Tag Archives: james reidel

National Poetry Month Spotlight: James Reidel

The Krewe of Orpheus

Poems that pull his strings instead of him—
Operas in which his head sings on a ruff—
That Dance of Furies more leg than fury—
Painters who must like painting sheets pulled from people—
Fables of being steered by the arm through howling cave winds,
With just this flap, this flutter of ankle wings—
The way everyone makes it look like he cut in—
The way we treat him worse than a voodoo doll—
Making him watch his entrails in a tug-of-war,
Feel his sides stuffed back with hanks his own hair,
Those fingernails turning his quarters to chum,
Those girls racing along the bank by the bleeding glove of his face,
Feeding the scream stretched in it like breadcrumbs.
Not one of us stops ourselves,
We just keep his wreck afloat to whirl over the river’s drain to where it starts again,
Not one of us pulls his feet back over their bones,
Wades with him ashore,
Follows the trampled grass back for the lyre,
Which someone used on his privates for piano wire,
Helps him no closer than the little dog that curls forever carved,
Punished enough, and loyal at the foot of her tomb.


Q: What is your writing process?

A: It is this bolt of mental Christo cloth dropping over some subject. Then I tug it into a shape with little pulls at the end, like you give kite string, the strings of your hood, a ripcord.

I like the results as long as they don’t look too much like their furniture under their sheets. That said, strangely enough, I am very interested in writing into my verse its seizures, where to grasp them even more. The poem I have written for April is mythological kitsch to me from one angle. So, I have included this angle, made this pull to the whole cloth. You can pull this entire poem off the table while seeing it as true.

Q:  Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?

A: Chloë Grace Moretz–to encourage her to write verse.

Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?

A: The Land of Orplid or just a United States again, which may, indeed, be just as mythological.

James Reidel is currently preparing a new manuscript for Black Lawrence Press and his first book of poems in six years. He recently published two novels in translation by Franz Werfel, Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand (Godine, 2012) and The Forty Days of Musa Dagh (Godine, 2012).

National Poetry Month Spotlight: James Reidel

Coma Berenices

You’re born, a gray dye pack.
You get so far from the hospital.
Then one day it’s the medicine cabinet,
That first door to open for so many,
That gets us back into our day,
And there it is in the mirror.
Fun house.
But it’s nothing, a dusting, Jack Frost in the
A pantry moth’s worth,
A couple of tired ones,
The kind I can pinch off the screens,
Powder marks between my fingers,
A gray so faint to the eye you could still cut it all
***for a sick child’s wig,
Not even brush,
Just look at hard
Until it turns and laps back into temples dishwater

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

A: Before a painting titled Ariadne Sleeping by Reginald Grooms that hangs over my desk. Ariadne’s folded legs fall such that her bare knees point directly to my flat screen monitor. My eyes must always return to my work should they stray up to her naked form, and so they do now, to a poem that is titled “Coma Berenices,” after a constellation that is also named for Ariadne’s hair by astronomer Eratosthenes. My desktop, by the way, is covered by an enormous piece of plate glass under which I have hundreds of pieces of paper, pictures, photographs, anything flat really. It forms a collage, or a constellation of my history. So, I guess, all of this fits with my métier, which tries to assemble a fixed object out of fixed fragments. It’s getting them into motion that is the poetry. Every line of this poem came from a different day, from a different experience, but made for one experience as it was, when it did not have all the words yet but the mild shock and how it faded. So my workplace—the painting was found in the basement when we moved in, the big desk, the glass and confetti-like lantern show underneath came later and was shoved underneath over years—forms a triptych of what I do, what we all have to do, work through beginning–middle–end.

Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?

A: “Dream Song 14” because it’s such good advice. Every line should be cut up and stuffed in as many fortune cookies. The poem has long been my fortune. Do feel sorry for me, I guess.

Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?

A: This revised and expanded English translation of Franz Werfel’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Until now, what we have read in English is a condensed book that never said so. Uncondensing another man’s translation is a very interesting thing to do because it is so forensic, so like art restoration. I had to make it seem like nothing happened over the 12 months that I worked countless hours, that nothing was wrong in the first place. It was like dubbing, too, this time an American voice for English actor—and the first translator was a former actor—while still pretending to be Werfel and not getting him so wrong after being so memorably acted.

James Reidel is the author of My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg and other poems (Black Lawrence Press, 2006). His translation of Franz Werfel’s shortest novel, Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand, and a revised and expanded translation of Werfel’s longest, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, will be published by David R. Godine in mid-2011.

The Oldest Hands in the World

Black Lawrence Press is very proud to announce the publication of The Oldest Hands in the World, Daniele Pantano’s debut collection. While Pantano has been serving the literary community for many years as a respected and accomplished translator, it is no wonder that this rich and exciting collection of poems about exile, translingualism, and writing one’s way home reads like a book written by a seasoned, celebrated poet. We expect more great things from this new voice.

