Posts tagged “Poetry

Author Spotlight: Kim Jensen

Kim JensenBook: The Only Thing That Matters

Kim Jensen is an associate professor of English at the Community College of Baltimore County.  She puts her profession to practice as the author of The Woman I Left Behind, and the collection of poems, Bread Alone.  Her writing and poetry have been featured in a spread of anthologies and journals, including The Baltimore Review, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Rain Taxi Review, Al Jadid, and Imagine Peace.  Jensen’s newest book The Only Thing That Matters, to be published next month, is another powerful collection of poems derived from the ideas and vocabulary of radical poet and novelist Fanny Howe and transformed into astonishing new formulations.

What is on your nightstand now?

“That’s a loaded question, considering that my iPad/Kindle is sitting on my nightstand, full of all kinds of books! In any case, the nightstand is piled high with paper texts too. Right now: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; The Gift by the great Persian Mystic poet, Hafiz; The Glance by Rumi, another of the most wonderful Sufi poets; a powerful novel about the Colombian civil war called The Armies by Evelio Rosero; Blood Dazzler by spoken word poet Patricia Smith. Also various books by: Mahmoud Darwish, Louise Erdrich, Anton Chekhov, Alice Munro, Wolfgang Iser, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Two more: The Gun and the Olive Branch by David Hirst and The Palestinians by Rosemary Sayigh—a must read for anyone interested in the Palestinian struggle.”

What was your favorite book as a child?

“This question digs at a mystery that has plagued me for years. Once upon a time, my family had a collection of fairytales with the most wonderful illustrations that I can still picture to this day. I used to stare at those colorful illustrations for hours. The book has since disappeared and I have often wondered what it was and who published it. I long to revisit that book with adult eyes to understand what was so mesmerizing. This is the meaning of childhood—a place full of nameless shadows that you can never quite retrieve.”

Who are your top five authors?

“I am against creating such a limited pantheon, even for fun. These kinds of short lists leave out too many names of poets, playwrights, novelists, fiction writers, philosophers, and theorists who have had a massive impact at various places and times. It’s not fair or even a healthy way of understanding the way literature and poetry move in and out of our lives, arriving, staying, receding, sometimes returning, sometimes not.  Great as they are, why should Balzac or Tolstoy or Flaubert be on the list (for me), but not Richard Wright or Mahmoud Darwish? Why should Darwish be on the list, but not Simone Weil? Why should Shakespeare be on the list, but not Achebe, Rumi, Marx, Sophocles, Nietzsche, or Oscar Wilde? And where would Toni Morrison’s Beloved go? Or The Great Gatsby? Or Hemingway? Alice Munro and Louise Erdrich? Or Marquez? And that’s just to name the famous ones, not to mention the unsung poets of the trenches, bars, and streets.  Or authors who have written single-hit masterpieces, but who never get to make it into these kinds of “best-of” compilations. Impossible. Is there a place for Emily Dickinson? August Wilson? Raymond Carver? June Jordan? This could go on and on.

So as not to disappoint, I will say this: if I had to put one author at the very tippy top of my own teetering pyramid, it would be Chekhov. His short stories are perfection. Untouchable. The sublime meeting of insight, technique, and compassion make Chekhov unmatched—for me.”

What book have you faked reading?

“I don’t claim to have read books that I haven’t read; however, I may nod with a kind of mock confidence when their names come up in conversation. I’ve never finished Orientalism by Edward Said, but I refer to its ideas without having read more than a few chapters.”

What book are you an evangelist for?

“Before Jennifer Egan won her big Pulitzer Prize last year for A Visit From the Good Squad and rendered all of my evangelizing obsolete, I used to get on the Egan pulpit. I am personally responsible for any number of converts. Four years ago, a friend of mine bought Look at Me for my daughter. I borrowed it and gobbled it up, astonished at Egan’s huge talent.”

Have you ever bought a book for its cover? Which one?

“I have not. For someone who loves reading as much as I do, I find bookstores overwhelming and even depressing at times, especially the big, corporate stores. There is a wonderful radical bookstore in Baltimore called Red Emma’s in which I have the opposite experience—very enlivening. Yet, I still don’t buy a book for its cover, even there.  When I step into a book store, it’s usually to buy something I already have on my mind. If it is an impulse purchase, it will be something that I have read a review of, or a classic text that I should finally read, so I can stop just nodding knowingly and get into the conversation!”only thing that matters

What book changed your life?

“The five experimental novels by Fanny Howe that are now compiled one book now called Radical Love (Night Boat Books, 2005) had a huge impact on my life. These are experimental and poetic novels for adventurous readers who are also spiritual seekers. My new collection of poetry (The Only Thing that Matters) is based on my study of her poetry. Readers can read a recent interview that I conducted with Fanny Howe for Bomb Magazine.”

What is your favorite line from a book?

“A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of Communism.”

What book do you most want to read again for the first time?

“That anonymous book of fairytales with the exquisite drawings that was lost to time and entered the realm of personal myth. I wish I could start all over with that one!”

Kim Jensen’s The Only Thing That Matters makes a great addition to your National Poetry Month reading list.  To learn more about this title or pre-order now visit the Syracuse University Press website.

Questions from the popular Shelf Awareness Book Brahmin series. 


