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 (       

Lit Love Day 16

This time of year, whether you're writing a letter to Santa, sending (or receiving) one of those catch-all family newsletters, or mailing out holiday cards, one thing is clear--'tis the season for letters. Perhaps you'd like to catch up on a little bookish correspondence, and in that case, let this book recommended by our poetry editor Carrie Olivia Adams be your guide.


Correspondence by Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan (Seagull Books)

Though not a poetry book per se, this collection of love letters between Bachmann and Celan is as intense, beautiful, and lyrical as any of the poems that either Bachmann or Celan  produced. The letters themselves incorporate some of their poems and many thoughts on their work, which makes this book both a wonderful source of insight into their writings as well as a fraught and powerful look at love in a Europe repairing and healing from World War II and the holocaust.



Literary Love: Day 14

Today, Paula Cisewski, author of Upon Arrival, shares a recommendation with you that she eagerly anticipates herself:

I haven't even received my copy of MC Hyland's Neveragainland  (Lowbrow Press, just released December 5th!) in the mail yet, but I can pre-recommend it with confidence. Her lovely online chapbook, Residential As In from Blue Hour Press would convince anyone of the same.
For some of this week, I'll be letting you in on what some Black Oceanographers have been up to recently. And Paula's been busy. In addition to Upon Arrival, available from Black Ocean, Paula’s new book Ghost Fargo is available from Nightboat books.  


Literary Love: Day 13

It’s been a little quiet on the blog here the past few days, but to make up for it, we’d like to share three chapbooks recommended by our poetry editor Carrie Olivia Adams. Check out all the lovely things Carrie has to say about these little beauties.

Mobius Crowns by Srikanth Reddy and Dan Beachy-Quick (P-QUEUE)

This chapbook was new to me in 2010, even though it was originally published in 2008. But in a year when one of the most discussed poetry books was Anne Carson's Nox, I came across Mobius Crowns as another amazing example of the book as art object, and as an object where physical form serves content. There are two chapbooks, each with french flaps, boxed and bound in the collection. In my day job, I spend a lot of time talking about e-books and e-marketing and i-pad apps for books, so I know that if we want the book to live it must be beautiful. And it is reassuring to see small presses make a thing of beauty. "I thought a friend, like a poem, is what allows you to cease being oneself, and so be more oneself."

ZYXT by Joseph Clayton Mills (Entr'acte) 

Be they prose poems or flash fiction or some other attempt at categorization, these are mini fables of madness--each beginning with "a friend who"--a bleak world of suicide and murder, albeit with an acerbic tongue. The collection is complete with an index that lists 9 kinds of murder from asphyxiation to patricide and suicides from defenestration to overdose.

In a World of Ideas, I Feel No Particular Loyalty by Adam Clay (Cinematheque)

All of the little chapbooks produced by Cinematheque are lovingly made. With a pocket-size trim, crafted with a loving attention to detail, this chapbook by Adam Clay is no exception. As well, the poems inside feel perfectly handmade:
Of course a quilt is a house--

And of course you can become so enamored
with an image that you become it:

like the snow all over town
and like the snow
all over town you become it.
If you're looking for a book you can hold, love, and cherish this season one of these might just do the trick! 


Literary Love: Day 8

We've spent a week bringing you the best book reccomendations in cyber space, and for the next few days, we'll share what Black Oceanographers are up to on other presses. But as we trudge through December, we can't help but think of the new year and all the books that are yet to be. Here at Black Ocean, Destroyer of Man by Dominic Mallary, The Girl Without Arms  by Brandon Shimoda, and Ordinary Sun by Matthew Henrikson are all forthcoming. But there are plenty of other great presses out there with books just waiting to get born. We want to know: what books are you looking forward to? Tell us in the comments and we may feature your suggestions in a future blog post.
Newly off of the forthcoming list, my holiday recommendation for you, dear blog readers, is a book I'm about to give myself. I can't wait to read it because I’m certain Ada Limón’s Sharks In the Rivers (Milkweed Editions) will warm the cockles of the heart. Ada’s poems will make you shamelessly tingly inside--they filter sun & sadness & awareness & life's grit and let them warm your arms in patterns both familiar and stunning, leave marks barely visible to the eye that seep into your guts and simmer. From my wish list to yours.


Literary Love: Day 7

Some days you just want to read a chapbook. Lucky for you, Brandon Shimoda, whose book The Girl Without Arms is forthcoming from Black Ocean, has just the chapbook you need: Phil Cordelli's Book of Numbers Book of Letters (Agnes Fox Press).



