Tag Archives: Stalin in Aruba

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Shelley Puhak

On Having Sex, Grief-Stricken

Summer underfoot: toads,
vipers, adders and serpents,
even ambulances, and in
the eaves, chipmunks, and on
our napes, the rubber paw
of the attending.

Driving home, the car clings
to the yellow line and I will it
to cross over. You pull over
for gas, but can only beat
the car with the pump handle,
over and over, metal on metal.

And somehow—a hotel.
Easy-care earth-toned
bedding, claw-foot
in the corner. We can’t
look at one another.
I straddle you, sobbing.
I’m stunned our bodies
can still screw
together, the threads
can catch: what has
steeled in you winding
up into my wooden.

Poem first appeared in The Pinch (Spring 2012): 110.

Q: What is your writing process?
A: Phrases scribbled on the back of receipts, in the margins of grocery lists, or even texted to myself on my phone. Scraps underlined in scientific journals and the odd biography. Negotiations late late at night when the house is quiet until a draft emerges. Revisions early mornings with a cup of tea.  Many, many mornings.
Q: Is there an exciting poet (emerging or established) whose work you just discovered this year?
A: Lately, I’m on a bit of a Sandra Beasely kick. And just this past week, I discovered both CA Conrad and Francesca Bell.
Q: If you could go on a one-week writing retreat anywhere in the world, where would you travel?
A: I’ve been lucky enough, over the course of my MFA, to have studied in Prague, Madrid, northern Italy, and, in the past year, participated in writing conferences in San Miguel and Edinburgh. I’d gladly go back to any of these spots (northern Italy would be first on the list).
If anyone wants to invite me along on a retreat, I’m game to go almost anywhere. But when my own budget allows, I want to strike out for an A-frame in the high Tatras, on the border between Slovakia and Poland. My people started just south and north of here, and I’m struck by its constant castle ruins and sudden canyons, its remote fields and forests, its incessant quiet.
Shelley Puhak is the author of Stalin in Aruba, winner of the 2010 Towson Prize for Literature, and the chapbook The Consolation of Fairy Tales, winner of the 2011 Stephen Dunn Prize in Poetry. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Stalin Gets Some Love

Shelley Puhak’s Stalin in Aruba was recently reviewed by Ashlie Kauffman for JMWW. Here are some of our favorite sections:

Reading Shelley Puhak’s Stalin in Aruba with snow on the ground and the temperature below-freezing certainly helps set the mood for the emotional landscape Puhak portrays: of Soviet winters and Siberian exile; of discoveries of men frozen in the Alps; of imagined lamentations for those who have died; and of the dead themselves lamenting. It also makes the deception of the title hit home—as what seems to suggest the fun and fantastical instead bravely lays way to the grim, biting, and disturbingly and deeply real…

…Mostly all of the poems are focused on character, making flesh and blood of symbols of the past, letting a reader enter their nursing-home rooms and dining rooms and take part in their birthday parties and suicides. The closeness this creates is voyeuristic and exhilarating, the reader joining the writer in being something like the secret police…

There are more great words of praise. You can read them all here.

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.


Is American Poetry Dead?

Anis Shivani asked exactly this question of a group of prominent poets including Black Lawrence Press author Shelley Puhak. You can read the Huffington Post article here.

Puhak’s collection of poems Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

Rarely Frivolous, A Consistently Engrossing Read

The good people at Neon have posted a new review of Stalin in Aruba by Shelley Puhak. Here are some of our favorite clips:

For someone for whom the word “historical” has always had connotations of “stuffy” and “boring”, historical fiction has held little interest. Therefore I was expecting Shelley Puhak’s recent chapbook Stalin In Aruba (published by Black Lawrence Press) to be a dull read. In actuality the collection is impressively strong, and conveys a surprising variety of depth and feeling…

…Although to some degree fictionalised, these poems are rarely frivolous. Puhak has done her research. A glance through the notes section reveals several annotations that are almost poems in themselves….

…For its unique texture Stalin In Aruba is a consistently engrossing read. This first collection is a confident debut by a quietly talented writer.

Thanks to Christopher Frost, who wrote the review. You can read it in its entirety here.

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

Shelley Puhak Wins the Towson Prize!

