Tag Archives: Laura McCullough

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Laura McCullough

Tropical Reefs

The bodies of the dead accrue to the cities’
formation, millions over millennia;
every hour, every day, some coral polyps
perish and others are born,
those two old stories,
one way in, one way out,
the sea the same, essentially,
and our souls soldered by what?
Culture reefs, absorbing, releasing, the oil
of our media noise, not joyful, but needy
in loud suffering, a line between desire and greed,
the wide maw of our endless need like a sea
canyon deeper than we can go,
and down there, that leak, all that oil bleeding out,
an unstoppable mess, some of us making so much money,
we can barely suck in air for the stench of it,
and what we can’t catch,
the breathing reef, going black and stony,
like bones, like the absence of desire,
and maybe that is what we want,
to stop the cycle, get off, and go home.

Q: What is your writing process?

A: I breathe. I write. I breathe. Writing is a kind of thinking rather than an act. It feels qualitatively different than my normal, unfocused mental activity. Writing, whether I am recording it in some fashion or not, is a kind of composing. Composing is about creating form, making a container to hold things, finding order, establishing sense. In this sense, I am always writing now. What that looks like from the outside is hard to say. It may mean I am interfacing with technology–iphone, ipad, laptop, etc.–or it may mean my eyes are closed, arm over brow, and everything is happening internally. On a practical basis, everyday, I do something–usually many things–related to my writing life. I do not take off from this work as it is the work of my life, and my life is this work: reading, writing, editing, processing, engaging, responding, drafting, discovering, quarreling, querying, wondering, constructing, re-visioning; it’s all part of the same thing. I breathe. I write. This is how I am.

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

A: I really like the work I’ve seen by Roger Reeves; it’s very smart and restrained. Jaamal May’s work is unabashed in its willingness to confront human stakes. Emilia Phillips out of VCU is kicking up a storm with her poems; she’s fierce. Tarfia Faizullah, also out of VCU’s program, has really beautiful poems circulating. And I met a young guy, Fritz Ward, from Philly while I was at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference last summer. His poems ride the divide between different aesthetic camps with great verve and alacrity. He kicked my butt.

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

A: I don’t have the means or the time to travel for pleasure, so it has to be writing or teaching related. If that were not the case? And I learned early in my life that I am not a tourist. The conditions of a place effect me spiritually, so social injustice and wealth disparity makes me unable to consider travel for fun. But two places I would like to write in: Ireland and Taiwan.

Black Lawrence Press published Laura McCullough’s book of poems, Speech Acts, and will publish her next one, Rigger Death & Hoist Another in February 2013. Her other books include Panic and What Men Want, and she is editor of the anthologies An Integrity of Aloneness: Essays on the poet, Stephen Dunn, forthcoming from Syracuse University Press, and On Poetry & Race: The Task of Un/Masking, in process.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Laura McCullough

Hold Me

In linguistics, binding theory is any of a broad class of theories dealing with the distribution of pronominal and anaphoric elements.

She said,
******I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I do.
And I thought, maybe I have to rethink
******my negative relationship with anaphora,
******which is more complex than simple repetition might suggest,
******but if we forgo a discussion of syntax,
******and agree that order and rules are important,
******and also agree that we should argue about semantics,
******does that leave us in any better condition?
***Or should I simply, listen. Listen as she says
*********this, again, IloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIloveyouIdo,
******for the moment that moves beyond the annoyance
******of simple repetition in the intellect
******and becomes a small collection of spit in the throat
******that must be swallowed
which is only a symptom of feeling,
of some switch in the neural net of the organ called my brain
and I hear, as Frost said, not as a barbarian,
but even more elementally, and I love you
becomes not words,
not words or merely sound,
but a conveyance across which something is exchanged,
and a spoke in the wheel of me is lit up.
I love youIloveyouIdo, my darling, my dear one,
grateful to stand on the rules of language
that are the architecture of this cathedral
upon the roof of which which we now stand,
bound to each other by nothing less permanent than language,
dumb monkeys that we are,
gripping each other for dear life
and ready, so ready to leap.

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

A: Airports and Starbucks, not so much by choice, but I get a lot of work done in those places.

Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?
A: “The Secret Life” by Stephen Dunn was important to me early on; there’s a lot of great poetry out there, and my mind gets regularly blown. I love poets.
Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?
A: I can’t imagine anyone would anything in my personal life terribly interesting and certainly nothing about me is unique, but I would say I had an experience this past year that many others have had, but it was life altering and makes me feel as if I understand human frailty and loyalty and love a little better and that was having the horrible and amazing honor to be part of someone’s dying process. My brothers and sister and other family family members helped support my father as we cared for his wife, my stepmother, a woman I have known and loved a long time, over the course of several months at home as she died. The last month was especially intense as we all were there close to round the clock. She died two days before Christmas Eve, and her funeral was that day. I will never forget the viewing as my dad neared the coffin. It was closed, but still, he broke down. This terrible mewling sound came from him, a grief moan from his gut and his knees buckled. Instantly, my brothers and sister and I were there, all of us throwing our arms around him, holding him up, our bodies all jammed together, cheek to cheek or against my dad’s back. It made me understand family in a way I never did before. It made me feel very lucky in love.
Laura McCullough’s most recent books are Speech Acts (Black Lawrence Press) and Panic (Alice James Books, winner of the Kinereth Genseler Award) and a chapbook, Women and Other Hostages (Amsterdam Press, winner of a Flip Kelly Award). Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in Pank, Iron Horse Literary Review, Diode, The Georgia Review, and Contrary. She is the editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations.