The Oldest Hands in the World is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.


On this chair, as I am every morning, waiting
For the cappuccino and brioche to arrive,
And the girl with the oldest hands in the world,
I sense exile is a city reared by eternal artifice.
All sweet violence and thought and repetition.
Beyond what history has left of this topography,
The cup is whiteness, the coffee brown semen.
My first sip makes her appear with provender
And sandals from behind the insignificant ruins.
But for the time being, ruins are eucalyptus trees.
And she not a girl on her way to feed chickens
But a face concealed by dripping nets. Dressed
In black sails and hair dyed a Roman blonde.
The lips of her soul are burning sages, I know.
Her name, I don’t. Only her hands matter.
Laden with broached scars, they remind me––
Home is where children sprout in rippled soil.
Where footsteps are mosaics of possibility.
To go on. Finish breakfast. Read the line
That ends in God’s breath. Again.


Pantano offers us a chance once again to see a poet live comparative literature the way Pound did–but without the frightening aspect of the extreme beard, the Roman broadcasts, or the open cage. His poetry and translations reveal that writing is different languages influencing each other at the most intimate and experienced level. ––James Reidel, author of My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg

“I make a dish out of nothing” could be a poetic creed as well as a line from a Daniele Pantano poem, for he is an expert in molding the shapelessness of experience into a variety of crafted forms. A romantic with a sharp intelligence, Pantano gives us poems where heart and mind move together as on a verbal bicycle built for two. ––Billy Collins, Poet Laureate of the United States (2001–2003)

Fierce, uncompromising and completely authentic, The Oldest Hands in the World is a remarkable debut collection. Scratch that––The Oldest Hands in the World is a remarkable collection, period. ––Jay Hopler, author of Green Squall

The poems of Swiss-born Daniele Pantano are shadowed by travel and exile, rich with history, music, and a love of language. Sensuous, dramatic and intelligent,The Oldest Hands in the World is a stirring introduction to a strong and talented young poet. ––Peter Meinke, author of The Piano Tuner

Who is brave enough to attempt the world? Daniele Pantano succeeds in this new book, evoking the world of cathedrals, arches, nights that cascade into history. It is a welcome world he illuminates. He gives us our own names back to us, familiar and unfamiliar, but ours in the newness of old possession. The Oldest Hands in the World caress us warmly, and make us thankful for the embrace. Read this world like your life. ––Nicholas Samaras, author of Hands of the Saddlemaker

About the Poet

Daniele Pantano is a Swiss poet, translator, critic, and editor born of Sicilian and German parentage in Langenthal (Canton of Berne). Pantano has taught at the University of South Florida and served as the Visiting Poet-in-Residence at Florida Southern College. He divides his time between Switzerland, the United States, and England, where he’s Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Edge Hill University. For more information, please visit www.danielepantano.ch.


Please contact Diane Goettel at diane@blacklawrencepress.com for media inquiries and review copies.

Black Lawrence Press titles are distributed by Consortium. For wholesale orders, visit www.cbsd.com.

Poets for Living Waters: A Response to the BP Oil Disaster

Both Michele Battiste, author of Ink for an Odd Cartography and James Reidel author of My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg have contributed poems to Poets for Living Waters.

Poets for Living Waters is a poetry action in response to the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico begun on April 20, 2010, one of the most profound human-made ecological catastrophes in history.

The first law of ecology states that everything is connected to everything else. An appreciation of this systemic connectivity suggests a wide range of poetry will offer a meaningful response to the current crisis, including work that harkens back to Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing regional effects.

You can read all of the Gulf Coast Poems, including those penned by Black Lawrence Press authors, by visiting poetsgulfcoast.wordpress.com.

Ink for an Odd Cartography and My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg are both available from Black Lawrence Press.

National Poetry Month Wrap-Up

As April draws to a close, we’d like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Black Lawrence Press authors who participated in our National Poetry Month feature:

David Rigsbee, “Pilot House
Marcela Sulak, “Pomelo With Fallen Angel
Shelley Puhak, “War
T.J. Beitelman, “The Inciting Incident
Laura McCullough, “The Ellisionist
Jason Tandon, “Work
Abayomi Animashaun, “A New Religion
Carol Guess, “Kicks
Joe Wilkins, “A Roadside Diner in Iowa
Lisa Fay Coutley, “In the Carnival of Breathing
Matthew Gavin Frank, “After Il Sergente Serbo e Sua Moglie
Michele Battiste, “Nobody Leaves
Katharine Rauk, “How Many Weeks are in a Day and How Many Years in a Month?
Brent Goodman, “Another Prayer
Stefi Weisburd, “Behind My Ear is a Little Palace in Broad Daylight
Larry Matsuda, “Arc de Triomphe, 2003 Invasion of Iraq
Sandra Kolankiewicz, “Winter Sonata
Frank Matagrano, “Waiting with Alexandria for Her Mom
Hayden Saunier, “Beach
Kevin Pilkington, “Milk
Michael Hemmingson, “Sedona
Erica Wright, “Reservoir
Keith Taylor, “At the Living Creche
James Reidel, “Ave Maria afarensis
Helen Marie Casey, “Mary Dyer’s Courtship
Brad Ricca, “Workshop
Daniele Pantano, “The Oldest Hands in the World
Julia Cohen, “Panic at My Wilderness
Rachel Galvin, “In Cambium Lucida

And most importantly, thank you to everyone who read, shared, and commented on these poems — you’ve made this event a big success!