Shelley Puhak, of Catonsville, Md., is the winner of the 2010 Towson University Prize for Literature. She received the $1,000 prize for her book of poems, Stalin in Aruba, published in 2009 by Black Lawrence Press.

Established in 1979 with a grant from Alice and Franklin Cooley, the Towson University Prize for Literature is awarded annually for a single book or book-length manuscript of fiction, poetry, drama or imaginative nonfiction by a Maryland writer. The prize is granted on the basis of literary and aesthetic excellence as determined by a panel of distinguished judges appointed by the university.

Stalin in Aruba—inhabited by popes and priests, dictators and daughters, Politburo wives and Nazi mistresses—explores how we resist and how we succumb to the banality of evil. Puhak says of her book, “I’m interested in the boundaries we create between ourselves and those involved in large-scale evil: we reassure ourselves that other people, people not at all like us, enabled the Holocaust, the Red Terror, the Bosnian and Rwandan genocides. What might we learn about ourselves if we eliminate that distance?”

Michael Downs, TU professor of English and a member of the Prize for Literature selection committee, described Puhak’s poems as “daring, pushing boundaries of subject, form, language and imagery. They bear re-reading, opening up more and more with each turn, and they never settle for easy truths.”

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Shelley Puhak


Who can stop thinking of the small things?
Dishes against sink,
small white feet against chilled linoleum,
pucker of scar against skin’s plate,
body against bed, against sleep.

It makes sense how we can live
with a thing like war
when we have been living
with our families so long.
Cards come only at Christmas
and Easter, wishing all the best
to fathers who die to punish their sons,
sons who keep on living
to spite their fathers,
daughters who curl up
in the car on the ride home
and don’t speak for hours.

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

A: I wish I could write a poem in a day! I tend to work on a poem in spurts and drag out the writing process. But I do remember one afternoon I spent revising this poem in early spring on a hand-me-down tweed couch with my cat curled up against me.

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

A: Stefi Weisburd’s The Wind-Up Gods, which I just finished re-reading.

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

A: A bottomless bowl of old school, made-from-scratch pirohy one June afternoon on a visit to Slovakia. Pirohy are boiled stuffed dumplings, fried in fresh butter (think Eastern European raviolis). My great-aunt in Slovakia mixed four different varieties together in a big bowl: potato and cheese, sauerkraut, apples and onions, and sweet jam. It tasted like childhood ought to: butter and dough, sharp and sweet.

Shelley Puhak’s poetry collection Stalin In Aruba is available for purchase from the Black Lawrence Press website.

Shelley Puhak in The Southeast Review

There’s a new(ish) interview with Shelley Puhak, author of Stalin in Aruba, over on The Southeast Review’s site. You can give it a read by following this link.

Stalin in Aruba is available from the Black Lawrence Press website and Amazon.

Favorite Poetry Book of 2009: Stalin in Aruba

OK, we know that “Favorite Books” lists got really played out at the end of December/beginning of January. But we don’t care. Why don’t we care? Because one of our books, Stalin in Aruba by Shelley Puhak, made it onto one of those lists. In fact, Ren Powell listed Stalin in Aruba as one of her top four favorite poetry books from 2009.

Stalin in Aruba is available from Black Lawrence Press and Amazon.

This Sunday at The Bowery Poetry Club

Dear Friends,

Please come out to The Bowery Poetry Club this Sunday, November 15th at 6 PM to hear Black Lawrence Press poets Hayden Saunier, Shelley Puhak, and Rachel Galvin read from their recently released collections. Laura McCullough, the emcee of the evening, has a book forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press and will also read.

PuhakShelley Puhak’s poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, New Delta Review, New South, Third Coast, and other journals. She earned her MFA from the University of New Orleans and her MA from the University of Delaware. She was a 2007 Maryland State Arts Council grant recipient and is currently Writer-in-Residence at the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. Shelley is the author of Stalin in Aruba.Saunier Cover

Hayden Saunier‘s poetry has appeared in 5 A.M., Beloit Poetry Journal, Mad Poets Review, Margie, Nimrod, Philadelphia Stories, Drunken Boat and Rattle, among others. She is the 2005 winner of the Robert Fraser Poetry Award, a Bucks County Poet Laureate and a Pushcart Prize nominee. An actress and voice-over artist, her film and television credits include The Sixth Sense, Philadelphia Diary and Hack. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her debut collection of poems, Tips For Domestic Travel, was a finalist for the St. Lawrence Book Award.

