Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If you happen to be in London...

Southbank Centre
Tickets are now on sale for the Polari series reading on Monday, Sept. 8, 7:45 p.m. at Southbank Centre. I'll be reading alongside Joanna Briscoe (her latest novel is called Touched), Carole Morin, and Trudy Howson. The funny and fabulous writer Paul Burston is curator and host. Click here to buy tickets. They usually sell out fast, so if you happen to be in London that evening, get yours now.

I had the great honor of reading at Polari back in 2012 just after Remain In Light came out. The audience was kindly receptive to my reading a passage from the novel, but what really delighted them was work from the then-forthcoming poetry collection Render. I'll be reading selections from Render this time around and maybe a couple of new pieces. I'm re-posting the video of me reading "The Virgin Mary Appears In A Highway Underpass" at Polari below. It still makes me laugh at how much the audience got into this piece.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Notes on a Scandal: North Carolina Poet Laureate Valerie Macon

Valerie Macon
North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory is a Republican and most definitely not a fan of the liberal arts. He's also anti-gay, hates the Affordable Care Act, cut unemployment benefits, has been accused of voter suppression and believes the "educational elite" (that's GOP code for pinko, homo, commie, hippie liberals) have taken over the schools and universities. So, his selection of Valerie Macon as the new state poet laureate should come as no surprise.

McCrory bypassed the North Carolina Arts Council and selected Macon on his own. Some believe that McCrory picked Macon because she's a fellow Republican who speaks and writes in a voice far removed from the "elitists" he disparages on a regular basis. Of course, by selecting the hapless Macon, the governor has made her both a political and artistic football. Despite her political leanings, I have no doubt that Macon is mortified and hurt by the vitriol unleashed upon her by fellow poets, the press  and on social media. By all accounts, Macon was just as surprised as anyone else by her appointment and was not seeking the job.

Macon is a New York native who moved to North Carolina 35 years ago and works in the state's Department of Health and Human Services. She self-published two collections through Old Mountain Press – Shelf Life in 2011 and Sleeping Rough this year. The latter deals with homelessness and proceeds from sales of the book go to Garden of Eaten, a program at a North Carolina church that grows food for the homeless.

Macon told AP that she has no idea how she was selected as the new poet laureate, but would do her best to represent the state and stay above the "fray" of her appointment. She also wants to use her poetry to continue and aid the homeless. Since the news broke, Macon's website has gone offline, she's been accused of padding her resume, lying about prize nominations and, of course, not being good enough. Poet Chris Vitiello's nasty personal attack in IndyWeek is one of the examples of the ugliness mustered by the poetry community, describing Macon as "barely a poet" and McCroy's "middle finger" to the arts.

The North Carolina Arts Council has seen its budget slashed, which is a typical move in Republican controlled states. Reading accounts of last year's political maneuverings, it's obvious that if the GOP had its way the arts council would cease to exist. So, it also comes as no surprise that McCrory would not seek the advice of a council that he would like to abolish. When pressed by the media about appointing Macon, the governor made some remarks about opening up opportunities for people who aren't part of an "elite group" (note the use of "elite" again) and that he believed it was a good idea to "welcome new voices and new ideas."

Since Macon's website is offline, it's been nearly impossible to find any links to her work. I found a couple of sample poems from her two collections at the Old Mountain Press website. "Vegetarian Meat Lover" is slight and humorous and I do like the image of the woman being "six feet tall and straight as a sunflower," but there's no wow factor here. It could have been written by a high school kid or a 64-year-old, which Macon happens to be. "Detour" from Sleeping Rough catalogues a homeless man's possessions he keeps in a briefcase inside the car that has become his home. The poem ends with the lines "fate, a twister, picked him up / and dropped him on a side street." There's no rhythm to the list, the line breaks are a mess, but the poem is filled with imagery that doesn't require a secret handshake or decoder ring to understand. It speaks at a basic, human level that a vast majority of poets label as simplistic.

Are these poems "good" or "bad?" That's up for you to decide. Poetry is subjective, whether it's printed on a greeting card or among the pages of a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection.  Go back and read some of the reviews of former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey's incredible collections Native Guard and Thrall. You'll find readers and critics who also labeled her language simplistic and imagery not up to snuff.

I'm certain that if McCrory had picked a poet – Republican or otherwise – published by a traditional press and with a couple of awards under his/her belt, this controversy wouldn't have flared up. The fact that Macon self-published her work, completely undermining the MFA directive not to do so under threat of killing your poetry "career" before it begins, really galls the hell out of plenty of poets. I'm okay with that, because even if every line and stanza was perfect, Macon would still not be a "real poet."

McCroy's selection of Macon might be a riposte to artists, but it also highlights the "middle finger" that poets give to each other. I've read in comments and other editorials that Macon hasn't sufficiently paid her dues as a poet to earn the title of laureate. If you don't have an advanced degree, if you haven't won a first book prize, if you haven't been published in the right journals or by the right press, then you are not a "real" poet but a hobbyist who has no business hogging the tiny limelight. In that case, Macon – and any other self-published poet – will never pay enough dues to make it kosher with some in the ivory tower.