National Poetry Month Spotlight: James Reidel


My toes unevenly pinched and spaced

As though trained with thick dowels since birth to hold the
…..golden rose

By its stem and thorn,

The crushed serpent by its throes and coils.

The sores of this battle are worn into the green bread of
…..my flip-flops.

My first foot over the shower sill leaves a little pool

Under its Carrara marble white—correct, but not
…..anatomically correct,

No glass slipper for my verse foot to which I add
…..the other and leave a set,

Wet fossil prints crossing the dry lakebed of a bamboo mat.

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

A: The “day” on which I write a poem doesn’t exist in the way you mean, which I take to be linear time. I prefer sidereal time, that is, I keep an eye on the day of composition but as I move away from it and revise the poem over and over again, I find myself standing on many days, indeed, like shifting sand. This is a nice way to begin, since this poem is inspired by my own wet footprints on a bamboo mat. I turned around and noticed these prints when I left the shower. The germ for this poem came to me then, an impression that I liken to the archaeologist who sifts and brushes away the dust and finds a set of hominid prints on some ancient African lakeshore. Of course, that is not what is happening—what is happening is rather commonplace and its significance is just as much its insignificance. That is where a lot of my poems start and end. Poems are plastic things to me (as well as being sand), more like sculptures, pinch pots, that air dry, that are friable, that easily break or blow apart. Other days start to inform “the day,” the actor might change, there might be a sex change, a change of heart, a change of horses, who knows, and the starting point becomes fainter. Other poets are more “loyal” or “honest” about the starting point. I try to free myself from it. You know, those ancient footprints that they find in places like Africa, often lead to where they suddenly end, as though the creature that made them could fly.

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

A: I can barely read my own handwriting, so I don’t use a pen. I have to use a keyboard. If the end of the world came and we were suddenly unplugged, I have an old portable Adler typewriter and dry ribbon. When that becomes a chore, I could relearn how to write. What book would I read? Well, that might be the same book I would take with me if I was allowed just one: Pavese’s Dialogues with Leuco. They found that book resting on his chest. I can see why. It has all of the most essential myths, stories between the gods and man, and you can infer from that all the literature to come. So, if you wanted to start over, which is what Pavese was trying to do, suicide being a kind of existential reboot that may, indeed, work, but I’m not the one to prove it. I see it more as a book that restarts a culture, a civilization. As you can see, we need to do that. My inability to just grab a pen, the way Poe or Rilke could, is symptomatic.

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

A: A licorice Necco wafer dissolved in a fine Meritage, almost as good as absinthe with a morel slice soaked in walnut oil.

James Reidel’s poetry collection My Window Seat for Arlena Twigg is available for purchase at Black Lawrence Press.

BLP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Black Lawrence Press will celebrate National Poetry Month by featuring a poem by one of our authors every day on the blog. Each poem will be accompanied by a short Q&A with the author. Participating authors include:

Abayomi Animashaun
Michele Battiste
T.J. Beitelman
Helen Marie Casey
Lisa Fay Coutley
Matthew Gavin Frank
Rachel Galvin
Brent Goodman
Carol Guess
Sandra Kolankiewicz
Frank Matagrano
Lawrance Matsuda
Laura McCullough
Kevin Pilkington
Shelley Puhak
Katharine Rauk
James Reidel
Brad Ricca
David Rigsbee
Hayden Saunier
Marcela Sulak
Jason Tandon
Keith Taylor
Stefi Weisburd
Joe Wilkins
Erica Wright

So be sure to check the BLP blog every day in the month of April for some great reading!

Black Lawrence Poet James Reidel Honored with NEA Translation Grant

James Reidel and his Gitanes

James Reidel and his Gitanes

One of BLP’s first authors, the lovely James Reidel, has informed us that he is the recipient of a $10,000 NEA translation grant. James has published poems in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, TriQuarterly, The New Criterion, Ploughshares, and other journals since the mid-1980s. He is the author of Vanished Act: The Life and Art of Weldon Kees, published in 2003 by the University of Nebraska Press. His translation of two of Thomas Bernhard’s poetry cycles, In Hora Mortis and Under the Iron of the Moon, was published as a single volume by Princeton University Press. Our warmest congratulations go out to Jim.