Tag Archives: Black River Chapbook Competition

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Katharine Rauk


……..from Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions

How many hours in a peach
that swallows light
like a woman with her secret
windows, each pain a glass
which opens onto orchards
sown with how many
bites of time?
How many minutes in the room
where rain is born
with her sudden bouquet of hands
which flattens furrows
hewn in foreheads
and presses how many
thumbprints in the grass?
How many seconds in a question
seeded in the dirt
as when the peach’s ribbed pit asks
shall I come?
and its tender flesh asks
shall I go?

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is a book literally full of questions—“If all rivers are sweet / where does the sea get its salt?” or “And what did the rubies say / standing before the juice of pomegranates?”—and I often like to interrogate Neruda’s original inquiries. As you might imagine, I usually don’t end up with satisfying answers but instead with a collection of even more questions. This particular poem is woven from my responses to Neruda’s question over the course of a few weeks, so I can’t say that it was written on one specific day.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: I have just been reading (once again) Galway Kinnell’s The Book of Nightmares and reveling in his knobby language. He uses words you must forcibly chew, like “fenks,” “goaf,” gurry” and “smarled,” as well as kennings like “throat knuckles” and “mouth-glue.” Maybe because it’s spring in Minnesota and I’ve been mucking around in the backyard or because I’m about to give birth to a baby daughter in a few weeks, but it seems especially fitting to be reading a book so grounded in the bodily world. Kinnell uses words that are not stereotypically “poetic”; instead, they are corporeal and often steeped in decay. Yet Kinnell’s keen awareness of mortality is tempered by witnessing the arrival of his newborn children on earth.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: My husband and I taught at a university in northeastern China for one year, and during our winter vacation we took the train 57 hours south to the city of Kunming. A friend directed us to an Italian restaurant run by an actual Neapolitan who had taken up permanent residence in China, where we gorged on pizza and pastiera. As the details of the actual meal are quite hazy, it’s unclear whether Rocco is actually the master chef I remember or if I was just ecstatic to eat cheese after six months.

Katharine Rauk was a Fall 2008 finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition with her manuscript Basil, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Lisa Fay Coutley


Call it a burning building or a sinking ship,
either way you’re in it when you phone to say
you can’t tie your shoelaces. I say report card,

a boy who rips the sole from his shoe on purpose,
alveoli. Not sure what this has to do with plants,
you say—this burning ship, this sinking building.

I don’t either. On tossing nights, I get out of bed
to smoke, just to watch my breath in, to see it out.
I tied my first laces on old clown shoes, one bunny

ear over another, under, through and pulled tight,
easy as a cursive L or anything else before Velcro.
Here’s a burning building. There’s a sinking ship.

Here’s me, two arms bent for buckets. There’s you,
two faces shaking through water, through smoke.
I’m double-knotting the world’s shoelaces for you

but the carousel keeps spinning, the balloons
keep twisting themselves into silent llama-dogs.
Maybe we’re all barking buildings, spitting ships,
all the laces in a sailor’s knot, a fistful of spoons.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I do—very clearly, actually, but to answer this question reveals a great deal about the content, which is risky for me because it steers the reading in a definitive direction. In any case, here goes: I started drafting this poem last spring when my father called me early one morning (something he doesn’t ordinarily do) to tell me that he was in the emergency room, that his emphysema had gotten much worse, that he couldn’t even tie his shoes. Later in the day, a family friend likened living with this disease to living in a burning building, and I couldn’t get the shoes or the burning building out of my mind, hence the villanelle.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Adrienne Rich’s collection of poetry: Diving into the Wreck. In fact, some of the poems from In the Carnival of Breathing began while I was reading that book.

Q:  What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: I don’t know about sublime, but I ate one of my most memorable meals in Pecos, Texas, while visiting my dad. He was working there at the time, and I had just flown for the first time, traveled alone for the first time, and ate authentic Mexican food for the first time. I bet my dad that I could eat the entire plate of enchiladas without a drink of milk. I won. But I have yet to find comparable enchiladas since.

Lisa Fay Coutley is the Fall, 2009 winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition with her manuscript In the Carnival of Breathing, which will be published by Black Lawrence Press in mid-2011.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: T.J. Beitelman


Scene: Trafalgar Square. Jude Law meets Gabriel
Garcia Marquez, calls him Gabo.

