Interview with Joshua Marie Wilkinson on Swamp Isthmus

Swamp Isthmus is a book about the sad and wonderful clunkiness of being alive in a body that will soon be so much dust. Whatever we might try to glean from history from the materials available to us, we’re being blasted forward away from deeper understanding. Faulkner’s well-known statement that “The past isn’t dead and buried. In fact, it isn’t even past” also loomed large. And I think the book’s propulsion forward yet backward looking curiosity—fraught with violence, upheaval, desire, etc.—is trying to account for both of those concerns: our lack of understanding history as its preeminent lesson, and that the past’s not passed—its dead are presiding over us.

I want my poems to goad at and fail at and long for something bigger, even if it’s steeped in impossibility.

--Joshua Marie Wilkinson, interviewed by Christopher Nelson

12 or 20 (second series) questions with D.J. Dolack


I don’t have questions in mind when I write or draft, or even edit really. I don’t feel as though I’m deliberately trying to scratch an itch or address some kind of question.  I guess it’s more about trying to build the mood of a situation or experience -- the notion that cannot be described. This is usually where words fail -- where language fails. But I enjoy trying to wring as much out of it as I can.

--12 or 20 (second series) questions with D.J. Dolack on rob mclennan's blog

Whittling a New Face in the Dark is now available from Black Ocean! Find it here.

Blood Lotus Interviews Black Ocean Publisher

Read an interview with Janaka Stucky on Blood Lotus and scratch the dirty underbelly of publishing at Black Ocean -- learn about our growth and development, what enthralls our editors and keeps them reading, and a little about what keeps us running. You can read the original interview HERE, and it's also been reblogged on Poetry Foundations's blog Harriet HERE.

We pour ourselves into the editing, design, publication, and marketing of each book because we care deeply about what we do, and because we only publish authors who also care deeply about what they do. Why anyone would settle for mediocrity in the world of publishing is beyond my comprehension. There are so many other paths, so many pleasurable pursuits… Often I think I’d like to spend my days exploring the planet, becoming an athlete an expert duelist or a musician, taking pictures of the sun and the ocean floor, having sex in the morning and just staying in bed for hours… If I’m giving all those things up to be a publisher then I want to be the best publisher I can be.

An Interview: Teaching Black Ocean

Managing Editor A. Minetta Gould interviews three Creative Writing instructors about choosing Black Ocean books for their classrooms. All work at Boise State University where Minetta herself taught for three years.

Genevieve Kohlhardt was raised in Colorado but lives in Idaho, where she's getting her MFA in Poetry and teaching creative writing classes.  You can find her work in H_NGM_N and Strange Machine.

Adrian Kien lives and teaches in Boise, ID. He is the author of Who is There (Blazevox), and the chapbooks An Anatomy Lesson (translations of Christian Prigent, Free Poetry) and The Caress Is a Letter of Instruction (Strange Machine).

Charles Gabel is the author of the chapbook Pastoral. He studied classics at Loyola University Chicago and currently studies poetry at Boise State University. 


AMG: What Black Ocean titles have you taught? What was most successful? What posed the biggest challenge? 

GK: I've taught Zachary Schomburg's Scary, No Scary and Julie Doxsee's Objects for a Fog Death. I'll be teaching Matthew Henrikson's Ordinary Sun later this semester.  I'd say both were really successful, but my students were really quick to get into Schomburg.  Doxsee's book took a little more discussion to get them into because the language is much less direct.  But with a little bit of discussion they were really turned on by it.

AK: Scary, No Scary. The Man Suit. With Deer.

I will be teaching Destroyer of Man later in the semester.

Schomburg's work has been a joy to teach because it seems to open students up to the possibilities of being weird. It's a fairly safe level of weirdness and humor and sincerity. The students love it. They get it and feel confident that poetry is something they can do too. It's a lot like looking at a Mark Ryden painting. On the surface its cute, but then you see all the blood.

