Monday, March 28, 2016

Li Young Lee And His New Chapbook "A Word From His Song" . . .

Christal Rice Cooper

All excerpts from The Word from His Song given copyright privilege by Li-Young Lee and BOA Editions.

Li Young Lee And His New Chapbook
The Word from His Song:
“6 Billion Cells A Minute”

            From March 30th to April 2nd of 2016 legendary and best-selling poet Li-Young Lee is going to give a poetry reading at two events – the AWP 2016 Conference and the BOA Editions 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Los Angeles Convention Center and JW Marriot Los Angeles, respectively.     

Li Young Lee’s chapbook The Word from His Song will make its debut appearance at both events and will be a limited publication sold exclusively through the BOA’s AWP Book-fair booths 800 and 802. 

The Word From His Song will not be available to order online until after the AWP conference is concluded, and only for a limited time and at a limited press run.
Li Young Lee’s The Word From His Song features 18-pages of eight full-length poems, all new, beautifully designed in a letterpress cover.
The Word From His Song is the tenth installment in the BOA Pamphlet Series, which began in 1978.  The other nine titles are The Bridge of Change by John Logan; The Toy Bone by Donald Hall; Sunlight: A Sequence for My Daughter Poems by David Ignatow with drawings by Rose Graubart Ignatow; Survivors by Richard Eberhart; Armidale by Louis Simpson; Remains:  A Sequence of Poems by W.D. Snodgrass; Nest of Sonnets by A. Poulin, Jr.; Gratitude to Old Teachers by Robert Bly; and Holes the Crickets Have Eaten in Blankets by Robert Bly. 



       BOA Editions is also sponsoring its “Ideal Reading Experience” where one reader per month will be awarded a free, author-signed copy of The Word from His Song for the remainder year of 2016. 
BOA Editions Publisher Peter Conners described Li-Young Lee and Lee’s work as vital to American Poetry.  

"Since the publication of his debut collection, Rose (BOA Editions, 1986), Li-Young Lee has remained a singular, vital figure in American poetry. Because the publication and promotion of his works has been a focus of BOA’s efforts for the past 30 years, it feels fitting that on the 40th anniversary of the press, we share a selection of Li-Young Lee’s newest work in a beautiful, collectible chapbook. A work of art in every sense, this limited edition publication will be a must-have collectible for poetry readers everywhere.”

Lee’s other works are The City In Which I Love You; Book of My Nights; Behind My Eyes; The Winged Seed:  A Remembrance; and Breaking The Alabaster Jar:  Conversations With Li-Young Lee.

       Feature writer Christal Rice Cooper conducted an interview with Li Young Lee via email and telephone from February 29, 2016 to March 28, 2016.  Below is the scripted interview between Lee and Cooper.

The sparrow on my rooftop shouts,

"All roads be blessed!”

Excerpt from “The Word From His Song”

The last time we spoke was July of 2013.  What has changed in your personal life and poetry life since then?

Wow, the last time we spoke was 2013?  It feels so much longer ago than that.  What has changed?  You ask.  Well, I feel a lifetime older, and less in many ways, mostly physically.  But in important ways, I feel significant increase:  more joy, more mirth, more interest, more mystery, a deeper faith in poetry, in its practice and in its yogic dimensions, and a deeper connection to both time and to eternity.   

Also, all my life, I’ve struggled to keep death and impermanence in my radar, but lately it’s easier, less of a struggle to maintain awareness of my own transience, and that experience more and more instills in me a near giddiness and amazement at being alive, as well as greater focus, greater clarity and direction.  A flower is my organizing principle.  Love is my compass.  And as for my writing, it feels more introverted to me.  But you’ll have to tell me if that comes through.

I loved you before I was born.

It doesn’t make sense, I know.

Excerpt from “I Loved You Before I Was Born”

Can you choose one poem from The Word from His Song and tell us the step-by-step process of writing that specific poem from the moment the idea is birthed in your brain until final book form?

To be honest, I’m not able to give an honest and accurate account.  I have exactly no idea how any of these poems got written.  I suppose I could re-imagine the process for one of the poems, but I suspect that would not be free of fiction.  From inception, and throughout revision, each day, the whole process occurs in a state of heightened awareness and presence I barely remember when it’s over.

It’s just a needle I thread,

A sleeve I keep trying to mend, the spool diminishing

Excerpt from “At The Year’s Revolving Door”

How did the idea of the BOA pamphlet come into being?

Peter Conners and I have wanted to do a BOA project for quite some time.  When BOA’s 40th Anniversary came around, the idea of a chapbook came up.  I don’t know who thought of it, but I’m so happy we’re getting it done. 