National Poetry Month Has Arrived

April is here; spring is in the air, flowers are starting to bloom, and it’s National Poetry Month!  Each year, Syracuse University Press takes a moment to recognize the work of talented poets by sharing one of our favorite pieces.  Last year we celebrated with Poe and this year we chose to commend one of our own, Laila Halaby.  She is a best-selling novelist and PEN Award winner who entered the world of poetry last year with her first collection my name on his tongue: poemsThrough her poetic words, Halaby forms a touching memoir that speaks to and for a large audience.

Halaby-au pic     home

as a young child
when Home
was where you lived
and where-are-you-from?
was more about your parents
I thought
I belonged
to the Whites
because that
was where
my house was

I pretended
those children
with chisels
in their powdery hands
and spit in their wet pink mouths
didn’t mean to hurt me
as they questioned
my name
my face
my place of birth
my father’s absence

when I stared
in the mirror
examined my skin
peeled it back
peeked through
at tissue and veins
and blood
saw who
I really was
I opted
for the Arabs
erased all
erased my house
let those warm
dark arms
hold me
love me
make me theirs
build me
a new house

it worked
for a while

until I found
that Home
is inside
not out
that the view changesmy name on his tongue
where I sit
which window
I look out of

mixed blood
is like an old trailer
that’s always frowned at
because no matter where
it’s parked
it’s always
out of place

on the other hand

you can drag it anywhere
if your hitch is strong enough
just be careful
if there’s a hurricane
or tornado
will be the first to go

Happy National Poetry Month!

SUP Spook-tacular Read!

This Halloween, we have a special treat for all you scary book lovers! Ghost Dance by Gregory O’Donoghue is a vibrant book of poetry with symbolic depth. Poet and long-time friend of the author, Maurice Riordan, describes Gregory as “sensitive to the preternatural and the ghostly presences.” This eerie Dedalus Press title is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. For more information on this book visit the Syracuse University Press website.

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Author Spotlight: Laila Halaby

Book: my name on his tongue: poems

Using a narrative style, best-selling novelist Laila Halaby passionately promotes poetry as a means for change. In my name on his tongue, Halaby, who was born in Lebanon to a Jordanian father and American mother, processes the world through her words and stories. She transforms her personal experiences into moving poems which reflect her insights on peace, war, family, and hope for change. 

The title, my name on his tongue, is very intriguing and piques curiosity among those who pick up your book. Why did you choose this specific title, echoed by unconventional orthography? (e. e. Cummings)

“when we were trying to come up for a title for my second novel, once in a promised land, I remember my editor telling me that I needed to look within the book, that the title was already there.  I did exactly that with my name on his tongue, as it originally had a title that didn’t work well (I can’t remember what it was) and in retrospect it seems as though it was always sitting there waiting for me.”

Displacement seems to be the strongest theme of the book.  Are there multiple intended audiences other than people who are torn between two cultures? 

“I have never written with my audience in mind.  I write what I write and whoever finds it interesting reads it.  I don’t like the idea that only people who have experienced two cultures would want to pick this up.  rather, I’d like to think that anyone would find it accessible.”

What are the most important attributes in creating such a raw, personal , and witty composition of poems? 

“honesty.  sincerity.”

Does the front cover illustration on “my name on his tongue” represent you in any way? 

“no.  not at all.”

Have you done any traveling to inspire your poetry aside from emigrating from Lebanon to the United States?

“I have traveled off and on over the years and some of that wanders into the poems.  pretty much everything wanders into poems.”

Which poem was the easiest to write? The hardest? 

“I’m not sure I can break it down quite so simply.  there were some poems that took more effort to get the words just right (I am thinking ‘taking a moment to thank our sponsors’) and there were others that took more structural effort (‘the journey’ was originally a talk that I gave).  these poems span about twenty years and how I approach poetry, writing in general, has probably changed some over that time.”

Your poems are divided into two chapters: “No matter how much za’atar you eat, you still gotta work to be an Arab/writer/woman” and “My grandma and your grandma were sitting by the fire…” Both reference female struggles- do you consider yourself to be a feminist?

“I’m not good with labels, so no, I don’t consider myself a feminist.  but then I don’t really consider myself an arab-american.  I suppose if I need to be labeled then some of those terms apply, but I don’t think of it that way.  my view of the first section reference my own struggles.  the last section reference struggles in general.”

In your letter to Barack Obama, you wrote “you can see both sides of a situation because you are both sides.” How has navigating between two cultures helped you to view the world differently? 

“being from two worlds means you are given two sets of eyes with which to view the world.  I think it has given me the tools to step out of myself and be able to see situations more clearly — and not just as they relate to culture.”

Your writing in “my name on his tongue” is very stimulating, sometimes wistful, and passionate. Do you consider yourself to be a painter of words or categorize yourself as something other than a writer? 

“a label question.  I write.  I have high standards for myself and take it seriously, but I don’t categorize myself one way or the other.”

Laila Halaby’s my name on his tongue: poems was published last month (May 22) and is available for purchase on the Syracuse University Press website.

SU Press Celebrates National Poetry Month with Poe!

April 1st marks the start of National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate the brilliant work of talented American poets. From Mark Twain to Emily Dickinson, we all have a favorite poet who we praise for their touching words that come to life on paper. This month, Syracuse University Press chooses to commend the famous, Edgar Allan Poe by sharing one of his popular poems.

A Dream Within A Dream by Edgar Allan Poe

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow–
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand–
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep–while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

Take some time to explore a variety of different poems this April. Happy National Poetry month from the Syracuse University Press!