Marquez slaps the boy and calls him puta,
Bitch, and they are instantly transported

To a deserted island where they must listen
To evangelists until they repent and kiss

On the lips. A stand-off for months. Then the rainy season.
The droplets, open mouths. The two men kiss like dust.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: If I’m not mistaken, this poem was written in the summer of 2001, which feels like another lifetime now. (Did they even have computers then? Color TV?) I was living in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had just received my second professionally untenable degree in the humanities, didn’t know if I wanted to write poems or stories, etc, etc. For those and other reasons, my soul felt a little bifurcated. This poem — the subsequent sequence of poems — came from that place. Like nuclear fission. Or something.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Darcie Dennigan’s Corinna A-maying the Apocalypse. It restored my faith that poems can be strange, intuitive, otherworldly — breathtakingly so — and still make perfect sense. Or a perfect sense. Writing is an act of connection. These poems connected. Still do.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: Seriously? Ever? This is like choosing between children. Jesus. Uh, well, lots of great meals flash before my eyes, but one recurs: Christmas Eve dinner at the home of my brother-in-law’s friend and business partner. Authentic Lebanese. Kibbi. Fatoush. Grape leaves. Toum. Hummus. Lebneh. Etc. Mounds of all of it and a fugue of conversation, mostly in Arabic (which I don’t speak). All of it strange, intuitive, otherworldly — and it still made perfect sense.

T.J. Beitelman is the Spring, 2008 winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition with his chapbook manuscript Pilgrims: A Love Story, which will be available for purchase later this year. His full-length collection In Order to Form a More Perfect Union will be published by Black Lawrence Press in 2012.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: David Rigsbee


I hear a hammer down the road
sounding the wood, and inside, my daughter
at her computer making sounds half-music,
half self-amusement.  The paper
on my breakfast table describes rockets
flying in and out of Israel, in and out of Lebanon.
It reminded me of that time I went home
with Teresa Greenberg, whose dad
owned the only Rolls in town.
The Six Day War had started.  Her father,
a squat and burnished contractor,
rose to grunt at me and immediately
resumed his place before the console TV,
where Moshe Dayan’s pirate’s patch
made the good eye the focus
of our world, a world put sorely away,
an old uniform with its service medals
waiting for the grandson who could
hold the whole thing up like a chart,
telling you what each ribbon and medal
signified.  Years after what might have
happened followed what did, an oil tanker
steams by, the tall pilot house seeming
to inspect the trees, then sending smoke
into the low clouds, before sailing on
to the mountains beyond the treetops.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: I was sitting on the terrace in our then-house overlooking the Puget Sound in Seattle. I was watching an oil ship round the bend heading for Elliott Bay, but it also looked as if it were heading, Werner Herzog-like, into the fir trees. It also happened to be during the most recent Israeli-Lebanese War, a fact which reminded me of my tenderness toward the Theresa Greenberg in the poem, whose family were riveted by the 6-Day War. Until then, real world events seemed shrunk by television. Ironically, when the war came television expanded the principles into giants.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: Derek Mahon’s Selected Poems.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: The leg of lamb, heavily salted and covered with marjoram leaves and stuffed with garlic, made by a fellow poet from my undergraduate group at Chapel Hill, a poet who years later suffered cruel visions, came a devotee of Utrantia, gave away all his possessions (including his typewriter), before disappearing into (we think) the wilds of South Carolina. I was living in Edmund Wilson’s Upstate house in the 1970s, and this poet had come to visit. He showed up with bags of groceries and copies of his only book, then proceeded to the kitchen and went to work.

David Rigsbee is the author of The Red Tower, available from NewSouth Books in September. He is the Spring, 2009 winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition with his manuscript The Pilot House, which will be published by Black Lawrence Press later this year.

Mary Biddinger on How a Poem Happens

Check out the recent discussion with Mary Biddinger on Brian Brodeur’s blog How a Poem Happens. Mary was a finalist in the Spring, 2009 Black River Chapbook Competition and her book Saint Monica is forthcoming from BLP.

David Rigsbee To Win the Sam Ragan Award

David Rigsbee, winner of the Spring, 2009 Black River Chapbook Competition, will be honored with the Sam Ragan Award for Distinguished Service to North Carolina Arts on Thursday, February 4 at St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, North Carolina.

The award honors Sam Ragan, who was North Carolina’s first Secretary of Cultural Resources. It also celebrates North Carolina as the first state in the union to create a cabinet-level position for the fine arts.

David Rigsbee is the author of seven previous full-length collections of poems.  He is also the author of four chapbooks, two works of criticism (on Carolyn Kizer and Joseph Brodsky, whom he also translated), and editor of two anthologies, the most recent of which, Invited Guest: An Anthology of Twentieth Century Southern Poetry (The University of Virginia Press in 2001) was named a notable university press book by the American Library Association.  Winner of the Pound Prize and the Vachel Lindsay Award, he has been been recipient of grants and awards from the N.E.A., the N.E.H., The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, The Virginia Commission on the Arts, The Djerassi Foundation, and the Academy of American Poets. His work has appeared in The American Poetry Review, The Georgia Review, The Iowa Review, The New Yorker, The Iowa Review, The Ohio Review, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review, and many others. His chapbook The Pilot House is forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press.

After the presentation of the award on February 4, Rigsbee will give a reading during the Fortner Writer’s Forum. The event, to be held in the Orange Main Lounge, will begin at 8 PM. It is free and open to the public.

