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5 Questions for … Kathleen Rooney

CBR_Logo2Our 5 Questions for … series continues today with an echat with local author Kathleen Rooney, whose novel O, Democracy! was one of CBR’s Best Books of 2014. Her second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in January 2017. In addition to her work as a writer, Kathleen is the founding editor of local house Rose Metal Press. Founded in 2006, Rose Metal Press, Inc. is an independent, not-for-profit publisher of hybrid genres specializing in the publication of short short, flash, and micro-fiction; prose poetry; novels-in-verse or book-length linked narrative poems; and other literary works that move beyond the traditional genres of poetry, fiction, and essay to find new forms of expression. We asked Kathleen what she’s working on, what she’s been reading lately, and what’s coming up next for her.

o democracy rooney coverCBR: What new writing projects are you working on right now?
KR: Presently, I’m working with my co-editor, Eric Plattner, to put the finishing touches on René Magritte: Selected Writings, the first-ever English edition of the Belgian Surrealist painter’s extensive writings, forthcoming later this summer from Alma Books in the UK and in September of this year from University of Minnesota Press. I’m also working on wrapping up my second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press.

CBR: Who are some of your favorite writers?
KR: A couple of new (to me) writers whose books I read recently and can’t stop thinking about are Don Mee Choi, whose Hardly War is a hybrid and brilliant memoir in poems/poetic memoir with photographs, and Shannon Burns, whose debut poetry collection, Oosh Boosh, made me laugh out loud and also cry.

CBR: What are you reading right now?
KR: My spouse, Martin Seay, and I are in a book club, and that book club is really supportive of both of us as writers, so we’re currently reading his debut novel, The Mirror Thief (Melville House, 2016), as our current pick. I’ve read it before in manuscript form, but it’s fun to read it now that it’s an actual close-to-600-page book.

CBR: Which books are on your to-read list?
KR: I can’t wait to read Mickey by Chelsea Martin, forthcoming from local Chicago publisher Curbside Splendor, and Listen to Me by Hannah Pittard, forthcoming in July.

CBR: If you could write one book about any topic—fiction or nonfiction—what would that book be?
Pigeons—and I’m actually working on a novel now that is partly in the first-person perspective of a pigeon.

magKathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, and a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a team of poets and their typewriters who compose commissioned poetry on demand. She teaches English and Creative Writing at DePaul University and is the author of eight books of poetry, nonfiction, and fiction, including the novel O, Democracy! (Fifth Star Press, 2014) and the novel in poems Robinson Alone (Gold Wake Press, 2012). With Eric Plattner, she is the co-editor of René Magritte: Selected Writings (University of Minnesota Press, 2016 and Alma Books, 2016). A winner of a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from Poetry magazine, her reviews and criticism have appeared in the New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Magazine, The Rumpus, The Nation, the Poetry Foundation website, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay. Her second novel, Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in January 2017.You can learn more about Kathleen and her work at http://kathleenrooney.com/

—Kelli Christiansen


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5 Questions for … Twelve Winters Press

CBR_Logo2Here at Chicago Book Review, we’ve been picking the brains of local literati, asking authors, publishers, booksellers, and other literary types just a few questions about what they’re reading, writing, publishing, and selling. Just 5 quick questions. We launched this new feature with an echat with local fave, author Michele Weldon. Today we continue the series with our echat with Ted Morrissey, publisher at Twelve Winters Press. We asked Ted about Twelve Winters has published, is publishing, wants to publish … Read on!

5 Questions for … Twelve Winters Press


Twelve Winters Press Publisher Ted Morrissey

CBR: What new releases are you most excited about right now?
Because of the uniqueness of the focus, and the talent of the poets, we’re especially excited about the forthcoming release of The Necessary Poetics of Atheism: Essays and Poems by Martín Espada, Lauren Schmidt and J. D. Schraffenberger. We’ll also be releasing two debut novels by award-winning authors who have published numerous short stories: Cheap Amusements, a literary detective novel by Grant Tracey; and Little Mocos, a novel in stories by John Paul Jaramillo. We’re also looking forward to publishing the inaugural winner of the Vachel Lindsay Poetry Prize, Shoreless by Enid Shomer.