How would you describe these eight poems?

The best I could do.

In your previous books you’ve written mostly at night, with the focus on your father and struggled with insomnia as indicated in “Folding A Five Cornered Star So The Corners Meet.”  Did you experience the same things in The Word from His Song? 

Well I seem to be working around the clock these days, and with greater glee.  I can’t wait to get to it when I wake up, and find it hard to part with when I’m exhausted and ready to take a break.  I don’t know what’s going on, but I feel something like a greater and greater surrendering to the impulse of writing, a more immediate answering to the call of the imagination.  

It must be the stars’ insomnia.

And I am their earthbound descendant

Excerpt from “Folding A Five Cornered Star So the Corners Meet”

What poem is your favorite and why?

On any day, I have a different favorite poem, but it’s never one of my own.

In “Hidden Hearing” the poem is about God.  Who is God to you now?

God is my true nature and identity, my origin and my destiny.   

Last night I dreamed of voices in a grove.

Ladders reaching from the ground into the branches.

Excerpt from “Hidden Hearing”

In “Leaving” you mention the trees outside your window.  When you look out that window today what do you see, hear, taste, smell?

Well, I’m about 500 miles away from that window at the moment, and won’t be returning to that window for a few more months.

Each day, less leaves

In the tree outside my window

Excerpt from “Leaving”

You are going to AWP in Los Angeles AND you will give a reading to celebrate BOA 40th anniversary.  What is one (and I know there are many) thing you will talk about, and how do you prepare yourself for such two great appearances?

On the one hand, I don’t prepare at all.  I never plan to say anything or do anything.  On the other hand, I’ve been preparing all of my life since I see everything, everything I do in my life as an opportunity to practice greater presence and awareness.  Whether I daily succeed or not in that practice is almost beside the point.  The point is the practice.  Giving a public talk is just one more opportunity to practice. 

I must know how to bless

And how to receive blessing.

Excerpt from “Treasure Uncovered”

Your books are all different but at the same time with the same theme.  I feel this is true of The Word from His Song.  Do you agree?  And what makes The Word from His Song different from your previous works? 

I guess each book would have to be different, since I’m not the same even from one moment to the next.  I mean, even my body is changing at something like 6 billion cells a minute.  You, as an objective reader, may be in a better position to tell me how these poems are different from my other work. I can only tell you what I wish and hope for.  I hope they are simpler, deeper, truer, more sincere, and less “literary.”  But I don’t know if, in fact, they are so.   

Of all these things,

words weigh too much, yet not enough.

Excerpt from “Why Are You Awake?”


Li Young Lee in 2015


Jacket cover of The Word from His Song

BOA Staff.
Peter Conners is far right standing.

4, 5, and  and 15.
BOA Logo

The Bridge of Change by John Logan

The Toy Bone by Donald Hall

Sunlight: A Sequence for My Daughter Poems by David Ignatow with drawings by Rose Graubart Ignatow;

Survivors by Richard Eberhart

Armidale by Louis Simpson

Remains:  A Sequence of Poems by W.D. Snodgrass

Nest of Sonnets by A. Poulin, Jr.

Gratitude to Old Teachers by Robert Bly

Holes the Crickets Have Eaten in Blankets by Robert Bly.

Peter Conners
Copyright granted by Peter Conners

Jacket cover of Rose

Jacket cover of The City in Which I Love You

Jacket cover of Book of My Nights

Jacket cover of Behind My Eyes

Jacket cover of The Winged Seed:  A Remembrance

Jacket cover of Breaking The Alabaster Jar:  Conversations With Li Young Lee

Artwork by Christal Rice Cooper

Li Young Lee on November 2013.

Donna Lee and Li-Young Lee.  The couple have been married since November of 1976 and have two sons ages 31 and 32.  They reside in Chicago, Illinois.

Peter Connners
Copyright granted by Peter Conners

Photoshop by Christal Rice Cooper 

Artwork by Christal Rice Cooper


Top Left, Melissa Hall, Director of Development and Operations
Top Right, Jenna Fisher, Director of Marketing and Production,
Sitting Peter Conners, Publisher
© CITY Newspaper © Mark Chamberlin


Friday, March 25, 2016

Poem by Terri Kirby Erickson: On March 25, 1965 NAACP Member Viola Gregg Liuzzao was murdered by Klansmen . . .

Christal Rice Cooper

This was originally published on February 6, 2014 in the Winston-Salem Journal

Copyright granted by Terri Kirby Erickson

Guest Blogger Terri Kirby Erickson:
on her poem “Leroy and Viola”
and the history behind it.