With Deer proves a bit more challenging for students. The imagery is disturbing. The language is strange, part foreign, part translated. With Deer seems to push the students who want to learn and scare away the students who are lazy or weak kneed.  Aesthetically, I love With Deer. And it is probably my enthusiasm that helps carry the conversation. The book is terrific for conversations about the mutability of language, sound and translation. Harriet Mullen's Sleeping with the Dictionary is a nice complement to this book.

CG:  I taught With Deer in Fall 2010, The Man Suit in Spring 2011, and Ordinary Sun just a few weeks ago in Fall 2011. All three have been successful, though With Deer posed a challenge, largely due to its brutal content. It's a book that, I think, scared some students. Through that, however, we were able to investigate an alternative view of nature and how it might appear in poetry. In class we applied more traditional versions of nature in poetry to the book, working with how Berg both demonstrated and pulled away from those conventions. 


AMG: Do you think you were attracted to teaching these texts for a reason? Did your initial reasons become the reasons for the class? 

GK: Really, I think my initial reason's for choosing those books is that I really enjoyed them, and wanted to talk about them.  Although with Schomburg it also had to do with how easy/difficult that text is simultaneously.  It's written in language they understand, they see the images no problem, so the language doesn't impede discussion on what the function of the image might be.  Plus, it turned me on to write differently (as did Doxsee) so I was hoping it would have the same effect on them.

AK: To be honest, I can't remember how BO got on my radar. But yes, I would say that it's a general aesthetic. The only analogy I can think of is with music. There are certain labels that you like - Alternative Tentacles, Mute, Matador . . . . The press hosts a variety of authors and aesthetics but they seem unified in their vision. The titles seem fresh and young. I think it is this that I hope students take from the books. The books are smart but don't seem necessarily pretentious.

CG: I was originally drawn to With Deer because of its kind of intensity and imagery as well as being a work in translation. It was of a style that I thought would give a greater variety of language and image in the contemporary—it's an extreme that doesn't exist in American poetry. I wanted to give them a much broader picture of what was going on. I had expected the nature-oriented conversations to happen, but in the classroom that became the main focus somewhat unexpectedly. 

I was drawn to teach The Man Suit for a lot of the reasons it was successful--to open up students to something that doesn't look like their original conception of poetry. It's accessible without being easily explained and it focuses students on what the poems' craft elements (language and image) largely because they're not available for a decoding. 

I selected Ordinary Sun in order to present the students with a type of poetry that feels contemporary but in a lot of ways still looks like the typical conception of a poem and carries through an older tradition, particularly the Romantics. It was meant to be something of a bridge into the now. This carried through extremely well. Also, while the book has these very clear ambitions, it's simply a book of beautiful poems that do a lot of different things from poem to poem while all being essential to the overall work and retaining the voice of the book. 


AMG: How did reading teaching these texts influence your student's writing/way of thinking about poetry?

GK: Schomburg is a good poet for "breaking" them—so to speak.  Both times I've shown my students Schomburg poems, they are immediately willing to abandon their tendencies to write "deep" poetry, and actually start writing deep poetry using imagery and creating worlds within their poems.  It has also helped them identify paradox—in the way the book is simultaneously funny and tragic.

Doxsee's effect has been more subtle, I think.  When I taught her book, we worked on picking up repeated ideas and themes in a series of poems and looking at how those work in multiple poems.  It definitely allowed my students to be okay with saying things that made "no sense" and see that there is a kind of sense developed in the difficult.

AK: My above comments kind of answer this, but I think Schomburg really helps students start writing with imagery instead of writing about their feelings or rehashing song lyrics.

CG:  Both The Man Suit and Ordinary Sun turned out to be breakthrough moments for my students as writers and readers of poetry. Both books opened up a lot of what their conceptions of poetry could do while being inviting rather than confrontational to beginning students. The Man Suit gave them a sense that poetry didn't have to contain itself within that poetry box they seem to come in with—students don't feel the need to mean in a way that usually trips them up. 