CBR: What are some forthcoming titles you really want readers to know about?
We’re working with translators Stephen Haven and Li Yongyi to bring out a dual language anthology of Chinese poets (currently untitled). We’re also pleased to bring out Dean Dean Dean Dean, a collection of flash fiction by Jim O’Loughlin. Our children’s imprint, Shining Hall, will be continuing the Einstein the Science Dog series, written by Melissa Morrissey and illustrated by (Chicago native) Miles Wisniewski; while our adult imprint, Maidenhead Hall, will be adding another installment of the Esmée Anderson Experiences, by E. S. Holland.

CBR: Which titles have been bestsellers for you?
By far our best seller of 2015 was the novella Road Trip by Boston-based author Lynette D’Amico. Other titles that did very well in 2015 were The Endless Unbegun by Rachel Jamison Webster (who teaches at Northwestern University), The Waxen Poor by J. D. Schraffenberger (a CBR Best Book of 2015 selection), and I Am Barbarella by Beth Gilstrap. In children’s literature, Melissa Morrissey’s Shawna’s Sparkle (illustrated by Felicia Olin) had a strong debut; and our adult title City of Broad Shoulders by E. S. Holland has been doing well internationally, especially in Brazil. It ‘s worth noting that we discovered E. S. Holland thanks to networking at the Chicago Book Expo in 2014.

CBR: How do you select which titles to publish?
Our selection approach is very eclectic. We look for well-written work, oftentimes that defies easy labeling. Sometimes we’ll hear via the literary grapevines of great manuscripts that have been having trouble finding a home (e.g., The Endless Unbegun); sometimes we’ll contact authors whose work was recognized via a contest but did not win publication (Road Trip); and sometimes we’ll solicit manuscripts from authors after reading their work in literary journals (Final Stanzas by Grant Tracey). We don’t generally accept unsolicited manuscripts, but we’re proud to say we’re already a press that authors want to publish with, so more and more we’re having authors contact us because they admire our growing list and have a manuscript that defies facile pigeonholing, which disqualifies it with a lot of publishers. Not us.

CBR: If you could publish one book by any author, what new title would you like to see from that writer?
We know that Lynette D’Amico (author of Road Trip) has been toiling away on a full-length novel for some time. Her sense of structure is so imaginative and risk-taking, and her language play so fierce and fearless—to say we’re anxious to see that finished manuscript is an impressive understatement. So far Lynette has been keeping that book quite close to the vest.


twelve-winters-smallTwelve Winters Press is a literary press founded in 2012 in the tradition of Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Charles Dickens. Twelve Winters Press’s offerings include [Ex]tinguished & [Ex]tinct:  An Anthology of Things That No Longer [Ex]ist, edited by John McCarthy; The Waxen Poor, a collection of poems by J. D. Schraffenberger; The Endless Unbegun, a daring mélange of poetry and prose by Rachel Jamison Webster; I Am Barbarella, the debut story collection by Beth Gilstrap; Road Trip, an ambitious and off-beat novella by Lynette D’Amico, and Final Stanzas, a short story collection by Grant Tracey.

—Kelli Christiansen


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You Shall Uphold Him

CBR_Logo2The Waxen Poor
by J. D. Schraffenberger

In The Waxen Poor, J. D. Schraffenberger, associate professor of English at Northern Iowa University and associate editor of The North American Review, meditates on “Brother Tom,” apparently a semi-fictional version of his schizophrenic brother. The title of the collection comes from Leviticus 25:35: “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee; then thou shalt relieve him: yea, though he be a stranger …” Schraffenberger explores this special obligation in skillfully crafted poems offering candid observations on the illness, brotherhood, and the parallels between “madness” and poetic creativity.

The poems in this book display grave equanimity in the face of nearly incomprehensible strangeness. It is not clear what one should make of the schizophrenic sibling. He is the loved brother and the paranoiac, the cheerful singer and messianic fanatic, playful child and deeply reticent young man. He both is, and is not, emotionally accessible. To exist in this way is

 To be the living marker of one’s own death…
Is to say to any who’ll listen: Here lies Brother Tom
Of two minds / Lost or won / And writ as water / In the night.