From the moment I read John Railey’s column last year about people martyred during the struggle for civil rights, I was intrigued as well as outraged by a brief reference to 19-year-old African-American civil rights worker, Leroy Moton, and Viola Gregg Liuzzo, a white, middle-aged housewife and mother from Detroit.

There are uplifting stories from this tumultuous period in our nation's history, but mostly darker tales — the kind that will haunt us forever. This story, I'm afraid, is one of them. It begins with the everyday image of two people driving down a long stretch of highway, listening to the radio. It ends, for one of them, with sudden and devastating violence.

         On the evening of March 25, 1965, after a march in Montgomery, Ala., Liuzzo — a proud member of the NAACP — was giving Moton a ride back to Selma.

At some point in their journey, armed Klansmen spied this lone white woman driving a car with Michigan plates and her black male passenger. They were so enraged by this "outsider" and the appearance of "race mixing," they began to give chase. By some accounts, both cars were soon traveling at speeds of 100 miles per hour.

When the gunmen were able to get close enough to Liuzzo's vehicle, they shot her twice in the head. The car careened into a ditch and Moton, covered in Liuzzo's blood, pretended to be dead — the only reason this young man survived to tell the world what happened.

It is hard to imagine the terror he must have felt when that quartet of killers gathered around the wreckage, searching for survivors. For Leroy Moton to "play dead" so convincingly (beside the bloody corpse of a woman who had been vibrantly alive only seconds before), is a testimony to his survival skills, not to mention the bravery already evidenced by the choice he made to march for civil rights in the segregated South.

Eventually, three of Viola Liuzzo's murderers were brought to trial. In the Encyclopedia of Alabama (published October 24, 2007), the author writes that the Klansmen were acquitted the first time around, after rumor and innuendo did their work to destroy Liuzzo's reputation. Some even hinted that Liuzzo and Moton had a romantic relationship — damaging not only because Liuzzo was a married woman and the mother of five children, but because it was still illegal in many parts of the country, including Alabama, for whites and non-whites to cohabitate or engage in sexual acts.

As it turned out, the fourth man involved in the shooting was a "paid FBI informant" and the charges against him were dropped. There were subsequent trials, according to the EOA, wherein "Alabama juries" continued to "clear" the Klansmen. Federal juries finally convicted them of "violating Liuzzo's civil rights," and "sentenced the men to ten years in prison." One "died in March, 1966, before beginning his sentence," and "the FBI informant was granted full immunity and placed in the federal witness protection program."

There is speculation that the FBI, under orders from Bureau Director J. Edgar Hoover, was responsible for the smear campaign against Viola Liuzzo. Some even say it was the FBI informant who pulled the trigger. But this fact is indisputable: Viola Liuzzo and far too many others, black and white, made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for equal rights.

Liuzzo's murder did, however, "move President Johnson to order a federal investigation of the Klan, and to petition Congress to expand the Federal Conspiracy Act of 1870 to make the murder of civil rights activists a federal crime. Her death increased congressional support for the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which Johnson signed on August 6, 1965."

The EOA goes on to say that "in 1989, Viola Liuzzo became one of forty civil-rights martyrs whose lives were commemorated on the Civil Rights Memorial in Montgomery. In 1991, the Women of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference erected a stone marker on Highway 80 at the spot where she was murdered."

As for Leroy Moton, he is still with us. I have had the privilege of corresponding with him on a few occasions, and was able to tell him how much I respect and admire him. Both he and the late Viola Liuzzo, as well as scores of other champions for civil rights, are an inspiration.

It is important to continue sharing their stories, and to honor these brave men and women who sacrificed so much in pursuit of justice for all.

Leroy and Viola

Come Saturday morning, poor black men
gathered on street corners, waiting for white
men in Cadillacs to drive by slow, shouting
hey boy from their rolled-down windows, get
in, which meant there was a job digging ditches
or other backbreaking work for less money
than it cost to feed the family dog. Nights
were harder, what with hooded gangs of racists
wrapped in bed sheets roaming the countryside,
and woe to anybody who wasn’t white once
those half-drunk, hatemongering mobs with
their burning crosses and lengths of rope,
arrived on the scene. So in 1965 when married
mother-of-five Viola Gregg Liuzzo volunteered
to drive nineteen-year-old Leroy Moton back
to Selma—both fresh from a freedom march
in Montgomery, Alabama—the sight of a white
woman with a black man in the front seat of
a vehicle sporting Michigan plates didn’t sit
well with Klansmen who were, as usual, wild
as pent-up ponies in a barn blaze. So they chased
the pair down and fired two bullets into Liuzzo’s
brain, laughing like loons when the car careened
into a ditch. Covered in blood, Moton played
dead—surviving the shots, the crash, and the killers’
swift perusal of the wreckage. But Viola Liuzzo
is gone except in memory, where the same reel
runs over and over in Leroy Moton’s mind:
a pretty woman’s profile, pale as milk against
the purpling sky, and his hand, dark as rivers
on the radio dial—strangers joined forever
by history, seconds before the slaughter.

