Come out to Kramerbooks

I’ll be reading with the fantastic David Ebenbach at Kramerbooks on February 27, 6:30 pm, as we both celebrate the publication of our new books. The reading will be followed by a book signing. I’d love to see you there!

The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy by David Ebenbach
The stories in The Guy We Didn’t Invite to the Orgy — funny, surprising, compassionate, true to life — are about people navigating the trickiest of landscapes: a world full of other people. Each of these characters wants to know, in her or his own way, given the crazy ups and downs and ins and outs of relationships, is it better to go it alone, or is it better to try to carve out a place for yourself, whatever it takes?

Towline by Holly Karapetkova
“The poems of Holly Karapetkova’s new collection are expansive, ranging in structure from the freest verse to the elegantly flormal, in theme from the broadly universal to the most intensely personal, and in style from classic tragedy to a Daliesque surreal to tragicomedy in the tradition of Beckett. They all return, though, to that same inexorable human conundrum: how to carry grief, to carry on. They give no easy answer, but they help the traveler along the way.” -David Algergotti, author of Millenial Teeth.


Ethelbert Miller’s Book Launch at Marymount

We are extremely honored to have Ethelbert Miller celebrate the opening of his New and Collected Poems with us here at Marymount next week. His reading and book launch are part of our poetry series, which began exactly 25 years ago. Ethelbert was the second reader in that series, so his relationship with Marymount goes back a long way. In fact, I first met him here at a reading he gave in 2007. I was not only awed by his beautiful poems, but also amazed at his kindness and generosity in speaking with our students. He was genuinely interested in their lives and their writing, and he asked several of them to send him their work. One of my most promising students, Kirsten Porter, sent him some poems, and this contact began a long and rewarding literary partnership that led to her editing his memoir, The Fifth Inning, and then to editing his New and Collected Poems, which will launch here next week.

Ethelbert was one of the first poets I met in the D.C. area, and as I soon discovered, there is no better introduction to the D.C. poetry scene than Ethelbert Miller. He not only made me feel welcome and introduced me to so much of what I have come to love about the city, but he was also extremely encouraging with his time and advice in helping me think about my writing and my career. There are few poets I hold in higher esteem than Ethelbert, and I can think of no better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Marymount’s poetry scene than with his New and Collected Poems.

An open house from 12:30-1 will precede the reading, which will take place from 1-2 pm in Reinsch Auditorium. A reception and book signing will follow in the Lee Center Atrium. The event is free and open to the public.

Here is a link to an article about the event on Alexandria News.

My Cruel Invention

The anthology My Cruel Invention from Meerkat Press, edited by Bernadette Geyer, hits the stands on February 19. The press is giving away 10 free copies. Enter here to win!

The anthology includes poems about inventions, real and imagined, and features poems by Alex Dreppec, Brett Foster, Clare Louise Harmon, Daniel Hales, David Mook, Donald Illich, Dorene O’Brien, F. J. Bergmann, FJP Langheim, Gwen Hart, H.M. Jones, Holly Karapetkova, J.G. McClure, Janet McNally, Jean Bonin, Jerry Bradley, Jesseca Cornelson, Jessica Goodfellow, Jo Angela Edwins, Joel Allegretti, Julie E. Bloemeke, Karen Bovenmyer, Karen Skolfield, Kathryn Rickel, Keith Stevenson, Kelly Cherry, Kim Roberts, Kirsten Imani Kasai, Kristine Ong Muslim, Laura Shovan, Magus Magnus, Malka Older, Marcela Sulak, Marjorie Maddox, Mia Leonin, Nolan Liebert, Norbert Gora, Rie Sheridan Rose, Rikki Santer, Robert Kenny, Sarah Key, Scott Beal, Shelley Puhak, Steven Wingate, Susan Bucci Mockler, Tanis MacDonald, Tanya Bryan, Tricia Asklar, W. Luther Jett, William Minor, and William Winfield Wright.

Claudia Rankine Reads from Citizen at American University

I was extremely fortunate to be in the audience at Claudia Rankine’s reading this past Thursday. The crowd overflowed the auditorium—the organizers had to add extra seating on the stage—demonstrating how hungry people are for what this book has to tell us. As others have noted more eloquently than I, Rankine reaches the heart of our nation and captures the struggles of our moment in time and the feelings we are grappling with but lack the words for. Citizen names our weaknesses, holds us accountable, but also shows us how to move forward. During the reading various images from the book were projected upon a large screen behind her, reminding us of the act of viewing that is a constant fact of our lives, as well as the artistic act of the text itself in shaping the complexity of our sociopolitical landscape into a language that speaks truth.
One of the most powerful moments for me involved the lynching photo (it also appears in the book) with the hanged bodies photoshopped out. What you notice in the absence of the horror are the white faces gathered among the trees, smiling for the camera. Rankine commented how she wanted us to see the white bodies as complicit in the spectacle; we are often distracted by the publicity surrounding moments of horror, but in this moment of erasure I found myself (as a white person) forced to see the spectators and not the spectacle. As Rankine suggests, such a view makes us aware of the moments we let continue and calls us to acknowledge “what we allow to float in the air.”