Ordinary Sun has been a little different. The book presented the students with something that looks and feels contemporary, but carries all the notions of what students expect from poetry. It seems to walk and talk like poems they've seen before, but there's something new going on; it nudges against a lot of notions of poetry's stuffiness. At the same time it took old concepts and poetics of the Romantics and brought them into an approachable context. The book carries with it a deep poetic tradition while sounding new, which I've found to be essential in opening up students to approaching poetry. 


There is also a personable atmosphere surrounding our authors—they actively work toward helping young readers find a space in their books. In Boise alone, Julie Doxsee skyped into Genevieve’s classroom (all the way from Turkey), Zachary gave a reading in Adrian’s back yard, and Matthew is about to give a Skype reading (four different introductory and intermediate classes have been working with Ordinary Sun). Being able to interact with a poet while reading their work inherently shapes a new, deeper understanding of how the poems are alive, how they came to live, and how someone new to poetry can begin to live with poetry inside themselves.

We at Black Ocean would love to hear about your interactions in the classroom with our titles—both as educators and as students. Write about your experiences in the comment field below.

If you’re interested in teaching a Black Ocean title please contact A. Minetta for a desk copy (       

Bookslut: Interview with Matthew Henriksen

In the most recent issue of Bookslut, Nick Sturm asks questions like: "How many bees does it take to eat Matthew Henriksen?"

We always enjoy hearing more from Matthew Henriksen, and this interview is no exception. Here, he reflects on Frank Stanford, his experience teaching in Harlem, and the "awe at the pervasive beauty that surrounds us all" in poetry, and especially in life. Be sure to check out the full interview here.

‎The best poems are apostrophes. Talk intensely and without irony to no one long enough and your start to see your own investments in other people's interests fall away. You can't fit much experience into a poem at all if you don't first break everything down. The line, of course, delivers everything in a poem by disrupting our usual habits of perception and processing. I could call the line the force that drives disfiguring music. I see both nature and society as disfigured, and in that flaw beauty becomes more readily apparent. The line attempts to force us to hear and to see.

An Interview of "Black Ocean" Quality--The Blood Jet Writing Hour

Joe Hall (Pigafetta Is My Wife) and Brandon Shimoda (The Girl Without Arms) recently sat down for an interview with Rachelle of the Blood Jet Writing Hour. They beging by talking about the mighty Black Ocean itself and its aesthetic. Brandon mentions that he thinks our aesthetic is "encapsulated in the name" and:

To me it's a feeling; it's kind of a feeling that combines great empathy, a metallic taste--it's kind of a color. Thinking about the aesthetic, their books are so different, but I think one of the qualities they all share is a great empathy.  There's a lot of deep investigations into the darker ends of love.

Joe adds that

I latch onto the black part of the black ocean. It's like a dark pulsing heart....there is a darkness there that is a luminous darkness.

They go on to read excerpts from their books and to reflect on their processes.

Some highlights:

Brandon on form in The Girl Without Arms:

The girl without arms was sort of a different world. It was more a matter of finding the right instrument with which I could scrape out the inside of my brain.

I like arranging things and I like the way things present themselves visually...I'm not sure I was thinking about anything formally--it's kind of like drawing.

Joe on the process of writing Pigafetta Is My Wife and the long poem form:

I had this journal and I realized I wanted to use it, and it just seemed impossible to not write in a long poem format given the scope of the journal itself. And because the book is about this circumnavigation of the world by Magellan, it just seemed like the right thing to do. How could you capture a journey in one poem?

Something that both engaged the reader and taxed the reader at the same time...seemed really important to me. At the same time it was about this relationship I was in with my partner that was occurring over long distance. That was this thing that was always starting and stopping. I wanted that idea of recurrence and that sort of grasping outwards that happened over and over.


You can listen to the interview here.

Joe and Brandon were both drawn to Black Ocean for its aesthetic, and the fit they felt with their own work. If you feel similiarly drawn, be sure to submit during our open reading period! There are no reading fees, but we do ask that you consider supporting us, perhaps by purchasing a subscription. More details here: /black-ocean-blog/2011/6/1/smooth-sailing-on-the-open-black-ocean.html