Years from now ... after poetry has quit the world of money and influence ... after art has dispensed entirely with any cares for the mainstream (consumers, commuters, homeowners, husbands, voters, committee members, academics, etc.) ... after 99% of what we have come to accept as good and important has rotted out of the atmosphere ... people will begin unearthing the relics of the life and work of Phil Cordelli -- a poet, artist and farmer, born in the twentieth century, active across the first half of the twenty-first, and currently living in western Massachusetts. Among the innumerable home recordings, painted films, letterpressed pieces of garbage, book-length collages, scarified vinyl, copyright violations and field guides that form Cordelli's art, will be Book of Numbers / Book of Letters, published in 2010 by Agnes Fox. It might be the notes of a filmmaker, or the films of a scavenging note-taker. It might be the pin-hole paintings of a shut-in, or text installations assembled by an entire community. It might be the liner notes of a clairvoyant country musician, or the transcripts of an early morning conversation between a lone individual and his generously overwhelming environment. Undoubtedly it will continue to be all of these things. Numbers / Letters is a humble part of what I take to be a growing and indispensable compost and, after all, the "years from now" aforementioned are these ... 

You can begin the excavation now just by clicking the link above.

Day 6 of Lit Love

Today Zachary Schomburg puts on the man suit to deliver his recommendation: Ventrakl by Christian Hawkey (Ugly Duckling Presse).

Reading this book is like smearing dead leaves onto my wet face so that it makes a paste, like a pastey mask before bedtime. It confuses me. I mean, I'm perplexed, stunned. I mean, all the words seem impossible. Remember what David Cameron did to Baudelaire? Christian Hawkey is one of our most fascinating poets, heaving George Trakl's dead body up into the dead trees. 

If you haven't, be sure to check out Zachary's books Scary, No Scary and The Man Suit, both available on Black Ocean's website. 

25 Days of Literary Love: Day 4 (and 5)

Rauan Klassnik knows what's holy. Which is why you should believe him when he says to buy Kim Gek Lin Short's The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits (Tarpaulin Sky Press). And if you don't believe him, believe Joe Hall because he recommends it too. 

Rauan says:

This book made me and my writing feel like Klingons. It's beautiful. Exciting. And it made me ashamed.

Don't shame yourself. Check it out! Let Joe Hall destroy any lasting doubts you might have:


Partly because Dorothea Lasky's Black Life is already starting to reach some kind of shout out tipping point and partly because it deserves your attention just as much, I'm going with The Bugging Watch & Other Exhibits. In the rowdy, field of book length proems(?) / genreless expulsions / whatever, it's a stand-out, a thing of its own. Linked prose--propose a narrative and revise it twice, evoking and jarring sympathy--swinging between pure joy of language invention and staggering sadness-- 

"What will we do? she asked, burping a miracle with her soggy hands."

& unflinching, visceral in its investigation into dynamics of relationships, how one exerts force on, revises, mutilates, remakes etc, others self-conceptions, body, self-composure, chronology, etc. in the laboratory of the house and stage of public.

I read it in a day.


Rauan is the author of Holy Land which you can find here on our website. Joe Hall is the author of Pigafetta Is My Wife, also available on our website or sneaking up on the tails of wayward tabby cats.

This love doesn't stop--the words of these two Black Ocean baddies will last us through the weekend, but check back Monday if you care at all what Zachary Schomburg has to offer us (and I know you do).


Literary Love Day 2

A. Minetta Gould's second recommendation for all of you in cyberland is Aaron Kunin's The Sore Throat and Other Poems (Fence).


Kunin's Sore Throat straight up changed my life and I haven't gone a day since reading it without thinking about what he's doing and how mind-blowing it is. These poems are the fucking werido walking around your neighborhood you know you want to be friends with.
Check in tomorrow for AMG's final holiday pick.




25 Days of Literary Love: Day 1

December is here and Black Ocean authors and staff have searched the murky lairs of sea monsters and beyond (or maybe just our bookshelves) to bring you some book recommendations in time for the holidays. Support your favorite indie presses this holiday season and give a gift that bites back. During the month of December, we will be bringing you our own version of holiday cheer. Be sure to check back frequently, because we will be posting new recommendations every day. Be sure to tell your friends and post your own recommendations in the comments section!

To start, we’re skipping the partridge in a pear tree and kicking it off with the first of three french hens from A. Minetta Gould, our very own Associate Editor. Minetta is offering a “Fence Books Triple-Header.” But you’ll only get one today, so check back tomorrow for the second in this series.

A. Minetta Gould recommends Martin Corless-Smith's English Fragments: A Brief History of the Soul (Fence).
Corless-Smith is the what's what of Poets (that's right, capital P on that Poet) working in English today. If you think you can write poems before experiencing Corless-Smith's thriving lyric first you're wrong: you can't. You may not be able to afterward either. Be warned.
Coming soon: recommendations from Rauan Klassnik and Joe Hall.
Which books do you recommend?