Is language our sexiest proboscis? (New poetry title from BLP)

At first glance, Laura McCullough’s collection, Speech Acts—borrowing its title from the branch of linguistics interested in the nature and intention of artifacts of language and their effect in communication—may seem overly sensational, the surface subject matter at times blatantly sexual, but on closer interrogation, McCullough is attempting to strip away the obfuscations of language(s), the barriers between genders, the difficulties of intimacy and reveal the relational and power balances between people. Behind the sometimes erotically charged poems in Speech Acts is a real concern for linguistics, the philosophy of, the tools of.  Beneath the bawdy, glittering surface and language play in Speech Acts is McCullough’s desire to “kiss the mouth of another/ language,” to go beyond the veils that separate people, nations, perhaps this world from whatever comes after. These poems are not just about love; they grieve over the impossibility of ever fully comprehending anything at all, let alone another human being.

Speech Acts is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.


Laura McCullough’s book Speech Acts lives up to its title—so  many of thesepoems take  as their starting point the social occasion of a speaker wondering how to talk—naughty or nice-like?,  over-educated, or heartfelt?; the results are bright with velocity, lexical intelligence, and a distinctive fusion of headiness and carnality. McCullough’s poems  are manic, heartfelt and humane; and they crackle with  what the Reverend Marvin Gaye would have called  “textual healing.” —Tony Hoagland

“Is language our sexiest proboscis?” asks Laura McCullough, then responds with  unabashed word-slinging to bolster her rhetorical affirmation. If her lines charge each poem with vibrancy—“it’s all in the syntax”—it’s because McCullough knows “how good secrets can be handled right, / by the various names we give them.” Her enthusiasms for Adam’s task as well as for Eve’s sensuality provide Speech Acts with a rollicking measure.  “You gotta like it / to do it well,” McCullough half-jokes, and her pleasures become our own in this provocative and wildly entertaining book.—Michael Waters

The word “acts” in Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts is as much verb as it is noun. What her speech does in these stunning poems is restlessly sift through language and experience alike, searching for words, lips, hearts, and truths that might just keep one from spinning off into the coldest, emptiest reaches of being. Bold, witty, erotic, and provocative, McCullough’s poems re-imagine for our time E. M. Forster’s tremendous artistic and humane injunction: “only connect!” —Fred Marchant

The poems in Laura McCullough’s Speech Acts search deep into the interior of language to recover and explore the resources of our most intimate lives. It is that rare collection which disassembles the very constructions of thought itself (while simultaneously embracing the reader with surprisingly tender gestures). Speech Acts refuses to shy away from the difficult, the necessary. It recognizes the tenuous qualities of the moment and lifts them up with reverence. It is a collection which offers fresh insights with each reading. —Brian Turner

About the Author

Laura McCullough has been a fellow in both prose and poetry for the NJ State Arts Council and has an MFA in fiction from Goddard College. Her poetry, prose, essays, interviews, and reviews have appeared widely  places such as The American Poetry Review, The Writer’s Chronicle, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Iron Horse Quarterly, Hotel Amerika, Poetry East, The Portland Review, and others. Visit it her at www.lauramccullough.weebly.com


The economy of Madagascar collapsed overnight when Coca-cola changed its formula, switching from real vanilla to a synthetic and didn’t bounce back until New Coke failed and Classic Coke was reintroduced, with vanilla back in. Malagasies were relieved, but conspiracy theorists thrilled to the fact that sugar was gone, replaced by High Fructose Corn Syrup.

Vanilla come mainly from Madagascar, and grows
on a vine, its flowers both male and female; from planting

to pod can take 5 years. The language of Malagasy has no
grammatical gender. It is not a Romantic language, but has

borrowed a little from the French who took so much.
It’s an island language, Austronesion, and plurals are managed

with a beautiful efficiency: more than one book: book-book;
more than one child: child-child. It’s hard for the Latinate

mind to imagine. They say men give love to get sex and
women give sex to get love, and today a man told me

he doesn’t trust a woman who gives blow jobs. It’s all
about power, he said, and her need to control the man.