GalvinCoverRachel Galvin is a graduate student in Comparative Literature at Princeton University, where she studies twentieth century poetry. She has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Hedgebrook. Her poems and translations appear in journals such as Gulf Coast, Spinning Jenny, Paintbrush, Del Sol Review, and Nimrod. She recently completed a translation of Raymond Queneau’s Courir les rues and is now translating Cesar Vallejo’s Poemas Humanos. Her first book of poems, Pulleys & Locomotion, was recently published by Black Lawrence Press.

Laura McCullough has three collections of poetry, Speech Acts, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press (2010), What Men Want (2008) and The Dancing Bear (2006) as well as a collection of prose poems, Elephant Anger, at Mudlark online. Her poems, reviews, essays, and short prose have appeared or are forthcoming in The American Poetry Review, The Writers Chronicle, Prairie Schooner Review, Hotel America, Pebble Lake, New South, Crab Orchard, and many other journals. She has an MFA from Goddard College and is a doctoral student in poetry at Bangor University in Wales. She’s won two NJ State Arts Fellowships, been a Prairie Schooner Scholar in poetry, attended the Vermont Studio, Colrain, been a contributor and staff member at Bread Loaf. She founded the Creative Writing Program at Brookdale Community College in NJ where she teaches full time.

Wow! All this for just four bucks at the door. We hope to see you there!

The Bowery Poetry Club is located at 308 Bowery in Manhattan between Houston and Bleeker.

– Your Friends at Black Lawrence Press

P.S. Can’t make it to the event? You can purchase copies of the books on the Black Lawrence Press website.

Stalin in Aruba by Shelley Puhak

PuhakBlack Lawrence Press is now accepting orders for Stalin in Aruba by Shelley Puhak. Books will ship next week! You can order a copy here.

Advance Praise

Deeply political and deeply personal, Stalin in Aruba is a startling debut. Puhak recreates the past in shocking and vibrant detail. This collection takes on the sweeping breadth of history by delving deeply into specific moments, specific voices that resonate and haunt. The movement between wars is so deft that time blurs and what remains is exquisite sorrow and strange joy. Puhak has me hooked. This is a poet to keep your eye on!
—Julianna Baggott, author of The Madam and Lizzie Borden in Love

Shelley Puhak’s stunning first book of poems is not so much a voyage but a zigzagging from one strange and fascinating port to another: Hitler’s lovers, lady laudanum drinkers, a high-school Proteus, gypsies, Raphael’s portrait of Pope Leo X, a Polish refugee who triples her weight after marriage, and a cemetery of life stories. And throughout it all is Stalin, not the historical character, but the everyday Stalin who dances with his aunts, blackmails Lenin’s widow, even pens a poem. Stalin haunts this collection, a sinister guardian angel and one we must all acknowledge when we are too ambitious or too full of ourselves or have lost, even if only temporarily, our gift for kindness and generosity and love. Let the zigzagging begin! —John Surowiecki, author of The Hat City after Men Stopped Wearing Hats

Shelley Puhak’s Stalin in Aruba recalls Philip Sidney’s dictum that “the best of the historian is subject to the poet; for whatsoever action, or faction, whatsoever counsel, policy, or war stratagem the historian is bound to recite, that may the poet . . . make his own, beautifying it.” In a language surprisingly intimate, sometimes downright heartbreaking, these poems expose the subtle dynamics not only of Joseph Stalin’s nefarious private world — in which women are as easily erased as adulated — but of Nazi Germany, American suburbia, post-Communist Eastern Europe , even “Lady Laudanum Drinkers” of the nineteenth century. “Simplicity and clarity always obfuscate: / actions become ideas we only squint at,” writes Puhak in this collection’s remarkable title poem. Yet in lucid poems sometimes impassioned as dramatic monologues, sometimes measured by the poet’s own equanimity, Puhak stirs life into some of history’s unseen participants — as her music crackles like “sneakers/ on leaves” and her imagery shimmers like “bleached teeth and winking diamond rings/ [that] blur together — simply dazzling!”  —John Gery, author of Gallery of Ghosts and Davenport’s Version