Excerpt from A Lake of Light and Clouds

Press 53
© Terri Kirby Erickson 2014

Terri Kirby Erickson  is the author of four collections of poetry, including In the Palms of Angels (Press 53, 2011), winner of three international awards, and her latest collection, A Lake of Light and Clouds (Press 53, 2014). Telling Tales of Dusk (Press 53, 2009) was #23 on the Poetry Foundation Contemporary Best Seller List in 2010.  Her work has won numerous awards, and has appeared in the 2013 Poet’s Market, The Christian Science Monitor, North Carolina Literary Review, Storysouth, JAMA, Verse Daily, and many other publications, and has twice been chosen by former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser for inclusion in his American Life in Poetry column, sponsored by The Poetry Foundation and the Library of Congress. She is a member of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International, a professional organization of women educators, and has taught a number of poetry classes in public schools, universities, and other venues. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Poet David Allen Sullivan Explores Love And Loss Amongst Father And Sons in "BLACK ICE"

Christal Cooper

All excerpts given copyright privilege by David Allen Sullivan and Turning Point Books

David Allen Sullivan’s
Masks:  A Love Story Between Father & Son

“The poems are about the changing natures we undergo throughout our lives. The masks we adopt and shed. The ways in which we are greater than the sum of what we can remember.”

David Allen Sullivan on Black Ice 

       This past September of 2015 Turning Point Books published David Allen Sullivan’s third poetry collection Black Ice.

       Sullivan’s other two collections are Strong-Armed Angels and Every Seed of the Pomegranate.

       Sullivan described Black Ice as “a book of poems about my father’s dementia and death, as well as the complex relationships between fathers and sons.” 
       Life for David Sullivan, the youngest of three sons, changed forever on December 23, 1981, when his father, Denis Garland Sullivan, was in an automobile accident.

Black Ice 2

My dad’s hands were yanked
from the Datsun’s steering wheel
as the bucket seat

back broke and he sailed
past racing telephone poles
and slurring pine trees

to shatter rear glass
and smash a pick-up’s grille, then
drop back as the car

met the snowbank’s fist.
His brain in its liquid case
slammed against bone,

contused as he stilled.
Back windshield diamonded him
in a blood-mask, streaked

by snowpack the dazed
truck driver used to staunch flow.
radiator’s shrill

broke through deadened ears
We’re thrown by what we don’t know.
Ice slides beneath us.

       Denis Sullivan survived the horrific accident but lost a huge piece of his identity by suffering a brain injury that left him with frontal lobe dementia, mental illness, the loss of basic tasks such as communicating, reading, and writing; but, even more tragically, he lost his livelihood, but fortunately only temporarily.
       “My father taught political science at Dartmouth College.  He specialized in analyzing politicians facial gestures, and their effect on viewers.” 

       Politicians have long been described as wearing many masks –and masks is a great description to describer all of these poems:  the masks describe Denis’s livelihood, which at the time seemed hopeless that he would be able to resume due to his injuries.  But Denis returned to teaching, which amazed everyone, and remained teaching for the next twenty years until his death on June 8, 2013.

In grad school he trained himself
on politicians,

watched video clips,
interrogated facades-
displays of power,

untended flinches
of fear – and here I am face
to face with a man

who withheld himself.

Excerpt from “Reading Faces”
       Masks also describe the different personalities and routines each of the family members had to maintain in order to function – father became son, son became father, wife became mother, husband became child.

 “Papa, you can’t talk.”
Why not?  He bellows, You are.
Heads angrily turn

as Ramaswami
attacks a slow mangalam
and I find way

to prayer.  “Whatever
can mend this, let it come.”  Turn,
kiss his cheek.  He calms.

Excerpt from “Attending an Indian Concert.”

Black on the windows
for the months his wife held him
when he balled up, cried, or Fuck-you’d
the world. 

