I wrote a couple of prose poems with five stanzagraphs. Then I wrote a bunch more. Then I couldn’t stop, and they turned into a book. I named the book Partial Genius. You can read it in summer 2019, thanks to Black Lawrence Press.
Infinite gratitude to BLP, to my friends and students who are always encouraging me, and to the editors of the literary magazines where these poems have appeared so far (there are many that I’m sending out soon, too).
I told BLP a bit about the process of writing this book
On writing Partial Genius
When writing the chapbook Saint Monica, which became my first collection with Black Lawrence Press, I stumbled upon a form that felt both compelling and expansive. The prose poem in five stanzagraphs made its first appearance with “Saint Monica Composes a Five Paragraph Essay on Girard’s Theory of Triangular Desire.” I wrote this piece with the well-worn essay format in mind as a gimmick, but ultimately felt that each discrete prose chunk forged its own identity while striving to, as they say in composition class, provide support for the thesis. I decided to return to this form with Partial Genius and to create a series of these poems that align and overlap to illustrate the experiences of one central speaker.
The poems of Partial Genius build upon the form in a collective narrative arc, working in unison to craft a larger story where plot points shift via juxtaposition and association. Thematically, this book is post-youth, post-love, mid-epiphany. What do you do when you finally realize that you are really good, but only at unremarkable things? What value does memory hold when weighed against other heavier commodities such as money and time and conventional beauty? Partial Genius ponders the years spent waiting for reconciliation of past wrongs, the ownership of former selves, and the desire to truly fit into one landscape or another.
One journal that I return to again and again is Diode, and I am so honored to have two poems in the newest issue (10.3). “Skill Games” and “Open Search” appear here.
I also have poems in past issues of Diode, now hanging out in the archives. Here are some from Diode 3.1, and a few poems from Diode 4.2.
My office and home are replete with cool Diode swag from AWP, because Diode has the best swag.
I hope that after reading this Diode love-fest you consider reading their current issue (if not every issue in the archives, too) and sending your own work along.
Check out this lovely new issue of The Laurel Review! I’m honored to have a prose poem under this fine purple cover. Thanks to the editors for publishing “Dregs Week.”
Over the summer I started making a real effort to send poems out to journals again, and I was pleased to find new journals with a cool aesthetic, including Grimoire. I have three new poems in the current issue of Grimoire, with awesome company. What an honor!
I could hang out with the words and images over at Grimoire for days. They even have a Spotify channel. I feel like this magazine is a retroactive gift to my wee goth self of yesteryear, sitting in workshops in my Skinny Puppy t-shirt and black lipstick. Where have you been all my life, Grimoire?
These three poems are from a couple of different projects (including a very new one), so it’s exciting and terrifying for me to find them hanging out together. Seeing poems in print makes them feel real in a way that’s different from peering at them in your own folders.
I’m still in a tizzy over our National Book Awards news at the UA Press. I am not used to being around so many flowers. I’m excited to attend the ceremony, even if it means wearing a legit evening gown. I guess, if all else fails, I can default to something goth.
I’m already looking forward to this event. Many thanks to the Rodman library for inviting us to read.
First, a little accountability. At the end of last academic year I vowed to get my act together in terms of sending poems out to journals. So many other commitments were getting in the way of it, along with a heavy dose of self-doubt.
I’m happy to say that even though I did not succeed in becoming totally organized with my archives, I did undertake a flurry of revisions, and I sent work out, and now I have poems hot off the press and forthcoming and it feels good. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without the help of my dear friend and poet Julie Brooks Barbour, who offered excellent suggestions and much needed encouragement. Having someone to share your drafts with can make all the difference, especially if you usually keep your work to yourself. Thank you so much, Julie!
I’m excited to share a few of the new poems that have found homes. “Emerging Leader” and “Unstable Systems” are part of the debut issue of Gold Wake Live. I’ve long admired the books from Gold Wake, and I’m honored to have poems appear in its first volume.
The prose poem “Trouble Shirt,” from my manuscript called Partial Genius, is over at Border Crossing. What a beautiful issue! So many excellent contributors in both of these journals.
As the picture above shows, we’re back to school here at the University of Akron and NEOMFA program. One week in, and I’m happy and exhausted all at once, which is my favorite feeling. I sense another manuscript taking shape, but right now I’m going to focus on revision and submissions and letting the new poems drift in, as they do.
Best wishes to all who are back to school, or sending out work, or both.
As hoped, summer has brought new poems along with it, and I’ve managed to read and to send work out, even though it feels like I’ve had to fight for every minute.
I’m happy to say that new poems are coming out in Diode, Grimoire, and the debut issue of Gold Wake Live. I’ve got a bunch of poems simmering out there at various journals, too.
Once I got over the fear of submitting (not sure how or why that developed) it became so much easier to get the packets out.
This summer I’ve seen several lakes. Sometimes new poems and lakes are all that you can hope for in a summer.
Unboxing The Czar was extra emotional because it’s Jay’s first book. It was also impossible to do just the perfunctory flip-through with this book, because it’s pretty funny, and I found myself reading it again (and again) at odd moments when I should have been doing something else. The Czar is about a lot of things: a hyperbolically ridiculous fictional figurehead, the white noise of our present day, sexy underpants and odd recipes, family histories we might be best to forget, pop culture and its trash.
I think this book shows that collaboration can create something entirely new, not just a fusion of narratives and styles. Maybe that’s why I am so damn proud of this one. We took some risks, and let the book lead the way. I hope readers enjoy The Czar!
On THE CZAR:
The poems of The Czar by Mary Biddinger and Jay Robinson stand at the intersection of ironic political commentary and hyperbolized body currency. In the world of this collection, the Czar is a figurehead replete with ceremony and artificial gestures. But is he provocative humor or allegorical heft? And what happens when power is passed to the powerless in a secret handshake that’s more tongue on tongue than tongue-in-cheek? This book-length collaboration pivots between comic interludes and satirical exposés, at its heart the rhythm of the present tense, history’s most unreliable narrator no matter the king or kingdom.
July already? Soon we’ll be proofing pages of The Czar, and I’ll be getting the Akron Poetry Prize finalists off to the judge, and then: czar watch. The birth of The Czar is especially exciting because it’s Jay‘s first book. The unboxing will be even more meaningful.
My summer World Lit class was a true delight (what a brilliant bunch of readers and thinkers). It seems like I enjoy teaching more and more with every class. As of this fall semester, it’ll be my 20th year of teaching college English. So happy that I am nowhere near disenchanted after all this time.
Goals: once I’ve read these manuscripts (468 total) I need to write some poems and send them out. I need to revise some poems I’ve already written, and to send them out. Here and there I have been making notes for poems, but soon I need to write those poems.
Over at Twitter I’ve been posting a poetry prompt every Wednesday. Friends and students and former students often ask me for prompts over the summer, so I decided to make it a #summerofprompts feature for everyone to check out. Here’s a sample.
Happy July to all! Maybe next week I’ll have a sneak peek at the first pages for The Czar. There’s nothing like the excitement of bringing a new book into the world.
After a long day of teaching, I didn’t expect this box on my doorstep, and for a moment I thought I should wait until morning to unbox Small Enterprise, but then realized I’d be up all night wondering what she looked like. I have so much gratitude to Black Lawrence Press, photographer Heidi Thoenen, and many more folks. But for this morning, I just want to share two photos welcoming my 4th book to the world.