On occasion these forward slashes appear within the lines, which are then both whole and fractured. This device is no mere gimmick as it is used sparingly anthe waxen poord effectively. An uneasy duality appears in other guises as well, most memorably in the conflation of different consciousnesses. “We restless brothers, we unlikely two, recline side by side /…/ Not knowing which one we will be tonight, Him or Me,” the poet writes in “Sleep and his Brother Death.” The boundaries between sanity and insanity, love and aversion, self and other are traversed often enough that they begin to disintegrate.

“Brother Tom” also refers to John Keats’s brother, Thomas, who died of tuberculosis. Keats probably contracted the disease from his brother, and the poet alludes vaguely to the idea of contagion: “I fear my brother’s illness,” he confesses in “To My Brother.” He “[muses] on the unseen meanings in things…on the significance of smoke in the sky…the uneasy rhyme of this with that.” Is there something dangerous, or paranoid, in the way random literary associations shape a poem? In “Song,” Schraffenberger navigates the moment at which a longing to communicate with his brother through innocuous, playful language degenerates into something bleak, as a sort of nursery rhyme takes on a more sinister tone:

O meek dirt eater, you bogus little biddy,
You shabby-chic la-di-doddler,
Come hum the tune with us…
Look, the haystack’s burning, the sheep’s unshorn.
The cow’s gone mad, the boy’s unborn.
O please won’t you sing or whistle at least?

There is risk in entering this world. Even the number 14 becomes troublingly significant. It is the age when Brother Tom had a major psychotic break, the number of years he lived, and also the number of lines in a sonnet. Schraffenberger’s sonnets stand out for their emotional acuity and unforced technical brilliance. The phrasing of “Errare” is hypnotic, tight and vivid, describing Brother Tom’s psychosis against the backdrop of rural Appalachia:

From the wander, the soy and cornfield wander,
To the barb and prick of wire fences rusted orange,
From the settling guiltless, cross-legged among the cows,
To the silent revelation of hoof and tail, mud and clay,
From the quiet coming of cops, hands hovering holsters,
To the rowdy ushering forth, the handcuffs and escort home,

 You rise, brawling, all scrum and froth, all tooth and nail,
Into the heady realm of metaphysical fragility, where
Thought becomes thought becomes thought becomes true,
Where no one can change the dreaming / but you.

The alliteration and ellipsis in “hands hovering holsters” captures the breathless despair of the bystander and witness. In the last line, the forward slash again creates a fissure, curbing an increasingly manic meter and rhyme, pressing back as reality against dream.

Schraffenberger finds inspiration in nature as well as in literature and art history, from John William Waterhouse, Walt Whitman, W. C. Williams, and the Bible, at times reaching across millennia for the perfect image. For instance, he precisely conveys a confusing mix of fascination and alienation by likening an archaic sculpture of a young, heroic warrior to “Mean Tommy with a stink, baseball cap pulled low over the eyes / … here is your lost / Archaic smile—flat, unnatural, timelessly amused.” In this seamless fusion of classical and contemporary themes, the image is both marvelous and disturbing.

Whether in traditional or invented forms or prose poetry, the language of The Waxen Poor is always fluid without a jot of slack, perhaps reminiscent of the work of David Ferry or Tom Sleigh. The collection has a thematic kinship with Sherod Santos’s The Pilot Star Elegies, which also is haunted by the mental instability and death of a sibling. But where Santos offers an anguished, forthright analysis of his sister’s suicide, Schraffenberger’s poems evoke the subtle pain of estrangement with a steady hand and a fine chisel.

There is no pretense of perfect understanding, no bid for closure. In the final poem, Schraffenberger embraces an ongoing vigil, writing of his “brother, born for adversity,” “I’ll need to mourn him more carefully”—yet that would be hard to imagine.

Four-Star Review

July 2014, Twelve Winters Press
$14.99, paperback, 63 pages
ISBN: 978-0989515153

—Reviewed by Vicky Albritton


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