There are calls for Macon to step aside, but I hope she resists. I'm curious to see what an outlier does as poet laureate and if she can survive the politics, not only of state, but of poetry.

UPDATE: Valerie Macon has officially resigned as North Carolina's poet laureate. She said in a statement: "I would like to encourage everyone to read and write poetry. They do not need a list of prestigious publishing credits or a collection of accolades from impressive organizations – just the joy of words and appreciation of self-expression." Read more at this link.

I hope the poets and writers who made such nasty, unnecessary personal comments are happy now that they've bullied this woman out the door. Gov. McCrory is now planning to ask the public to submit names for the poet laureate, again bypassing the North Carolina Arts Council.

Friday, July 04, 2014

So long, Red Room

I was sad to hear that author website Red Room will cease to exist on July 8 after being acquired by Wattpad. I was invited to join soon after it was created, and it provided me with some excellent contacts and opportunities.

Because of Red Room, I got to write about eBooks for Huffington Post, finding Literary London for AOL Travel and my adventures in London, Cardiff and Paris for Gadling. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

I'm a member of Wattpad, but I've only posted there a few times. Maybe it's time to explore it once again. Good luck to all the authors out there and thanks again to Red Room for its support over the last five years.

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

New poem in Animal literary magazine

The new issue of Animal: A Beast of a Literary Magazine is now online and features my poem "The Beat of Black Wings".  I originally wrote the poem back in 2011 to be read during a World AIDS Day event at the Museum of Design Atlanta, which was exhibiting Graphic Intervention: 25 Years of World AIDS Posters. I've tinkered with the poem a few times since then and it's become part of my ongoing series on women in film – in this case Melanie Daniels from Hitchcock's The Birds. Many thanks to Stephen Mills and Animal for giving this poem a home.

I was also thrilled that my poem "Wonder Woman" got a mention in a fantastic review of the Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books anthology.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

New poems in Flycatcher

I am thrilled to have two new poems – "In Tavistock Square" and "Outsole" – in the latest issue of Flycatcher journal. I'm in great company with Amy Pence, Sherry Chandler, Glenis Redmond, Kate Partridge, Francesca Bell, Abigail Carroll, David King, Donna Steiner, Kathleen Brewin Lewis, Susan Rooke, Sarah Winn, James Clinton Howell and the gorgeous artwork of Irene Hardwicke Olivieri.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weekend Update

As work continues on Leaving Paris, a few updates on social media and poetry.

I've just given my London blog a makeover. If you've never stopped by This City Never Sleeps on Tumblr, do check it out. I keep this separate blog as a visual diary for a future memoir about my 20 years of adventures and shenanigans in the UK.

I have new poems coming soon in two journals – Flycatcher and Animal – as well as a poem in the forthcoming Rabbit Ears: The First Anthology of Poetry About TV. Many thanks to the editors who took this new work, which will eventually wind up in the new collection. 

Happy Father's Day to my dearly departed Daddy-O and to all the fathers still here and those waiting for us in the next life.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Georgia Author of the Year Awards

Bob Wood collecting his GAYA for Poetry
Render was a poetry nominee for the 50th annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards, but it didn't win. However, Robert Wood's The Awkward Poses of Others and Michelle Castleberry's Dissecting the Angel and Other Poems were winner and finalist in the category. I am thrilled for both of them!

Also taking home awards last night were my friends Jessica Handler for her inspirational book Braving The Fire: A Guide to Writing About Grief and Loss; Charles McNair's excellent novel Pickett's Charge was a semi-finalist for fiction; Jody McFerrin's cookbook, FundaMENUS, was a semi-finalist for inspirational; Jim Elledge won for his biography Henry Darger, Throwaway Boy: The Tragic Life of an Outsider Artist; and Terra Elan McVoy won for her young adult novel Criminal. Here's a link to the full list of winners for the 2014 GAYAs.

GCFTB director Joe Davich talks to Shelli Johannes-Wells
Before I went to the GAYA ceremony last night, I was a panelist on a self-publishing seminar (along with Barbara Friend Ish, Shelli Johannes-Wells and Bill Bridges) hosted by Georgia Center for the Book at the Decatur Library. It was the first time GCFTB had delved into self-pub and by the large turnout, it was obvious that writers are interested in learning more. We answered a lot of questions - from editing and formatting to social media and publicity. I've been incredibly lucky to work with great small presses and also have the option to self-pub, like I did with Better To Travel and Kiss Shot, and I hope to continue this well into the future.

As for Render, the opportunities to read and share the poems will continue this fall in London at the Polari reading at Southbank Centre and, just confirmed, the Georgia Literary Festival in Augusta in November. More details soon.

Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional

Welcome to Collin Kelley: Modern Confessional, the website for poet, novelist, playwright and journalist Collin Kelley.