Excerpt from “Darknesses”

Eventually Denis did learn to read and write and, as part of his therapy and recovery, wrote in an accident recovery journal which gave him a new mask – that of rebirth and hope.    

“As I feel better the sun shines more brightly and as I see the sun I walk as close as I can towards it.”
-from my father’s accident recovery journal

Excerpt from “Appetites”

These journal entries are quoted throughout the book Black Ice: 108 pages of 72 poems divided into three parts:

1.     Daily Diminutions
2.     Sons of Fathers
3.     Enter the Fire

Sullivan described the writing of Black Ice as a
therapeutic journey.
       “This collection has been a powerful journey for me. A way of reconciling myself to my Dad's dementia and death, but of also recognizing the gifts that occurred even as he declined.”

       The entire family experienced a decline –his three sons, Marc, Kevin, and David especially his wife Margaret (Peggy), who had to give up her dream of pursuing a PhD in art.

       She believed he’d teach again,
relearn how to read and write.  She
Would be confidante and guide, her dream
of a PhD suspended.

Excerpt from “Darknesses”

       Denis has to wear a mask of pretending that he can read a book by Dr. Seuss to his granddaughter, David’s daughter Amina Barivan.

He holds Dr. Seuss
while my daughter turns pages.
Whispers his panic:

I can’t read.  We laugh.
“Neither can she.  Make it up.”
He wants yellow eggs . . .

Excerpt from “Judge”

       Despite this suffering and this separateness father and son connect – in a very rare moment where Denis is the father figure and David his son.

He doesn’t ask why I wake him,
folds me against his chest –
forty-odd years whispered away
as he strokes my hair.
His condition grows him kinder.

Excerpt “Back Home”

       It’s painful to read of Denis’s suffering – from the physical of not having control of his own body in “All Fall Down”; not able to tell time in “Drawing the Clock’s Face”; the loss of hearing in “Back Home”; the loss of his independence in “Life and Death Before Breakfast.”; not able to twist the plastic rig from an orange juice jug in “Assisted Living”, but most tragically he seems to have lost the ability to remember.

Clock reads 1 a.m.
Where am I again?  I blink,
and my father leans

over the couch where
I’d been sleeping:  David?
Where has Peggy gone?

I pat him calmer,
repeat Mom’s itinerary,
then lead him to bed.

Excerpt from “Hay Caracoles!”

       Despite this sadness there are sparks of triumph – where Denis does remember – he remembers how to express love to his son by stroking his hair in “Back Home”; he remembers how to play Hearts in ‘Judge”; and perhaps the most emotional compelling memory is described in “Touched” when father and son visit the mbulu ngulu figures at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum. 


My dad’s hand rises
to stroke shimmery metal.
Panicked, I look around.

Gallery’s empty.
Each sculpted elder aches to
have their features shined

by attentive hands
and the grit of sand – the gods
feel when we touch them.

Dad guides my palm to
the glint.  When you were young
your skin felt like this.

Excerpt from “Touched”


In “Mask Making 101” David Allen Sullivan makes a mask for his own son Jules Barivan.  This mask symbolizes the new roles grandfather, father, and son must live out– roles that are both familiar and strange.

He disappears under headlines and blurred car crashes.
Feels like wet noodles, he says until his mouth’s sealed

and only nostrils allow him to breath. Strip
after strip builds him up, a hardening mirror.

Quietness discomforts me.  I want him still to need
what I have to give.  When he pulls it off

his double lies in his hands.  He stares into it
then turns it over.  Does this really look like me?

Excerpt from “Mask Making 101”

       The final mask to be unveiled is the death of Denis depicted in the poem “Beached”, where Sullivan describes his father’s death as the red ocean ebbing.  In the poem, Sullivan, who is with his brother Kevin, reads his father a poem by Mary Oliver. 

I read a poem.

Kev lowers one hand
to the laboring heart and says:
Go if you want to,

stay if you need to.
Ocean swell lifts, a red wave
rises through neck and

face, suffuses him
with color and a last breath
he releases.

Excerpt from “Beached”

            “My brother really did say these things, and my father did take in a breath, let it out, and was gone.  Amazing when something like that happens, and you suddenly realize that some part of him was still conscious, still with us, and still aware of our touch and words. Spirit dwells inside, even as the body dies.”
Out of the collection “Beached” was the most compelling and emotional for Sullivan to write. 

             "As I composed this poem, near the end of finishing the book, it felt like a way to unite the separate strands.  And in that goodbye my older brother and I were united in a special way. That send off of our shared father was a way of sending us off as well. Transformed. It was a privileged time where the spirit of our father was manifest, and its leaving a gift."