!

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Brynn Saito is the author of the poetry collection The Palace of Contemplating Departure, winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and hot off the press from Red Hen Press (March, 2013). Her poetry has been anthologized by Helen Vendler and Ishmael Reed; it has also appeared in Ninth Letter, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Pleiades and Drunken Boat. Brynn was born in the Central Valley of California to a Korean American mother and a Japanese American father. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches in San Francisco.

If you would like to purchase The Palace of Contemplating Departure, please visit Red Hen Press!

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Mills, Tyler. Tongue Lyre. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Crab Orchard Review & Southern Illinois University Press, 2013. Page 3. Print.

Saito, Brynn. The Palace of Contemplating Departure. Pasadena: Red Hen Press, 2013. Page 66. Print.


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