In the Q&A that followed, she spoke of the annihilation of the self that racism inflicts upon people of color and of the weariness that comes from confronting it again and again. She also spoke of the craft of putting the collection together: how she wanted to voice others’ stories in as transparent a way as possible without coopting them as her own; how she chose the prose poem as the form that could build story while still employing all the tools of poetry; how she struggled to end the book when the subject itself is unending.

It was an evening that provoked and inspired and made me reconsider what I thought I knew. It reminded me of how powerful poetry can be—and how brilliant.

Lifestyle Over Principle

Image from

On my recent trip to Monticello, a tour guide made a statement that has continued to haunt me. Thomas Jefferson, the very brain behind the phrase “all men are created equal” certainly had qualms about owning slaves, but throughout his life he chose lifestyle over principle—chose to own slaves so that he could have a life of intellectual engagement rather than physical toil. I have been obsessed with the subject of slavery for the past several years in part because of this very dilemma it poses: the close proximity in which slaves and slave owners lived their lives, the way they often saw and spoke of each other as family, tells us that slave owners could not have doubted the full-fledged humanity of their slaves. And yet they told themselves stories of the lesser nature of their African brothers and sisters: stories about skull size, primitive biology, lesser intelligence—stories that allowed for the rise in economic power that the United States still benefits from today.

I am fascinated by what stories we human beings tell ourselves to justify our privilege: from the might is right violence of pre-modern times to the rules governing gentility and refinement in the courtly tradition, to the colonial era stories of white supremacy to the contemporary myth of the American dream. These are stories we tell so convincingly and come to believe so strongly that we are willing to die for them.

I’m certain we all left the tour at Monticello grateful that our contemporary justification for our privileged lifestyle doesn’t include holding others in physical bondage, but I’m not convinced we’re doing a whole lot better. The average American uses up 10-14 times her share of the planet’s resources, which means someone somewhere is only getting 1/14 of her share. We have allowed corporate interests to dictate our dependence on fossil fuels, we have squandered precious water and food, and continued to diminish the planet’s resources that will be available to future generations, though science and common sense raise serious ethical questions about our behavior. We have closed our borders to those seeking to escape war, violence, and poverty and find a better life for themselves and their families. And of course, we are still haunted by the injustices of racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia.

In two hundred years, if human beings are still around, they will judge us just as harshly as we judge our slave-owning ancestors. This is just one of the lessons Monticello—home of one of our founding fathers and one of the most enlightened men of his time—has to impart to us today.

Translation Down Under

Student performance of Pleasantly Scary at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia
Student performance of Pleasantly Scary at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia

The project I’ve been working on for the past five months has finally come to an end. It began in America in January, when I spent two weeks translating Iana Borisova’s Pleasantly Scary from Bulgarian into English, collaborating with Maggie Ivanova and Peter Karapetkov, both native Bulgarian speakers and both deeply familiar with writing for the stage. We reached a rough draft of the translation and in March I headed off to Bulgaria to witness Iana Borisova’s text in action on the Bulgarian stage and to work in person with her in ironing out a better draft of the translation.

Playwright Iana Borisova and I working on a draft of the translation

Having direct access to the author you are translating is extremely beneficial, since (as all writers know) the text does not always convey precisely what you intended… sometimes this can work in a writer’s favor, but when you’re working on a translation, even if you need to adapt the writer’s words to suit the new language and culture, it helps to know as much about the original text’s intended meaning as possible. Not only was Borisova instrumental in clearing up several questions about the text and the characters, but she was also extremely open to the process of translation, encouraging me take as much liberty with the text as I needed to create a version that would stand on its own successfully in English. Thanks to her masterful writing, and to the play’s universal concerns, I left Bulgaria with a strong English draft of the play.

The next step was to take the translated play to Australia and work with a group of students from Flinders University to refine the play and adjust it to an Australian dialect.

Rehearsing Pleasantly Scary at Flinders University

Being able to see how a text plays out among live actors is an essential part of any playwright’s process and allowed us to hone in on moments that were awkward or unnecessarily ambiguous. It also allowed us to find moments of humor and strong emotion and to strengthen those moments throughout the text.

Digital media students taking part in the rehearsal process

The final class product was an open rehearsal performance that incorporated a variety of digital media. Several digital media students from Flinders University collaborated with the class to come up with video elements that would highlight and enhance certain moments from the text. This part of the process was particularly exciting, as it gave students from a variety of disciplines the chance to brainstorm and work together to create a coherent and emotionally powerful production.The students in the class were from  a variety of humanities and education disciplines and were not theater students, so it was particularly exciting for them to be a part of the process of translation and of creating a viable stage production. Not only did they gain a tremendous amount of appreciation for the care and detail that goes into translating a literary text, but they also discovered how essential interpretation is to the process of staging a play and saw how exciting the interchange between director, text, and actors can be.

A view of the stage with digital media elements during the final open rehearsal
A view of the stage with digital media elements during the final open rehearsal

I was excited to be a part of their intellectual and creative growth and to share in the process of the project with them.