I didn’t buy it; I have my own conspiracy theories, prefer
real vanilla to synthetic, sugar cane to HFS. I rarely give in

to a sweet tooth, but now and then, I do, and when I do,
I want it, not like jet fuel, but a slow, complex burn,

the line between control and surrender delicate and uncertain,
like dependent economies, and tenuous like the vanilla flower

blooming for only one day, both male and female, the thinnest
of membranes between them waiting to be stripped away.


ISBN: 978-0-9826364-4-2, $14

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



BLP Expands Its List

If you’ve been following the BLP blog, then you know of a few recent additions to the BLP family. In January, we announced that we’d accepted Killing the Murnion Dogs by Joe Wilkins and Instructions for Killing the Jackal by Erica Wright, two new collections of poetry due out in August and September of next year, respectively. In February, we announced that Carol Guess had become a part of our crew of poets; her collection Doll Studies: Forensics will be out in the beginning of 2012. Also in February we announced the acceptance of the novel/novel-in-stories/memoir/we don’t know what we’re calling it yet other than “rad” Pulled from the River by Jon Chopan.

There’s been lots of action since February and we are very pleased to announce that we’ve added a few more authors to the BLP family and also have new titles forthcoming from authors who have published with us in the past. Next fall we will publish Marginalia for a Natural History, a collection of poems by Keith Taylor.

We’ve also accepted two new books by Marcel Jolley, winner of the inaugural St. Lawrence Book Award and author of Neither Here Nor There. His short story collection, Priors, will come out in the spring of 2012, to be followed by his novel Milk Run in the spring of 2013. We’ve also got some new blood in our stable of fiction writers. Loving You the Way I Do, short stories by Ron Savage will be published in the summer of 2012.

We’re also very pleased to announce that our translation list is expanding as well. Daniele Pantano, author of the poetry collection The Oldest Hands In The World and the translation The Possible is Monstrous has two more translations coming out from BLP in the next few years: Oppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert Walser (Spring, 2012) and The Complete Works of Georg Trakl (Spring, 2014). We’ve also got Dream Weed, a translation of Yvan Goll poems, by Nan Watkins coming out in July, 2012.

Those of you who are fans of T.J. Beitelman (Pilgrims: A Love Story) and David Rigsbee (winner of the Spring, 2009 Black River Chapbook Competition) will be happy to know that we have full-length collections from both poets coming out in mid-2012.

And, just so you know what you have to look forward to, BLP will release the following titles before the end of 2010: Every Bitter Thing by Hardy Jones, Perishables by Tina Egnoski, Pictures of Houses with Water Damage by Michael Hemmingson, The Consequence of Skating by Steven Gillis, Triggermoon Triggermoon by JuliaCohen, Speech Acts by Laura McCullough, and The Pilot House by David Rigsbee.

We’ve currently closed submissions until August 15th while we catch up on submissions. We’re hoping to have more good news by the end of the summer once we read all of the manuscripts in our queue. As always, thanks for reading!

-Diane Goettel
Executive Editor, Black Lawrence Press

P.S. Don’t forget that the deadline for the St. Lawrence Book Award is August 31st!

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: Laura McCullough


In French, when vowels are elided,
an orthographer’s tool,
the apostrophe,
orchestrates with flourish,
but always
there’s the choosing
between liaison or elision,
or both as in
J’arrive à l’hôtel pour un liason.
Don’t tell my husband,
who speaks French, but prefers
the schwa as in amuïssement.
This is all just amuse-bouche—
to amuse the mouth—
or more correctly, amuses-bouche in the plural.
Before the hotel bed, there is the lobby,
and before the hors d’oeuvres,
something to excite the tastebuds,
and a little wine, no? Or perhaps
you’d prefer to meet me
somewhere else, say the library,
where you can’t buy anything,
where whatever you use is simply on loan.
We can always touch the books’
spines rather than each other’s.
There’s no telling what might happen.
No telling.

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

A: No.

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

A: I read Hoagland’s Unincorporated Persons of the Late Honda Dynasty, which provoked a 4000 word essay. If you mean books that made me write poem drafts, I was recently reading Gerald Stern’s book of essays, What I Can’t Bear Losing, while simultaneously re-reading Dean Young’s Embryoyo. Wham.

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

A: The first Thanksgiving my now-husband and I spent together, the children (from my previous marriage) went to their biological dad’s. We’d only been together a few days; we’d fallen in love at our graduate residency, and both our marriages had broken up because of that. We cooked a turkey breast. We put herbs under the skin, and butter, and garlic. We made a sweet raisin gravy.  I was simultaneously guilty, anxious, missing my children horribly, and crazy in love. We set the turkey on the table, ripped off pieces to taste it, and then chunks, and then fistfuls, feeding each other clumps of flesh dipped in gravy, then we fell under the kitchen table together. I won’t share any more details, except to say, the pie afterward was very, very good.

Laura McCullough is the author of Panic, winner of the 2009 Kinereth Gensler Award and forthcoming from Alice James Press in January 2011, and Speech Acts, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in fall 2010.

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!