Dutch Treatment by D.E. Fredd

This collection of three short stories, winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition, is about humans trying to understand themselves and each other, specifically across cultural borders, against the backdrop of war, and within the confines of marriage.

About the Author

D. E. Fredd lives in Townsend, Massachusetts. He has had fiction and poetry published in several journals and reviews including the Boston Literary Magazine, Connecticut Review, The Pedestal, Storyglossia, SNReview, eclectica and Menda City. His poetry has appeared in the Paumanok and Paris Reviews. He received the Theodore Hoepfner Award given by the Southern Humanities Review for the best short fiction of 2005 and was a 2006 Ontario Award Finalist. He won the 2006 Black River Chapbook Competition and received a 2007 Pushcart Special Mention Award.

Advance Praise

D.E. Fredd writes in the tradition of John Cheever, exploring the territory of the human heart with a keen eye and a wickedly precise pen. His characters know their weaknesses and their strengths, and their voices are raw, moving, and absolutely real. His stories are finely crafted windows on the wa y we love and hurt one another, told with humor and delicate grace. — Laurie Seidler, Editor, VerbSap

Whether writing about a gangster or a prison camp guard, D.E. Fredd makes strong use of voice. Vividly-drawn characters inhabit his challenging and insightful stories, which plumb the depths — and the darkness — of human experience. — Alyce Wilson, Editor, Wild Violet

Dutch Treatment is available for $9 from Black Lawrence Press.

A Civic Pageant: Winner of the Spring, 2007 Black River Chapbook Competition

A Civic Pageant is a pageant of the emotional history of the self. In language as large, colorful and weightless as floats, the poems in A Civic Pageant reflect on the civics of our selves—the duty we hold to experience and emotion. They praise and lament how we must parade these obligations in front of us—always part leader of the parade, always part hopeless spectator.

About the Author

Frank Montesonti is currently the Lead Faculty of the MFA program at National University. His poems have appeared in such journals as Black Warrior Review, Poet Lore, AQR, Poems and Plays, Lit, and Barrow Street. He lives in San Diego.

Advance Praise

Montesonti’s pageant is more living diorama than contest—it’s a winter Midwest cityscape of blackouts and drunk dreaming. So, it is a pageant actually—but in place of pomp and heroics, Montensonti’s threaded that contradictory portent: a yearning to disappear from your hometown only to be lifted over it, reviewing what’s really there and now no longer your own. Funny, sad, and then funnily sad again and again.

– Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Ph.D, author of Lug Your Careless Body out of the Careful Dusk

Reading Frank Montesonti’s poems is like finding a human heart in a gleaming grocery aisle. He discovers difficult glory in the most plastic of places; he blasts apart the overlooked, everyday architecture protecting our most precious things. In one stanza, his startling declarations warn us against the sweet, slippery danger of dreams, but in the next he’s built us a beautiful, giant dream machine.

–Sommer Browning, author of Vale Tudo

Frank Montesonti’s poems deconstruct a narrative of longing for grandeur in the ordinary. They are in constant motion, like “small blue tornadoes in [his] eyes,” and gaining momentum always. If there were an easy way, Frank “has the legal right to shoot it and ask questions later.”

–James Meetze, author of I Have Designed This For You

A Civic Pageant is available from Black Lawrence Press and from Amazon.

David Rigsbee Reads in Seattle

Dear Friends, -1

David Rigsbee, poet and recent addition to the Black Lawrence Press family, will be reading at Open Books in Seattle on October 7 at 7:30. Having heard him read just last week, I can assure you that this is an event worth attending.

David is the author of The Pilot House, winner of the Spring, 2009 Black River Chapbook Competition.

I hope that those of you in the Northeast can make it.


Diane Goettel

Open Books: Events

October 07, 2009 07:30 PM

In James Bertolino’s latest book, Finding Water, Holding Stone ($18 Cherry Grove), lyrical poems expressing warm, natured-based wisdom are gathered with others that present a grim vision of existence. His writing is immediate and persuasive. Nature changes the poet, as with the fungus resembling “an old face, which holds / the expression of that moment when // defeat gains the depth / of a lesson learned. / Then my mind is silenced / by forest gone beyond // pattern.” These are mature poems; Bertolino willingly shares all experience — “something is changing shape // and I’ve heard it’s my heart.”

The poetry in Two Estates ($18 Cherry Grove), David Rigsbee’s recent book, approaches art, artists, and the rich materials of Mediterranean Europe, its landscape, history, and omnipresent religious influences, with a stately tone. His imagery is layered — “church bells… hover / in consciousness the way bees / slog away at the last sprigs / of wisteria.” Time, in many of these pieces, is not a fixed point — “[I] walk to the ledge where my father / the evening greets me in the darkening / branches of a pine.” Rigsbee’s voice is like that of a docent’s, confidently directing the reader’s eye and mind.